Approaches in pyschology

Outline the Behaviourist approach

  • Behaviour can be observed and measured.
  • Psychology should be controlled and scientific.
  • Behaviour is learnt through association.
  • Classical conditioning = Learning through association
    • Pavlov's dogs (1909)
    • Neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned response.
  • Operant conditioning = Learning through consequences or reinforcement.
    • Skinner's box (1953)
    • Negative and positive reinforcement shown in his box.
  • Key research: Watson and Rayner (1920)
    • Little Albert 
    • Fear can be learnt
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Evaluation of the Behaviourist approach

  • Strengths: Scientific credability due to emphasis on cause and effect relationships and controlled methods; real-life application in token economies which increases validity; useful.


  • Limitations: Mechanistic (ignores active thinking or mediational processes outlined in SLT or cognitive approaches); deterministic because we cannot prove that free will is an illusion; ethical and practical issues in Skinner's research as stress exposure may create low mundane realism due to high control and stress; reductionist because it assumes that behaviour is a result of association and ignores other factors.
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Outline the Social Learning Theory approach:

  • Behaviour is learned through observation and imitation. 
  • Bandura's Mediational processes (ARRM) = Attention; retention; reproduction; motivation.
  • Vicarious reinforcement = Observing reinforcement, which influences our behaviour. Behaviour is only usually imitated if positively reinforced.
  • People are more likely to imitate role models due to identification.
  • Key research: Bandura, Ross and Ross (1963)
    • Bobo Doll Study
    • Children who witness aggressive behaviour are more likely to repeat it, supporting the idea that behaviour is learned through observation and imitation.
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Evaluation of Social Learning Theory:

  • Strengths: More holistic than Behaviourism because it considers cognition through mediational processes; explains cultural differences due to different media consumption and role models; emphasis on reciprocal determinism accounts for free will to an extent; interactionist due to reciprocal determinism as it accounts for us exerting influence on an environment.
  • Limitations: Over-reliance on lab studies (demand characteristics in Bobo Doll study where children just did what they thought was expected of them); reductionist due to lack of emphasis on other factors such as hormones which can increase aggression.
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Outline the Cognitive approach:

  • Mental processes are not observable, so they should be studied by making inferences.
  • Schema = A framework of beliefs and expectations that influence cognitive processing.
  • Theoretical and computer models are used to study internal processes. 
  • Cognitive neuroscience includes PET and FMRI scans.
  • Key research: Loftus and Palmer (1974)
    • Car crash video with leading questions
    • The more aggressive the verb in the leading question, the higher the speed estimate.
    • Implies that memory can be altered.
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Evaluation of the Cognitive approach:

  • Strengths: Scientific and objective research methods (cognitive neuroscience); lab studies tell us about memory capacity; practical application in A.I and 'thinking machines'.
  • Limitations: Inference decreases validity because you can't read minds; lab experiments lack external validity due to artifical stimuli; machine reductionism ignores genes or emotion- e.g. anxiety is shown to influence eyewitness testimony; determinism ignores motivation.
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Outline the Biological approach:

  • Everything psychological is at first biological.
  • Biological structures- e.g. DNA, hormones and neurology- influence behaviour.
  • Twin studies are used to compare concordance rates → Identical or monozygotic twins have higher concordance rates than non-identical/dizygotic twins, implying that genetics play a part in determining behaviour.
  • The Diathesis-Stress Model states that 'your genetics load the gun and your environment pulls the trigger'.
  • Key research: Brunner (1993)
    • Urine samples taken from a family of five males with violent criminal records.
    • Low MAOA gene levels = low levels of mental development likely a result of violence.
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Evaluate the Biological approach:

  • Strengths: Scientific (blood tests, CT scans and precise methods); real life application in creation of psychoactive drugs to improve lives; Diathesis-Stress Model is interactionist.
  • Limitations: Casual conclusions, e.g. mental illness can be explained by neurotransmitters → Correlation does not imply causation; determinism has legal implications as genetic basis' for crime absolves people of their actions; reductionism exludes cultural and environmental influences on behaviour.
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Outline the Psychodynamic approach:

  • Formed by Sigmund Freud
  • The unconscious can influence behaviour.
  • Made up of three parts: the ego (mediator); the Id (pleasure seeking aspect of personality) and the superego (morals).
  • Defence mechanisms: Denial; repression; displacement.
  • Psychosexual stage conflict determines future development → Oral; anal; phallic; latency; genital.
  • Key research: Freud (1909)
    • Little Hans case study 
    • Little Hans was afraid of horses because he suffered from castration anxiety as a result of the Oedipus complex.
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Evaluate the Psychodynamic approach:

  • Strengths: Explanatory power for mental disorders in psychotherapy and attachment issues; interactionist (structure of personality and how experience shapes us); practical application in psychoanalysis (dream analysis; hypnosis; defence mechanisms can explain behaviour).
  • Limitations: Unscientific due to the subjective nature of case studies; untestable concepts; reductionist (behaviour only explained by the unconscious).
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Outline the Humanist approach:

  • Importance of subjective experience.
  • Humans have self-determination.
  • Idiographic → No generalised laws as we are all unique.
  • Rogers patented client-centred therapy to help people in their everyday lives by providing unconditional positive regard.
  • Maslow created a hierarchy of needs to show how motivation influences self-actualisation. 
  • Everyone can reach self-actualisation but psychological barriers may stand in the way.
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Evaluation of the Humanist approach:

  • Strengths: Holistic (subjective experience can only be understood by considering the whole person); free will increases patient appeal as they are seen as good which differs to other approaches, such as the Psychodynamic approach which views people as slaves to their pasts.
  • Limitations: Limited application due to abstract concepts and a lack of sound evidence base; unscientific due to untestable concepts, a lack of cause and effect relationships and a lack of empirical evidence despite the creation of Rogers' Q-Sort method as an objective measure of progress in therapy; cultural bias due to individualist concepts.
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