Psychology101

Psychology is The SCIENTIFIC study of BEHAVIOUR and MENTALPROCESSES.

SCIENTIFIC: Psychology uses the systematic methods of science to observe human behaviour and draw conclusions. 

Goals of Psychology as a science: Describe, Predict and Explain behaviour

BEHAVIOUR: Anything done, that can be directly observed

MENTAL PROCESSES: Thoughts, feelings, motives

The two Early Scientific Approaches of Psychology


     1. Structuralism: (Wilhelm Wundt; 1832-1920)
Concerned with the basic structures or elements of the mind. Used Introspection to ‘look inside’ and make deductions on aspects such as sensation and perception. For example, feeling was given 3 dimensions; pleasure/displeasure, tensed/relaxed, excited/depressed
Deals with the ‘what’ of the mind

2. Functionalism: (William Jame; 1842-1910)
Developed from his interest in the school of philosophy called pragmatism;- which holds that to find out the meaning of an idea, one must determine its consequences, and hence such an idea is evaluated on the basis of its usefulness. This approach therefore is not concerned with what the mind is (structures), but what the mind does (purpose, or function). James saw the mind as ‘flexible and fluid, characterised by constant change and adaptation in response to continuous flow of information’ thus opposing structuralisms idea of breaking mental processes into minute, separate components. The constant flow of thought he called ‘stream of consciousness.’  This approach proposes Darwin’s principle of natural selection, an evolutionary process according to which organisms with traits and characteristics that are best adapted to reproduce and survive are the ones favoured by the evolutionary process. 
Deals with the ‘why’ of the mind

Major Perspectives in Psychology
Psychology’s birthplace was definitely structuralism, but today, most psychologists talk about the adaptiveness of behaviour and mental processes and rely on methods beyond introspection to understand the complex processes of the human mind.
Since the debates by Wundt and James on the best way to think about psychology, several other broad approaches have emerged. They are briefly discussed below

i)             Biological Perspective
Focuses on the body, especially the brain and the central nervous system as a way of examining and understanding behaviour and mental processes. Research areas may include pulse rates when one is afraid, sweating hands when one tells a lie. Physiological psychology had its largest breakthrough when neuroscience; the scientific study of the structure, function, development, genetics and biochemistry of the nervous system, emerged. Neuroscience emphasizes the importance of the brain and the nervous system in understanding thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Thoughts and emotions are believed in neuroscience to have their physical basis in the brain.

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Interesting Read: Neuroscience

ii)           Behavioural Perspective
The emphasis here is the scientific study of observable behaviour responses and their environmental determinants. J. B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) are the behaviourists who dominated this field in the first half of the 20th Century. Studies in this approach are laboratory based, under highly controlled conditions. According to skinner, what one does is the ultimate test of who they are, and that rewards and punishments dictate behaviour

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Ponder: Does every behaviour have an environmental determinant?

iii)          Psychodynamic Perspective
According to its founder, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), unlearned biological instincts, especially sexual and aggressive impulses, influence the way people think, feel, and behave. such instincts he claimed, are buried deep within the unconscious mind, and are usually at odds with societal expectations of behaviour. The emphasis of this perspective is unconscious thought, the conflict between biological instincts and society’s expected behaviour, and ealy family experiences. Freud theorized that the way one related with their parents early in life was a major force in shaping their personality.
This perspective formed the basis of psychoanalysis, a therapeutic technique, based on the concept that people are driven by unrecognized wishes, desires and motivations originating from their unconscious. Such drives can only be recognized through a patient-analyst relationship, through listening to a patients stories, fantasies, dreams and discerning patients interpersonal relationships

See: Freudian Slip

iv)          Humanistic/Existential Perspective
The emphasis on this approach are individuals positive qualities, their capacity for positive growth, and the freedom to choose their destiny. According to Marslow (1971) and Rogers (1961), Humans have an ability to take charge of their lives, and avoid being manipulated by environmental cues. That rather than being controlled by unconscious impulses (as posited by the psychodynamic perspective), or by external rewards (as argued by behaviourists), individuals have the capacity to choose to live by higher human values such as altruism,- unselfish concern for others welfare,- and free will. This approach argues that individuals have high abilities to understand themselves, and that being supportive and warm,is the way to help them towards self-understanding. It provides a great deal of the foundations for positive psychology

Aspects: Motivation, emotion, & personality

v)            Cognitive Perspective
Posits that the brain embodies a mind whose mental process facilitate memory, decision making, planning, goal setting, and creativity. It is these mental processes involve knowing how a person directs their attention, perceives, remembers, thinks and solves problems. This approach to psychology also tries to explain short term and long term memories, and how imagery can be used to plan the future. The mind is therefore ‘an active and aware problem solving system.’ Behaviour In this perspective is controlled by mental processes through memories, perceptions, images and thinking

Read: The embodied mind

vi)          Evolutionary Perspective

The basis of behaviour in this young approach to psychology is explained using evolutionary ideas such as adaptation, reproduction and ‘survival of the fittest.’ That evolution not only shapes humans physical features such as body shape, it also has influence on planning, deciding, aggression levels, fears, and mating patterns. Ways of adapting can therefore be traced back to challenges in the environment.  

Q: Why do men and women have different social roles?

vii)        Sociocultural Perspective

This approach looks at how the social & cultural environments determine behaviour. Behaviour here is seen as being context specific and therefore to explain behaviour, one needs to explore the context. What is acceptable in one sociocultural context may be a taboo in another.


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