Obstacle to understanding’
In psychology there are many different and apposing perspectives such as biological, evolutionary, socio-cultural and social constructionist, to name a few. This essay will examine these different views and approaches in psychology in relation to sex and gender as well as development. It will look at the advantages and the disadvantages of having many perspectives to draw on when looking at these two diverse areas in psychology which have been cause for much debate. Is it that these perspectives cause confusion in understanding or do they help to broaden one’s mind and give a well-rounded and more objective view? Having a broad range of perspectives is a central and necessary part in trying to understand these topics as the range provides varied views and explanations. These views and explanations can explain why we are the way we are. However having such a broad range of perspectives can cause confusion as it becomes difficult to provide clear and concise explanations. Developmental psychology suggests that development in humans is influenced by a number of variables such as culture and physiology. When looking at different perspectives of psy-chology within development an evolutionary approach may suggest that individuals develop as they do due to their inherited genetic make-up which has evolved over time. On the other hand the contextual approach acknowledges that there are various factors, which contribute to an individual's development, not just their genetic make-up. These include environmental influences and exposure to society. Using these approaches can give us a greater understanding and a less naïve view of development. Touching upon a wide range of areas allows for a larger and more complete data range from which to draw conclusions that may impact our world. For example, when answering central questions of much debate, such as ‘where does adulthood start?' this has implications on things such as legal driving age, age to vote or even the age of consent which may be determined by conclusions drawn from the sciences. If this question was analysed biologically, perhaps the 'age of adulthood' would be the age of the onset of puberty and would, therefore, differentiate between individuals. If we assume a hypothetical situation in which the driving age was at the onset of puberty there would almost certainly be an epidemic! Of course, in life we do not tend to limit ourselves to one such view but rather a range, so then why should we do the same in psychology? The driving age in the UK is 17, which can be said to reflect the cultural and social expectations where individuals are at a stage of development which renders them suitable to operate a moving vehicle. It can also be said to reflect a stage by which puberty has been reached and at which a certain level of maturity, biologically and cognitively, is expected. This example highlights the importance of not limiting our understanding to the view of just one perspective. In support of this let us consider the biological perspective with regards to gender. It explains that we are made up of and controlled by genes, a number of hormones and neurotrans-mitters. This does not cover the full concept of what 'gender' is. Its explanation is narrow minded and does not acknowledge external factors which may influence the notion of gender. For example, in cases of hermaphroditism where an individual has both male and female sex organs, can a biological approach using hormone level as the causing variable explain the reasons how or why which gender the individual identifies to most. It is likely that we would need to consult a social constructionist perspective that looks at how we are influenced by our external experiences and the world around us. An example of this could be seen in mental health issues. If the cause was purely by a chemical imbalance then this could be treated medically. However, this area is a lot more complex and those that suffer from mental health problems are treated not just with medication but with counselling. Mental health, and in general behaviour, therefore, cannot be said to be solely due to biological dysfunction and that indeed some other factors, usually claimed to be social (Wakefield, 1992), have a large influence. Therefore, since developments, and more controversially gender, are not immune to social factors or biological ones, it is obvious that one perspective is not efficient enough for providing explanations. If we consider everything an individual may experience in their life time from the cul-ture they grow up in, the people they know, their education, health and so on, we see there are so many different situations which may play key roles in an individual’s life. Therefore, in studying humans and their behaviour, we must be aware of the implications of these factors. Hence, having a wide range of perspectives which allows us to do so is beneficial to our understanding. Furthermore, dividing psychology into branches of perspectives allows for deeper research into each of them and expands our knowledge faster than if one was to provide the same amount of research under one perspective. Each of the different perspectives provides a different yet plausible theory. In this we have the freedom to critically analyse a range of theories and make an informed decision about which may hold the most truth. In addition, we also have the freedom to merge perspectives to provide a more informative theory. This seems to occur more often in modern psychology which newer theories suggesting multi-faceted theories (Wakefield, 1992; Pinker, 2002). Furthermore, each perspective on its own is inadequate. For example, the psychodynamic perspective focuses on childhood and ignores the rest of life beyond this. Childhood is a relatively short period of the average life span, and does not cover the full extent on an individual. Some perspectives tend to be overly scientific, such as cognitive approaches, which can disregard individuals' personal experiences. Therefore, it is necessary that we look at all perspectives to draw out as much knowledge as we possibly can. Since the implications psychology has directly affect people, it is in our ethical interest to be aware and understand such a range of information in order to provide treatments which are suitable.
However, relying on an array of perspectives does have its disadvantages. By not having a single theory we are unable to create rules and laws which may allow for clear concise definitions by which we understand certain phenomena in psychology. We are unable to draw on definite answers to questions about humans. This can create confusion in understanding which view holds the right answer, or even the one which is most true. Our understanding is affected by how much research there is within a certain area, how respected a view point is and the extent to which is it studied. However, since some perspectives oppose one another, how would we even begin to form one all-inclusive theory? It would an arduous and perhaps an impossible task to reduce the perspectives in one view. The different perspectives reflect the intricacies of behaviour which cannot be reduced into one simple formula. Consider the richness in variables which may influence behaviour. Then consider the amount of variability within each of these variables. For example, if one claims culture influences behaviour we must then consider each type of culture and the types of influences it may have. Within each of the types of culture there will then again be more variability. This highlights just how in depth and complex psychology can be, and hence, why a reductionist approach will fail under the weight of the topic as there are so many contributing factors which may account for development and gender. A typical example of this is brought out in one of the most debated topics in psychology - the nature versus nurture argument. Perspectives are generally divided into those who believe traits that are innate; hence, nature has the largest influence. On the other hand are those who believe it is more the environment we live in that moulds and shapes us through operant conditioning, by the consequences of certain behaviour, and classical conditioning, where things are learnt, suggesting nurture is more important. However, most theorists will admit that both nature and nurture play significant roles in all aspects, not just development and gender.
In conclusion, it is clear that each perspective in psychology is a valuable contribution to explanations of sex and gender and lifespan development. There is no one single correct answer in trying to explain why we are the way we are in terms of our gender or our continual lifespan development. Behaviour has to be looked at from all angles or else we would have tunnelled vision perspectives that would only account for part of certain cause and effect type scenarios. It is due to having all these different types of perspectives that we are able to formulate a well-rounded understanding of the human species. With most of the theories it is clear that there are either coexisting or complimentary to one another as with sociocultural and social constructionist approaches. There are, however, conflicting debates in approaches which presents us with the issue of having to choose which theories are better explain phenomena. Overall, it appears as though having many perspectives is beneficial to understanding.