Cognitive Approaches in Psychology

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In this essay I will outline two approaches in psychology, compare and contrast them as well discussing the nature and nurture debate regarding both approaches. I will be examining a theorist from each approach outlining and evaluating his theory including the positive alltributes along with the negative. Finally I will include a therapy from each theorist and approach.

The Behaviourist approach focuses on the concept of explaining behaviour by observation, and the belief that our environment is what causes us to behave differently and suffer illnesses. The Behaviourist approach believes that behaviour is influenced by each and every individuals experiences. This could include their background, social and home living circumstances. Behaviourist psychologists argue that when we are born our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ meaning a blank state and that events taking place in our life time can affect and change the way we behave. Behaviour is the the result of stimulus response, i.e all behaviour no matter how complex can be reduced to a simple stimulus response. All behaviour is learnt from the environment. We learn new behaviour through classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is stimulus- response. If a stimulus that results in a emotional response is repeated along with another stimulus which does not cause an emotional response, then eventually the second stimulus will result in the same emotional response. Classical conditioning is therefore learning by association.

Some assumptions are made on the behaviourism approach, for example one assumption made is that there is no mind or body dualism and that everything we do is because of behaviour and not because of the mind. A second assumption would be that discovering a stimuli that causes behaviour associations between stimlulus and response will allow us to predict and control behaviour. They also viewed learning as a change of behaviour due to experience.

However some critics object against the behaviourist view that behaviour is determined by our enviromnets as psychologist Garrett (1996) suggested that ‘... behaviour is now shaped by what goes on inside their heads... and not simply by what goes on in the external environment’ (p.19)

Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour. Through operant conditioning, an association can be made between a certain behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour. For example if a good thing is presented and a certain behaviour is encouraged then the behaviour will increase, this is called positive reinforement. However if the good thing is taken away then the behaviour will decrease. For example is a dog is told to fetch the ball and every time it fetches the ball it gets rewarded with a treat. This would influence the dogs behaviour to always fetch the ball as it will be rewarded.

Another key feature of the behaviourist approach is the social learning theory. The social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. It says that people can learn by observing the behaviour of others and the outcomes of their behaviour.

The cognitive approach deals with metal processes or cognitions. These mental processes include memory, thinking and perceptions. Cognition means “knowing”. Therefore cognition is the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired. Cognitive psychology has been influenced by the developments in computer science and comparisons have often been made between how a cumputer works and we process information. The main focus of the cognitive approach is how information received from our senses is processed by the brain and how this processing affect how we behave. Cognitive processes show examples of hypothetical constructs. This means that we can not directly analyse processes such...
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