Key Approaches in Psychology

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  • Created by: khodnett
  • Created on: 14-03-16 16:38

Biological Approach


  • human behaviour is strongly influenced by our genetic makeup and our genetic inheritance
  • the central nervous system is essential for thought and behaviour. understanding brain structure and function explains behaviour and thought
  • the chemical processes in the brain are responsible for psychological functioning therefore an imbalance of these may cause disorders
  • the brain and mind are the same
  • humans evolved through darwinian evolution causing many similarities to animals


  • highly scientific, advanced technologies such as scanning techniques
  • use of chemicals and drugs to treat imbalances in the brain
  • twin studies for researching genetic inheritance
  • detailed case studies on brain damage patients
  • animal investigations
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Biological Approach Evaluation


  • highly developed use of the scientific method
  • recognises the role of the brain 
  • developed drug treatments for abnormal behaviours
  • recognises the impact of evolution and genetic influence on behaviour


  • reductionist
  • ignores the environments influence
  • cannot explain consciousness and conscious thought
  • over simplifies
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Behaviourist Approach


  • all behaviour is learnt from experience in our environment
  • all behaviour is learnt through reinforcement or punishment
  • reinforcement strengthens link between stimulus and response
  • we are all born a blank slate
  • internal mental processes cannot be studied scientifically and objectively
  • valid to generalise from animals
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Behaviourism- Classical Conditioning

classical conditioning

  • unconditioned stimulus -> unconditioned response
  • unconditioned stimulus + neutral stimulus -> unconditioned response
  • conditioned stimulus -> conditioned response
  • long time gaps prevented learning
  • conditioned stimulus presented too often without unconditioned stimulus extinguishes behaviour
  • conditioned stimulus can be altered slightly and elict same response = stimulus generalisation
  • if the change is too great the response is not elicted = stimulus discrimination
  • the conditioned response can randomly return after being extinguished when the conditioned stimulus is presented= spontaneous recovery
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Classical Conditioning- Watson & Rayner 1920

little albert

  • baby albert had no initial fear of rats, but naturally startled by loud noises
  • when the white rat and a loud noise where presented at the same time he would show fear
  • he then cried when just the rat was presented so he had learnt to fear rats, then later generalised this to all white furred animals/objects
  • this was conducted under lab conditions
  • this provided evidence that classical conditioning can result in strong phobias

ethical issues- cant be repeated as it caused great distress to the child 

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Behaviourism- Operant Conditioning & Skinner's Box

operant condtioning 

  • all behaviour learnt from the consequences
  • behaviour becomes more or less likely
  • rewards/reinforcement increases chances of repeating the behaviour
  • punishers decrease the chances of repeating behaviour

skinner box 

  • rat learnt to press leaver for food
  • positive reinforcement: positive/pleasant consequence increases likelihood of behaviour
  • negative reinforcement:removal of negative consequence increasiing likelihood of behaviour
  • punishment: behaviour is extinguished
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Behaviourist Approach Evaluation


  • scientific
  • animal experimentation avoids ethical issues
  • environment is sole determinant of behaviour


  • denies free will, deterministic
  • rejects biological
  • assumes it is easy to generalise from animal experiments
  • ignores thoughts and emotions
  • assumes all learning is from consequences
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Social Learning Theory


  • all behaviour is learnt from experience
  • mental processes are important in how people learn
  • people tend to imitate behaviour seen rewarded and not the behaviour punished
  • vicarious reinforcement is when the observer learns a models behaviour has been reinforced or rewarded, increasing likelihood of imitation
  • reinforcement does not always need to be direct
  • most research is on people
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Social Learning Theory- Mediating Cognitions & Mod

bandura's mediating cognitive factors

  • input->mediating cognitions-> output
  • these occur between stimulus and response


  • observational learning occurs as a result of one person watching another, and observing the consequences
  • person being observed is the model and the observer replicating the behaviour is modelling
  • not all observing leads to imitation

characteristics increasing chances

  • models we identify similarities with 
  • likability and attractiveness, high status and famous
  • low self esteem of observer
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Social Learning Theory-Bandura's Aggression Study


  • to conduct a study with young children to demonstrate observational or imitative learning


  • children split into 2 groups ,1st group individually placed into room with an adult behaving aggressively towarss a bobo doll, children in other group individually placed in a room with a subdued adult playing with bobo doll,then all children where individually placed into room with bobo doll and any aggressive behaviours shown where recorded


  • children observed aggressive adult behaved more aggressively than those who observed non aggressive model. boys where generally more aggressive than girls


  • mere exposure to aggressive model results in observational learning and aggressive behaviour
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Social Learning Theory- Mediating Cognitive Factor


  • oberver paying attention to model


  • remembering behaviour and the consequences


  • ability of observer to perform behaviour


  • consequences inccured by model
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Social Learning Theory Evaluation


  • scientific method
  • experimentation to study learning in people
  • applications to understanding media violence and treating mental disorders
  • less mechanistic view of human behaviour than behaviourism as takes cognitive processes into account


  • too much focus on aggression while ignoring biology and genetics
  • lab experiments highly artificial and difficult to generalise to everyday lives so lack ecological validity
  • ignores personality differences like introversion and extroversion
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Cognitive Approach


  • only studying mental processes can we understand behaviour
  • mental processes can be studied scientifically and objectively
  • human mind actively processes information from the senses
  • computor is similar to the mind
  • mental processes mediate between stimulus and response

3 types of enquiry

  • cognitive neuropsychology- studying cognitive processes in brain damage patients. Broca discovered an area for speech production which when damaged caused difficulty speaking but not understanding speech
  • cognitive science- theories and theoretical development
  • experimental cognitive psychology- investigating all mental processes in normal healthy people in controlled experimental and lab conditions
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Cognitive- Internal Mental Processes


  • measured loss of information in memory by learning nonsense words and testing for retention over a few weeks
  • found forgetting is greatest soon after learning and levels off after 2 days 


  • experiment showing how people reason and how this is not always logical
  • pps shown 4 cards, each with letter on one side and number on other
  • told rule if theres an A on one side theres a 3 on the other then asked to turn over cards necessary to prove rule true or false
  • most turned over A but few turned 2 ( options: A B 3 2) which needed to be turned to reveal an A proving the rule false
  • most pps did not use logical method meaning pure logical thinking may be difficult for people

models- computor analogy of the mind

input of information-> processing-> storing and retrieving-> output

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Cognitive Approach Evaluation


  • scientific procedures to develop and test theories with experimental technique
  • dominant approach in psychology 
  • model use aids understanding 
  • experiments can be used to understand processes that arent directly observable


  • ignores biology and gene influences
  • individual differences 
  • mechanistic view
  • ignores emotion
  • questionable value of purely scientific approach
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Psychodynamic Approach


  • large part of our mental life operates at an unconscious level
  • slips of the tongue and accidents have unconscious explanations
  • behaviour thought and conscious mental processes are determined by unconscious mental processes
  • early childhood experiences especially those from birth until 3 years old are vitally important in the development of adult personality and mental functioning
  • childhood development takes place through psychosexual stages
  • personality has 3 components- ID, EGO, and SUPEREGO
  • ego employs defense mechanisms to protect itself from harm and unpleasant unconscious thoughts
  • pschoanalysis can uncover unconscious thoughts through dream analysis
  • typical reseach method is case studies of abnormal people used to make generalisations about our mental life
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Psychodynamic- The Unconscious

the unconscious mind

  • conscious thoughts are only a small part of our mental activity
  • majority takes place at unconscious level and is unaccessible
  • preconscious lies between the conscious and unconscious allowing thoughts to slip through to the conscious
  • unconscious is made of instincts drives and desires unaware to us but have a strong influence, containing memories from early childhood that are traumatic retained through repression
  • reservoir for disturbing memories from childhood allows normal cognitive functioning
  • reservior for biological instincts and drives that are disturbing 
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Pschodynamic- Psychosexual Stages

oral 0-3 yrs- mouth focus

  • oral aggressive fixation= wit and verbally critical
  • oral passive fixation= nail biting and pen chewing

anal 3-5 yrs- **** focus

  • withholding or expelling faeces to exert control
  • fixation= anal personality

phallic 5-8 yrs- genital focus

  • oedipus and electra complexes
  • fixation= homosexuality and role model seeking

latent 8-12yrs- repressing

genital puberty yrs- sexual desires

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Psychodynamic- Personality Structure


  • primative, instinctual, inherited 
  • pleasure principle
  • unconscious level


  • satisfied demands of ID while balancing SUPEREGO
  • reality principle


  • conscience and ideal self
  • normally represents values and morals of parents

ID is entirely unconscious whereas EGO and SUPEREGO operate at conscious and preconscious levels

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Psychodynamic- Defence Mechanisms

emplyed by EGO and used to prevent painful/upsetting/disturbing unconscious thoughts and conflicts fro becoming conscious

reaction formation- behaving oppositely to unconscious impulses and feelings

displacement- transfer of impulses / feelings onto neutral / innocent target

projection- putting own unacceptable impulses onto someone else

rationalisation- removing emotional content of idea / event by logical analysis

denial- refusal to acknowledge involvement

sublimation- redirecting threatening impulses to something socially acceptable

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Psychodynamic Approach Evaluation


  • identifies importance of childhood for later life
  • recognises complexity of human thought and behaviour
  • psychoanalitic therapy treats many types of mental disorders
  • values individual, detailed case studies


  • not scientific and the theories are difficult to investigate, not falsifiable
  • if mental life operates at an unconscious level this is hard to investigate scientifically
  • wrongly generalises case studies
  • too much emphasis on sexual instincts in childhood 
  • male orientated regarding females as inferior due to a weaker EGO
  • pessimistic and retrospective and deterministic
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Humanistic Approach


  • idiographic, emphasising uniqueness 
  • people are essentially good and grow psychologically if given positive regard
  • people strive to realise their full potential and self actualisation
  • motivated by hierarchy of needs
  • therapies should be client centred and warm, empathetic and genuine
  • problems arise from differences in percieved self and ideal self
  • scientific method is inappropriate and the focus should be on subjective experiences
  • concerning things have meaning and value for people
  • self and self concept are fundamental conscious experience is all that counts

free will

people are active agents able to change and decide their own developement

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Humanistic- Concepts of Self & Conditions of worth

Carl Rogers (1980)- concept of self

  • develops and emerges during childhood
  • become aware of identity, personality
  • includes all aspects of personal experience
  • ideal self- what the person aspires to be with the values and morals guiding behaviour and thought
  • incongruence between self concepts causes issues
  • therapy can lessen differences

Carl Rogers (1980)- Condtions of worth

  • we all need unconditional positive regard- to be loved valued and accepted without conditions
  • conditions of worth- when the positive regard of a significant other is conditional, when the individual feels in some respects prized and in others not
  • conditional positive regard- loved only when behaviour is approved
  • client centred therapy is based on unconditional positive regard
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Humanistic- Self Actualisation

Maslows heirarchy of self actualisation

  • physiological needs- food, water, oxygen, sleep
  • safety needs- security, protection, stability, freedom from fear
  • belonging and love needs-friendship, intimate relationships, love of people
  • self esteem needs- self respect, perception of competence, status, recognition of others
  • self actualisation- realising full potential
  • each need must be satisfied to move on the next , key characteristics of self actualised people is accurate perceptions, acceptance of others
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Humanistic Approach Evaluation


  • optimistic, recognising importance of personal experience and future looking
  • client centred therapy is effective in treatment of mild disorders
  • made psychologists consider the focus of psychology, recognising the importance of conscious experience, thoughts and feelings
  • fundamental principle that people are responsible for their own behaviour and are not controlled by environmental forces or unconscious conflicts


  • subjective, ignoring mental processes and the unconscious
  • rejects scientific method of understanding and explaining human behaviour and thought so theories concepts and claims cant be investigated properly 
  • Rogers concepts and ideas have been criticised for being culture bound. western culture= individuals which is what self actualisation focuses on whereas eastern culture= groups
  • focus entirely on individuals ignoring personality characteristics common to all
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