Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Foundations of Psychology

     Where biology and culture intersect lies psychology. Kowalski and Westen, (2011) “psychology is the scientific investigation of mental processes (thinking, remembering, feeling, etc.) and behavior” (p. 3). At psychology’s beginning there were only a few foundations of psychology, but through further understanding and knowledge more foundations developed. Through psychology, human behavior can be understood through the major schools of thought in psychology. The primary biological foundations of psychology link behaviors.
Schools of Thought in Psychology
     Different schools of thought in psychology represent the major theories that lie within psychology. Structuralism and functionalism were the first major schools of thought in psychology followed by behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology, Gestalt psychology, and cognitive psychology. Edward Titchener, who was a student of Wilhelm Wundt, developed structuralism. Wilhelm Wundt is often described as the “father of psychology,” founded the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879 (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Wundt was using a method called introspection, which he trained observers verbally to report everything that went through their minds when they were presented with a stimulus or task (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Titchener was an advocate of introspection as used in experiments to devising a periodic table of the elements of human consciousness, similar to the periodic table in chemistry (Kowalski & Westen, 2011).
     The interest Titchener had in the study of the structure of consciousness lead to his development of the school of thought of structuralism (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Structuralism attempted to uncover the basic elements of consciousness through introspection and analyze the human mind’s inner processes (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). The assumption in structuralism is that psychology is used to identify the basic elements of consciousness. Functionalism, influenced by Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, emphasized the role or function of psychological processes in helping individuals adapt to their environment (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Instead of focusing on the mental processes, functionalism focuses on the role processes play. The assumption in functionalism is that psychology is a means to investigate the purpose or function of consciousness instead of its structure.
     Behaviorism is the school of thought in psychology based on the work of John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B. F. Skinner, is the belief that behaviors are explained through environmental causes instead of than internal forces. Observable behavior is the focus of behaviorism. It is the assumption of behaviorists that mental events do not play a causal role in human affairs (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Psychoanalysis is the school of thought in psychology founded by Sigmund Freud late in the nineteenth century, is a theory of mental life and behavior and an approach to treating psychological disorders (Kowalski & Westen, 2011).  Psychoanalysis emphasizes the influence of the unconscious mind on behavior. Freud’s belief was that the id, the ego, and the superego were the three elements that composed the human mind.
     The id is composed of primal urges, the ego is a component of personality is charged with dealing with reality, and the superego is a part of personality that holds the values and ideals one internalizes from one’s parents and culture (Cherry, 2012). Freud’s belief was that the interactions of the id, ego, and superego led to complex human behaviors (Cherry, 2012). The assumption of psychoanalysis through Freud is that one is influenced by unconscious forces, which include aggressive and innate sexual drives. In a response to behaviorism and psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology was developed. Humanistic psychology is the school of thought in psychology that was developed as a response to psychoanalysis and behaviorism. The focus of humanistic psychology is individual free will, personal growth, and the concept of self-actualization, therefore instead of focusing on abnormal human behavior it emphasize helping one achieve and fulfill one’s potential (Cherry, 2012). The underlying assumption of humanistic psychology is that if one has the freedom to grow one can reach the highest level of achievement in any aspects of functioning.
Gestalt Psychology
    Gestalt psychology is the school of thought psychology that began late in the 19th century in Austria and Germany and holds that perception is an active experience of imposing order on an overwhelming panorama of details by seeing them as parts of larger wholes (or gestalts) (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). This holds true as for the complex perceptual and cognitive tasks that constitute scientific investigation (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). The underlying assumption of Gestalt psychology is that the one’s mind only functions by recognizing or imposing structures when none are seen. Cognitive psychology is the school of thought in psychology began in the 1950s, in response to behaviorism, which studies the mental processes and how one thinks, learns, perceives, and remembers. Cognitive psychology focuses on how one acquires, processes, and store information (Clark, 2012). The underlying assumption of cognitive psychology are  that human cognition can at least in principle be fully revealed by the scientific method, that is, individual components of mental processes can be identified and understood, and that internal mental processes can be described in terms of rules or algorithms in information processing models (Lu, & Dosher, 2007).  
Biological Foundations of Psychology Linked to Behavior
     The primary biological foundations of psychology linked to behavior are the psychodynamic, behaviorist, cognitive, and evolutionary perspectives. The psychodynamic perspective developed by Sigmund Freud, proposes that one’s actions reflect the way thoughts, feelings, and wishes are associated in one’s mind; that many of these processes are unconscious, and that mental processes can conflict with one another, leading to compromises among competing motives (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). The behaviorist perspective, pioneered by John Watston and B. F. Skinner, is a perspective that focus is on the relation between observable behaviors and environmental events or stimuli (behaviorism) (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). The belief of this perspective is that many reactions are learned, and that behavior is controlled through learning.
Cognitive Perspective
    The cognitive perspective focuses on how or the way one perceives, processes, and retrieve information (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). This perspective is useful in understanding the process behind decision making. The evolutionary perspective was built from Darwin’s principle of natural selection (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). The argument is that human behavioral proclivities must be understood in the context of their evolutionary and adaptive significance (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). There is also the argument that many behavioral tendencies in humans, from the need to eat to concern for their children, evolved because they helped their ancestors survive and rear healthy offspring (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). It is the belief of evolutionary psychologists that the most enduring human attributes during a certain point and time served as a function for humans as biological organisms (Kowalski & Westen, 2011).
     Influencing ones knowledge and understanding of psychology are the major schools of thought, such as structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology, Gestalt psychology, and cognitive psychology. One can identify solely with one school of thought or draw on the theories and ideas from several schools of thought. The four perspectives of psychology, which are the psychodynamic, behaviorist, cognitive, and evolutionary perspective link human behavior. These perspectives are used to study human behavior and allow one to form a thesis about why behaviors occur.
Cherry, K. (2012). About.com, Psychology. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/schoolsthought.htm
Lu, Z. and Dosher, B.A. (2007). Scholarpedia. Retrieved from http://www.scholarpedia.org/article/Cognitive_psychology

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