Four Main Perspectives in Psychology

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There are four main perspectives in psychology. These are known as; behaviourism, humanism, psychodynamic and cognitive. Each of them explain some aspects of human behaviour well, but one perspective cannot explain all human behaviour. Behaviourism is primarily concerned with observable behaviour; the behaviour which can be watched and seen by others. It does not focus on any internal events, such as thinking, memory or the mind. It suggests that all behaviours are the result of some sort of stimulus, which triggers a response. Behaviourists believe that no matter how complicated the behaviour, it can be reduced down to a simple stimulus and response association. Watson described the purpose of psychology as “To predict, given the stimulus, what reaction will take place; or, given the reaction, state what the situation or stimulus is that has caused the reaction.” (1930, p11) Behaviourism suggests that people have no personal agency and that the environment alone determines behaviour. We are assumed to be born Tabula Rasa and the behaviourism perspective believes we learn new behaviour through classical and operant conditioning. Watson believed that classical conditioning explained all aspects of psychology, that the way we behave is just patterns of stimulus and responses. It involves learning behaviour via association. In the ethically dubious experiment Little Albert Watson and Raynor showed the way in which humans and animals could both learn by classical conditioning. Little Albert was a nine month old infant, Watson and Raynor used classical conditioning to make Little Albert afraid of a white rat which he previously had no fear of. Thus proving classical conditioning can be used to create a phobia. (Cited from Watson & Raynor 1920, pp. 1 – 14). “Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors”. (Watson, 1924, p. 104) Skinner believed that the best way to understand behaviour is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. This is called operant conditioning which is based on the work of Thorndike (1905) who suggested the ‘Law of Effect’ theory. Skinner introduced ‘Law of Effect Reinforcement’, suggesting behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated. Essentially it is about changing behaviour by reinforcement (positive or negative) after a desired response. He discovered that any behaviour not reinforced tends to become extinguished. Thorndike studied the way cats behaved when placed in a puzzle box. The cat was encourage to escape the box with food and timed to do so. After opening the box for the first time the cat learned how to open the box and became quicker at doing so, suggesting positive reinforcement strengthens behaviour (Cited from McLeod, 2008, retrieved from Skinner studied operant conditioning by using “Skinners Box” it was similar to Thorndike’s box. Skinners Box also showed how positive reinforcement worked and that it strengthens behaviour. Three factors affect operant conditioning; neutral operants, re-inforcers and punishers. (Cited from McLeod, 2007, retrieved from There are strengths behind this perspective. Behaviourism is applied in behaviour therapy, and used to treat phobias; it can be used to explain relationships, language, moral development, aggression and addiction. It is highly scientific as there are many experiments to support this theory. It emphasizes on objective measurement and data that can be quantitively measured. It also linked the way in which humans and animals learn behaviour. Limitations of behaviourism...
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