Compare and Contrast Key Perspectives in Psychology

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 18 September 2016

Compare and Contrast Key Perspectives in Psychology

Psychology literally means the study of the mind, translated from Ancient Greek as psyche, meaning “mind” or “soul” and logia, meaning “study”. The most accurate description of psychology is that it is the science of mind and behaviour (Collin et al, 2011). Psychology evolved from philosophy and can be dated back to the time of Ancient Greek philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle (325 BCE). Studying the nature of subjects such as the memory, thoughts and the consciousness, did not make psychology a standalone science, instead it was viewed as a form of philosophical speculations. Psychology became a separate, scientific discipline in the late 19th century.

The world’s first experimental laboratory of psychology was founded in 1879 by Wundt. As many philosophers and scientists tried to explain the inner world of a person (psyche) since ancient times, many key perspectives of modern psychology appeared as a result. These key perspectives include: Psychodynamic, Behavioural, Cognitive, Humanistic, Evolutionary, Biological and Cross-Cultural (Cherry, 2014). This essay will explore and compare two of these perspectives, Behaviourism and Psychodynamic, and their influence on modern psychology.

The psychodynamic approach is based on the theories of Freud, Adler, Erikson and Jung. Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis. Together with Breuer, Freud developed psychological treatment, known as talking therapies, believing that many forms of mental illness, such as: irrational fears, hysteria, anxiety and imagined pains, were the results of a traumatic experience acquired by the patient in the past. Freud believed that people store their ideas, memories and impulses in the unconscious when they become too overwhelming for the conscious mind to bear, this is known as repression. He believed that the conscious mind is just the surface (likening it to an iceberg) of a complex psychic realm, which included the ego, superego and id. The id is driven only by the fulfilment of basic drives, for example; food, comfort, warmth and sex, and obeys the Pleasure Principle, meaning that each impulse must be gratified immediately.

The ego, one the other hand, accepts the Reality Principle, which says we cannot have everything we desire. The ego negotiates with the id and may be compared to the moderator between id and superego (Collin et al, page.111). The superego is the internal voice, influenced by our parents and the society’s moral code, it is a judging voice of our conscience, which tells us what we should and should not do, and may often become the source of guilt and shame (Collin et al, 2011, pp.94-99). In Freud’s opinion, the difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts creates psychic tension, and that this is how many mental problems originate. Repressed and unprocessed emotions build up and then become revealed in anger, depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and so on. These problems can be helped by releasing them and confronting them during the process of psychoanalysis. Freud tried to free his patients from repressed memories and ease their mental pain.

Dream Analysis was a method which in Freud’s opinion allowed to access and encode messages sent by the unconscious. Despite all of this, even Breuer criticised Freud for concentrating too much on the sexual origins of neuroses (Collin et al, 2011, p.95). The humanistic approach criticised psychodynamics of excluding the thought of free will (McLeod, 2007). Furthermore, today Freud’s interpretation of dreams appears unreasonable to many. In spite of all the criticisms, many accept that Freud highlighted the importance of childhood experiences and his methods inspired many famous psychotherapists to develop new types of treatment. One example includes Virginia Satire, who stresses the importance of the family environment (Collin et al, 2011, pp.146-147). Freud also introduced the idea of defence mechanisms which is widely used today in different therapies. Denial, repression and displacement are some examples of defence mechanisms (Cherry, 2014).

In addition, psychodynamics also made the case study method popular in psychology. One of Freud’s eminent theories was about the Oedipus Complex. Freud used his case study known as ‘Little Hans’ to support this theory. Hans was 5 years old at the time and had a phobia of horses. Hans’ father, who was Freud’s friend, wanted Freud to cure Hans from his phobia. Freud was mostly interested in how the phobia was triggered and how it could be linked to his idea of the Oedipus Complex. By analysing Hans’ dreams, Freud ruled out that they boy’s phobia of horses was caused through the fear of being castrated by his father because he had sexual desires for his mother. Freud advised Hans’ father to reassure his son that he would not castrate him and eventually the boy’s phobia resolved.

Despite curing Han’s phobia, Freud’s emphasis on the phobia being caused by an underlying fear of his father seems farfetched, especially when it is known that Hans witnessed how a horse died on the street, an event which traumatised him. This would seem a more plausible reason for the child’s horse phobia, but instead Freud emphasised that this case study was a perfect example of the Oedipus Complex. In addition, Freud didn’t work directly with Hans, almost all of his investigation of the case and all ‘therapeutic work’ occurred through correspondence with Hans’ father, who was Freud’s admirer and friend. (McLeod, 2008). Therefore, this doubts the authenticity of the study.

Later, it became obvious that Freud sometimes distorted his patients’ case histories to fit with his theories (Sulloway, 1991). In 1960, Beck exposed the weaknesses of traditional psychoanalysis and proposed cognitive therapy as he could not find any reliable studies proving the success rates of psychoanalysis – only anecdotal evidence of case reports. Furthermore, many psychoanalysts objected scientific examination (Collin et al, 2011, pp.175-177), which brings up the contrasting approach of behaviourism.

Behaviourism is based on the works of Darwin, Thorndike, Watson, Pavlov and Skinner. The behaviourism approach suggested that psychology should be treated as a science and must be based on observations, research and experiments (Collin et al, 2011). Is it possible to measure behaviour? Behaviourism stated that it is. In order to do this, behaviourists experimented firstly on animals. Therefore, physiology has had a lot of influence on this approach. In 1890 Pavlov, developed the concept of classical conditioning (Collin et al, 2011). Pavlov introduced such terms as ‘unconditioned’ and ‘conditioned reflex’, ‘response’ and ‘stimulus’ in physiology and psychology. Later some behaviourists switched to experimenting on humans. Yet, it cannot be said that these early experiments on humans were very ethical. With this in mind, one example is that of a case study known as ‘Little Albert’, carried out by Watson (1920), on a nine month old baby, ‘Albert B’.

Today his method would arguably be considered unethical and even cruel. However, Watson thought that the experiment was a logical continuation of previous animal studies. The aim of Watson’s experiment was to find out if it was possible to teach an infant to fear an animal by repeatedly presenting it at the same time with a loud, frightening noise, or a stimulus. Watson put the baby on a mattress and then showed him a dog, a rat, a rabbit and a monkey. Albert showed no fear and his natural instinct was to touch the animals. In this case, the animals were used as a neutral stimulus. In Watson’s opinion, this was a baseline, from which he could measure any change in Albert’s behaviour. Then, Watson started to frighten the child with a loud noise, an unconditioned stimulus, by striking a metal bar with a hammer. Watson then paired the sighting of an animal with a frightening noise, and as a result, each time Albert saw an animal he burst into tears, because his natural response to the noise – fear and distress – had now become associated with animals.

All that was very good from the point of view of Pavlov’s classical conditioning, however today it may be argued that Watson’s experimentation method was unethical. Nevertheless, Watson’s experiment demonstrated that human emotions are susceptible to classical conditioning. This was his new input on Pavlov’s theory, because previous stimulus-response experiments had focused on studying behaviour, not emotions. Later, Skinner published ‘The Behaviour of Organisms’ (1938) and developed the concept of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a form of conditioning in which the outcome depends upon an animal operating upon its environment, such as pressing a lever to obtain food (Collin et al, 2011, p.342). Skinner carried out multiple experiments on animals, studying satisfaction and discomfort. He used positive and negative reinforcers, working with rats and pigeons as well as primary and secondary reinforcers (Jarvis and Russell, 2002).

Through his experiments, Skinner proved that behaviour is often shaped not by a preceding stimulus, how it was stated previously in classical conditioning, but instead by the consequences of that behaviour (Collin et al, 2011, p.59). Today, Skinner’s ideas are used in workplace psychology, for example they influenced the method of rewards and incentives. The attractiveness of the reinforcer (incentive) can increase the productivity of workers and it is widely used in different industries. Similarly, operant conditioning has an application in today’s clinical psychology. For example, in the study of depression. Also, self-harming addictions are explained in terms of operant conditioning, which is now often called behaviour modification. Behaviour modification is used in treating mental disorders and in programmed learning. Ghosh and Chattopadhyay used behaviour modification techniques when treating children with ADHD (Jarvis and Russell, 2002).

The Behaviourists’ approach has its’ strengths as it is scientific, their theories are supported by experiments. Behaviourism focuses on observable behaviour that can be measured (McLeod, 2007). On the other hand, behaviourism does not consider emotion and thinking. Watson denied the inheritance of capacity, talent, temperament and mental constitution (Collin et al, 2011, p.28). Not all human behaviour can be explained by operant conditioning, which is why Skinner’s ideas are no longer popular with many psychologists today.

Behaviourism does not explain complex mental processes, for example that humans often learn by the observation others, not just by punishment and rewards. Furthermore, operant conditioning does not explain the aspects of how hormones and genetic predispositions affect and shape behaviour. However, because Pavlov and Watson successfully trained animals’ and children’s new behaviours through stimulus-response patterns, other researchers understood that if behaviour could be learned, it can also be unlearned. For example, based on that mechanism, Wolpe created treatments for ‘war neurosis’ and phobias (Collin et al, 2011, p.87).

How are these two perspectives viewed and applied in psychology today? Behaviourism was always considered as a more scientific, objective approach as compared to psychodynamics. Modern psychology is based on much more empirical, objective evidence than before, due to the efforts of behaviourists. Behaviourists introduced modern methodology, which includes efficient ways to observe, collect data and carry out credible experiments. Watson demonstrated that human behaviour can be predicted, controlled and modified. Unlike behaviourism, Freud’s ideas were based on observation case histories rather than on experimental research. Behaviourism and psychodynamics are similar in their rejection to free will (McLeod, 2007) and their belief that everyone is born ‘tabula rasa’, or as a blank slate (Collin et al, 2011, p.29). Despite this, behaviourists criticised psychoanalysts and vice versa. Freud criticised behaviourism as it did not consider the unconscious. However, Watson criticised Freud’s idea of unconscious as not provable, because it is unconscious and therefore difficult to access. (Collin et al, 2011, p.94)

On the other hand, some of Watson’s methods are now dismissed as unethical. For example, Watson advocated unemotional parenting, which he thought would be beneficial to children, but later he was largely criticised for his ideas, even by the mother of his own children. Watson grew up with an alcoholic father, and was not shown much attention as a child. Consequently, Watson did not have much empathy to children himself. Virginia Satire later stressed the importance of affection and compassion in creating a healthy family and shaping a successful person (Collin et al, 2011, p.146). Also, behaviourism does not recognise a difference between animals and humans. In contrast, due to Freud, more than 22 different schools of psychoanalysis have evolved from his method.

It may be argued now that Freud’s theories were not as scientific as the behaviourist approach, but nobody else influenced 20th century psychotherapy in general as much as he did. Freud started what is now called ‘talking therapies’ (Collin et al, 2011, p.99) For example, Freud’s ideas influenced cognitive therapy and humanistic psychotherapy (Collin et al, 2011, p.91). By the mid-20th century both behaviourism and psychodynamics were being critically examined.

Finally, at the end of the 20th century, after all the criticism and controversy, the best of psychodynamics and behaviourism joined together and gave birth to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). It happened when Wolpe’s behavioural therapy merged with Beck’s cognitive therapy. There is strong empirical evidence for the success of CBT as compared with classical psychoanalysis (Collin et al, 2011, p.176). CBT is widely used today for the treatment of different anxiety and mood disorders (Månsson et al, 2013). To conclude, it would be fair to say that both the behaviourism and psychodynamic perspectives have had a vast influence on modern Psychology.


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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 18 September 2016

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