Theoretical Perspectives Within Psychology

Showing a greater understanding for the different theoretical perspectives within psychology, brings the psychologist or scientist closer in understanding the complexity of human nature and the variety of personalities within society. This paper will focus on 6 of the perspectives [see appendix 1 for a list of theoretical perspectives].

The different theoretical perspectives of psychology have come to exist through the works of different schools of thoughts, who have worked on assessing behavioural patterns as well as human nature. Each of these areas have focused on the byzantine human mind in a number of different ways, through the process of employing a range of methods to analyse the brain and human mind. This has revealed remarkable details of the different human personalities. One of the important theoretical perspectives is known as the cognitive approach/Learning. This field has been influenced by John Watson and his Baby Al experiment, Skinners rat experiments (operant conditioning) and Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory and experiments. Because the cognitive approach is scientific, psychologists within this field typically use laboratory experiments under strictly controlled conditions, to study behavior, which critics argue lack ecological validity. Behaviourists have criticised the cognitive approach, because they believe individuals are born a blank slate, and not with cognitive functions like perception and memory. Finally, it does not always place importance on the physical and environmental factors when determining behaviour, like biological psychology and behaviourism do. In the 1960s Albert Bandura discovered that learning is sometimes possible without reinforcement, if the learner observes the behaviour of others and imitate it.

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Psychodynamics, proposed by Sigmund Freud, came to exist to describe the processes of the mind as flows of psychological energy within a complex brain. Freuds theories were clinically derived, as they were based on what his patients told him during therapy. This area studies the interrelationship between personality and the mind, by focusing on the conscious and the unconscious entities of the human mind. Based on Freuds beliefs, ego lies at the core of all psychological processes, where human behaviour displays the emotional processes active within a individuals mind. Freud’s psychoanalysis was the original psychodynamic theory, but overall the psychodynamic approach includes all theories that were based on his ideas, established by Adler (1927), Erikson (1950) and Jung (1964) (Simply Psychology (2007) [online]). Within medical praxis’s, psychodynamic therapies rely upon a theory of inner conflict within an individual, wherein repressed behaviours and emotions come to the surface in the patient’s consciousness. The psychodynamic therapist would usually be using this approach to treat the patient for depression or anxiety related disorders. The greatest criticism of this approach is that it is unscientific in its analysis of human behaviour, as the theories are subjective; one cannot scientifically test the unconscious mind. Also, when reading about his research it becomes clear, that his case studies focused, in detail, on individuals who were often middle aged women from Vienna. Thus, the psychodynamic perspective becomes unfalsifiable because the theories cannot be empirically investigated.

Biological psychology can be defined as followed:

[aˆ¦] the study of behavior and experience in terms of genetics, evolution, and physiology, especially the physiology of the nervous system. (Helium (2009) [online])

Thus, one can state that the biological perspective uses biology as an approach to understand animal and human behavior. It is important to realise, in order to understand how psychology and biology can coexist, that animals and humans have the ability to evolve as a result of their environment in order to secure their survival. Thus, they can change to better adapt their new surroundings, which is an important factor.

This area is relevant to the study of psychology in the following way. The comparative method, looks upon comparing and studying different species, which in the end can give us knowledge in understanding human behaviour. Physiology focuses on the nervous system, comprising brain and spinal cord, and the endocrine system, comprising a number of ductless glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream influence mental processes and behaviour in humans and animals. Many biological scientists today believe that these structures are actually the source of conscious awareness and that they do not just shape consciousness (William James [n.k.] [online]). One of the fundamental biological processes, which have important implications for psychology is genetic transmission/inheritance, ie. the nature-nurture problem relies heavily upon what geneticists have revealed that can be given from parents to offspring, and how genetic factors can intermingle with environmental factors. Each of the above mentioned aspects, the comparative, the physiological and the genetic can all contribute to explaining human behaviour.

Through research on the nervous system, scientists have been able to analyse brain functioning under a range of conditions, while also being able to map its relationship to human psychology. Hence, behaviour is regarded as a result of biological and biochemical processes. It is evident that this perspective has expanded significantly in recent years as the technology used to study the nervous system and brain has gradually become more advanced. MRI and PET scans are daily used to look at the effects of drugs, diseases and brain damage, and study its effect on cognitive functioning and general behaviour. Criticisms of this theory are, amongst others, that it often uses a reductionist approach because it specifically focuses on neurological processes. Also, it does not take other possible explanations of behaviour into account like cognitive processes or the impact of the surrounding environment. The biological approach supports a number of theories that originally establish and created the physiological/biological perspective. Dualism, first used by Descartes, argues that the mind and body are separate entities, but that they interact via the pineal gland in the brain, however today most psychologists ignore this assumption. Materialism believes that the body and mind are the same and further argues that all behaviour is based on physiology, because the mind appears to exist in the brain, thus all feelings, behaviours and thoughts ultimately have a biological and physical cause. Also, they believe that behaviour has a genetic basis, because genes have evolved over millions of years to adapt behaviour to the environment. Heredity, focuses on the biological transmission of personal characteristics from one generation of individuals to the next. Natural selection is:

“[aˆ¦] a process resulting in the survival of those individuals from a population of animals or plants that are best adapted to the prevailing environmental conditions. The survivors tend to produce more offspring then those less well adapted, so that the characteristics of the population change over time, thus accounting for the process of evolution.” (World English Dictionary (2009) [online]

As an admirer of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, Dr. Louis Leakey believed studying chimpanzees might bring great insight into our own evolutionary past, and helped fund Jane Goodall’s field research with Gombe chimpanzees in 1957. Here she discovered, as expected, that chimpanzees exemplify behaviors similar to that of human cultures around the world. Adult behavior is reflected in the infants; not transmitted genetically but culturally, as variations occur from one group of chimpanzees to another, like scientists assume also occurred with our distant human ancestors. (Leakey Foundation (2012) [online]).

Chimpanzees in certain parts of West Africa crack open nuts with a piece of wood. Others use a stone, or place the nuts on a wood or stone anvil first. Chimps in other areas don’t use any such tools, although there’s no lack of wood, stones, or the same kinds of nuts. On the west side of the Sassandra River in the Ivory Coast, nut-cracking is popular. No chimpanzees do it on the east side of the river, although the two groups are closely related genetically. Researchers use such criteria to rule out the possibility that nut-cracking behavior is inheritable. (The Harvard University Gazette (1999) [online])

When looking upon a biological model, one may find ‘The Medical of Abnormality’ model, which has been of great importance to the psychiatric profession the past one hundred years. This model operates from the belief that mental illnesses resemble physical illnesses, thus they can equally be diagnosed and treated:

“Just as physical illnesses are caused by disease producing germs, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances or changes to the nervous system, it is assumed that this is also true of mental illnesses.” (AS Psychology (2007) [online])

A patient with symptoms of depression could be diagnosed with an imbalance of brain chemicals. Because this is viewed as a physical illness, cures could be medication to re-establish the balance of chemicals or in severe cases Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT) (AS Psychology (2007). A problem with this perception of mental illnesses is that physical illnesses can rely on ‘objective’ symptoms such as broken bones and blood pressure, whereas mental illnesses produce ‘subjective’ symptoms, such as hearing voices and depression I am of the belief that if the patients symptoms cannot be measured, the treatment given to the patient can only be based on a judgement of experience by the doctor, hence its general effect is questionable, as most individuals react differently to given situations, and may portray symptoms of one mental illness, but suffer from a yet unknown mental illness.

Physiologies influence on behavior

Scientists have discovered that there are specific areas in the brain that operate particular behaviors and abilities; i.e. the cerebrum, frontal lobe is concerned with behaviour. Hypothalamus is in charge of sexual maturation, moods and motivation and finally hormonal body processes control the pituitary gland. Thus:

Physical damage to the brain (biological) can result in mental disorders (psychological). Psychological factors can be mental disorders, “predispositions” (which are largely biological), sense of well-being, motivation, perception, cognition, etc. (Yahoo Answers (2009) [online])

One of the major discussions within psychology is ‘the nature-nurture’ debate, which is concerned with the extent to which particular aspects of behavior are a product of either inherited (genetic/nature) or acquired (learned/nurture) characteristics (Simply Psychology (2007) [online]).

(Simply Psychology (2007) [online])

As seen above, some schools of thought believe that behavior can be changed/influenced through physiological influences, where as others believe that everyone is simply born with specific behavioral traits. In studies including rats, the role of the hippocampus in learning and memory has been studied. This can be achieved through surgical removal of the hippocampus from a rats brain followed by an assessment of memory tasks by that same rat. The Maguire study (2000) used MRI technology to scan living brains, and thereby investigate the relationship between the hippocampus and memory. This MRI technique enabled the researchers to gain lots of quantitative and objective data and they discovered that the hippocampus plays an especially important role in processing and remembering spatial and contextual information short-term, which does affects behavior to some extent, when certain things can/cannot be processed or remembered. Additionally, as our knowledge within genetics expands, new discoveries are made. The Human Genome Project for example has focused on tracing types of behavior to particular strands of DNA located on specific chromosomes, but studies within this field have also started with animal experiments, who have set the path for humans:

“[aˆ¦] the genetic mechanisms of many species (nematode worms, fruit flies, fish or mice) work in precisely the same manner as in humans, and in the mouse there are counterparts for most human genes.” (Nuffieldbioethics [n.k.] [online])

Some scientists argue that much of the research in this area is very beneficial, as it can be used to diagnose and develop treatments and therapies for illnesses or problems. The main applications of the physiological approach in modern days, have been the development of anti-depressant drugs, where changing a chemical in the brain causes changes in complex emotions, however known side effects of the drugs are still an issue (Holah [n.k.] [online]). However, treatments excluding drugs and merely focusing on the psychological aspects within depressions also exist. Some of the main treatments include:

Mindfulness Therapy; a form of self-awareness training taken from Buddhist mindfulness meditation, focusing on mood regulation and preventing relapses and accepting things for what they are.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT); people learn to logically look upon their negative thoughts about the world and themselves, and how these negative thoughts affect their mood. CBT perceive negative thoughts as a habit that can be changed.

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT); this area aims to change an individuals interpersonal behaviour by enabeling amendments to existing interpersonal situations and roles.

Psychotherapies; extended treatment where a bond between a therapist and patient is created, alongside and appreciation and focus on the past and present, is believed to resolve the patients depression.

Councelling; here the patient is being helped with problems arising in the family or at work. If the incident is very resent, crisis counseling is sometimes used.

Nerrative Therapy; this area helps patients focus on their strengths in past situations and build on their resilience rather than the nagatives. The patient describes his problems as stories, and is helped to discover how these may restrict the patient in overcoming his difficulties in life.

(Google Docs [n.k.] [online])

Underpinning concepts within the evolutionary psychology approach

The evolutionary perspective focuses on the connection between psychology and evolution, stating that the sole purpose of mental processes is to help survival and enable evolution (Buzzle (2011) [online]). This approach is strongly allied to the biological approach, as they both value the importance of biological factors.

One cannot mention the word evolutionary without mentioning Charles Darwin. Although his initial aim was to comprehend the diversity of species in the world, he gradually came to realise that his theory went beyond basic biology, and he eventually set out to establish the evolutionary elements to modern human behaviour. Darwins aim was to uncover the function and structure of the mind, however the basic concept behind the theory of evolution was that all species originate from simple life forms, and these first developed more than three billion years ago, roughly 1.5 billion years after the Earth was created. The theory is based on five key observations and conclusions, which have been drawn from them:

1) Species have great fertility. They make more offspring than can grow to adulthood.

2) Populations remain roughly the same size, with modest fluctuations.

3) Food resources are limited, but are relatively constant most of the time.

4) In sexually reproducing species, generally no two individuals are identical. Variation is rampant.

5) Much of this variation is heritable. (Space & Motion (2010) [online])

From reading these observations, one can argue that within environments, individiduals would have to struggle to survive, and not all their young will survive, thus those with the best genes and traits, are more likely to survive so their genes can be passed on to their young, and these can be carried on and combined with other strong traits from other individuals when reproducing. This is also known under the term ‘natural selection’, which will be looked at further on in the paper.

The moderations to Darwins evolutionary theory came after his passing, thus sociobiology came to be out of the work of evolutionary biologists in the 1960s. Edward O. Wilson (1975) attempted to explain all animal and human social behaviour in terms of evolution and a range of other biological principles. This area concentrated on the evolutionary origins of behaviour, and often implied rigid genetic control. He applied the principles of sociobiology and evolution to comprehend and explain the behavior of social insects and other animals, including humans, and this established sociobiology as a new scientific field. Wilson believed that free will is an illusion, and that behaviour is a combined product of past experiences, heredity and environmental stimuli. Ever since, many principles have been applied to study topics addressed by the social sciences, including psychology. Evolutionary psychologists have criticised sociobiologists for ignoring the crucial part the mind plays in establishing the bond between behaviour and genes.

Thus, evolutionary Psychology is a side product of sociobiology, however it is also known under the names “neo” or “modern Darwinism”. Evolutionary psychology is a method to the psychological sciences, where results and principles arise from cognitive sciences, neuroscience, evolutionary biology and anthropology and these areas are integrated with basic psychology to gain knowledge of human nature. Rose (2000) explains:

“The declared aim of evolutionary psychology is to provide explanations for the patterns of human activity and the forms of organisation of human society which take into account the fact that humans are animals, and like all other currently living organisms, are the present-day products of some four billion years of evolution [aˆ¦]” ” (Gross, R. (2009) P.31)

The purpose of evolutionary psychology is to bring the functional way of thinking about biological mechanisms (immune system) into the subject of psychology, and to approach psychological mechanisms likewise. It is closely related to biology (sociobiology), however key differences between the two are still evident, one of them being the importance of the mismatch theory, supported by the evolutionary approach. This mismatch occurs, when organisms are suited to an ancestral environment, and are brought into a new and changed environment. For instance, more people are annually killed by guns than snakes, however majority of people have learned to fear snakes, more than lizards for instance. One reason could be that snakes were a risk to our human ancestors who lived in a Pleistocene environment, where guns did not exist. Thus, a mismatch is created between our modern environment and our learned- fear reaction from our ancestors. Also, biological principles rely heavily on the present and what can be studied today, whereas evolutionary approach compares the past with the present, hoping to uncover unknown information.

Some concepts within evolutionary psychology come from general evolutionary theory, also known as evolutionary biology. For instance, what evolutionary biologists have discovered on mating and sexual behaviour, have been discovered through a range of observations and experiments on, for instance, the consequences of altering the parental investments in offspring and seeing what effect this will have on the offspring later on in life. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, argued that the human brain functions like a computer, hence mental processes act as computational operations, thus a visual image of a spider will lead to a reaction; possibly a reaction of fear of, perhaps, dangerous insects. Therefore evolutionary psychologists argue that human beings and some animals are biologically prepared to acquire certain kinds of fear at different times of their life span. Some scientists argue that our fear reaction to certain animals, can be remains of ancient primate ancestors, who evolved a fear response to dangerous animals, and this mechanism has been passed on to the modern human being. Additionally, we may be subject to the same reactions to snakes, as in an experiment where Rhesus monkeys who were raised within a laboratory showed no fear of snakes, however this changed immediately after they experienced a wild Rhesus reaction when exposed to a snake (Google Docs (1998). This was also experienced in the ‘little Albert experiment’ in 1920 by John B. Watson, where 9 month old Albert was exposed to certain stimuli such as a rat, a monkey, a rabbit, burning newspapers and finally masks, while observing his reactions to these stimuli. To begin with he showed no signs of fear, however after Watson began to hit a piece of metal every time the boy was shown one of the animals, he came to associate the animals with the sounds, which made him cry with fear. However, one can argue that this computerised theory can be highly difficult to test, because we cannot conclusively know how our ancestors reacted mentally, and therefore we cannot know to what extent we have differed in brain capability in comparison to our ancestors or similarities in fear reactions; we can only assume what their mental states and reactions were like.

The law that an organism can learn to associate any stimulus to any response with equal ease thrived, was supported by Pavlov’s hound experiment. However this law was disproved in the 1950-60s by John Garcia and his rat experiments, where they were exposed to X-ray radiation that made then ill, and because of this they stopped drinking their sweetened water. This occurred although they did not feel the extent of the X-ray sickness until later, although Pavlov had stated that the reward/punishment should be given straight after the occurrence, for the animal to learn. Additionally, experiments that have been carried out on birds, to discover if they could separate what is good for them and what will make them sick, have illustrated that, because birds are highly visual like us humans and associate visual cues with sickness, they can learn to avoid geen food pellets (which make them sick), and eat only yellow pellets which are okay. If they were presented with pellets half-coloured geen and half-coloured yellow, the birds would peck at the pellets until they split into halfs and only eat the yellow part. Thus, the experiment proved that birds are biologically cued to associate a visual cue with sickness (Google Docs (1998).

Natural Selection, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Animal Therapy

Darwins theory of natural selecetion originates from a belief that conception does not always have ‘birth’ as an outcome, and only a number of those who survive will reach an age where they themselves can reproduce. An examples can be alligators, where I know from work, that from the age of 12 when a wild female will reach maturity, she will lay approximately 40 eggs a year, however out of all the eggs she will lay in a lifetime, it is estimated that only three of her young will reach maturity and get to reproduce. An assumption within Darwins theory is that the young who get to reproduce, will also be those with the best traits and be better adapted to the existing environment and pass on these traits; thus each generation will be better adapted to the given environmental changes. An astonishing examples of adaption can be seen in H. B. D. Kettlewell’s observations of peppered moths in the 19th Century. Because of the industrial activity and burning of coal in England around this period, tree trunks turned from light to soothed dark colours and the peppered moth could not hide as easily. In 1848, reports of a new form of the peppered moth (Dark-coloured peppered moth) were made, which was darker and could easily hide on the darkened tree trunks. However in recent years, the burning of cleaner fuels have once again changed the environment, and the peppered moth has returned in great numbers and some biologists now believe that the dark-coloured peppered moth will be extinct in England in a few decades (Miller & Levine (1999) [online])

Natural selection also focuses on a primal instinct, where we not only physically but also mentally are challenged, where only the strongest individuals will survive. I believe that in our modern day and age, we challenge this natural process by allowing the weak to live and pass on their genes, creating a more vulnerable species, both physically and mentally. Thus, we continue to develop medicines, surgeries and therapies to counteract these issue, and try to get a greater understanding of how they came to be. Through the help of medicine and psychological therapies, one can interfere with mental states, where a therapist can help modify a patients way of though, to go against his/her primal destructive instincts.

Cognitive Therapy focuses on the assumption, that mentally and the way we think about things, can be the cause of mental health problems as phobias, which can have physical symptoms as well (nausea, stomach aches, hyperventilation etc.). Within this form of therapy the patient is made aware of what thoughts are destructive, worsening their condition, and they get a greater understanding of how their thought processes work. When these aims have been accomplished, the patient can work on changing the way he/she thinks and work on avoiding destructive thoughts. Within this field, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is found, containing traits of both Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive Therapy, thus CBT helps the patient change how they think (cognitive) and how they react to those thoughts (behavioural), and this form of therapy is thought to be one of the most beneficial treatments for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (NHS (2010), however Dr. Oliver James has strongly criticised CBT and has quoted Professor Drew Westons findings in 2004, that:

[aˆ¦] two years after treatment, two-thirds of those who had CBT have relapsed or sought further help. (Psychminded (2009) [online])

Furthermore, James argues that cognitive analytic therapy and the Hoffman Process are far better alternatives than CBT, when attempting to solve problems relating to depression and anxiety, as these focus on the patients childhood and the origin of the depression/anxiety, where CBT focuses more on the ‘here-and-now’ aspects of the disorders.

For centuries people have been aware of the unconditional bonds that can be created between humans and animals, and pets have been used in medical settings for more than 150 years, however evidence of the physical, emotional and mental benefits have not been scientifically proven until recent years. This area is now known under the term Animal Therapy, and is to some extent an integration of animal behaviour and cognitive therapy. The animals, such as dogs, elephants, dolphins etc., help to heal humans, young and old, physically, emotionally and mentally. It has been proven through experiments and observations, that:

Having an animal around reduces stress, creates a relationship, helps people feel loved and needed, provides a listening ear without judgment and it can improve social skills and boost the confidence of an individual.

(World Wide Health (2006) [online])

Recently, studies at the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction have discovered that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone ‘oxytocin’, which help us feel happy. Also, this hormone does not only benefit us mentally but also physically, as it is part of the process when the body grows new cells. Animal Therapy can also be applied to only the animal, where animals presenting abnormal behaviour, can be helped by talks with the owners, psychological/physical training and zone therapy. Abnormal and uncontrollable behaviour of pets is also a rising problem in Denmark, where it is estimated that majority of danish pet owners have encountered problems with their pets behaviour. In a study carried out in 2000-2001, a range of pet owners were asked if they had encountered behavioural problems with their dogs, and 28% answered yes, where 17% stated that they had previously encountered problems. Furthermore, vetenarian Jorgen Mikkelsen estimates that each year 1 / 4 of all the dogs being euthanized in Denmark (roughly 200 danish clinics), were because of behavioural problems, and 2 / 5 of the dogs never reached the age of 3. Therefore a rough estimate concludes that 10-15.000 dogs are euthanized every year in Denmark because of behavioural problems (Dansk Veterin?rtidsskrift (2006) [online]). However, animal therapy is gaining more and more ground in Denmark, and more clinics are opened within the country, proving that people are seeking this form of treatment more than before, and the awareness of the animals needs are more widely accepted, encouraging a closer animal-human bond.

The relationship between scientific research and psychology as a discipline

Eventually psychology was accepted as a science, although its subject matter was restricted. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, attention was placed upon mental processes and the mind. Behaviourists focused on observing phenomenon, where psychologists concentrated on studying the mental processes used to retrieve, store and acquire knowledge. Although mental processes cannot be observed as such, evidence can be gained by using a number of tests concerned with memory, perception and problem solving. Here cognitive psychology becomes of great importance, as it studies mental processes such as intelligence, memory, perception and thought.

Because psychology operates with what cannot always be seen, at least in the past before we invented ways of discovering brain activities and their reactions to the surroundings we can see (MRI scans). Part of this has helped psychology become a scientific field, because it can be observed, measured and compared. Without this bond, psychology would never have been accepted as a science, and areas which are being researched today (for instance physiologies influence on behaviour), would never have existed or been made possible, and would have limited the ongoing knowledge that we posses within this area today. Also, medicine and biology have benefitted from the merger, as mental illnesses have been identified through psychological practices and treatments have been found. Many mental illnesses are approached with medicine as well as therapy, illustrating this merger in reality.

Traditional and historical theories within psychology have all undergone changes throughout history, when knowledge has been gained in common ground areas, or new psychologists have decided to approach the matter from different angles. Darwin’s theory of evolution was challenged by believers, who approached evolutionary psychology from different views, which, as mentioned previously has resulted in sociobiology, physiological psychology and biology psychology, amongst others. I believe that therapies as mentioned above, can be perceived as a result of Darwin, Tinbergen, Lorenz & Karl von Frisch, Wilson and Triver’s, amongst others, theories which have influenced and challenged each other, and resulted in treatments and knowledge which benefits this branch of modern psychology, as illustrated in the number of therapies offered to patients today.

Specialisms where integration is evident

Specialisms where integration is evident in practice is for instance evolutionary psychology, which is a combination of evolutionary as well as cogn

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