Theoretical Schools of Thought: Psychological Perspectives

church gateThere are seven different Theoretical Schools of Thought or Psychological Perspectives which are simply different ways in which psychologists think about or study human behavior. Some psychologists would say there are only five, or six, or even eight.  I have found that these seven are the most prudent and appropriate for today’s day and age.  Each perspective contributes to the body of psychological knowledge.  Each provides a different take on why people act, feel, and think as they do.  I will discuss each of these perspectives in more general terms.  I will also conclude with my own thoughts on each of these perspectives.  I will also, on a later date, give each perspective a more thorough discussion.

Psychodynamic Perspective. Sigmund Freud brought about most aspects of psychodynamics.  He believed that we do not have free will, or we have very little of it.  This perspective looks at our childhood and believes that our experiences in our childhood create our adult behaviors.  This perspective looks at our unconscious mind and believes that it is within our subconscious that our consciousness behaves. That we may have behaviors that we do not understand; we react to things with anger or disgust or are just generally erratic, and it’s our subconscious that has the greater impact on our behavior.  It’s like looking at a huge iceberg.  Find a picture of an iceberg and it will give you a better sense of this perspective.  It shows very little on the surface of the water (our behaviors and reaction to others), whereas the bulk of the iceberg is under the water (the reason behind our behavior is inside our subconscious).  In order to help patients, this perspective focuses on changing behavior by exploring the roots of the behavior in the unconscious mind, believing that behaviors are influenced by unconscious processes and unresolved past conflicts.

Thoughts: Absolutely, we know that if we suffer some traumatic experience as a child, we will be impacted by that as we get older (death of a parent, being abused, etc.).  However, believing that our free will is mostly determined by our unconscious is out-of-date.  Many in the field of psychology no longer subscribe to Freudian thinking, thankfully, but it is important to understand that parts of what Freud studied still has meaning in psychology today.

Behavioral Perspective. This perspective stands on the belief that actions are a result from what humans have learned and how people have been conditioned.  Behavior is not innate; there are objective, observable, environmental influences on our overt behavior.  The behaviorist believe that we are conditioned or trained to behave the way we do, either by our parents or our otherwise social environment.  If parents are loving and kind, then we are more likely to be the same; if parents are violent and unempathetic then we would most likely behave in that manner.

In the Behavioral Perspective, people are born with a blank slate and are conditioned into their behaviors. This approach believes that our behaviors are created by operant and classical conditioning.  Operant conditioning can best be described as punishments and rewards.  If you get punished for doing something wrong, then you learn (most of the time) to not do that unacceptable behavior.  If you do something well and are rewarded, then you are more likely to repeat that acceptable behavior.  Classical conditioning is behavior that is basically subconsciously learned and become automatic.  When we hear a siren while driving, we automatically pull over; when the radio is on and you hear “Y…” you automatically start singing (whether out loud or in your head) “MCA”; or when you hear the theme song to Halloween, you automatically check your cell phone (that’s my ringtone but you get the idea).

Thoughts: Absolutely, we are conditioned into many of our behaviors. Thankfully so, or else the world would run amok if we were not able to control the behaviors of our children, students, or violent-driven people, societies, countries or nations.  However, we are not only driven to behave conditionally.  We can say that we will deal with the consequences later, even if we do something we know is not acceptable (sneaking out of the house as a teenager to watch an all-night showing of the Friday the 13th movies was totally worth the punishment).

Humanistic Perspective. This is also known as Humanism.  Here, human nature is fundamentally good; we are naturally positive and we seek to continually grow.  Humanistic psychology views a person as a whole, not concentrating on just the bad behaviors or just the good ones.  And that it is through love and nurturing that helps to build a healthy self-image.

This perspective also states that each of us is responsible for our own end result, meaning that we are the only ones that can make ourselves happy. We all are born with the capability and desire to reach our highest potential.  We have free will and no matter what our past was, we can always make the decision to change (either for the better or worse); we have basic needs but after those basic needs are met, then we naturally strive for betterment (check out Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Thoughts: This one is a little harder to accept as a whole, maybe because I have studied the worse of human behavior.  I do believe that it is through love and nurturing that people as a whole can have better self-imaging; cultures who celebrate humanity equally have less disdain within that culture than societies who still see women, the disabled, or the deformed to be less of less worth.  However, I have met many people who have been quite content with sitting on their couch and mooching off their parents (or worse, the state) and not “seeking growth” other than in their bellies.

Cognitive Perspective. This perspective focuses on sensory perception, thought, memory, and other functions of the brain.  This includes perceiving, problem solving, memory, language, and information processing.  Cognitive psychology emphasizes on internal mental processes and what occurs between sensory stimulation and the overt expression of behavior.  Cognition is how knowledge is gained or acquired.  This perspective uses an extreme, scientific methodology and typically studies human behavior through lab experiments and mental exams in order to see how people learn.  Studying how we learn is a large aspect of psychology; how and why we learn determine our behaviors, but to what degree?  The Million Dollar question.

Thoughts: This one is interesting because I have a son who has autism.  Understanding how he learns does not necessarily tell me how he is going to behave.  That aside, it is within this perspective that we can understand the mental behaviors of people who learned language late, who moved a lot during their lives, or who were abused as children.  How we perceive the world definitely has an impact on how we react to that same world.

Neuroscientific/Biopsychological Perspective. Here, the focus is on the importance of innate and genetic factors; genetics and biological processes in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.  Basically that our behavior is influenced by our genes or is genetic.  You see yourself acting exactly like your mother; this perspective believes that it is because you were born with her genetic make-up.  Now understand that this perspective also believes that inherited behavior is also adaptive based on our environment.  Little side note in reference to this perspective, did you know that a man’s testosterone level drops significantly after the birth of a child?  Biopsychologically, this is so the man doesn’t stray (low testosterone levels equals lower sexual appetite) and makes them less aggressive which is why men go goo-goo over babies, especially their own.

This perspective also touches on explaining the biology of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. This disorder is believed to be affected by excessive levels of dopamine, which is a chemical or neurotransmitters in the brain.  Being able to explain this disorder can help to mitigate undesired behaviors.

Thoughts: I pretty much agree with most aspects of this perspective. Biological processes are genetic.  I wouldn’t say that all of our behaviors, thought process or mental make-ups are all genetic, but we cannot deny the influence of genes on that blank slate we get when we are born.

Evolutionary Perspective. The belief here is that psychological traits are the result of natural selection. Natural selection, that is, along with the study of adaption and the evolution of behavior and mental processes.  Our behavior over time has been based on our natural desire to survive and reproduce.

As human beings, we have adapted to our environment and have adjusted our behaviors accordingly over the many moons that mankind has been around. We do not behave, think, or feel the way we did in the time of Caesar or in the dark days of the dark ages.  We can even look at our mental processes going back to the 1970’s, and realize that we are not so ‘free loving’ anymore with acid trips and having such abhorrence to the military as we did in the 1970’s (now we thank any and all military personnel for their service, we don’t look down upon them).  We now know that smoking is bad for us, having unprotected sex with multiple partners is extremely bad for us, and the desire to have both parents involved in the raising of children is very good for everyone.  How we have adapted and evolved in order to ensure survival is of great interest for those studying evolutionary psychology.  And like many great leaders have said, we need to learn from the past in order to not repeat mistakes in the future.

Thoughts: Absolutely, we learn as a society and we have gained much knowledge from our past that has made our current and future societies survive.  We no longer bring thousands of men on a battlefield to ‘duke it out’ or draw-and-quarter men who break the law (although it’s a practice I may get behind if it were to dissuade child-molesters, but I digress…).

Sociocultural Perspective. Individuals are considered in the context of their cultures, histories, and societies. It is the study of human behavior and the interface between the individual and their personal society (family, social circle, etc.).  This perspective looks at a person’s inner states and that person’s outer behaviors.  Social interaction and the cultural determinants of behavior and mental processes is the basic theme of this perspective.  As with the Behavioral Perspective, we learn our overt behaviors from our surroundings.  However, the Sociocultural Perspective also adds our culture or heritage to the mix.  The social differences within different cultures can determine behaviors that widely differ from culture to culture.  The attitudes and behaviors regarding gender, sexual identification, economics, and views of other cultures is a more contemporary (and needed) perspective to study, especially as we have become more and more aware of cultural differences within social media.  For example, our cultural behaviors can stem from using prayer; the culture of Christianity is widely understood, known, and accepted whereas the culture of Wiccans is vastly unknown, misunderstood, so generally unaccepted.  (Side note, Wicca is not devil-worshipping; here is a great link to better understand this religion

Thoughts: I am all for everyone doing and believing whatever it is that makes them happy, as long as they do no harm to anyone else.  This perspective is so important for psychologists to study so that we can teach the world that just because you do not agree with what someone else believes, it does not make you better or worse than they are.  We desperately need to teach all societies that we can all live in this very large planet together and in harmony, even if you eat cow and I do not.

Professor Mercy

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