Reductionism and Holism

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  • Created by: Abbie
  • Created on: 16-06-13 14:17
Reductionism in psychology has two related meanings:
Breaking down complex phenomena into seperate components in order to explain and understand behaviour. Reducing explanations of behaviour to simpler levels
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What is meant by Holistic?
emphasise the whole of behaviour or experience rather than the individual components.
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example of a reductionist explanation of behaviour?
some psychologist attempted to explain schizophrenia in terms of the activity of neurotransmitter of the influence of genes. this is simpler than considering social and environmental factors.
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outline alexander et als study?
one group of rats kept in isolated cramped conditions. another group kept in roomy conditions and in company of other rats. only liquid available was morphine after the rats were given choice of water or morphine.
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results of the study?
Rats raised in cramped conditions drank signifigantly more of the morphine than those raised in roomy conditions.
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What is the conclusion of this study?
the process of addiction is influenced not just by biological factors but also by social and environmental factors.
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Strengths of reductionist approach?
consistent with the scientific approach. Breaking phenomena down into smaller parts = more easily tested. makes it easier for behaviour to be explained in concrete and concise terms.
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Limitations of reductionist approach?
complexity of behaviour is missed; ignore many important interactions. may distract attention from other types of explanation e.g. explaining intellegence at level of genes means oppertunities to stimulate and enrich may be missed.
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what is gestalt psychology?
when studying any aspect of human functioning it is essential to look at unified wholes.
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give an example of a gestalt view of learning?
'insight learning' Kohler - banana and stick outside monkeys cage. stick was within reach but banana wasn't. after failing to grab the banana suddenly the monkey reached for stick and used to rake banana.
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when does insight learning occur in this study?
when all elements (stick, arm and distances) are seen in relationship to eachother thus from a meaningful whole. insight learning could not be explained simply by behavourist S-R connections and reinforcment.
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what is an interactionist approach?
intergrates several levels of explanation to provide more complete understanding of behaviour. e.g. schiz. biological psychological and social factors are considered. only by taking into account all these can you get better understanding of problem
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strengths of holistic/interactionist explanations?
provide more complete picture. do not ignore complexity of behaviour - can be more meaningful. behaviour is variable and determined by many factors so interactionist explanations = more helpful than reductionist ones.
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Limitations of holistic/interactionist explanations?
difficult to investigate how different types and levels of explanations are integrated. More hypothetical than lower-level reductionist explanations. lack predictive power of scientific explanation.
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what side of the debate does biological approach take?
explanation at the level of genes, hormones, neurochemistry and brain activity are reductionist and often regarded as incomplete acounts of behaviour.
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What side does behaviourst take?
argue that simple stimulus and response links are the appropriate unit of analysis. complex behaviour can be reduced to a series of behavioural links. - reductionism.
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What side doe humanistic take?
believe a person can only be understood as a whole. thoughts, behaviours and experiences should not be reduced to smaller component elements. - holism.
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topic areas to include in a discussion?
Face recognition - holistic theory - a face recognised as a whole and not analysis of its component features. feature analysis is reductionist.
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What is meant by Holistic?


emphasise the whole of behaviour or experience rather than the individual components.

Card 3


example of a reductionist explanation of behaviour?


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Card 4


outline alexander et als study?


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results of the study?


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