Structuralism emphasized that the objective of psychology is to study the elements of consciousness and to learn how it operates and how it influences behavior (Eysenck, 1998). Structuralism focused more on the structure of consciousness and tried to identify the different experiences that each sensation and perception elicited. They believed that by breaking down the elements of each sensation, they would be able to gain a better understanding of human behavior.
For example they tried to identify the different tastes that a person could experience, like salty, sour, sweet and bitter.
By identifying the structure of the experience and of how a person perceives it, psychologists can identify the different behaviors that the individual may exhibit based on that experience, like when someone who eats something salty may make a grimace and then look for a drink. The method used by structuralists’ was introspection or the systematic observation of one’s experience.
Structuralism was an attempt by psychology to become scientific; experiments were conducted to define the different elements of consciousness.
Psychologists were trained to explore behavior by analyzing their own experience, introspectionism as a method was heavily criticized because it was a vague concept that did not lend itself to scientific replication. Moreover, it was difficult to learn and was subjective.
Structuralism however provided a limited view of psychology and there arose a different perspective called behaviorism. Behaviorism posits that the goal of psychology is to examine behavior. Overt behavior as seen by behaviorists as the only human facet that can be objectively analyzed, how a person reacts or behaves towards a stimuli explains behavior (Zimbardo, Gerrig & Richard, 1999).
Behaviorists believed that a person can be trained to exhibit a certain behaviory providing him/her with the right environment and learning. Although behaviorism gained popularity in the field of psychology, many criticized it as being too mechanistic and take the humanness out of the person. One of the appeal of behaviorism however was that it was very objective and treated mental processes as kind of a black box that should not be given due importance because it was not overtly possible. Behaviorists think that a person’s behavior is a reaction to the presenting stimuli.
Behaviorism used the scientific method to study behavior; one of its most important contributions is the concept of classical and operant conditioning. It has been applied to a wide range of psychological fields like education, training and psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis was developed by Freud in the period when Behaviorism was at its height. Psychoanalysis as a psychological perspective says that man’s behavior is influenced by his experiences during childhood (Conlan, 1994).
Psychoanalysis also believes that human behavior is greatly influenced by the unconscious part of the human mind. He likened the human mind to an iceberg wherein the tip was the part that was conscious. Psychoanalytic theory argues that an individual’s internal conflict is brought about by the repressed desires of the person. The method used by psychoanalysis is free association, wherein the person is asked to relate to the therapist what comes to mind, aside from free association, psychoanalysis also delved into dream analysis and hypnosis.
The theory was criticized for giving too much importance to the unconscious and at that time, Freud offered a controversial perspective of human behavior which many did not understand, however it has become one of the most important theories in psychology and many theorists within this orientation developed. Psychoanalytic theory however lacked scientific credence as it was focused on personal thoughts, memories and interpretations of which differed from one theorist to another.