Approaches in psychology


Behaviorist Approach-Classical conditioning

Key Assumptions of the behaviourist approach

  • The behaviourism approach states that all behaviour is learnt from the environment
  • States that we are born with a clean slate.
  • There are two types of conditioning: classical and operant conditioning.

Pavlov's Dogs 

Classical conditioning is learning through association, which was demonstrated by Pavlov and his dogs

When the dogs were presented with the food (UCS) ->, they salivated (UCR)

When the dogs were presented with the bell (NS) -> there was no response

The bell paired with the food (UCS + NS) -> causes the dog to salivate 

The bell (which is now the CR) -> which causes the dog to salivate (CS)

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Behaviorist Approach-Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is learning through reinforcement, which was demonstrated by Skinner and his rats.

There are 3 types of reinforcement:

  • Positive reinforcement: receiving a reward
  • Negative reinforcement: when an action stops something unpleasant from happening, for instance, the rat had to press the lever to stop receiving the electric shock.
  • Punishment: this is an unpleasant consequence, for example, you are grounded for not doing your psychology homework.

Skinner's box

A rat was placed in a box. Every time the rat pressed the lever it was given some food (positive reinforcement). The rat would continue to press the lever to get more food. In another experiment, the rat would receive an electric shock, as the rat moved around it pressed the lever to stop receiving the electric shock (negative reinforcement).

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Behaviorist Approach-Evaluation

Practical applications-The behaviourism approach has been used for the treatment of phobias. Systematic desensitisation or SD help people unlearn their phobias by using the principles of classical conditioning and flooding prevent people from avoiding their phobias by using the principles of operant conditioning. These therapies have an effective treatment for a range of phobias which as helped people improve their lives.

Research support- Research support the behaviourism approach comes from Waston and Rayner research.They showed phobias can be learned through classical conditioning with 'Little Albert'. They hit a hammer against a steel bar every time Little Albert reached for the white rat. The rat becomes the CS and the which produced fear (CR). This supports the key idea of classical conditioning

Research used animals- In studies, researchers have suggested that animal observation can help us understand human behaviour. However, animals differ from humans in a number of ways such as humans have more advanced intelligence than other species. Therefore, animal behaviour cannot be generalised to human behaviour.

Ethical concerns- The animals in the study were exposed to stressful conditions. This caused them to be distressed and harmed.

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Social Learning theory

The social learning theory was proposed by Bandura, he suggested that behaviour is learned through the observation of others.

Key assumptions of the social learning theory:

Vicarious reinforcement: learning through observation of consequences of actions from other people. If and individual observes an individual's behaviour and they are rewarded for that behaviour, it gives the impression that it's a good thing so they will be likely to repeat the behaviour.

Mediational process: This process explains how an individual learns behaviour through a number of stages. The individual pays attention to the behaviour (attention) Next, the individual remembers the behaviour by storing it in the LTM (retention). The individual wants to perform the behaviour whether it will be rewarding or punishing (motivation) Lastly, the individual copies the behaviour (reproduction).

Identification: People (especially children) will copy behaviour from people who they consider as role models.

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Social learning theory-Bandura's Bobo Doll Experim

Bandura carried out an experiment where children had observed aggressive and non-aggressive adults. They watched a film of an adult behaving aggressively towards a Bobo Doll. The children's behaviour was observed in a room containing aggressive toys (e.g Bobo doll and a mallet). The findinsg were that the children had observed the aggressive role model had imiated their aggressive behaviour. Bandura conculded that aggressive behaviour is learned by those who behave aggressively which supports the social learning theory.

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Social Learning theory-Evaluation

Research support- Research support for the social learning theory comes from Bandura's research. His findings were that children copy aggressive behaviour. This is also based on vicarious reinforcement as the adult would hit the bobo doll aggressively and the child copied this technique. This matters as it demonstrates the concept of a role model.

Practical applications- The social learning theory has been used for practical applications.For instance, it has been used for social training. This matters as it has  been effective in reducing criminal behaviour. 

Ethical concerns- The social learning theory has ethical concerns. This is because the children were exposed to aggressive behaviour. This is an issue as participants will be encouraged to reproduce this behaviour, as a result, causing physical and psychological harm to the participants.

Sample bias- Another issue with the social learning theory is that it's sample bias. The participants used were children from all the same school. This is a problem as the results cannot be generalised to other groups because of a limited sample size.

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Cognitive approach

The cognitive approach studies information processing. The approach believes information is received from our senses which are processed by the brain and directs how we behave.

Key assumptions of the cognitive approach:

Schemas-Schema's are small packets of information we enable us to organise and interpret information.They help us interpret information effectively and quickly. This prevents us from being overwhelmed by the amount of information that we take from the environment. 

Theoretical models- The cognitive approach uses theoretical models to represent internal mental processing such as the multi-store model.This shows how the brain processes information such as the different systems and what role they have.

Computer models- Computer models show how our brain processes information life a computer (the working memory model). 

Cognitive neuroscience- The cognitive approach has led to new ways of studying the brain such as brain imaging. PET scans map the areas of the brain. The brain images help psychologists understand how the brain processes information.

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Cognitive approach-Evaluation

Practical applications (depression)- It has been used in the application and treatment of depression. The study of internal processes has increased our understanding of how we develop depression through negative schemas. This has lead to the development of CBT-a treatment for depression. This matters as CBT is an effective way of treating depression and it has helped improve people's lives with depression.

Practical applications (Cognitive interview)- The cognitive approach has led to the development of EWT. The role of schemas has been used to explain why the memory of events is inaccurate. This has lead to the development of cognitive interview. This matters as it has enhanced the process of memory retrieval.

Research support- Another strength of the cognitive approach is research by Bourey. He discovered that patients with depression were more likely to misinterpret information and feel hopelessness about their future (negative triad). This matters as it supports the idea that cognitions are linked to the development of depression. 

It's redunistist- The cognitive approach ignores the role of human behaviour such as motivation and emotions that may influence memory.

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The Biological approach

The biological approach is thinking and behaviour is influenced by biological factors.

Key assumptions of the biological approach:

The Evolution of behaviour- Charles Darwin describes the process of the natural selection. He suggested that genetically determined characteristic or behaviour increases the chances of survival. Over time we will evolve and pass on to the next generations.

Nature-Nurture Debate-Genotype is the genetic makeup of an individual whereas, a phenotype is a genetic makeup and the effects of the surrounding environment on behaviour. An individual can be either characterised by genetic makeup or the influence of the environment.

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The Biological approach-Research Methods

Research Methods used in the biological approach

Twin/family studies: Twin studies have been used to determine the influence of genetic behaviour. For instance, identical twins have a 48% of developing schizophrenia whereas non-identical twins have a 17% chance of developing schizophrenia because they only share 50% of their genes.

Scans: physiology and activity across the been can be researched using PET, CAT, and MRI scans. This has helped researchers identify functions of specific regions.

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The Biological approach-Evaluation

Practical applications (Scans)- The biological approach has been used to develop scans. Scanning research techniques have been useful for investigating functions of the brain such as an organ that has an involvement in our behaviour would be unobservable. 

More applications (Drug therapy)- The biological approach has also lead to the development of drug therapy. The understanding of neurotransmitters has been used to develop drugs for mental disorders such as OCD and schizophrenia. This matters as it has helped improve individuals' health and well-being. 

The approach is deterministic-  The biological approach is deterministic as it believes that our behaviour is caused by biological factors which mean there is no control.This encourages people to take responsibility for their behaviour and blame their genetic makeup. 

The approach is also redunistist- The biological approach is redunistist as it reduces our behaviour to genes and other biological processes. It ignores the effects of childhood experiences social and cultural environment.

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Psychodynamic approach

Key assumptions of the psychodynamic approach

  • The psychodynamic approach believes the behaviour is determined by the unconscious.
  • Childhood experiences have a role in determining personality when we reach childhood.

The Role of the Unconcious

The personality is split into three parts:

  • ID-driving us to satisfy selfish urges (according to the pleasure principle it exists from birth)
  • Ego- balances the ID and the superego (develops between 2-4 years)
  • Superego- keeps moral norms and it attempts to control the ID with feelings of guilt.
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Psychodynamic approach-Psychosexaul stages

Freid suggested that humans go through the psychosexual stages. He stated there are 5 psychosexual stages and each has a popular characteristic of behaviour:

Oral-sucking behaviour (0-18 months)

Anal-holding or discarding faces (18-3.5 years)

Phallic-fixation on genetics (3.5-6 years)

Latent-sexual urges are repressed (6 years-puberty)

Genital-awakened sexual urges (puberty and onwards)

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Psychodynamic approach-Defense mechanisms

There are 3 defense mechanisms that Freud proposed:

Repression- burying unpleasant thoughts into the unconscious. For ]instance, traumatic childhood experiences are forgotten.

Displacement-emotions are directed away from the source or target towards other things. For instance, anger is directed at a cat scratching the furniture. 

Displacement- the threatening thought is ignored or treated. For instance, a wife may find evidence that her husband is cheating on her but explain it away using other reasons.

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Psychodynamic approach-Evaluation

Research support- There is research to support the psychodynamic approach. Freud carried out research on Little Hans. Freud had noted the special relationship between Hans and his Father. The findings were that Little Hans developed an interest in his 'widdler' (penis). He also had dreams about his widdler and widdling and being married to his mother. This supports the phallic stage.

Real life application- The psychodynamic approach has been used to develop psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis help releases repressed emotions and experiences. It has lead to successful treatments such as anxiety disorders (e.g phobias, panic attacks). It's an effective treatment as it has led to improvements in symptoms and helping people in their lives. 

Case study method- A weakness of the psychodynamic approach is the case study method. Freud conducted research of single individuals such as Little Hans who had a phobia of horses and uses the results to make his claims of the phallic true. This is an issue because critics suggest it is not possible to make such universal claims on small samples of people which mean the results cannot be generalised.

The approach is determinist- The psychodynamic approach is determinist because it rejects te idea of free will which allows us to make decisions. This matters as a person's behaviour are determined by unconscious motives which are shaped by biological drives and early experiences. 

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Humanistic approach

Key Assumptions of the humanistic approach

  • An individual has their own unique way of understanding the world
  • We have free will to make our own choices about the way we think and

Hierarchy of needs: Behaviour is driven by needs which we need to fulfil to reach self-actualisation. The hierarchy starts with our basic, physiological needs (eg. breathing, food and water and sex) at the bottom of the pyramid and the most advanced need at the top. Each level is fulfilled before the person can move up to a higher need.

Rogers: Says that everyone wants self-actualisation and that if the environment we are in is good it is easier to achieve. Self-actualization occurs when our ideal self and our actual self-care congruent. 

Conditions of self-worth: Our issues start in childhood- if we don't receive unconditional love as a child we will lack self-esteem and therefore never reach enlightenment.

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Humanistic approach-Influence of counselling psych

Rogers stated that counselling can help people solve their own problems. Humanist therapies regard themselves as 'guides' or 'facilitators' to help people understand themselves and find ways to enable their full potential for self-actualization. Therapists provide empathy and unconditional positive regard experiencing their acceptance and understanding regardless of the feelings and attitudes the client expresses.By doing this, the therapist is able to offer a supportive environment to help dissolve the clients' conditions of worth. This allows the client to move towards their true self.

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Humanistic approach-Evaluation

Real life applications- The humanistic approach has been used to develop the client-centred therapy. Client-centred therapy has been widely used in health, social work and industry. This matters as the therapy have helped many people overcome difficulties they face in their lives, which has helped improve people's quality of life.

Research supports for conditions of worth- Research support for conditions of worth comes from Harter. He discovered that teenagers who feel that they have to fulfil certain conditions in order to gain their parents approval ended up not liking themselves. Researchers found out that adolescents who create a 'false self-worth' such as pretending to be a kind person to his or her parents would love were likely to develop depression and lose touch of their own self-worth.

Cultural differences in the hierarchy of needs- Marlow's hierarchy of needs does not consider that some people's needs are different. A study was carried out in China and found out that belongingness needs were seen as more important than psychological needs and self-actualisation was defined as contributions to the community. Other studies have shown that Europeans and Americans focus more on personal identity whereas Chinese, Japanese and Koreans suggest that self-concept is more important than social relationships. 

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