Free Will vs Determinism Essay (A grade) Psychology A2

controversies, 20/22 A grade answer

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Discuss the question of Free Will and Determinism in respect of human behaviour (22 marks)
There are two extreme positions that can be taken in the debate between free will and determinism
and their effects on thoughts/emotions/behaviour; humanism and hard determinism. Humanism is a
psychological approach that suggests that all behaviours are as a result of an individual's free will and
so everyone has conscious freedom to control these factors. Determinism is the opposite end of the
spectrum and claims that all behaviours are determined by factors beyond our conscious control, such
as our genetics and our environment. There is also a less extreme branch of determinism, known as
soft determinism. Soft determinism is the belief that behaviours are partly a result of
pre-determined factors but are, to an extent, due to our free will.
There are three main types of determinism; biological, environmental and psychic. Biological
determinism claims that our behaviours are determined by innate, physiological factors, such as brain
structure and function, hormones and genetics. Environmental determinism states that all behaviour
is produced by what we learn from the environment, through classical and operant conditioning and
the social learning theory e.g. the social learning theory of aggression and classical conditioning
through phobias. Psychic determinism is the belief that our behaviours are determined by our
unconscious mental processes- the id, ego and superego combined with our defence mechanisms-
and also our early childhood experiences.
The behaviourist approach to determinism suggests that our behaviours are determined by the
environment. This is illustrated in Bandura's study of the effects of vicarious reinforcement on
aggression. Bandura separated the children participants into three groups; one group watched adults
behaving aggressively towards a bobo doll and being rewarded, another group saw the same
aggression but the adults being punished and the control group saw the aggression but no
punishment nor reward for the action. Results showed, that children who were watched adults
rewarded for the aggressive behaviour then behaved aggressively towards the doll themselves
when left in a room with it (amongst other toys). Hence, the children learnt to be aggressive and so
had no choice to behave that way- it was not an act of free will. The behaviourist approach in later life
can also be applied to the treatment of phobias. Theoretically, if the environment can cause a fear, it
should also be able to remove the fear i.e. the fear is environmentally determined. Systematic
desensitisation through classical conditioning has been shown to remove fear from an individual
through counter-conditioning ­ the client learns a new response of relaxation to the phobic object to
replace that of fear demonstrating the importance of environmental factors in causing behaviour.
The psychodynamic approach adapts determinism to support its theory that our
thoughts/emotions/behaviours are controlled by the unconscious id, ego and superego. It adopts
psychic determinism and, from this, claims that behaviour is determined by forces within ourselves
that we are unaware of. An action that would help to support this theory is impulse reactions, for
example the sudden strong desire to jump from a large height. Our defence mechanisms rationalise
this by classifying it as fear, rather than a desire to kill ourselves. A further illustration of determinism
within the psychodynamic approach is Freud's theory of unconscious fixations in childhood resulting is
severe problems for adulthood. For instance, difficulties in potty training can determine a person to
be very stingy with their money when they are older or if a child undergoes a traumatic experience
during the oral stage, they may become fixated in the stage, hence are psychologically determined
to smoke when they reach adulthood. Freud also believed that a dysfunctional superego could
explain an individual's criminal nature. The superego is based on morals and it is gained at the end of

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In terms
of a weak superego, a negative relationship between a child and their same sex parent will result in
the child being unable to internalise the parent's moral values. This results in an adult with no/few
morals, which could be the cause of criminal offences. In terms of a harsh superego, a child brought
up very strictly, particularly in terms of sexual behaviour, can mean that sexual instincts cause the
individual to feel ashamed and guilty on an unconscious level.…read more

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Free will can be argued to exist through our `conscious
decision making' that we undergo on a daily basis, for example choosing which clothes to wear in the
morning or whether or not to take the dog for a walk. If, as the humanist approach claims, these
`decisions' are all within our free will, then how can we possibly prove that it is so? At this moment in
time, we cannot.…read more

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