Origins of psychology (Wundt and The emergence of

  • Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology lab in Germany in the 1870's. 
  • He pioneered introspection = Breaking up conscious awareness into thoughts, images and sensations. 
  • Advocated standardised procedures where the same instructions are given to all patients, so procedures could be replicated. 
  • He helped to separate psychology from its philosophical roots. 
  • John B. Watson argued that introspection was subjective, and not scientific (1900)
  • B.F. Skinner introduced carefully controlled lab studies, that then dominated the psychology (1930s)
  • Cognitive psychologists (1950s) then used the scientific procedures to infer mental processes
  • In the 1990s the biological approach started to record brain activity using fMRI and EEG 
  • + : Modern psychology can claim to be scientific, as cognitive and biological approaches rely on the use of scientific methods, e.g. Lab studies. Wundt's method of recording introspection in a controlled lab environment is scientific but relying on self-report methods is less scientific. 
  • - : Not all approaches use objective methods, e.g. humanistic approach (documenting unique experiences) or psychodynamic approach which relies on the case study method. 
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The learning approach: Behaviourism

Key ***umptions: Focus on observable behaviour only, controlled lab studies, use of non-human animals. Behaviourists suggest that learning is the same in all species. 

Cl***ical conditioning - learning through ***ociation. Conditioning dogs to salivate when a bell rings. Shows how a neutral stimulus can come to create a new learned response through ***ociation. Operant conditioning - Skinner's research - Learning is shaped and maintained by consequences. A rat activated a lever and it was rewarded w a food pellet. Desirable consequence meant the behaviour was repeated. Positive reinforcement = Receiving a reward when behaviour is performed. Negative reinforcement = Receiving a punishment when behaviour is performed. 

+ : Behaviourism gave psychology scientific credibility focusing on objectivity and replication. Has real-life application in token economy systems which are used in prisons and psychiatric hospitals. Suitable for patients that are unable to talk about their problems. 

- : Portrays a mechanistic view, sees animals (and humans) as p***ive machine-like responders, with little insight into their behaviour. Where SLT places emphasis on the mental events that occur during learning. The approach sees all behaviours as determined by the environment, ignoring any influence of free will. Skinner taking the drastic view that free will is an illusion. Ethical issues. 

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Learning approach: Social Learning Theory

Key assumptions: Learning takes place in a social context through observation and imitation of others behaviour. Vicarious reinforcement = Children observe others behaviour and if they see it rewarded it is more likely to be repeated.

The four mediational processes in learning: 1. Attention 2. Retention 3. Motor reproduction 4. Motivation 

You are more likely to imitate the behaviour of role models, those that are high-status and famous, like ourselves, and likeable. 

Bandura's research 1 - children watched an adult behave either aggressively or not towards the doll and then they were observed interacting with the bobo doll. The children that had seen aggressive behaviour displayed were in turn more aggressive to the doll that those who hadn't'. 

Bandura's research 2 - Children saw an adult be rewarded/punished/no consequence. This children who saw aggression rewarded were more aggressive than those who didn't. 

Suggests that children are likely to imitate acts of violence if they observe these in an adult role model. 

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SLT: Evaluation

Emphasises the importance of cognitive factors in learning. 

  • SLT provides a more complete explanation of human learning that the behaviourist approach by recognising the role of mediational processes. Compared to classical conditioning or operant conditioning that omits cognitive factors. 

SLT relies too heavily on evidence on controlled lab studies. 

  • Many of Bandura's ideas were developed from work in lab studies that increases demand characteristics. A bobo doll has no other uses but being hit. Children may have been behaving as they were expected. Meaning the research does not tell us how children learn aggression in everyday life. 

SLT underestimates the influence of biological factors.

  • A consistent finding of Bandura's research was the boys showing more aggression than girls, regardless of the experimental condition. This may be explained by the higher levels of testosterone present in boys and is linked to aggression. Bandura may have underplayed biological factors in social learning. 
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The cognitive approach

Key assumptions: Study mental processes, Mental processes cannot be observed so they are studied indirectly by making assumptions about what is happening internally. The use of theoretical models that suggest that information flows through input, storage and retrieval, like the multi-store model. Computer models are programmes that can be run on a computer to imitate the human mind. Psychologists can then test whether their ideas are correct. 


  • Schema are packages of information developed through experience
  • Acting as a 'mental framework' for the interpretation of information received by the cognitive system.  As we get older, our schema becomes more detailed. 

The emergence of cognitive neuroscience = The study of the influence of brain structures on mental processes

  • Advances in brain-scanning technology mean scientists have been able to describe the neurological basis of mental processing. 
  • E.g. research that linked semantic and episodic memories to opposite sides of the prefrontal cortex
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The cognitive approach: Evaluation

  •  + : Uses scientific and objective methods. Using lab studies to infer cognitive processes at work. Creating the field of cognitive neuroscience which is both biology and psychology. This means that studying the mind has a credible, scientific basis. 
  • - : Based on machine reductionism. Although there are similarities between humans and computers, the computer analogy has been criticised. E.g. human emotion has been shown to increase the accuracy of recall, in eyewitness testimonies. This means that the cognitive approach oversimplified human cognitive processing and ignores emotions which may have an influence on performance. 
  • -: Lacks external validity. The approach can only infer processes from the behaviour they observe so the approach can be too abstract and theoretical. Research is often based on artificial stimuli, e.g. recall of word lists for studies on memory, which may not represent everyday life. 
  • +: The dominant approach today. Has been applied to many concepts. Making an important contribution to artificial intelligence and robots. Exciting advances that may change the way we live in the future. 
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The biological approach

Key assumptions: 

  • Everything psychological is first biological - to understand human behaviour we must look at human biology. 
  • Behaviour has a genetic and neurochemical basis - behaviours are inherited the same way as eye colour. Neurochemistry also explains behaviour, e.g. serotonin in OCD
  • The mind and body and one and the same - The mind lives in the brain
  • Twin studies - Investigate the genetic basis of behaviour. Concordance rate = The extent to which twins share the same characteristic. Higher concordance rates in MZ twins than DZ twins is evidence of a genetic basis
  • Genotype = Genetic make-up. Phenotype = the way the genes are expressed. The expression of genotype is influenced by environmental factors. Human behaviour depends on the interaction between nature and nurture. 
  • The theory of evolution - used by biological psychologists to explain many aspects of behaviour. By Charles Darwin. Any genes that allowed for increased likelihood of survival will be passed on to future generations. 
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The biological approach: Evaluation

  • Uses scientific methods of investigation, e.g. scanning techniques and drug trials. It is possible to measure biological processes without bias. The approach is based on reliable data. 
  • Has real-life applications. The increased understanding of biochemical processes that happen in the brain has led to the development of psychoactive drugs that treat serious mental disorders. Means that sufferers can lead a normal life, outside of a hospital. 
  • Based on a determinist view of behaviour. Sees behaviour governed by internal biological processes, which we have no control over. This is opposite to our current legal system which holds people responsible for their own actions. The discovery of a 'criminal gene' would cause a huge complication for our legal system. Such research may have negative consequences for society, offering criminals a scapegoat. 
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The psychodynamic approach

  • Not interested in the brain but the mind
  • The mind is split into three levels, the conscious mind, the pre-conscious and unconscious
    • The unconscious mind has two functions; to keep disturbing memories from surfacing and contain biological instincts and drives
  • Ego defence mechanisms - protects itself from potentially harmful thoughts
    • Repression - forcing a distressing memory out of the conscious mind
    • Denial - refusing to acknowledge the reality of the situation
    • Displacement - transferring feelings from the true source onto a substitute target
  • Personality is split into three parts
    • Id - pleasure principle, present from birth, instant gratification
    • Superego - Morality principle, develops later in life, develops after identification w/ same-sex parent
    • Ego - reality principle, moderate between superego and Id. 
  • Psychosexual stages - the way the child is treated at each stage is crucial to their personality
    • E.g. Oral - 0-18 months. Pleasure is centred around the mouth. Feeding reduces negative feelings of hunger. Cause of fixation = deprivation of love or food. Possible consequence = Smoking
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The psychodynamic approach: evaulation

  • Freud's focus on the mind is unscientific
    • Most of his research, e.g. dream analysis, is unfalsifiable, and many of his concepts occur at an unconscious level so are impossible to test. 
  • Subjectivity 
    • It is highly unlikely that another researcher would come to the same conclusion. 
  • Deterministic = Freud takes the extreme stance in that free will is an illusion and does not take into account external variables.


  • A new form of therapy
  • Designed to access the unconscious
  • Successful w/ patients w/ mild neuroses
  • But inappropriate and harmful for patients with schizophrenia
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The humanistic approach

key assumptions:

  • Free will is an illusion, we are active agents with the ability to determine our futures
  • People have a hierarchy of needs to be happy and arrive at self-actualisation = a person's motivation to reach their full potential
  • Psychology should study what makes people healthy and happy and not obsess over the negatives in life
  • Animals are qualitatively different to humans
  • Congruence
    • By Rodgers, personal growth there needs to be congruence between their ideal self, and their actual self
    • Person-centred therapy helps to achieve this goal
  • Conditions of worth = unconditional positive regard is v important in childhood, parenting that imposes conditions of worth leads to issues with mental wellbeing, e.g. self esteem in adults
  • Person-centred therapy
    • Carl Rodgers encourages personal growth, therapist needs to reward the client with value and unconditional positive regard, no matter what the client says. Does not work for everyone as it is client-led
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Humanistic approach - Evaluation


  • The concept of personal growth as a key to happiness is quite likely. The idea that each layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs must be met before progression occurs makes sense, e.g. no cares for morality if you are starving. 

  • Portrays a positive image of the human condition. Sees humans as in control of their lives and able to enact change. Freud saw humans as ‘slaves to their past’ whereas the humanistic approach offers a refreshing and optimistic alternative 

Has limited application in the real world. Although it has revolutionised counselling techniques, humanistic psychology has had a limited impact within psychology as a whole. Perhaps because of a lack of a scientific basis. The approach has been described as a set of abstract concepts instead of a comprehensive theory.

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