Approaches in Pyschology

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  • Created on: 27-03-17 14:58


  • Wundt believed that all aspects of nature, incl the human mind could be studied scientifically.
  • He opened a lab deidcated to psychology in Germany.
  • He set himself the task to study the human mind, and he believed the best way to do this was to break down behaviours such as sensation and preception into their basic elements (structuralism).
  • He used a technique called introspection which is when a person gains knowledge about his or her own mental and emotional states as a results of the exmination or observation of their conscious thoughts or feelins towards a stimuli.
  • Wundt eventually realised that  higher mental processes such as language, learning and emotions cannot be studied like this.
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  • Empiricism is the belief that all knowledge is derived from sensory experience.
  • The new scientific apporach is psychology is based off 2 assumptions: 1) all behaviour is seen as being caused (the assumption of determinsm) 2) If behaviour is determined, then it should be possible to predict how humans would behave in different conditons (the sassumption of predictablity). - the technique used to explore these method became known as the scientific method.
  • The scientific method feres to the use of investigative methods that are objective, systematic and replicable. Objective because researchers should not let biases influence their collectio of data. It is systematic because observations and experiments are carried out in an orderly way.  If results are not replicable then they are not reliably and cannot be accpeted as true,

Scientific cycle

1) Objective,systematic and replicable observation.  2) Building, refining or falsyfying 3) Devlopment of scientific theory. 4) Testing.

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Wundts methods were unreliable

  • Behaviourists said that Wundts structualist approach relied on nonobservable responses. Wundts apporach ulimately failed because of the lack of reliablity of his mehtods. The results were not reliably reproducible by other researchers.  Also behaviourists such as Pavlov were already achieving reliably reproducible results which could be generalised to all humans.

Introspection is not accurate.

  • Nisbett and Wilson claim we have very little knowledge of the causes of, and the processes underlying, our behaviour and attitudes -  a claim which challeneges introspection.They found that participants were unaware of factors that had been influential in their choice of consumer items. (Attitudes and stereotypes are unknown to us)

Introspection is still useful in scientific psychology.

  • Hunter at al used introspeective methods as a way of making happiness a measureable phenomenon. They gave a group of teens beepers that went off at random times and the partcipants had to write down their thoughts and feelings. Most of the entries showed that teens were unhappy but they also found that went their energies were focused on challenging tasks, they tended to be more upbeat.
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Strengths of the scientific approach

  • Because of reliance on objective and systematic methods of observation, knowledge aquired using the scientific method is reliable and more than just passive acceptance of facts.
  • Because of the belief on determinism, they are able to establish the cause and effect.
  • If scientific theories no longer fit the facts they can be refined or abondoned, meaning that scientific knowledge is self corrective because psychologists are always repeated each others experiments.

Limitations of the scientific approach

  • By concentrating on objectivity and control in observation, the situations created tell us very little about how people act in natural environments.
  • Much of subject matter in psychology is unobservable and therefore cannot be measured with any degree of accuracy.
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  • In order for social learning to take place, someone must carry out/model the attitude or behaviour to be learnt. There are live models(teachers,parents) or symbolic models(character in TV).
  • Much of what a child learns is through imitation of attitudes or behaviours that are modelled in front of them.
  • Identification refers to the extent which an individual relates to the model and feels as if they similar. Shutts (2010) suggested that children are more likely to identify with and learn better from models who are similar to them ecspecially same sex models. Identification means that social learning is more likely to be effective.
  • Bandura and Walters (1963) noted that children are more likely to imitate a behaviour if the model was rewarded for it then children who obersved the model being punished. Bandura called this vicarious reinforcement - individuals learn about the consequences for the action and then adjust their behaviour accordingly. This suggests individuals do not need to experience rewards or punishments directly in order to learn.
  • Social learning places special importance on internal meditational processes. Bandura(1986)  said that in order sor social learning to take place, the observer must form a mental representation of the behaviour displayed and the probable consequence of that behaviour. Then in the future the person may display the learned behaviour.
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Key study : Bandura (1961)

  • Children observed aggressive or non-aggressive adult models and were then tested for imitative learning in the absense of the model. Half the children show aggressive model and half show non-aggressive model. Aggressive models wer hitting the bobo doll and throwing verbal abuse. The children were taken into a room with toys and there was a Bobo doll.


  • Children who observed the aggressive behaviour reproduced a good deal of physical and verbal abuse, resembling that of the model. The other group showed no aggression.
  • In a follow up study Bandura and Walters found that the model being rewarded for their aggressive behaviour were more likely to show high levels of aggression in their own behaviour.
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Social learning theory has useful applications

  • Increased our understanding of criminal behaviour. Akers(1998) suggest that the probablity of someone enganging in criminal behaviour increases when they are exposed to models who commit criminal behaviour, identify with these models and develop expectations of positive consquences. Ulrich(2003) supported this by saying the strongest cause of violent behaviour in adolescents was association with deliquent peer groups where violence was modelled.

Reseach support for identification

  • Fox and Bailenson (2009) found evidence that greater identification with a model leads to more learning, using computer generated virtual humans engaging in exercise of loitering. The models looked either similar or disimilar to the individual participants. Paticipants who saw there models exercising engaged in more exercise in 24 hours after the experiment than participants who saw their model loitering or a dissimilar model exercising.
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Underestimates the influence of biological factors

  • In the Bobo doll experiment boys were much more aggressive than females. This may be explained by hormonal factors such as diffrent levels of testerone, a hormone that has greater presence in males and is linked to aggression.

Over reliance on evidence from lab studies

  • Many of Banduras ideas were devloped through observing young childrens behaviours in lab settings. Lab studies are criticsed for their forced and unnatural nature where participants may respond to demand characteristics. It is suggested that children only hit the Bobo doll because they thought that was expected of them. Thus this research tells us very little to hwo children learn aggression in everydaylife - cannot be generalised.

A problem of complexity

  • Advocates for this approach disregard other potential influences on behaviour. So it become difficult to show that social influence is the main casual influence.
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  • The cognitive approach studies information processing e.g. the ways in which we extract, store and retrive information.
  • The cognitive approach recognises that these mental prcoess' cannot be studied directly but must be studied indirecrtly by inferring of what is going on in peoples minds from observing their behaviour.

The role of schemas

  • Schemas are ideas or information devloped through experience. It helps organise and interpret information in the brain. It also helps you respond to objects or situations appropriately.
  • Schemas are innate but as we get older it becomes more detailed and sophisticated.
  • They help us to process information quickly. However they may lead to stereotypes being formed that are difficult to disconfirm.

The role of theoretical models

  • Models such as the WMM - which are simplified representations based on research.
  • They are normally pictorial with boxes and arrow that indicate the cause and effect.
  • Models such as the WMM are often incomplete and frequently changed eg. the WMM was 1st proposed by Baddley and Hitch (1974) and it had 3 stages but in 2000 Baddley added the episodic buffer.
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The role of computer models

  • The human mind is comaped to a computer 'computer analogy' - information is inputted through the senses,encoded into the memory and the use of 'syores' to hold the information.

The emergence of cognitive neuroscience

  • advances in technology means the neuroscientists are now able to study the living brain which gives them detailed information about the brain structures involved in different kinda of mental processing.
  • Techniques for brain scanning are PET or fMR, these show which parts of the brain become active in cirucmstances e.g. Burnett (2009) found that when people feel guilty  the prefrontal cortex is active which is an area associated with social emotions.
  • In the future it could be used to see if eyewitness' are lying in court
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The cognitve approach has applications

  • In social psychology, research in social cogniton has helped psychologists better understandhow we form impressions of others, as well as the eroor and biases that influenec our interpretation.
  • successful treatement for people with depression or OCDusing cognitive based therapy - beacsue the cogntive approach has been used explain how dysfunctional behaviour leads back to a faulty thinking process.

The cognitive approach is scientific

  • The use of the experimental method provides researchers  with a rigoroud (thorough) method for collecting and evaluating evidence in order to reach accurate conclusions about how the mind works.
  • Lab experiments produce reliable, objective (unbiased) data
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Ignores emotion and motivation

  • It doesnt tell why different cognitive process' take place. Emotion and motivation has been largely ignored. May be explained because in computers motivation is clearly irrelevant but not to a human being.

Limitations of computer models

  • Computers do not make mistakes but humans do, nor do computers ignore  available information or forget anything that has been stored. Humans on the other hand do all these.

Studies may lack ecological validity

  • Many studies in cognitive psychology tend to use tasks that have very little in comman with everyday natural taks.So  you wouldnt be able to generalise their findings to real-life situations. so cognitive psychology lack ecological validity.
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  • Heredity is the passing of genes of one generation to the next through genes - genes carry the instructions for particular charcteristics ( intelligence) - how this develops is down to the influence of the environment and the intereaction of the gene with other genes.
  • Genotype - the genetic makeup of an individual
  • Phenotype - the observable characteristics. Genotype with the environment.
  • Monozygotic (mz) twins are identical - one sperm cell and one egg cell fertilised - share 100% of each others genes
  • Dyzigotic (dz) twins are not identical - two seperate eggs are fertilised by different sperms - share 50% of eachothers genes. Concordance rate is the measure of genetic similarity
  • The more a trait is influenced by genetic factors, the greater is heritability.

Neurons and the nervous system and the brain

  • The central nervous system (CNS) -  brain and spinal cord
  • The peripheral nervous system (PNS) - somatic and autonomic nervous systems.
  • The nervous system carries message from one part of the body to another using neurons. Neurons transmit nerve impulses in the form of electrical signals. Breathing, eating and sexual behaviour under neuron control.
  • The largest part of the brain is the cerebrum 85%. the outer surface of the cerebrum is called the cerebral cortex which is responsible for high order functions e.g. language and thought. The ceberum is divided in 2 halves with each hemisphere further divided into 4 different parts (knows as lobes).
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Neurontransmitters and Hormones

  • When a nerve impulse reaches the end of one neuron, a chemical called a neurotransmitter is released - it gtravels from one neuron to the next across a junction called the synapse.
  • The neurotransmitter that triggers nerve impulses in the recieving neuron and stimulate the brain into action are called excitatory neurotransmitters.
  • Those that inhibit nerve impulses in order to calm the brain and balance mood  are called inhibitory neurotransmitters.
  • Dopamine is a excitatory neurotransmitter that is assciated with our drive or motivation.
  • Serotonin is an inhibitotrytransmitter, adquete amounts required for a stable mood. Crockett (2008) found when serotonin levels are low people display aggression.
  • The presense of a hormone causes a physiological reaction in the cell, altering its activity.
  •  Hormones are chemicals that are produced by the endocrine glands.

Evolution and behaviour

  • Darwin said the mechanism behin biological evolution is natural selection.
  • Survival of the fittest,  behaviours and physical attributes passed on to next generation.
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The importance of the scientific mehtod

  • Experimental studies take place in highly controlled environmentsso that other researchers are able to replicate the studies under the dame conditions, thus adding to the validity of the orignal findings. Brain functioning has improved because of the technology and this has increased the precision and objectivity.

Applications of the biological approach

  • This approach provides clear predictions e.g. about the effects of neurotransmitters. This has led to significant application in the real word e.g. the role of neurochemical imbalance in depression has led to development of drug treatments which correct this imbalance and thus minimise depression symptoms.
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The biological approach is a reductionist

  • Reductionism is the belief that complex human behaviour can be broken down into it smallest components e.g. genes, neurochemicals&hormones. For example many explanations for mental disorders are reductionists such as neurochemical imbalances. Critics argue that we cannot fully understand the behaviour without taking intot account other factor such as cultural, emotional and cognitive factors - all of which have a significant in fluence on behaviour.

Determinist view of behaviour

  • The biological approach is seen as a determinist in the sense that it see human behaviour as governed by internal biological cause which we have no control over. This has implications for the legal system because the law states that offenders are seen as morally and legally  responsible for their actions. Research for genetic basis for criminals may be used as convinient explanations for their crimes.
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Sigmund Freud beleived that behaviour is largely controlled by the unconscious mind

  • He used a metaphor of an iceberg, the tip of the iceberg being the conscious mind but the larger part hidden under water is the unconcious mind. the unconcious also contains traumatic and threatening memories , these may cause anxiety therefore the mind uses defence mechanisms.
  • The preconcious includes thoughts and ideas that we become aware of in our dreams and through slips of the tongue e.e caliing your tecaher mum.

The structure of personality

  • The id - opertates in the unconcious and operates soley on the pleasure princple e.g. it demands immediate gratification regardless of circumstances  so if a persons hungry it demands they eat there and then. Present at birth.
  • The ego - operates on the reality principle, it is the meditator of the other 2 parts of the personality. Develops at around 2 years old.
  • The superego - it is divided into the conscience and the ego-ideal. The conscience determines which behaviours are permissable and causes feeling of guilt when rules are broken. The ego-ideal is what a person strives towards.
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Defence mechanisms

  • Repression - Forcing a distressing or threatening memory out of your conscious mind. e.g An individual forgetting the trauma of their favourite pet dying.
  • Denial - Failing or refusing to acknowledge some aspect of reality. e.g.Continuing to turn up for work even though you have been sacked.
  • Displacement - Transferring feelings from the true object of anxiety onto a substitute target/object. e.g.Slamming the door after a row with your girlfriend.

Psychosexual stages

  • Oral 0-2 years. mouth is focal point of sensation (sucking biting)
  • Anal 2-3 years. gains pleasure from withholding and expelling faeces.
  • Phalic 3-6 years. focus of pleasure is genitals. Oedipus complex male child wants to  get rid their father in order to posess mother.
  • Latent 6-12 years. earlier conflicts are repressed.
  • Genital 12+ . sexual desires become conscious. sexual intercourse.
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Psychoanalysis : a pioneering approach

  • Pshycoanalysis suggested a new methodological procedures for gathering empirical evidence (case studies) and the development of this approach was based on observations of behaviour rather than relying on introspection.
  • Freud was able to demstrte the potential of psychological rather than biological treament for disorder such as depression and anxiety. Maat et als (2009) done a large-scale review of psychotherapy studies and concluded pshycoanalysis produced significant improvemtns that were maintained in years after treatment.

Scientific support for the psychodynamic approach

  • Many of the claims of psyhcoanalysis have been tested and many of then confirmed using scientific methodology. Fisher and Greenberg (1996) summaries 2,500 of studies and concluded that experimental studies of psychoanalyis compares well with any other major areas of psychology. F&G found support for the existence of unconcious motivation in human behaviour as well as for defense mechanisms.
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Gender - biased approach

  • Freuds view on women sexuality was less developed than his view on male sexuality. this led to psyhcologits such as Karen Horney to criticise his work. dissmissing women is problematic because frued treated women patinets but also because his theories are so influential today.

Culture - biased approach

  • Sue and Sue (2008) argued that pschyoanalysis has little relevance for people from cllectivist cultures. because people with metal disorders such as depression avoids thoughts that cause them distress rather than discussing them openly. whereas individualits think open discussion is helpful.

Cannot be scientifically tested

  • Popper said that the psychodynamic appraoch is not open to empirial testing since it is at unconcious level which makes it almost impossible to test. Popper called it Pseudo sicnece.
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Humanistic theories emphasise that people have full conscious control over their own destiny i.e. ey have free will.we are still subject to other forces incl biological and societal influences. Rogers and Maslow.

Maslows (1943)                                                                                                       

  • Maslow was interested in what could go right with people. His hierachy of needs emphaissed the importance of personal growth.
  • In his hierachy of needs, each level must be filled before a person can move up to a higher need.
  • Maslow said that most of those who attained self-actualisation tended to be creative, accepting and had an accurate preception of the world.

Focus on self

  • Rogers (1951) people have 2 basic needs 1)postive regard from others 2)feelings of self-worth - these develop at childhood with interaction with parents and later with friends/spouse.
  • the greater our ideal self & self concept are to eachother, the better our feelings of self worth and our psychological health.
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If there is a similarity between ones ideal self and their actual self - a state of congruence exists. If different incongurence exists and self actualisation will not be possible.

Conditions of worth

  • Rogers (1959) believed others hindered the process of self actualisation. Love you get may be unconditonal or conditonal. When people experience conditonal positive regard they develop conditons of worth. e.g. i will only love you if you do this... 

The influence of counselling psychology

  • Rogers (1959) claimed that an individuals psychological problems were a direct result of their conditions of worth and conditonal positive regard.
  • The therapist should provide the client with empathy, genuiness and unconditional positive regard. Results in client being more open, more authentic and true to self.
  • Therapists act as 'guides' to help people understand themsleves and find ways to improve.
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Research support for conditons of worth

  • Harter (1996) discovered that teenagers who feel they have to fulfil certain condtions in order to gain their parents' approval frequently end up not liking themseleves. They are also more likely to devlop depression and lose touch with own self.
  • Humanistic approach has been praised for being a positive approach - offers fresh, optimistic apporach unlike Freud.

Maslow's hierachy is linked to economic development

  • Hagerty (1999) looked at the relationship betweene economical growth and Maslows need levels in 88 countries over 34 years. Foudnt that countries at early stages of economical devlopment were chracterised with lower level needs. In advanced stages of economical development did esteem and slef-actualisation become important. Education is a significant indication of the drive to self-actualisation because educations is seen as a drive to better yourself.
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Limited application

  • Has very little real world application. approach has limited application on psychology as a whole which may be because the approach alck sounds evidence and because the approach has been described as a loose set of abstract concepts.

The humanistic approach is unrealistic

  • Humanistic approach presents an overly idealised and unrealistic view of human nature. Critics argue that humans are not as good and growth-orienteted as theorists think and this approach does not recognise peoples capacity for pessimism.
  • Encouraging people to focus on themselves rather than on situational forces is not realistic nor appropriate in modern society.

Cultural diffrences

  • Nevis (1983) carried out a study in China found that belongingness was seen as more important than physiological needs and that self-actualisation was defined more in terms of contributions to the community. Individulats focus more on personal identity and collectivists on social relationships.
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Behaviourists are people who believe that human behaviour can be explained in terms of learning without the need to consider thoughts and feelings.

Classical conditioning

  • Pavlov (1927) investigated the salivary reflex in dogs. The UCS (the food) and the NS (the bell) are paired and the NS is now the CS and the response produced is called a CR.

Other important features

  • Timing - If the time interval between the NS and the UCS is too great, then conditioning does not take place.
  • Extinction -  After a few presentations of the Cs in the absense of the UCS, it loses it ability to produce the CR.
  • Spontaneous recovery - Following the extinction, if the CS and the UCS are then paired together once again, the link between them is made much more quickly.
  • Stimulus generalisation - Pavlov discovered that once an animal has been conditioned, they will also respond to other stimuli that are similar to the CS.
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Operant conditioning

  • Skinner developed a special cage (Skinner box) in order to investigate operant conditioning in rats. The rat moves around the cage and when it accidently presses the level, a food pellet (the reinforcer) falls into the cage. In no time at all the hungry rat begins pressing the lever to obtain food. If the food pellet stops, the rat presses the lever a few more times and then abandons it.

Types of reinforcement - soemthing thst strengthens a response and makes it likely it will occur again in the future.

  • Positive reinforcement - occurs when a behaviour produces a consequence that is satifying or pleasant to the organism
  • Negative reinforcer - work because you remove something aversive (unpleasnt) and so restore the organism back to its pre-aversive state. e.g. hitting off an alarm button and going back to sleep.

Other important features

  • Schedules of reinforcement - a partial reinforcement schedule is more effective in mantaining that response and avoiding extinction.
  • Punishment -  where a behaviour is followed by a consequence that is undesirable  and it decreases the likelihood of the behaviour occuring agan.
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Classical conditioning

Real life application

  • Classical conditioning has led to developments to treat and reduce anxiety for phobias. Systematic desensitisation is based off classical conditioning. It works by eliminating the CR that is associated with the feared object and associating it with relxation. This has been found to be effective.


  • Different species face diffrent challneges to survive to have different capabilities to learn through the process of classical conditioning. Seligman said animals are prepeared to learn associatiations that are significant in terms of their survival needs yet unprepared to learn if they are not significant.
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Operant conditioning


  • Skinners reliance on the experimental method which uses controlled methods to observe a possible cause  relationship between 2 or more variables. Empahises the importance of scientific proceeses because of objectivity and replication.


  • Skinner studied on animals which may be able to tell us a little bit about humans but that unlike animals human have free will rather letting their behaviours be influenced by P&N reinforcers.  Skinner said free will is an illusion. Also animals are unethical.

Behaviourists are accused of ignoring  cognitve factors or emotionals states. But Skinner said that inner states are scientifically untestable.

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