Perspectives in Psychology | General Psychology

 download (7)Perspectives in Psychology

An approach is a perspective (i.e. view) that involves certain assumptions (i.e. beliefs) about human behavior: the way they function, which aspects of them are worthy of study and what research methods are appropriate for undertaking this study. There may be several different theories within an approach, but they all share these common assumptions.You may wonder why there are so many different psychology perspectives and whether one approach is correct and others wrong.  Most psychologists would agree that no one perspective is correct, although in the past, in the early days of psychology, the behaviorist would have said their perspective was the only truly scientific one.

Each perspective has its strengths and weaknesses, and brings something different to our understanding of human behavior.  For this reason, it is important that psychology does have different perspectives to the understanding and study of human and animal behavior.

The early years of psychology were marked by the domination of a succession of different schools of thought. If you have ever taken a psychology course in school, you probably remember learning about these different schools which included structuralism, functionalism, psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanism. As psychology has grown, so has the number and variety of topics that psychologists investigate. Since the early 1960s, the field of psychology has flourished and continued to grow at a rapid pace, and so has the depth and breadth of subjects studied by psychologists.

1. The Psychodynamic Perspective

The psychodynamic perspective originated with the work of Sigmund Freud. This view of psychology and human behavior emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind, early childhood experiences, and interpersonal relationships to explain human behavior and to treat people suffering from mental illnesses.

Psychoanalysis became one of the earliest major forces within psychology thanks to Freud’s work and influence. Freud conceived of the mind as being composed of three key elements: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the part of the psyche that includes all the primal and unconscious desires. The ego is the aspect of the psyche that must deal with the demands of the real world. The superego is the last part of the psyche to develop and is tasked with managing all of our internalized morals, standards, and ideals.

2. The Behavioral Perspective

Behavioral psychology is a perspective that focuses on learned behaviors. Behaviorism differed from many other perspectives because instead of emphasizing internal states, it focused solely on observable behaviors.

While this school of thought dominated psychology early in the twentieth century, it began to lose its hold during the 1950s. Today, the behavioral perspective is still concerned with how behaviors are learned and reinforced. Behavioral principles are often applied in mental health settings, where therapists and counselors use these techniques to explain and treat a variety of illnesses.

3. The Cognitive Perspective

During the 1960s, a new perspective known as cognitive psychology began to take hold. This area of psychology focuses on mental processes such as memory, thinking, problem solving, language and decision-making. Influenced by psychologists such as Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura, this perspective has grown tremendously in recent decades.

Cognitive psychologists often utilize an information-processing model, comparing the human mind to a computer, to conceptualize how information is acquired, processed, stored, and utilized.

4. The Biological Perspective

The study of physiology played a major role in the development of psychology as a separate science. Today, this perspective is known as biological psychology. Sometimes referred to as biopsychology or physiological psychology, this point of view emphasizes the physical and biological bases of behavior.

Researchers who take a biological perspective on psychology might look at how genetics influence different behaviors or how damage to specific areas of the brain influence behavior and personality. Things like the nervous system, genetics, the brain, the immune system, and the endocrine systems are just a few of the subjects that interest biological psychologists.

This perspective has grown significantly over the last few decades, especially with advances in our ability to explore and understand the human brain and nervous system. Tools such as MRI scans and PET scans allow researchers to look at the brain under a variety of conditions. Scientists can now look at the effects of brain damage, drugs, and disease in ways that were simply not possible in the past.

5. The Cross-Cultural Perspective

Cross-cultural psychology is a fairly new perspective that has grown significantly over the last twenty years. These psychologists and researchers look at human behavior across different cultures. By looking at these differences, we can learn more about how our culture influences our thinking and behavior.

For example, researchers have looked at how social behaviors differ in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. In individualistic cultures, such as the U.S., people tend to exert less effort when they are part of a group, a phenomenon known as social loafing. In collectivistic cultures such as China, however, people tend to work harder when they are part of a group.

6. The Evolutionary Perspective

Evolutionary psychology is focused on the study of how evolution explains physiological processes. Psychologists and researchers take the basic principles of evolution, including natural selection, and apply them to psychological phenomena. This perspective suggests that these mental processes exist because they serve an evolutionary purpose – they aid in survival and reproduction.

7. The Humanistic Perspective

During the 1950s, a school of thought known as humanistic psychology emerged. Influenced greatly by the work of prominent humanists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, this perspective emphasizes the role of motivation on thought and behavior.

Concepts such as self-actualization are an essential part of this perspective. Those who take the humanist perspective focus on the ways that human beings are driven to grow, change, and develop their personal potential. Positive psychology is one relatively recent movement in psychology that has its roots in the humanist perspective

Perspectives Conclusion

Therefore, in conclusion, there are so many different perspectives in psychology to explain the different types of behavior and give different angles.  No one perspective has explanatory powers over the rest.

Only with all the different types of psychology, which sometimes contradict one another (nature-nurture debate), overlap with each other (e.g. psychoanalysis and child psychology) or build upon one another (biological and health psychologist) can we understand and create effective solutions when problems arise so we have a healthy body and a healthy mind.

The fact that there are different perspectives represents the complexity and richness of human (and animal) behavior. A scientific approach, such as behaviorism or cognitive psychology, tends to ignore the subjective (i.e. personal) experiences that people have. 

The humanistic perspective does recognize human experience, but largely at the expense of being non-scientific in its methods and ability to provide evidence.  The psychodynamic perspective concentrates too much on the unconscious mind and childhood. As such, it tends to lose sight of the role of socialization (which is different in each country) and the possibility of free will.

The biological perspective reduces humans to a set of mechanisms and physical structures that are clearly essential and important (e.g. genes).  However, it fails to account for consciousness and the influence of the environment on behavior.

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