Perspectives in psychology: assumptions/strengths+limitations/theories+research

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  • Created by: Jessica
  • Created on: 09-04-09 16:01

Biological Perspective - Assumptions

The biological perspective focuses on ways in which our biological make-up influences our thoughts & behaviours

  • These include genes & the nervous system
  • Our genetic make-up can affect our behaviour, intelligence & personality
  • An imbalance of the chemical processes used by the N.S. can cause mental disorders - aspect of physical brain


  • All that is psychological is first physiological - mind appears to reside in the brain, all thoughts, feelings + behaviours ultimately have a physical/biological cause
  • Human genes have evolved to adapt behaviour to the environment
  • Behaviour & thought processes have an innate, biological basis - nature side of 'nature-nurture' debate
  • There is a behavioural continuity between species; animal behaviour can be extrapolated to human behaviour
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Central & Autonomic Nervous System

Central Nervous System - coordinates our psychological processes and the functions that keep us alive

Spinal Cord - controls some reflexes and autonomic behaviours hellohellohellellohello Brain - controls higher mental functions & basic life processes hellohellohellhellohellohel

Autonomic Nervous System - controls the balance of increased/decreased arousal on automatic life processes

Sympathetic Nervous System - controls raised arousal e.g. orgasms & reponse to fear

  • increases heart/breathing rate & adrenal gland activity
  • slows down digestion, reduces saliva production & dilates pupils (bigger)
  • stimulates *********** in males & orgasms in females
  • generally prepares body to use energy for fight or flight

Parasympathetic Nervous System - supports body activities in low levels of arousal & controls initial stages of sexual activity

  • decreases heart/breathing rate & adrenal gland activity
  • speeds up digestion, increases saliva production & constircts pupils (smaller)
  • stimulates sexual arousal in both males & females
  • generally maintains bodily functions & conserves energy
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Genetic Basis of Behaviour


  • adoption studies - Kety etal (1975) - 21% of biological relatives displayed schizophrenic symptoms compared with 5% of adoptive relatives - ideally MZ with schizophrenia, raised apart in different adoptive environments would be the best evidence for genetic causes (cases are rare)
  • twin studies -Gottesman (1991) suggests many MZ twins have significantly higher concordance rates (48%) for schizophrenia than DZ twins (17%) concordance rates refer to whether both twins develop the disorder (MZ twins share similar environment)
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Biological Perspective - Strengths & Limitations


  • Very scientific + objective
  • Provides strong counter-arguments to the nurture debate
  • Applications - drugs help in all sorts of psychological disorders


  • Does not account for environmental factors
  • Reductionist - limits human behaviour to biological processes (hormones etc)
  • Simplistic and assumes all behaviour is due to biology
  • Mind + body - cannot explain process of consciousness
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Behaviourist Perspective - Assumptions

The behaviourist perspective focuses on the nurture side of the nature-nurture debate, it attributes our behaviour to factors in the environment through the consequences of our actions

  • Stimulus = characteristics - physical reality (sound/mell) stimulate response from organisms
  • Reinforcement = refers to the process where a response is strengthened - if an event follows a response as a direct result of that behaviour it's more likely to be repeated
  • Punishment = follows a response in attempt to stop negative behaviour
  • Generalisation = transer of a response from one stimulus to one similar
  • Classical + operant conditioning
  • Watson, Pavlov & Skinner


  • Behaviour is learned from experience - environmentalism
  • Behaviour is dependant on consequences > reinforcement (reward) increases behaviour + punishment decreases behaviour
  • Psychology should adapt a scientific + objective approach - empiricism
  • Animal research can be generelaised to humans - extrapolation
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Classical & Operant Conditioning

Classical Conditioning

  • Demonstrated by Pavlov - a form of demonstrative learning
  • Learning to associate 2 events which often occur together
  • e.g. Pavlov's dog experiment - for several feedings each time dog recieved food a bell was sounded and dog salivated; after several 'trials' bell was sounded wihout food and dog still salivated
  • Before conditioning - food (UCS) > salivation (UCR) & bell > no response
  • During conditioning - bell+food (UCS) > salivation (UCR)
  • After conditioning - bell (CS) > salivation (CR)
  • Systematic densensitisation - helps overcome phobias & other anixety disorders- Pavlovian therapy - taught relaxation skills & taught to use them when needed
  • Coping strategies - meditation/breathing exercises-effective with animal phobias
  • Watson + Rayner - "Little Albert" - induce fear of rats (iron bar)

Operant Conditioning

  • Use of consequence to modify occurence & form of behaviour - operated on environment
  • Subject operates on environment to produce an outcome
  • Demonstrated by Thorndike- e.g. 'puzzle box' cats placed in box & had to solveproblem of how to escape; solution was to pull loop of string releasing catch on door
  • Law of effect: response followed by positive consequences = more probable & response followed by negative consequences = less probable
  • Skinner based work - 'Skinner's boxes' - on Thorndike's law of effect - food = reinforcement, pressing of lever = conditioned response
  • Behaviour which is reinforced tends to be repeated & behaviour which is not reinforced tends to be extinguished
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Social Learning Theory

Learning by observation & imitation of others

Bandura, Ross & Ross (1963) children watched short film featuring Rocky & Johnny; Johnny refuses to share his toys & Rocky responds by hitting him, Rocky is rewarded because he gets the toys, Johnny sits miserably in corner watching Rocky leaving with sack full of toys; after the children were left alone in a room full of toys & observed through a one-way- mirror; the children who watched the film were much more aggressive in their play than a control group who had not seen it; some children copied specific aggressive acts which were shown in the film & one girl even asked the experimentor for a sack; children were imitating actions which had been rewarded - Bandura's study also show that if the model is punished for his behaviour then children are unlikely to imitate him

  • Gender-roles & sex stereotypes - observation - likely to imitate those we find successful/attractive/high status people and those similar to ourselves e.g. media icons & same-sex parents
  • Continue imitating a model if: 1. they are reinforced for their behaviour 2. if we ourselves are reinforced for imitating the behaviour we have seen 3. if we feel pride/sense of achievement in what we have done
  • Self-efficacy = believing we are capable of performing actions we have seen
  • S.L theorists take account of cognitive aspects - children must pay attention before they can imitate, they acquire knowledge by watching others and they have expectations about whether they will be rewarded/punished for behaviour
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Behaviourist Perspective - Strengths & Limitations


  • Scientific - attempts to produce general laws of behaviour that can be applied to people
  • Animal research > does not raise ethical issues unlike human research
  • Applications - helping people with phobias
  • Assumes possibility to generalise findings from animal studies to humans


  • Doesn't consider 'nature' to be important - the biological perspective isn't important
  • Cannot account for complx 'insight' learning e.g. coin problem
  • Deterministic > all behaviour is based on previous experiences
  • Animal research is key focus of the approach - not humans - cannot extrapolate research on animals to humans
  • Black box isn't considered - need to take mental experiences into account
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Cognitive Perspectives - Assumptions

The cognitive perspective studies the processes of language, attention, memory & reasoning


  • Mental processes can be regarded as information processing > active - cope with important things - cocktail party
  • The mind acts as a similar way to the computor - input > storage > output -
  • Mental processes can be studied scientifically - most cognitive psychology measure through: experiment e.g. facial expression
  • Thoughts & beliefs influence behaviour

Mediational processes act between 'stimulus' & 'response' e.g. 'black box' - stimulus > BLACK BOX (organism) > response

> Stimulus = in the environment measure through: experiment e.g. facial xpresiohelO >Organism = mediational process - conscious & unconscious beliefs influenceghavior >Response = behaviours performed

Craik + Lockhart - if you process information more deeply your more likely to remember it

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Computor Analogies

The parallels between how computors process information and how humans process information are very similar h

ehumans code information> decisions based upon it > change internal levels of knowledge > & turn this into a behavioural output

Artificial Intelligence (AI) - getting computers to perform tasks e.g. medical diagnosis


  • Coding = all communications systems use some form of coding e.g. a telephone translates voice to electrical signal - electrical impulses
  • Channel Capacity = any system which channels/communicates info. has an upper limit to the amount it deals with e.g. human attention - can only deal with one message at a time
  • Span of apprehension = how much information can be taken in at any one time - depends on how the information is arranged and if it's organised in ways to make it easily apprehendible


  • Machines = suggests humans are predictable & operate in obvious way - we aren't mechanical
  • Information Transfer = unable to transfer our info. like computors - cannot 'download' to another person
  • Consciousness = we have a conscience and are aware of conscious beings, unlike computers
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Information Processing

Information processing models are based on assumptions about the flow of information through a system - computer

  • The environment provides stimuli through the senses
  • These stimuli are inputs which can be transformed, stored & retrieved using various mental/cognitive processes
  • Information is stored & retrieved from memory
  • It is transformed through thinking & reasoning to solve a problem
  • Presents a mechanistic view of the mind

info. input from environment (external/interal) > senses transform input into neutral info. > cognitive processes memory/attention etc > output response (behaviour or decision/judgement)

Attention = e.g. selective attention - cocktail party - choose convot is Memory = e.g. S + A multi-store model - unattened info. gets lost forever Presents a mechanistic view of the minPerception = e.g. basketball & Gorilla clip Presents a m Problem Solving = e.g. nine dot problem

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Cognitive Perspective - Strengths & Limitations


  • Highly scientific & objective - use of experiments allow us to investigate processes that cannot be directly observed
  • Many cognitive theories can be modelled & tested on computers
  • Practical applications have been made to the treatment of people suffereing mental disorders
  • Successful use of cognitive therapies in treating depression & anixety/eating disorders


  • Ignores individual differences
  • Mechanistic > ignores the influence of factors such as feelings, that may affect our behaviour
  • Experiments - lack ecological validity
  • Too much focus on detailing & understanding of mental processes such as memory/attention and not on behaviour
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Psychoanalytic Perspective - Assumptions


  • Mental processes occur at the conscious & unconscious level

Various techniques used to investigate the unconscious: free association > speak aloud every word that comes into head; slip-of-the-tongue > say things by accident - no intetntion ; dream analyisis > "royal road to the unconscious" - Freud - access repressed memories - actual content is symbolic representation of underlying true content, the ego disguises true content as a defence mechanism

  • The importance of early childhood experiences - Little Hans
  • Psychodynamic techniques can be used to treat mental disorders

Psychoanalysis (type of therapy derived from psychodynamic theory) > leads to conversion neurosis & results in conversion hysteria - aims to bring back repressed memories to conscious awareness

  • Personality has 3 part: id, ego & superego
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Freud's Approach to Personality

Id, ego & superego and defence mechanisms => personality system

  • Freud compared the mind to an iceberg
  • Id = pleasure principle (the sex life) and aggressive instincts originate in the id
  • Freud's structure of personality - operates according to the reality principle at both conscous & unconscious level
  • Ego = employs defense mechanisms to help deal with internal conflicts
  • Superego = made up of the conscious & unconscious; this develops as a result of the oedipus complex in the Freudian theory

Defense Mechanisms

  • Displacement = unconsciously moing impulses to a less threatening object e.g. after an argument with your boss you shout at colleague
  • Sublimation = frustrations expressed through physical activities e.g. boxing
  • Identification = behaving in a similar way to someone you regard as role model e.g. son imitating Father
  • Denial = refusing to accept the existence or reality of a threatening even e.g. denying a disease is affecting your life
  • Repression = keeping threatening thoughts out of consciounsess e.g. forgetting a dental appointment
  • Rationalisation = making up something that justifies your own injustifable behaviour e.g. "you have to be cruel to be kind"
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Unconscious Mental Processes

Freud distinguished between the conscious, preconscoius & unconscious mental processes

Conscious = thoughts & feelings we are aware of at any time e.g. you may be feeling thirty at this moment and decide to get a drink

Preconscious = thoughts & feelings that a person is not currenty aware of but which can easily be brought to consciousness e.g. you are presently not thinking about your mobile number, but now mentioned you will be able to recall it

Unconsciouss = take place without us being directly aware of them

  • Id is regarded as entirely unconscious
  • Ego & superego have conscious, preconscious and unconscious aspects
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Pscho-sexual Stages of Development

Oral stage

  • 1st year of life - fixation with Mother - insufficient breast feeding/first emotional attatchment
  • Id demands satisfaction - pleasure from mouth
  • Effects = very trusting/dependant on others, aggressive personality dominates, some indiviuals seek gratification through thumb-sucking/smoking

Anal stage

  • 2nd year of life - gains pleasure from defecating
  • Id has pleasure from expulsion
  • Fixation on stage, results in excessive interest in physiological function later in life
  • Parents to leniant - lack of control
  • Under pressure form parents - attitude towards authority is abolished

Phallic stage

  • Odeipul/electra complex
  • "penis envy" & fear of castration
  • Case of Little Hans

Latency stage

  • 5th year of life - (puberty, libido less engrossed in body) - focuses on environment; sexual energy sublimated to school work & hobbies etc
  • Little to do with opposite sex
  • Freud felt sexual impulses were heavily repressed - "infantile amnesia"
  • No dominant site of sexual pleasure after oedipus complex
  • Ego develops within this stage
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Freud's use of Case Studies

Little Hans - associated screams of abused little Sister with horses 'making a row'; illustrates oedipal complex; fear of beaten by horse reflects castration anxiety - horse symbolises his Father; parents didn't get on - abandonment = other explanation

Rat Man - behaviours due to a mixture of love + hatred of his Father; obssessive complusive behaviours; these 2 helped to reduce guilt; unconscious desire to torure his Father with rats; no mention of his Mother nor death of older Sister -domineering childhood & abandonment

Dora - referred to Freud follwoing a suicide note by her Father; hysteria & neurotic behaviour e.g. headaches & nervous cough; highlights the ego's use of defence mechanisms; even though Dora rejected the advances of Herr K, Freud believed she was in love with him - reaction formation; seen as a failure - did not cure Dora - highlights use of defence mechanisms and the presence of oedipal conflicts in an 18 year old; she also had lesbians desires for Frau K and was in love with Freud; Freud was criticised for being unsympathetic & aggressive

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Post-Freudian Theories

Erikson - psychosocial theory of development - alternative to Freud's approach

Suggests that psychological development occurs through an interaction between the biological needs of the individual and the social forces encountered during the course of daily life

  • Refers to 8 psychosocial stages - life span - each stage requires a different level of social interaction - this can alter the course of personality development
  • Each stage produces conflict which must be resolved in order to deal with the conflict in subsequent stages

Examples -

  • During the first year of life the crisis is; trust vs mistrust - dependant - well cared for & safe environment = trust + neglect & lack of atttention = mistrust
  • During the fifth stage (puberty & adolescense) > identity vs role confusion - centered around identity crisis - if crisis is not adequately resolved the ego is weakened = less able to cope with crisis > delayed development
  • Ego has ability to deal positively with the crisis at any time of life

Comparison with Freud - 8 stages instead of 5; stages continue into old age raher than stop at adolescence; social relationships shape p.development rather than an individuals sexual/aggressive drive shaping p.development

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Psychoanalytic Perspective - Strengths & Limitatio


  • Significance of early childhood experiences on child development
  • Concept of the "unconscious" mind - the idea that "guilt"/"anxiety" might be buried in the "unconscious" mind and this has an impact on daily behaviour (defence mechanisms)
  • Impact Freud has had on theraputic methods of psychology - psychoanalysis


  • Psychosexual stages are not measurable so theories are difficult to study and get 'evidence'
  • The "unconscious" is important in the psychodynamic approach - how can it be studied?
  • Dream analysis is an important tool for psychodynamic psychologists but using this approach to 'tap' the unonscious is hard to accept

Empirical Evidence - homophobia - hetrosexual men completed a questionnaire into homophobia; 64 pts - 34 homo/29 not homo - measured on a penial pleasmograph for arousal; 80% homo & 30% non homo were aroused >unconscious desire to be homosexual

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Humanistic Perspective - Assumptions

'value system' rather than a theoretical perspective - intrinsic values are more important (intimacy/personal development) than extrinsic values (wealth/status)


Uniquesness of individuals

  • Psychology should focus on the subjective experiences - interpretation can vary
  • Feelings & thoughts of individuals
  • Referred to asideographic - emphasis on in depth individual understanding
  • Generalisations/laws are irrelevant since all individuals are different

Holistic approach

  • Individuals must be looked at from a holistic perspective - as a whole rather than in small parts - reductionism


  • All individuals are free to choose what they do and what kind of person they can be
  • This is an alternative approach to determinism taken from psychodynamic psychology & behaviourism
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Person Centered Approahc - Karl Rogers & Maslow


  • Ideal self > U.P.R = free to behave according to actualising tendency > self acutalisation > fully functioning person
  • Self esteem - value yourself as a person - gap between ideal self/image
  • Self image > C.O.W = behave in certain way to get P.R. > conflict > mental health problems

Karl Rogers

  • Uncondisional positive regard = respected no matter what
  • Conditional positive regard = behave in a certain way
  • Self actualisation = be what you want to be (fully functioning person)
  • Congruence = balanced situation/conditions of worth


  • Hierarchy of needs
  • Self actualised individuals - Einstein & Lincoln - philosophical, deep relationships, independance - cultural + environmental = healthy personality

Rejection of the scientific approach

  • "human qualities" - looking at individuals - depth of human experience
  • Evidence - empirical evidence > why do we need research?
  • Case studies - cannot generalise, ideographic - individual differences
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Importance of Values within Humianistic Psychology


  • "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts" - Gestalt - perception, problem solving & learning can't be broken down - avoids reduction of personality
  • Treats individual in terms of mind & body - unified & organised whole

Free Will

  • Ext. conseq. - punishment/acting illegally + Int. conseq. - self-punishment - guilt
  • Reject deterministic approaches of psychoanalysis & behaviourism
  • Humanists place great emphasis on taking personal responsibility for our actions
  • Considered alongside personal responsiblity and the rules of society

Valuing Individual Experience

  • W. James - conscious experiences essential > adaptation to complex env.
  • 1st indiv. exp. = unique to each person; 2nd indiv. exp. = understanding persons adjustment to life; 3rd indiv. exp. = subjective perceptions & feelings

Promoting Personal Growth

  • Def. mech. prevent personal growth e.g. denial - promoted by hierarchy of n.
  • Rogers - occurs with a f.f. person - 'threat' = persons perception of conflict & inconginuity with self-concept
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Humanistic Perspective - Strengths & Limitations


  • Applications - therapies e.g. CCT illustrate positive application of perspective
  • Holism - views people as a whole
  • View of people - positive about human nature


  • Empirical evidence - hasn't generated much; rejection of scientific approach
  • Comprehensivesness - focus on 'motivation' neglects instinct
  • Terminilogy - weakness because peak experience, self actualisation ( objective) people have different understandings
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Comparison of Perspectives

Human Nature

  • Biological > human characteristics & behaviour determined by genetic inheritance; physiological determinants of human behaviour
  • Behaviourist > people as 'machines' responding to reinforcers/punishers in environment
  • Cognitive > people as conscious, logical thinkers; memory defining characteristic
  • Psychoanalytic > negative; conflict-ridden; unconscious & childhood repressions
  • Humanistic > positive image - person grows & realises poential; freedom to act & choose

Personality Development

  • Biological > development = maturational process from inheritance & genetic predisposition
  • Behaviourist > development = continual process resulting in environmental contingencies
  • Cognitive > in relation to child development - intellectual & moral development = stages
  • Psychoanalytic > stages of emotional development - oral, anal & phallic stages (0-7)
  • Humanistic > development throughout life - through personal growth & realisation of potential

Explanation, Treatment of Aytypical Behaviour

  • Biological > chemical imbalances/deficiances - CNS = use of drug therapies -medical model
  • Behaviourist > incorrect/maladaptive reinforcements/punishments = change behaviour by changing r & p contingenices
  • Cognitive > inappropriate/negative way of thinking about self = change thinking, p.solving approach
  • Psychoanalytic > unconscious conflict; c.hood repressions weaken ego = psychoanalysis uncovers repressions & strengthen ego
  • Humanistic > blocking of personal growth & self actualisation = UPR to remove this block
  • result of blocking of p.growth & prevention of self act. removal facilitates p.growth

View on Aggression

  • Biological > innate/instinctive from benefits provided to individual for survival
  • Behaviourist > mainly determined by environment; factors: upbringing & social conditions play a major role
  • Cognitive > perceptions/cognitions about situation determine whether threatening - requiring response
  • Psychoanalytic > instinctual & biologically given - death/destructive instinct; sublimated into society constructive acitivties - work/art
  • Humanistic >

Methods of Studying Human Behaviour

  • Biological > lab exp. using animals to investigate functions of parts of brain-twins
  • Behaviourist > lab exp. often using animals such as rats & pigeons
  • Cognitive > lab exp. sometimes single subject experiments & case studies
  • Psychoanalytic > case studies, interpretation of behaviour to unconscious motives
  • Humanistic > case studies; biographies; subjective conscious experience
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Value of Eclectic Approach

"An eclectic thinker is one who selectively adopts idea from different sources and combines them in the development of a new theory"

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