Holism and reductionism

  • Holism and reductionism:
  • AO1:
  • Holism - people and behaviours should be studied as a whole system. Gestalt psychologists (Germany in 1920s and 30s) claimed that 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Breaking up behaviour and experience is innapropriate as these can only be understood by analysing the person or behaviour as a whole. This view is shared by humanistic pschologists who see successful therapy as bringing together all aspects of the whole person. 
  • Reductionism - Breaking down behaviour into constituent parts. Reductionist appraches analyse our behaviour by breaking it down into smaller units. This is absed on the scientific principle of parsimony - all phenomena should be explained using the most basic, lowest level and simplest principles (e.g. behaviour of individal cells). 
  • Levels of explanation to socio-cultural to neurochemical. the notion of levels of explanation suggests there are several ways of viewing the same phenomena in psychology - some are more reductionist than others. For example, OCD may be understood in different ways:
  • Socio-cultural level - it involves behaviours most people would regard as odd (e.g. repetitive hand-washing).
  • Psychological level - the individual's experience of having these thoughts.
  • Physical level - the sequence of movements involved in washing one's hands.
  • Physiological level - Hypersnsitivity of the basic ganglia.
  • Neurochemical level - underproduction of serotonin.
  • Which os these is the 'best' explanation of OCD is a matter of deabate, but each level is more reductionist than the one before. 
  • Psychology can be places in a hirarchy of science, with the more precise and 'micro' of these at the bottom (physics) and the more general, macro at the top (sociology). Researchers who favour reductionist accounts of behavour see psychology as ultimately being replaced by explanations derived from these sciences lower down in the hierarchy. 
  • Biological reductionism - physiological and neurochemical level. We


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