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Using psychological knowledge and research evidence, discuss the issue of free will vs.
determinism in psychology (22)
Free will is the view that out behaviour is determined by our own will rather than by other forces.
Individuals have an active role in choosing their own behaviour. They are therefore free to choose
any course of action, and are not determined by internal and external pressures. If there is genuine
freewill present, then, there is a sense of moral responsibility. Moreover, freewill is also compatible
with determinism. This therefore suggests that freewill and determinism can both exist. Libertarians
do not believe in determinism; consider everything/one is free willed. Determinism on the other
hand, is the view that an individual's behaviour is shaped or controlled by internal or external forces,
rather than an individual's will to do something. This means that behaviour should be predictable, and
an effect should be attributable to a cause. Soft determinism takes the view that, not all situations
are exactly the same. Whereas, hard determinism takes on the view that determinism and freewill
are in compatible. It is very difficult to judge where psychology stands in this debate, as all
approaches have different interpretations of free will and determinism.
The biological approach is deterministic. It therefore suggests that the idea that behaviour is under
the control of internal biological factors including genetics, neurochemistry, brain structures and the
hormonal system. The biological approach explains all behaviour and mental disorder in terms of
these factors. Often a high concordance rate is found between genetically similar people, which
suggests a genetic basis for particular behaviours or mental illness; this is known as genetic
determinism. There are also evolutionary explanations of human behaviour. This assumes that
behaviour can be explained by the inheritance of physical and psychological characteristics. A key
example of this is the research carried out by Buss, who argued that human mating behaviour is best
explained though evolutionary adaption. Also, Bennett- Levy and Marteau argue that we are
genetically predetermined to fear some animals more than others. Furthermore, if we can determine
the cause of a mental illness as being due to neurotransmitters or genetics, it follows that we should
be able to treat the illness with the use of genetic therapy or chemicals which alter
neurotransmitters. If we accept free will, and say that mental illness does not have a cause, it would
be almost impossible to treat.
Also, the explanation that genes are the determinants of human behaviour is limited as we would
expect a 100% concordance rate between identical twins. This does not necessarily mean that there
is free will; it may be that while genes do not provide a complete explanation, there may be other
determinants such as the environment, or hormones.
The behaviourist approach suggests that psychology should be scientific and empirical. Therefore,
we should only study things that can be observed, recorded and measured. The behaviourist also
gathers a hard determinist view; all events are caused. It also assumes that all behaviour is
determined by past experiences and is controlled by external forces in the environment. It sees
people as a product of their environment and of conditioning. This is environmental determinism.
Skinner (1971) argued that freedom is an illusion. We may think that we have freewill, but the
probability of any behaviour occurring is determined by past experiences. He also argued that
freewill is also an illusion. A weakness of the behaviourist approach is that, much of the research
behind behaviourist theories was formed on the basis of findings from animal studies, such as the
Skinner box, or Pavlov's dogs. Behaviourists believe that humans can be similarly conditioned and
produce an entirely predictable response to a given stimulus. Yet, generalisation is problematic
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because human behaviour is much more complex than rat behaviour. As such, caution should be taken
when trying to explain human behaviour in terms of stimulus-response links.
The psychodynamic approach attempts to explain behaviour through childhood experiences. An
example of this is Freud's psychosexual stages. According to Freud's term psychic determinism,
behaviour is determined by the unconscious. Thus, he was a hard determinist and believed free will
was an illusion.…read more