Who Provides the Better Approach to Human Behaviour, Freud or Skinner

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Why do we behave the way we do? Is our environment responsible for shaping our personalities? Does childhood influence who we are? These are all questions that have intrigued philosophers and society in general for centuries. ‘There are many experts that share and dispute the answers to these questions, but there are two in particular that have contributed greatly in finding explanations’ (Crux, 2006); Sigmund Freud and Burrhus Frederick Skinner. This essay will compare Freud’s and Skinner’s approach towards human behaviour, highlighting the main ideas and focus of their theories and subsequently coming to an informative decision as to who provides the better approach. This is achieved by pinpointing criticisms that hinder their reasoning, practicality and efficiency. ‘Psychodynamic theories embrace all the diverse theories descended from the work of Sigmund Freud, which focuses on unconscious mental forces and asserts the idea that behaviour is caused by internal, mental mechanisms’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 488). Freud’s (1901, 1924, 1940) psychoanalytic theory grew out of his decades of interactions with his clients in psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychoanalytic approach seeks to explain behaviour, motivation and mental disorders by focusing on the influence of early childhood experiences, on unconscious motives and conflicts, and on the methods people use to cope with their sexual and aggressive urges (Weiten, 2001). Freud identified three components of personality structure: the id, the ego and the superego. He saw a person’s behaviour as the result of interactions between these three components. ‘The id is the primitive, instinctive component of personality that operates according to the pleasure principle’ (Weiten, 2001, p.488). The id is entirely centered on your needs and wants, and it drives you to fulfill those desires at whatever cost. The ego is the ‘decision making component of personality that operates according to the reality principle’ (Weiten, 2001, p.488). It causes you to meet your needs and wants in a socially acceptable manner. In the long run, the ego wants to maximise pleasure, just as the id does. However, ‘the id engages in secondary process thinking, which is relatively rational, realistic and orientated towards problem solving’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). In addition, the ego establishes the division between yourself and others, and it identifies the need to negotiate within the world in order to satisfy your desires. The ego also acts as a link between the id and superego. ‘The superego is the moral component of personality that incorporates social standards about what represents right and wrong’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). Furthermore, according to Freud, unconscious conflicts between the id, ego and superego sometimes lead to anxiety. When this happens the ‘ego uses several defense mechanisms including: denial, repression, intellectualization, displacement, projection, reaction formation, identification, regression, rationalization and sublimation’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 34). According to Freud, the id, ego and superego are distributed differently across three levels of awareness: the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. ‘Perhaps Freud’s most enduring insight was his recognition of how unconscious forces can influence behaviour. He inferred the existence of the unconscious from an array of observations that he made with his patients’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). For example, he recognized that ‘slips of the tongue’, or now more commonly known as the Freudian slip, often revealed a person’s true feelings. He also noticed that his patients’ dreams often expressed secret desires. ‘Most important, through psychoanalysis he often helped patients to discover feelings and conflicts of which they had previously been unaware’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). Therefore, put simply the unconscious mind contains thoughts, memories and desires that are not easily accessible but greatly influence our behaviour. ‘The...
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