Skinner (1904-1990) developed radical behaviourism. Skinner concerned himself only with scientific methods and only observable behaviour. Skinner believed that all behaviour is learnt from environmental consequences or operant conditioning. Skinner went on to assert that behaviour is more or less likely depending on the consequences as a result of that behaviour (reward/punishment).
Skinner highlighted his theories with experiments on animals, mainly rats. Skinner devised an experiment in which a rat was put into a box where the pressing of a lever would release food for the rat to eat. The stimulus of hunger, led to the behaviour of pressing the bar, lead to the reward of food. The pressing of a bar for food is not normal rat behaviour so the rat had to be taught to do so. This showed that the rat pressed the bar for food, meaning that the rat had to operate on its environment to gain either reward or punishment. If the reward comes every time for the behaviour then the behaviour is permanently learnt, or ‘stamped in’. (Skinner, 1953)
Ivan Pavlov developed classical conditioning. The main difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning is that classical conditioning concerns itself with behaviour that an animal already has. Pavlov conditioned a dog that already salivated at the sight of food to also salivate at the sound of a bell. This was achieved by Pavlov ringing a bell when ever the dog was about to be given food. This meant that the dog became conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell (stimulus) to receive its food (reward). Pavlov and more so Skinner regard all behaviour as a product of the environment, as highlighted in these two experiments.
Behaviourism had a key influence on psychology as a science. The use of scientific experiments led to psychologists focusing observable, objective measures of behaviour. This approach to psychology has a very practical use. The treatment of phobias takes its influence from behaviourist research, A phobic person can be conditioned to overcome their fear. The idea that people learn from their environment lead to educational policy being influenced as poor grades could be a result of poor educational environment.
Behaviourism has received criticism for its denial of free will and the belief that people are simply the product of their environment. The behaviourist perspective that all behaviour is learnt from the environment was challenged when it was shown that people also learn through observing others and through insight. (Bandura, 1986) One shortcoming of the behaviourist perspective is that emotional and mental processes of the individual were not taken into account as they were not seen as an appropriate area of study as they could not be directly observed and objectified. (Pennington, 2002)
Humanism emerged in the U.S.A. in the 1960s. The main proponents of this approach were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Humanists believed that psychodynamics and behaviourism neglected key aspects as to what it is to be human, for example, only relying on scientific and observable methods neglected what it is to be human, humanists believed. Humanists also argued that the psychodynamics relied too much on the unconscious and childhood rather than the conscious mind and the here and now. The humanist approach is known as Phenomenological as it focuses on the human experience.
Humanists believe that each person is unique and the focus of the approach is on the subjective feelings and emotions of individuals. This is referred to as ideographic, meaning that it focuses on the uniqueness of the individual rather than common laws or the similarity of personality. Humanists propose that humans do have free will and are not the sole product of their environment or childhood experiences. Humanists argue that people and personality should be viewed as a whole and that the breaking down of various aspects of personality results in the loss of the whole.
Rogers (1902-1987) believed that all people have a tendency to self actualise, or attempt to reach their full potential. This can be anything from playing a sport to writing an essay. People self actualise in different ways and through different achievements. Rogers (1980) assumed that we need love from other people; he called this unconditional positive regard. This unconditional positive regard is seen in the unconditional love of a mother to a child. Rogers argued that this love is essential to well adjusted adults. He went on to state that many adult problems can be as a result of not receiving this positive regard.
Using his theories Rogers developed client centred therapy, Rogers would treat his clients with unconditional positive regard so that he could restore their lack of it. Rogers believed that many adult problems arose when people’s concept of themselves were incongruent with their actual experiences. For example, someone may think that a football player played well in a game setting up two goals, but the player them self might not agree thinking that they should have scored at least once. Rogers believed that a balance between this self view and the view of the world led to satisfaction and incongruence leads to conflict. (Rogers, 1951)
Humanism promotes the idea that humans have free will to choose how they act and behave, the idea of personal responsibility and the idea that humans do not just passively respond to environmental stimuli. The approach also recognises a person as having their own needs as an individual. The humanist approach adds validity to the subjective experience and feelings of the here and now. Humanism rejects the scientific approach as this does not allow for thoughts and feelings to be taken into account. This has meant that little objective evidence is available. Humanists believe that the lack of objective material is not relevant as long as people benefit from the humanist approach to therapy, and lead better lives. (Pennington, 2002)
Having looked at the three main approaches to psychology it can be seen that all three have differing views and approaches to the psychology field. Behaviourism is the more scientific approach that enabled the study of the mind to stand up against other sciences. Freud and psychodynamics was the first force of psychology that has got Freud the nickname ‘godfather of psychology’. Rogers drew on both behaviourism and psychodynamics to come up with theories of the ‘whole’ self. The study of the mind can not be categorised into just one field of study. To truly understand the psychology of the human psyche one must use all three approaches and even add their own interpretation to this ever expanding field of study. Can we ever truly understand our own mind? The search goes on.