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Debates in Psychology
In essence, this debate boils down to whether the approach explains behaviour in terms
of innate factors or the environment.
The approaches: The biological approach takes a strong nature argument, as it explains
human behaviour in terms of genes, brain structures, hormones and neurotransmitters,
which are all innate factors. The behaviourist approach on the other hand sees all
behaviour has a product of the environment, and so takes the nurture side of the debate.
The psychodynamic and cognitive approaches are somewhere in the middle, as they take
into account both nature and nurture. This is called an interactionist approach as it sees
behaviour as a product of the interactions between innate and environmental factors.
The psychodynamic approach looks at innate drives (nature) and childhood
development (nurture). The cognitive approach examines internal mental processes
which are seen as universal (nature) and how the environment affects our thinking and
Strengths and weaknesses: Any approach which takes a strong stance on either end of
the nature/nurture spectrum is going to be ignoring some explanations. For example, the
behaviourist approach ignores the role of genes, which research suggests play a large
part in our behaviour. Likewise, the biological approach does not appreciate the
importance of the environment on behaviour. An interactionist approach is best, as it
takes into account all factors. However, it could be argued that while the psychodynamic
and cognitive approaches are interactionist, they still ignore some explanations. For
example, neither takes into account the role of genes.
This debate assesses how the approach provides explanations for behaviour. Reductionist
explanations break down complex behaviour into smaller, easier to understand parts.
Holistic explanations state that you can not fully understand behaviour without looking
at the whole picture, and that it is the interaction between the smaller parts which
An analogy would be explaining a car. A reductionist explanation of a car would explain
what a car is by breaking apart the engine, and explaining what each bit does, or by
looking at the wheels and the pedals and describing their form and function. However
this explanation would be limited in its ability to explain the "car-ness" of the car. A
holistic explanation on the other hand would describe the car as a whole, how the
engine, the wheels and the pedals interact to create movement. It would explain the form
and function of the entire car, it's uses etc.
The approaches: Again, all four approaches are reductionist to an extent. The biological
approach is reductionist as it explains complex behaviour by looking at the role of genes,
hormones etc which are small, easy to understand components. The behaviourist
approach is also reductionist, as it boils down all human behaviour to a series of
stimulus-response associations. The cognitive approach is reductionist as it sees humans
as little more than complex information processors (the computer analogy) and often
ignores the role of emotions. The psychodynamic approach explains all adult behaviour
by events in childhood, specifically psychosexual development.
Strengths and weaknesses: Similarly to determinism, a reductionist approach is scientific
as it produces explanations that are easy to test. Reductionism underlines all
psychological research, as scientists aim to break down complex phenomena into smaller
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However, reductionist explanations can over simplify
complex behaviour, and be limited in its ability to explain.
This debate refers to the methods of investigation that an approach uses. Nomothetic
methods are where researchers investigate large groups of people with the aim of
producing general laws that apply to everybody.…read more