Origin of Psychology

Psychology was at first a branch of philosophy. Philosophers such as Rene Descartes investigated the world, including the mind, using methods such as discussion, questioning and thought experiments. However, thought experiments are not evidential and cannot be proven.

Then Wilhelm Wundt came about and believed that science, including the study of the mind, should be objective, replicable and above all, empirical.
He founded the first psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany in 1879, with the aim of explaining human behaviours scientifically. His approach was called structuralism because he looked at the structure of the human mind. To do this, he used strictly controlled experimental conditions, particularly a method known as introspection.
Introspection involves examining conscious thoughts including reflecting on sensations and feelings under carefully controlled conditions. All participants are exposed to the same stimulus, for the same time under the same conditions. All received the same standardised instructions. They simply had to record their reactions to the stimulus.

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Learning approach: Behaviourism

Key assumptions: 

  • We are all blank slates ('tabular rasa') 
  • All behaviours, except from a few innate instincts are learned from experiences an individual has in their environment. 

Classical conditioning - Pavlov's dogs (association)

  • Ivan Pavlov investigated the salivation reflex in dogs when food was present. Salivation is an innate instinct for dogs. He paired the sound of a bell with food repeatedly. The dogs learned to salivate at just the sound of a bell, without the food present. This is a conditioned response. 

Operant conditioning - Skinner box (consequences) 

  • An enclosed box, with a rat placed inside. The lever releases food pellets when pressed. The hungry rat learns to press the leaver by being rewarded for exploring the box. Over a couple of trials, the rat immediately goes to press the lever to receive food. Positive reinforcement = food. Negative reinforcement = electric current. 
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Behaviourism AO3

Behaviourism was influential in the development of psychology as a scientific discipline. This is because behaviourism has scientific credibility and focuses on the measurement of observable behaviour within controlled lab settings. This has an emphasis on objectivity and replication and is a strength of the approach. 

However, behaviourism may offer a mechanistic view of human behaviour. Animals are passive responders to the environment. SLT and the cognitive approach emphasise the importance of mental events during learning. Processes between stimulus and response suggest that humans play a more active role in their own learning. This means that behaviourism may apply less to human behaviour than animal behaviour. 

Environmental determinism is a criticism of behaviourism because it ignores any possible influence that free will may have on behaviour. Behaviourists believe that all behaviour is determined by past experiences that have been conditioned. Skinner suggested that free will is an illusion. However, free will appears to have 'face validity' because as we experience life day to day we feel as if we are exerting free will. 

Animal studies can also be considered problematic as the animals were exposed to stressful situations which may have affected how they responded to the experiment. 

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Learning approach: Social learning theory

Main assumptions: 

  • Behaviour is learned by watching other people behave and observing their consequences. 
  • The person who does the behaviour is the model and learning can also take place through vicarious reinforcement. 

We are most likely to imitate people we identify with, people that are likeable or attractive and high status or famous people. 

  • Bandura et al. 1961
  • Demonstrate observational learning. Two groups, one group sees the adult be aggressive to the bobo doll in the video, the other does not. Both groups were observed playing with toys. The children that saw the adult playing aggressively were more likely to behave aggressively. This shows that learning can take place through observation. Repeated in 1963 where the adult was shown to be praised or told off for playing aggressively. If the children saw the video where the adult behaved aggressively and was rewarded they were most likely to imitate the behaviour. The reverse was true if the behaviour was punished. 

Mediating cognitive factors - Attention, retention, motor reproduction and motivation. 

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Social learning theory AO3

  • The behaviourist approach uses lab experiments that are highly controlled and replicable. It also measures observable behaviours so the data is objective. However, the approach uses animal experiments and assumes that humans learn in the same way as animals. 
  • Social Learning Theory is supported by Bandura 1961 and 1963 however these lab experiments may not reflect the way participants would behave in real life, therefore lacking external validbity. The children were aggressive towards a doll which does not retaliate and the toy also only serves the purpose of being hit. The children may have also been acting under demand characteristics thinking that they were expected to behave like the model. 
  • The theory does not explain why the boys imitated the physically aggressive behaviour more than the girls. Other factors must have been involved, e.g. biological factors like testosterone. 
  • SLT can explain cultural variations in behaviour. Looking at different cultures, not found in the West, there are very different ideas of gender unlike our stereotypical ideas of 'masculinity' and 'femininity'. For example, in Indonesia there are five different genders, challenging our traditional views of what it means to be a man or woman. SLT explains these cultural variations through observation, imitation and identification. 
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Cognitive approach

Key assumptions: 

  • Human's process information in the same way a computer does and many analogies can be drawn, e.g. the brain is like a central processing unit and there are capacity limits to memory in both. 

Inferences = Internal information processing cannot be seen so cognitive psychologists infer mental processes by comparing the information (input) with the behaviour (output) they produce. 

Schemas = A 'package' of beliefs and expectations on a topic that come from prior experience. We are born with some basic schema but most develop from experience. 

  • Bugelsky and Alampay (1962) - Faces vs. Animals
  • To investigate whether previous knowledge affects the perception of new stimuli. One group were shown faces and the other group were shown animals. Each was shown a presentation of either set of images. The participants were asked to record what they saw after each image. The final image was ambiguous and the same for both groups. Participants in the animal group saw the final image as a rat and the participants in the faces group saw the final picture as a human. This shows that schema can influence what we perceive. 
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Cognitive approach AO3

The cognitive approach uses a very scientific method; mainly lab. experiments. These are controlled and replicable so the results are reliable however they lack ecological validity because of the artificiality of the tasks and environment so it might not reflect the way people process information in their everyday life.

For example, Baddeley (1966) used lists of words to find out the encoding used by LTM, however, these words had no meaning to the participants so the way they used their memory in this task was probably very different than they would have done if the words had meaning for them. This is a weakness as the theories might not explain how memory really works outside the laboratory. 

A strength of the cognitive approach is that it has highlighted the importance of cognitive processing and has been able to explain depression. Beck argues that it is negative schema that we hold about the self, world and future that lead to depression rather than external events. This approach has also lead to the development of CBT which is an effective way to treat depression and does not have the same side effects as drugs.

However, the cognitive approach does not take into account the genetic factors which are involved in some mental disorders, e.g. Schizophrenia.

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Biological approach

Key assumptions:

  • Everything psychological is at first biological 
  • Behaviour is influenced by genetic makeup and inheritance 

Twin studies are used to determine the likelihood that certain traits have a genetic basis by comparing the concordance rates between pairs of twins. If MZ twins have a higher concordance rate than DZ twins then this would suggest a genetic basis. This is because MZ twins share 100% of each other's genes. 

Genotype = a person's genetic make-up. Phenotype = the way genes are expressed through characteristics. 

The expression of a genotype is also influenced by environmental factors. Biological psychologists would accept that much of human behaviour depends on the interaction between inherited factors and the environment. 

Natural selection = Any genetically determined behaviour that enhances an individual's survival will continue in future generations. 

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Biological approach AO3

  • The approach has real-life applications: based on the understanding of the neurotransmitters psychoactive drugs have been developed which help treat mental disorders such as OCD and depression.
  • This allows people with these mental disorders to live a fairly normal life. However, they do not cure the disorders and when patients stop the drugs the symptoms reappear.
  • These drugs can have very serious side effects. Additionally, it could be argued that the unbalance in neurotransmitters such as low serotonin in a depressed individual is the consequence rather than the cause of depression because the brain is a plastic organ that changes with the way we use it so it could be that the depressed thinking causes the low level of serotonin observed.
  • For example, if we cut ourselves and the cut becomes infected it is not the lack of disinfectant which causes the infection it is the presence of germs.
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Psychodynamic approach

  • Key assumption: Developed by Sigmund Freud. All behaviour has an unconscious cause. 
  • The mind is split into three levels:
  • Conscious mind - everything you are aware of and can be accessed easily. 
  • Pre-conscious mind - Everything that the individual is semi-aware of, e.g. info in genes
  • Unconscious mind - Very difficult to access and have no awareness of what is stored here, has two functions to keep disturbing memories from consciousness and contain biological instincts and drives. 
  • Defence mechanisms - The ego protects itself from potentially harmful thoughts through defence mechanisms, this is helpful in the short term but can be damaging long term. 
  • Repression - forcing a distressing memory from the mind
  • Denial - refusing to acknowledge the reality of the situation
  • Displacement - transferring feelings from the true source onto a substitute target. 
  • Parts of the personality: Id - pleasure principle, immediate gratification. Superego - morality principle, develops after identification w same sex parent. Ego - reality principle, moderates between superego and Id. 
  • Psychosexual stages - too much or little gratification results in fixation, influencing adult personality. Oral (0-1 years) Pleasure centred around the mouth. The cause of fixation can be early weaning. Can cause an oral fixation, e.g. smoking. 
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Psychodynamic approach: Little Hans

  • Little Hans had a phobia of horses.
  • Freud worked through Hans' father who may have manipulated the information as he was a fan of Freud's work.
  • When Hans was three he had an active interest in his 'widdler'.
  • His mother told him to stop touching it otherwise he would be castrated.
  • At 5 Hans developed a phobia of horses.
  • He had seen a horse collapse and die.
  • Freud thought the horse symbolised Hans' father.
  • Freud thought that Hans was afraid that his father would castrate him for desiring his mother. 
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Psychodynamic approach AO3

Many of Freud's concepts occur at an unconscious level making them unmeasurable and unfalsifiable. This means that they are not open to empirical testing and the possibility of being disproved. It is also very unlikely that another researcher would come to the same conclusion as Freud's findings were highly subjective. 

Freud's theory's however gave rise to psychoanalysis, a new form of talking therapy that was designed to access the unconscious. This has been successful for patients with mild neuroses but has criticised for being inappropriate and harmful particularly for patients with Schizophrenia. 

Freud's theories rely on case studies. However, you cannot make universal claims from such a small number of individuals, especially as they may have been psychologically individual. 

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Humanistic approach

Key assumptions: 

  • Humans are self-determining and have free will. For this reason, humanistic psychologists reject scientific models that attempt to establish general laws of behaviour. 

Self-actualisation: Every person has an innate tendency to achieve their full potential. The highest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. 

Rogers argued that for personal growth to be achieved an individual must have congruence between their current self and their ideal self. To reduce the gap Rogers developed client-centred therapy to help people cope with the problems of everyday living. Rogers claims that many issues that we experience come from childhood and a lack of unconditional positive regard / unconditional love

A parent who sets boundaries on their love for their child is storing up psychological problems for that child in the future. 

Rogers saw one of his roles as an effective therapist as providing his clients with the unconditional positive regard they failed to receive as children. 

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Humanistic approach AO3

Maslow's concept of personal growth as a key to happiness is quite likely. The idea that each layer must be met before progression makes sense. E.g. Morality is unlikely to be a concern if you are starving. However, self-actualisation may be impossible. 

  • The approach uses non-scientific research methods. As its aim is to understand people’s subjectivity, it uses methods that yield qualitative data such as unstructured interviews or participant observations. These are difficult/ impossible to replicate and the interpretation of the data is influenced by researcher bias.
  • The approach is non-determinist as it recognises free will but its position on this topic is somewhat incoherent as on one hand it argues that people have free will but, on the other hand it argues that our behavior is determined by the way other people treat us (whether we feel that we are valued and respected without reservation by those around us).
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Origins of Psychology Timeline

  • Rene Descartes (1596 - 1650) - A French philosopher who suggested that the mind and body are independent from each other. 
  • John Locke proposed empiricism and that human beings inherit neither knowledge nor instincts. 
  • 17th - 19th Century - Psychology was seen as a branch of philosophy.
  • In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental psychology lab in Germany and psychology emerged as a discipline in its own right. 
  • 1900s - Sigmund Freud published the interpretation of dreams and the psychodynamic approach was established. 
  • 1913 - John B. Watson and BF Skinner established the behaviourist approach. The psychodynamic and behaviourist approaches dominate psychology for the next fifty years. 
  • 1950s - Car Rogers and Abraham Maslow develop the humanistic approach emphasising the importance of self-determination. 
  • 1960s - The cognitive revolution came with the introduction of the digital computer. 
  • At the same time, Albert Bandura proposed the social learning theory.
  • 1980s onwards - the biological approach began to establish itself as the dominant scientific perspective in psychology. This is due to advances in technology. 
  • Eve of the 21st Century - Cognitive neuroscience emerges. 
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