Major Perspectives in Psychology
Synopsis: Psychology is currently defined as “the science of behavior and cognitive processes” (Baron & Kalsher, 2003). However, psychology is a fairly new discipline and has a history of differing opinions on what the focus of the field should be and the manner in which human behaviour should be studied. The field has evolved from many different perspectives and this article explores the eight main that influenced the discipline greatly.
8 Major Perspectives in Psychology
The formal beginning of modern psychology is usually traced back to 1879 when the first experimental laboratory for psychology was established in Leipzig, Germany by Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt firmly believed the scientific method could be used to study human behaviour. He was primarily interested in the study of conscious experience and wanted to analyse the simplest constituents or the building blocks of the mind. Wundt focused his research on such tasks as analyzing sensations, feelings, and images into their most basic parts. He did this using the method of introspection, in which individuals describe in detail what is going on in their own minds, their own mental processes and experiences. This perspective was known as structuralism. Another major figure associated with structuralism is Edward Titchener. Titchener believed that an experience should be evaluated as a fact, as it exists without studying the significance or value of that experience. According to him, the “anatomy of the mind” had little to do with how or why the mind functions. Structuralism eventually lost popularity as many psychologists felt that introspection was not scientific or verifiable.
The functionalist approach was developed by an American psychologist named William James. He set up a psychological laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts a little after the setting up of one in Leipzig. In contrast to structuralism, William James believed that instead of the structure of the mind, psychology should study what the mind does, its capabilities and how behaviour functions in allowing people to deal with their environments. Functionalists focused on how behaviour helped people satisfy their needs. According to William James, the interaction between one’s environment and their consciousness as an ongoing stream of mental processes should be the core of psychology. John Dewey, an influential academic, used functionalism to argue that human beings seek to function effectively by adapting to their environment. Functionalism focused on practical applications of the research.
Another response to structuralism was the movement of behaviorism. Around 1910, John Watson rejected the ideas of mind and consciousness as topics of study within psychology. He believed that psychology must focus on what is observable and verifiable. As the mind is not observable and introspection is subjective as it is not verifiable, he discarded their study. Other internal processes like thoughts, feelings,s, and intentions were also disregarded in his view as they cannot be measured objectively. He defined psychology as a study of behavior and overt activities which can be observed, measured, and studied objectively in a scientific manner. Many influential psychologists further propagated the behavioral perspective like Skinner who applied behaviorism to a wide range of situations and also popularised the approach.
4. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic perspective
Psychoanalysis was a perspective founded by Sigmund Freud. He viewed human behaviour to be a result of the dynamic interaction between one’s unconscious desires and conflicts. He believed that human beings were motivated by their unconscious desire for pleasure that was often sexual in nature and the gratification of these desires. Psychoanalysis was a system used to understand and cure psychological disorders. In order to treat his patients, Freud used hypnosis and free association to bring the unconscious material that caused conflict or anxiety to conscious awareness to be worked through.
Many other psychologists who worked under Freud, like Carl Jung, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler went on to develop their own theories based on Freud’s psychoanalysis and these theories constitute the psychodynamic perspective.
5. Humanistic perspective
In contrast to the psychodynamic perspective, the humanistic perspective took a more positive view of human nature. Humanists focused on the free will of human beings and their natural striving to grow and discover their inner potential. The humanistic approach is concerned with an individual growing in the areas of love, fulfillment, self-worth, and autonomy (Britannica, 2020). The concept of the self is the focus of utmost importance for humanistic psychologists. They disagreed with psychoanalysis and did not believe that people were driven by their unconscious sexual desires. They also rejected the behavioral perspective and did not believe that human behavior was solely determined by interaction with one’s environment. Popular humanist psychologists include Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.
Read More about Humanistic Perspective
6. Cognitive perspective
The cognitive perspective focuses on how we know about the world. Cognition is the process of knowing. It involves thinking, understanding, memorising, problem-solving, decision making, and many other mental processes by which our knowledge of the world develops. This knowledge aids humans in dealing with and adapting to the environment. Cognitive perspective looks at the human mind as an information processing system similar to a computer which receives, processes, transforms and stores information. This views human beings as actively constructing their minds by exploring their physical and social environments. Jean Piaget was a pioneer of this perspective. This perspective was a result of the cognitive revolution in the 1950s which came about due to large amounts of research and data being collected on cognitive processes that gave scientists new insights.
7. Biological perspective
The biological perspective mainly explores and studies the relationship between psychological processes and the underlying physiological events. This is called the mind-body phenomenon. It focuses on the function of the brain and the nervous system in psychological activities. It looks at the physical basis for the reception of different stimuli by the nervous system, especially focusing on the visual and auditory systems. Other areas of interest within this perspective include the physiological bases for emotion, motivation, learning, memory, thinking, and mental disorders. Other physical factors like heredity, metabolism, hormones and drug ingestion that affect behaviour and psychological processes are also studied in this perspective.
8. Sociocultural perspective
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, sociocultural perspective is an approach that highlights the role of environmental factors like society, culture, and social interaction plays on influencing an individual’s behaviour and mental health (“sociocultural perspective., n.d.). A major pioneer of this perspective was Lev Vygotsky, who proposed the sociocultural theory of development which posited that the developmental process was children honing their cognitive functions and attaining mastery through interaction with their surroundings and guidance from more skilled individuals like parents, teachers. This perspective also views the cultural context as an important determining factor that decided how, where, and when children interact with their physical and social environments (“sociocultural perspective., n.d.).
Baron, R., & Kalsher, M. (2003). Psychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.