This approach is concerned with how humans interact with each other. Areas of particular interest include interpersonal attraction and relationships, prejudice and discrimination, andgroup dynamics (conformity, obedience and minority influence).
It focuses in particular on how the individual behaves in these social situations. When we are looking for an explanation of why someone behaved the way they did, the social approach would say to look at the individual in terms of the the social context and their interactionsand perceptions of others. Rather than as an isolated individual.
Social Approach Strengths
✓ This approach helps us to focus on the situation in which behaviour is being observed, rather than just looking at the characteristics of the person.
✓ This approach recognises that much behaviour takes place in a social context and helps us understand how people behave in groups.
Social Approach Weaknesses
✘ If experimental methods are used, especially in laboratory experiments, it is difficult to create an everyday social setting, so research may lack ecological validity.
✘ Research may be deterministic and may overestimate situational factors and underemphasized the individual differences and the role of 'free will'
Counter argument: Milgram argued that all his participants could have refused to administer electronic shocks.
Individual Differences Approach
This approach is concerned with the differences between people (rather than the things we might have in common), particularly in terms of personality and abnomality.
One of the assumptions of this approach is that there are differences between people of any group, in terms of their personal qualities, the ways in which they respond to situations, theirbehaviour and so on, and that it is examining these differences that is the most revealing.
Some research within the approach has focused on trying to measure these differences, for example, through the use of psychometric tests such as IQ tests or personality tests. Some research has tried to categorise and identify the different types of abnormality.
Individual Differences Strengths
✓ Has useful applications especially in therapy for treating dysfunctional behaviour.
✓ Case studies give a detailed picture of an individual and help to discover how a persons past may be related to their present behaviour.
Individual Differences Weaknesses
✘ The approach may be reductionist because it may overestimate the role of depositional factors and ignore social and situational influences on behaviour.
✘ If case study methods are used, the findings can only be applied to the person being studied and can not be generalised to explain the behaviour of others. (Eve, Little Albert)
✘ Retrospective studies may rely on memory, which may be biased, faulty or incomplete, and on past records which may be incomplete.
This approach is concerned with how we change as we age and mature - in particular, how we change cognitively and socially. Much of the research has focused on the change withinchildhood, as this is the fastest period of change in a person's life.
Increasingly, however, over the last two decades, psychology has recognised the life-span approach and acknowledged the changes (social and cognitive) that continue to take place throughout all stages of adulthood.
One key assumption of this approach is that events that happen to us early in life have along-term effect on the course of our development.
Another assumption is that people of the same age share much in common, in terms ofcognitive abilities, issues they face and so on.
Developmental Approach Strengths
✓ This approach helps identify changes that are common to most people and predict age-related changes in aspects of behaviour. For example, theories of cognitive development can be applied to improve teaching and learning situations in schools.
✓ By understanding changes that take place in most people, we can recognise abnormal or dysfunctional behaviour.
✓ Longitudinal methods can be used to monitor the long-term effect of an experience.
Developmental Approach Weaknesses
✘ If longitudinal research methods are used, it is difficult to control other factors that can also affect what we are measuring, reducing the validity of research conclusions.
✘ Whether longitudinal or cross-sectional methods are used, large samples are required, because of participant attrition and in order to be able to generalise findings to the research population. Usually need long-term funding.
✘ The developmental approach may be reductionist because it may overestimate the influence of age as a cause of behaviour change and ignore other factors such as social or situational influences on behaviour.
The physiological approach studies the biological basis of human behaviour.
This may include discovering localised functions in the brain. This can be done by working with brain-damaged patients, but more recently involves neuro-imaging techniques and often focuses on the chemical basis of human behaviour, e.g, serotonin on depression.
May also consider the genetic basis for behaviour.
Physiological Approach Strengths
✓ The objective, reductionist nature of physiological explanations facilitates experimental research.
✓ Physiological explanations can be used to treat dysfunctional behaviour, for example, drug therapies are widely used to treat mental illnesses, often with a reasonable amount of success. (Kane)
✓ Physiological explanations are scientific because they do not need us to infer metaphysical constructs such as 'mind' to explain behaviour.
Physiological Approach Weaknesses
✘ The physiological approach offers an objective, reductionist and mechanist explanation of behaviour, which is over simplistic.
✘ It overlooks the environmental aspect of behaviour. It ignores past experience in our environment as an influence on behaviour.
✘ Physiological explanations are more appropriate for some kinds of behaviour (such as the physiology of stress) but whether a person feels stressed involves social and physiological factors, so physiological explanations alone are usually inadequate.
✘ Physiological explanations are deterministic, suggesting that all behaviour is entirely predictable.
Concerns the mind and mental processes - how we think (rationally and irrationally), solve problems, perceive, make sense and understand the world, how and why we remember and forget.
The main assumption of the cognitive approach is that how we think is central in explaining how we behave and how we respond in different situations.
The approach sees the human mind rather like a computer; information enters (input), is processed and stored, and is sometimes used again (output).
Cognitive Approach Strengths
✓ The approach has useful applications, ranging from advice about validity of eyewitness testimony and how to improve performance in situations requiring close attention (such as traffic control) to successful therapies for psychological problems such as stress (SIT Meichenbaum).
✓ The cognitive approach is not deterministic and it allows that humans have free will to make decisions about behaviour.
Cognitive Approach Weaknesses
✘ The cognitive approach tends to ignore social, motivational and emotional factors and assumes that humans are rational. It under emphasises the role of human emotion.
✘ Much research by cognitive psychologists is experimental and based in laboratories, in situations that lack ecological validity.
For example: many memory experiments measure 'memory for facts' but there are many different kinds of memory.
Human behaviour is explained in terms of an interaction between innate drives and early experiences. Freud wrote that there are three parts to the human psyche.
- The id (the primitive, innate part of personality)
- The ego (the conscious and intellectual part of personality that regulates the id)
- The superego (the moral part that is from parents and society)
Freud also devised a theory of psychosexual development; oral, anal, phallic, latency andgenital.
Psychodynamic Perspective Strengths
✓ Freud recognised that childhood is a critical period of development.
✓ Has useful applications in the form of therapy.
✓ Case studies provide rich, in-depth detailed data and allow for changes to be tracked over time.
Psychodynamic Perspective Weaknesses
✘ Data is often collected retrospectively, and because it was interpreted there is a potential for investigator bias.
✘ It is deterministic because it implies that people have little free will, and it suggests that adult behaviour is determined by childhood experiences.
Behaviourist psychology assumes that all behaviour is learned, and that experience andinteraction with the environment make us what we are because we learn stimulus-responseunits of behaviour in reaction to the environment.
All behaviour can be explained in terms of conditioning theory through classical and/or operant conditioning to produce stimulus and response links, which build up to producecomplex behaviours.
All behaviour is determined by environmental influences, e.g, learning. We are born as a blank slate (Tabula rasa) upon which stimulus-response units are built.
Behaviourist Perspective Strengths
✓ Classic learning theory has had a major influence on all branches of psychology.
✓ Behaviourism has given rise to many practical applications, such as treatments for dysfunctional behaviour (systematic desensitisation), where desirable behaviours are rewarded. The principle is that if a dysfunctional behaviour (such as phobia) is learnt than it can be unlearnt.
Behaviourist Approach Weaknesses
✘ It is reductionist - it reduces complex behaviour down to stimulus-response links.
✘ It is deterministic - behaviour is determined by the environment and past experience. It implies that humans are passive in response to their environment.