Holism vs Reductionism


Holism Knowledge

  • It only makes sense to study an indivisible stsytem rather than its constituent parts.
  • Ananlyses behaviour and a person as a whole.
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Holism Strength

P: There are aspects of behaviour which cannot be understood at an individuals (reductionist) level.

E: Many aspects of social behaviour can only be seen or understood within a group context, by taking the experiences of everyone in the group into account.

E: For example, the social roles played out by the prisoners and guards in the Standford prison experiment could only be understood in terms of (social) conformity, a form of behaviour which does not occur without the influence of others (often a group).

L: This shows that Holism is able to explain behaviour to a more complete level of understanding, especially in real-life situations.

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Holism Limitation

P: Do not lend themselves well to scientific testing.

E: Holistic methods tend to become more vague the more complex they become meaning it can be difficult to test holistic throries with scientific methods. This can cause issues with tratment when it comes to real life as it is difficult to know what is the biggest concern.

E: For example, it can be difficult to know what form of therapy or drug to use to treat depression if the explanation for it is based on many aspects.

L: This shows that holistic theroies may not be applicable to real-life situations and problems.

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Reductionism Knowledge


  • Based on the fact that we are biological organisms so all behaviours can be explained at some level through biological, neurchemical, neurophysiological, evolutionary and genetic influences.


  • All behaviour is learned through experience.
  • A stimulus-response link.
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Reductionism Strength

P: More scientific.

E: Reductionist methods break down behaviours into its constituent parts, allowing it to be operstionalised, observations to be rcorded and experiements to be conducted in a reliable way.

E: This may involve breaking behaviour into behaviour catagroies as Ainswoth did in her Strange situation, creating a range of behaviours that needed ot be observed to determine if the childen had an secure attachment or not.

L: This increase in scientific validity and credibility brings psychology on the same level as other natural sciences such as biology and chemistry on the reductionist hierachy.

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Reductionism Limitation

P: Reductionist approaches have been accused of oversimplifying complex behaviours.

E: Explanations that only consider one cause and effect of behaviour do not consider the social and external contexts in which these behaviours occur, where the behaviours may find meaning.

E: Redcutionist approaches cannot explain any social dependent behaviours such as conformity in social contexts. (social influence).

L: This results in a loss of validity as reductionist research does not explain why behaviours occur only show that they do, therefore, reductionist explanations can only ever be a partial explanation of any behaviour.

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