Approaches in Psychology

The Behaviourist Approach


The Behaviourist approach is a way of explaining behaviour in terms of what is observable and in terms of learning.


  • Only studies behaviour that can be observed and measured. It is not concerned with investigating mental processes.
  • Works on the basis of operant and classical conditioning.

John Watson

  • Watson was an early behaviourist whom rejected introspection as it was complex, vague and dfficult to measure. Instead he tried to maintain control and objectivity via carrying out lab experiments.
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The Behaviourist Approach

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning is learning through association and was first demonstrated by Pavlov and his dogs in which he taught them to salivate at the sound of a bell.

The unconditioned stimulus, the food, produced a response unlike the bell. However when the neutral stimuus, the bell, and the food are conjoined a response occurs. Over time the dogs associated the bell with the food thus the bell became a conditioned stimulus and the salivation a conditioned response.

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The Behaviourist Approach

Operant conditioning

Skinner in 1953 suggested that learning is an active process whereby humans operate on their environment. In operant conditioning there are 3 types of learning: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment.

Skinner proved this via placing a full and hungry rat inside Skinner's box, which is a highly controlled environment. The aim was that the rat had to press a lever to get food and in another experiment they had to turn a wheel to stop the eletric shocks (negative reinfrocement). The hungry rat quickly learnt that the lever released food (positive reinfrocement) whilst the full rat did nothing hence showing there must be a drive in order to perform a behaviour.

He also concluded tht positive and negative reinforcement increase the likelihood of a behaviour being repeated whereas punishments decrease this likelihood.

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The Behaviourist Approach


  • There are real-life applications of the findings as it has formed the basis of the token economy systems used in real life. Whilst classical conditioning has formed treatments for phobias. This is a strength of the approach as it has improved the quality of lives.
  • The approach has scientifc credibility as lab studies can be replicated meaning that experiments can be retested. This also increases validity of researc into the behaviourist approach.
  • The theory does not contribute to the fact that mental processes, such as mediational factors, play a part in how we behave and learn meaning the approach is limited as it cannot apply to humans as much as animals.
  • The behaviourist approach sees all behaviour as determined by past experiences that have been conditioned. This ignores the possible influence of free will hence the approach is limited as it is deterministic.
  • The research studies completed have ethical issues surrounding them, especially Skinner's. This is because the rats may have had physical and psychological harm from the shocks due to the trauma it caused. Not only this, but as they were stressed it may have affected their behaviour thus the results may be inaccurate.
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Biological Approach

Basic assumptions:

  • everything psychological is at first biological.
  • The mind lives in the brain.
  • Genes affect behaviour alongside neurological damage, infections and vitamin deficiencies.

4 main methods of investigation:

  • Twin studies
  • Family studies
  • Adoption studies (the issue is is that the sample is bias as they have been through trauma)
  • Selective breeding

Concordance rates - refers to the extent to which someone shares characteristics or traits.

Monozygotic twins - means one zygote, thus a fertilised egg splits in half to form 2 separate yet identical embryos. 100% concor. dance rates

Dizygotic twins - means two zygotes, thus 2 separateeggs were fertilise by different sperm. 50% concordance rates.

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Biological Approach

Predisposition - means you have a gene for a disorder or characteristic.

Genes - the basic unit of heredity

Genotype - the actual set of genes a person has

Phenotype - the way the genes are expressed

Evolution - the changes in inherited characteristics in a biological population over successive generations.

Natural selection - any trait which helps your survive and reproduce

Sexual selection - any trait that maximises the chance of reproduction.

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Biological Approach


  • It uses the scientific method hence is replicatable. This means it has high reliability/validity as it can have test-retest reliability.
  • The use of the scientific method also means there is high control over extraneous/confounding variables hence a cause and effect relationship can be identified easily.
  • The measurements are carried out by machines, which have no vested interest in the results. This increases validity as it means the results are not bias.
  • It has real life applications as it has been used for drug development which has improved peoples quality of life.
  • It is reductionist as some factrs are overlooked.
  • it is deterministic as the environment is ignored. This implicates wider society due to the self fulfilling prophecy.
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Social Learning Theory

Is a way of explaining behaviour that includes both direct and indirect reinforcement. It is learning via imitation and observation.

Imitation - is copying the behaviour of others.

Identification - when an observer associates themself with a role model and wants to be like them.

Modelling - imitating the behaviour of a role mode.

Vicarious reinforcement - reinforcement which is not directly experienced but occurs through observation.

Mediational - cognitive factors that influence learning and come between the stimulus and the response.

Mediationl processes:

  • Attention
  • Retention
  • Motor reproduction (the ability to perform the behaviour)
  • Motivation (the will to perform the behaviour)
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Social Learning Theory

Bandura in 1961 gathered 72 children aged between 3 and 5. Half were exposed to an aggressive adult whom hit the Bobo doll whilst the other half (the controol group) were expsed to a non-aggressive adult whom played calmly with the doll. The control group played calmly with the doll unlike the experimental group whom were aggressive. This demonstrates that the children were modelling (observing and imitating) the behaviour from their role models. He concluded that humans are influenced by other peoples behaviour.

Evaluate SLT:

  • SLT provides a comprehensive explanation of learning due to the fact it recognises the mediational processes unlike the behaviouist approach.
  • SLT has soft detrminism as Bandura emphasised reciprocal determinism in the sense that we are not merely influenced by the environment but w e exert an influence upon it as we choose to perform certain behaviour. Therefore SLT recognises the element of free will.
  • There is an overreliance on lab studies which means demand characteristics are more likely to occur. For example, the aim of the Bobo doll experiment was to strike the doll thus the kids acted accordingly thus, therefore, it tells us little about learning in real life.
  • Bandura makes little reference to biological factors such as hormones which affect aggression. This is a limitation.
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Cognitive Approach

Is the study of internal mental processes, the role of schema, the use of theoretical and computer models to explain and make inferences about mental processes.

Inference - is the process of drawing conclusions about the way mental processes operate on the basis of observational evidence.

Theoretical Model:

  • Input - from the environment via our senses.
  • Processing - information is encoded and processed via schema.
  • Output - observable behaviour

Computer model - states the brain is like a computer as it is a central procesing unit.

Internal Mental Processes - are private operations of the mind such as  perception and attention that mediate stimulus and responses.

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Cognitive Approach

Schema - a package of beliefs and expectations on a topic that comes from prior experience.

  • Benefits: help us take shortcuts in thinking.
  • Drawbacks: lead to faulty coclusions an unhelpful behaviour.

Cognitive neuroscience - involves the scientific study of brain structure and mental processes.

Evaluation of the Cognitive approach:

  • Uses the scientific and objective method which means there is high control over variables thus the research is rigorous and reliable (or has high ecological validity).
  • It is machine reductionist as it ignores the idea of emotion and motivation to process information. This is a limitation.
  • It has real life applications as it has allowed psychologists to have a better understanding of mental illness which will enable effective treatments to be developed.
  • The approach is deterministic as the computer analogy ignores the element of free will. This is a limitation.
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The Nervous System structure - The Nervous System is dividied into two subsections: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord. Whilst, the peripheral nervous system is divided into the somatic nervous system and the autonomic nervous system. Finally, the autonomic nervous sysytem divides into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.

Brain - the centre of all concious awareness. The outer layer is the cerebal cortex which is highly developed. It is then divided into two hemispheres.

Spinal cord - an extension of the brain which is responsible for reflex actions.

Peripheral nevous system (PNS) - transmits messages via millions of neurones to and from the CNS. It has two subdivisions; the autonomic nervous syetsm and the somatic nervous system.

Autonomic nervous system (ANS) - Governs vital functions in the body. It is involuntary.

  • During high arousal the sympathetic pathway is activated.
  • During relaxation the parasympathetic pathway is activated.
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Fight or Flight is controlled by our sypathetic nervous system as it controls necessary bodily changes needed when we are faced with a situation whereby we may have to escape or defend ourselves.

Sympathetic Adrenal medullary Axis (SAM) begins with the Hypothalamus which is a sense organ. This then activates the autonomous nervous system which causes the adrenal medulla to release adrenaline and nor-adrenaline.

The effect of the ANS on our body:

  • Parasympathetic - heart rate and breathing rate decreases.
  • Sympathetic - heart rate and breathing rate increases, eyes dilate, inhibits digestive activity, stimulates glucose release by the liver and sweating.

What does each adrenal gland have? the adrenal medulla dn the adrenal cortex. Both boost the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain and muscles while suppressing non-emergency bodily processes.

Hypothalamic Pituitary Adfrenal axis for chronic stress begins with the hypothalamus whicha ctivates the pituitary gland. This then releases ACHT into the blood which acts on the adrenal cortex to release cortisol and glucose.

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Endocrine system is a netwrok of glands throughout the body that manufacturers and secretes chemical messengers known as hormones, using blood vessels as a distributer to target sites/organs.

Glands in the endocrine system: hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, pancreas, adrenal, placenta, pineal, thymus, ovary and testes.  

Hypothalamus: is an organ which controls and stimulates the release of hormones from the pituitary gland.

Pituitary gland: is a organ located in the brain. It is pea sized and weighs 0.5g. it is often referred to as the master gland. It has two subdivisions: the anterior and the posterior. The anterior releases ACHT which stimulates the adrenal cortex and the release of cortisol. Whilst the posterior releases oxytocin, however it does not produce hormones only release them.

Ovaries - part of the female reproductive system that is responsible for the production of eggs, oestrogen and progesterone.

Testes - part of the male reproductive system which prouces testosterone, it is controlled by the hypothalamus and the pituitary. The testes play a role in sex drive, sperm production and muscle strength.

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Adrenaline - produced in the adrenal medulla and is released into the blood during stressful situations so we are redy for fight or flight.

Testosterone - produced in the testis leads to the development of male characteristics during puberty.

Melatonin - controls our sleep and wake cycles, it is affected by light and seasons.  

Oxytocin - relased by the posterior part of the pituitary, it has a role in sexul reproduction and social branding.

Insulin - produced by the pancreas and allows our body to use sugar for energy or storage and keeps our blodd sugar levels stable.

Thyroxine - produced in the thyroid gland. It plays a crucial part in heart and digestive function, metabolism, brain development, bone health and muscle control. Proper levels are vital for health.

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Neurons vary in size from less than a millimeter to up to a meter long, but all share the same basic structure. The cell body includes a nucleas, which contains the genetic material. Branch like structures called dendrites protrude form the cell body carrying nerve impulses from neighbouring neurones towards the cell body. The axon carries the impluses away from the cell body down the length of the neurone. It is covered in a fatty layerr known as the myelin sheath that protects the axon and speeeds up eletrical transmission. The myelin sheath is segmented by gaps cales nodes of Ranvier which speeds up transissions of the impulse. At the end of the acn are terminal buttons that communicate with the next neurone which are across a gap called a synapse.

3 types of neurones:

  • Sensory - carry impulses from the PNS to the CNS. It has long dendrites and short axons.
  • Relay - connects the sensory to the motor neurone. It has short dendrites and axons.
  • Motor - connects the CNS to the effectors. It has short dendrites and long axons.

Reflex Arc:

a stimulus is sensed by the body via sense organs in the PNS, which conveys a message along the sensory neurone. The message reaches the CNS, where it connects to the relay neurone. This then carries the message to the motor neurone which sends it to an effector such as a muscle or gland causing a reaction to be made.

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Synaptic Transmission:

  • An eletrical message travels fown the neurne to the presynaptic cell membrane in the synaptic knob.
  • The eletrical impulse triggers vesicles to move to the presynaptic cell membrane.
  • Vesicles fuse with the membrane and release neurotransmitters into the synapse cleft.
  • The neurotransmitters diffuse across the synapse and bind to receptors on the post synaptic cell membrane.
  • Once enough receptors have neurotransmitters bound to them, the signal is transmitted.
  • Enzymes then cause the neurotransmitters to uncople from the receptors.
  • The neurotransmitters are recycled back into vesicles in the synaptic knob/cell.

Excitatory - are on switches as they increase the likelihood that an excitatory signal is sent to the post synaptic cell which is more likely to fire. E.g nor-adrenaline

Inhibitory - are off switches as they decrease the likelihood of the neurone firing. They are responsible for calming the mind and body. E.g. serotonin.

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Psychodynamic Approach

Definition: The Psychodynamic Approach is a perspective that describes the different forces, most of which are unconscious, that operate on our mind and determine our thoughts/feelings/behaviour. It is the changing of the psyche (mind).


  • Our behaviour as adults is strongly influenced by our childhood experiences.
  • Abnormal behaviour is the result of mental conflict.
  • The mind can be divided into 3 levels of consciousness. The unconscious mind as the most influence on our personality.
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Psychodynamic Approach

The role of the unconscious

  • The conscious mind was the tip of the iceberg, we know about it and are aware of it hence it directly affects our behaviour.
  • The preconscious mind is when thoughts and ideas become apparant to us through dreams and parapraxes (slips of the tongue).
  • The unconscious mind is a vast storehouse of biological drives and instincts. They are often disturbing memories that have been repressed.


  • ID or the 'it' - part of the unconscious mind. It is the personality we are born with. It is the source of our instincts, desires and implulses. It demands instant gratification. It operates on the pleasure principle.
  • Ego or the 'I' - represents our conscious mind. It develops around the age of 2. Its purpose is to balance the ID. Rational. Logical. It operates on the reality principle.
  • Superego or the 'over I' - formed around the age 5 and contains our moral values. It operates on the morality principle. It is consists of the Ego ideal and conscience.
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Psychodynamic Approach

Freud's psychosexual stages

Freud suggested that children go through 5 stages of development, whereby at each stage the libido (sexual energy) is focused on one area. Through this our ID, Ego and Superego also develop.

We can remember the stages via OAP's love guinness!

1. The Oral Stage (0-18 months)

  • The focus of the libido is the mouth due to breastfeeding. The infant is passive, receptive and dependent. They will explore with their mouths at this stage.
  • Healthy development would be that the min source of pleasure is the mouth - this is the ID.
  • Underindulged charactersitics are caused by insufficient breastfeeding. These people are trusting, dependent on others and oral aggressive is dominating.
  • Overindulged characterstics are caused by sufficient breastfeeding. These people achieve gratification through smoking, pencil chewing etc.
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Psychodynamic Approach

2. Anal Stage (1-3 years)

  • The focus of the libido is on the anus as this is when potty training occurs.
  • The Ego develops as the parents impose restrictions leaving them to experience their first form of control.
  • Healthy development would mean that the main source of pleasure is from expelling or withholding faeces.
  • Anally repulsive personalities are caused by intense pleasure. They become very generous, creative and productive but are messy.
  • Anally retentive personalities are caused by strict toilet training. They are very orderly, rigid and hate wasting things. They are often stingy and tidy when stressed.

3. Phallic Stage (3-6 years)

  • The focus of the libido is on the genitals.
  • There is curiosity and examination.
  • The Superego develops through resolution of the Oedipus or Electra complex.
  • Identification with the same sex parent leads to the formation of gender identity.
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Psychodynamic Approach

The Oedipus Complex

  • Oedipus was a Greek mythical figure who killed his father and married his mother, Freud used this to explain his idea about the relationship between boys and their parents during the Phallic stage.
  • In this Phallic Stage boys had unconscious sexual feelings for their mother which resulted in guilt and fear of the father. This fear took place as castration anxiety. The boys resolve this guilt by associating with the father and growing up to be like them.
  • Identification also occurs as the boy takes on the fathers values and beliefs when they identify with him, this leads to the Superego developing and his gender identity.

The Electra Complex

  • Girls develop penis envy during the Phallic Stage hence become sexually attracted to their father. They then see their mother as competition and blames her for their lack of a penis - believing the mother castrated her.
  • The girls also identify with the mother but not as strongly as males would, this leads to a weaker Superego. The girl resolves this complex through the desire for a baby.
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Psychodynamic Approach

3. Phallic stage (continued)

  • Fixation is caused by a lack of identification and can result in homosexuality and the rejection of gender roles.

4. Latency Stage

  • little development takes place.
  • Males and Females do not interact much.

5. Genital Stage

  • The main source of pleasure is also the genitals.
  • The focus of libido is also on the development of independence.
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Psychodynamic Approach

Defence Mechanisms

1. Denial - is refusing to accept the truth. E.g. lying about how you kissed your best friends partner.

2. Repression - forcing distressing memories out of the mind. E.g. purposefully forgetting when you were bullied or humiliated.

3. Displacement - is when you transfer feelings onto a substitute target. E.g. kicking a vending machine when you are angry.

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Psychodynamic Approach


  • It is influential on psychology and Western contemporary thought.
  • It has explanatory power - mundane realism - particularly the defence mechanisms.
  • It has practicle applications as it can form the basis of psycho analysis therapy.
  • It lacks falsifability as it is untestable.
  • It is based on case studies which are highly subjective and retrospective.
  • It has psychic determinism - all behaviour is determined by unconscious conflicts rooted in childhood hence we do not have free will.
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The Humanistic Approach


  • Every individual is unique - it is a person centred approach.
  • We have free will.
  • We are self determined.
  • We study people holistically.

Why is the Humanistic Approach not considered as scientific?

Because humans are subjective in the way we think and behave.

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The Humanistic Approach

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

1. Self-actualisation (personal growth, fulfilment)

2. Aesthetic needs (prettiness, appreciation of beauty)

3. Cognitive needs (autonomy, problem solving)

4. Self-esteem needs (achievement, status and responsibility)

5. Belonging and love needs (family, affection, relationships, work groups)

6. Safety needs

7. Physiological needs (air, water)

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The Humanistic Approach


Humans have an innate tendency driving us to achieve our full potential. In reaching self-actualisation, we have reached the top of our hierarchy. Not everybody will get to the top of their hierarchy but if you do you will be fulfilled and satisfied.

Issues with Self-Actualisation:

  • Subjective
  • Abstract hence cannot be measured.

But it does have mundane realism!

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The Humanistic Approach

Carl Rodgers and the self, congruence and conditions of worth

  • The ideal Self is the self you wish to be.
  • The Actual Self is the person you actually are.
  • Congruence is when the self concept and ideal self are seen to match.
  • State of incongruence is when there is a gap between yourt ideal and actual self, it is caused by unrealsitic goals and low self-esteem. People in a state of incongruence will not be able to self-actualise due to their negative feelings of self-worth.

Rodgers believed that many of the problems we have as adults have their roots in childhood and can be explained by the lack of unconditonal positive regard (unconditonal love) thus he developed the client centred therapy which is when the therapy focuses on the person, viewing them as an expert of their own conditon. The aim is to increase the person''s feelings of self-worth to reduce the ingruous state/gap. The advantages of this is that the client finds it effective as they focus on the present, yet it is mostly used to treat mild psychological problems.

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The Humanistic Approach


  • Humanist reject reductionism as they refuse to brteak up behaviour into smaller components, hence are holistic instead. This is good as it means they value the subjective experience of the person meaning better quality treatments are created.
  • Humanisitc psychology has relatively little real-world application. This means humanistic psychology lacks sound evidence hence why it has been described as a non-comprehensive theory. As an efgfect this will impact psychology.
  • Humanists have been praised for "bringing the person back into psychology" and promoting a positive image of the human condition. As a result, this has benefited psychology providing treatments which are holistic and focussed on the client. Thus humanistic psychology offers a refreshing optimistic alternative.
  • Many of the ideas which are central to humanisitc psychology are associated with individualsitc cultures meaning it is culture bias and cannot be applied to collectivist cultures hence the application is limited.
  • Lacks falsifability.
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