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Is Psychology More Than Just Theories, Experiments and Case Studies?

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    This essay will explore whether psychology is more than just theories, experiments and case studies. I shall explain, in depth, the difference between the humanist and the behaviourist approach towards psychology. By using various studies I have researched into, I will compare and contrast between the different characteristics and methods used in the two approaches to obtain results. I will explore laboratory experiments as well as case studies. I will also discuss the importance of informed consent and the right to withdraw by participants.

    The Humanist approach was founded in 1962 by Carl Rogers. Another main figure with the approach was Abraham Maslow who devised the hierarchy of needs. The Humanist basic principles believe the experience of the person is paramount and a Holistic approach is always considering the person as a whole. The belief as humans we all have a sense of personal urgency and we can make our own choices is also considered. Humanists strongly believe people can change and develop. By becoming more aware of your feelings, you can be motivated and influenced to change.

    Humanists don’t usually incorporate experiments within their studies and tend to use case studies and introspective data to conclude on peoples behaviours. Case studies allow an in depth analysis of a person’s behaviour which include their family, environment and past events. The potential is there to receive in depth knowledge and information. It is especially positive in unusual cases which in normal situations may be impractical or unethical to study in any other way. All the attributions above are only creditable if all information is accurate and interpreted in the correct way.

    It also needs to be considered the information provided is personalised and may not always be a good reputation of the general population. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (appendix 1) describes and understands behaviour as ‘a hierarchy of motives, with self-actualisation at the top of the hierarchy’ (Gross, 2009, P. 140). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is linked to personality and motivation. The table consists of five levels with self-actualisation being at the highest peak. This is followed by esteem needs, belongingness and love needs, safety needs and biological and physiological needs.

    The belief is to reach self-actualisation you must be able to achieve your basic needs, the foundations. If unsuccessful, you cannot reach the top of the table therefore, self-actualisation will never be achievable. In everyday life, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs makes perfect sense. There are basic fundamental requirements in order for any human being to function but, these requirements are very individualised and dependant on various factors such as your environment and upbringing.

    But most importantly, it would seem that self actualisation is only achievable if the individual is aware of each personal goal and can recognise what is required to achieve it to begin with. Other similar theories such as Ruben and Mcneil’s study in 1983 which states ‘Motives are a special kind of cause which energize, direct and sustain a person’s behavior (including hunger, thirst, sex and curiosity). (Rubin and McNeil, 1983)’ have also supported Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.

    Client centre therapy (CCT) is linked to humanistic approaches to psychology. It is a method of psychotherapy with the belief every person has the ability and motivation to change. The therapist should have the following qualities; Genuineness, unconditional positive regard and accurate empathetic understanding. CCT is described as a non-directive approach to therapy meaning, the client brings to the session whatever they choose and the therapist will simply listen and try to understand from the clients’ point of view; not evaluate the client in any way.

    The pace and content of the therapy is controlled by the client. Cited from Mathew Ryan, a student therapist, The general belief of CCT is the client will, with the acceptance and understanding from the therapist, understand their behaviours and feelings therefore, resulting in, understanding the changes that must take place in order to encourage growth, acceptance and healing. (http://world. std. com/~mbr2/cct. html) Humanists feel the strengths of their approach allow empowerment and positive growth and the realisation of choice.

    There is a strong belief that people are born “good”. Using Holistic methods the focus is on the individual and their personal experiences and these ideas continue to be very influential within psychotherapy. It is believed to have considerably reduced the stigma attached to therapy. CCT has proved humans can change if given the correct tools to do so and could be productive in cases such as depression, where a person can train their thoughts into realising they hold the key to their life and not the therapist.

    Looking at the person as a whole and promoting growth from the inside out can also mean the client potentially stumbles onto other issues which lay dormant previous to the therapy. Other psychological approaches believe humanism to be subjective and not scientific therefore difficult to measure and evaluate with accurate results. Questions are raised as to “what is bad? ” and if in fact the CCT approach to therapy is simply self-obsessed and time consuming. Behaviourism was founded in the 1920’s by J. B Watson and the main principles believe Psychology should be used as a science using empirical data, research and controlled observations.

    One of the main points behaviourism approach states is people have no free will and at birth our mind is a blank state (tabula rasa) indicating all behaviour is learnt from the environment and a result of a stimulus. They also believe animals and humans all learn behaviours in a similar way meaning the same research can be carried out on both parties. One of the favourable methods of experimental research within the behaviourist approach is laboratory experiments. It complements the idea of using controlled observations to gain results.

    Using sophisticated equipment researchers can take into account different types of variables and aim to gain the desired findings. Observations can be seen as biased and there may be some variables which cannot be controlled but overall within the behaviourist ideas this form of experiment is seen as very reliable. Behaviourism theories mainly fall into three categories; Classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social learning. Classical conditioning is where the subject has no control on the stimulus, learning through association.

    In contrast, Operant conditioning the subject has control of the stimulus and must act upon it to achieve their desired result, i. e. learning through rewards and punishment. Social learning is described as learning through observation of others. Most social learning occurs in childhood. Pavlov demonstrated classical conditioning with his experiment with his dogs. He noted they would salivate at the sound of his footsteps. They had associated his footsteps with their food. Pavlov then went into replace the stimulus of his footsteps with the sound of a bell, sounding just before producing food on every occasion.

    This then proved his theory of taking a neutral stimulus and turning it into a conditioned stimulus results in a conditioned response; the dog salivating to the sound of a bell. Operant conditioning was founded by Edward Thorndike. He believed behaviours with positive consequences happened more often in comparison to behaviours with negative consequences. Thorndike called this ‘The law of effect’. Through positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement behaviours can be controlled and therefore, predictable.

    Simply psychology believe Thorndike’s most valuable research showed cats escaping from puzzle boxes which were the foundations for B. F Skinner research. According to Wikipedia (2010), Albert Bandura labelled the process of social learning ‘Modelling’ and structured this process into four sections. Attention to model; when the behaviour is actually observed, Retention of details; recalling the behaviour, Motor reproduction; repeating the action and Motivation and opportunity; the observers desire to carry out the action and the opportunity to do so.

    Behaviourist believe the scientific evidence and many past experiments are the strengths within their approach. The emphasis on objective measurement means the studies and therapies are highly applicable. The behaviourist approach shows positive outcomes for therapies dealing with issues such as phobias, allowing the client to retrain their brain into a new way of thinking. The weaknesses according to other psychological theories include a lack of consideration to biological factors, such as hormones and gender, and the nonexistent belief of free will.

    Humanism strongly disagrees with the comparison with humans and animals and the scientific methods. Although some of the theories within the Behaviourist approach may seem harsh, with the scientific data produced, it is hard to ignore the results and the reliability of them. As mentioned, behaviourists tend to conduct experimental studies, whereas humanists tend to carry out more case studies. You could also argue the promotion of Humanists ideas on personal experiences are equally important factors to consider when studying human behaviours.

    Both approaches have strong arguments to support their ideas but equally both strains have shown effectiveness in producing positive results set out to achieve within their studies. In any psychological research there are always ethical issues to consider. When conducting research, a large amount of consideration must be taken to the potential benefits to society. There are basic ethical issues with humans and criteria set by the BPS (British psychological society) which includes providing informed consent and full knowledge of the expectations therefore not resulting in deception.

    In the past there have been studies conducted which are now considered to be unethical. An example would be ‘The Stanford prison experiment’ conducted in 1971. Philip Zimbardo planned to test the inherent personality traits of prisoners and guards in an attempt to understanding abusive prison attitudes. Twenty four males were selected to take part in a two week study. The group was divided into prisoners and guards with Zimbardo taking on the head role of superintendent. Prisoners were abused and degraded despite instructions at the beginning of the study not to cause any physical harm.

    The study came to an abrupt end after just 6 days. In this particular case participants did sign a consent form and were provided with a description of the study, but it could be believed the participants were deceived in some way, as the conditions in which they were held were inhumane. They were also informed they had the right to leave using the correct established methods although it would seem the participants either misunderstood this factor or forgot as most prisoners did not leave voluntarily and no guards left at all.

    If the candidates had been aware to the true nature of the study, it is highly unlikely they would have agreed to take part at all. The importance of obtaining informed consent not only covers the researcher from a legal point of view but it also allows the experiment to run its full course with the opportunity to reverse any diverse effects of the study, which in turn, is detrimental to the participants’ mental state. The study should clearly outline what may happen within the experiment and if at any time the participant feels uncomfortable they have the right to withdraw.

    In some cases it may be necessary to not provide all the information of the study as it may affect the results or the participants may not be in a position to give informed consent due to age or mental ability, but in all cases, the study has to pass the BPS code of conduct. This essay has explored humanist and behaviourist approaches to psychology and my belief as to whether psychology more than just case studies, theories and experiments.

    Psychology is considered to be a science which consists of theories, research and experiment methods to advance on human behaviours. But it also incorporates case studies, which are not considered to be scientific but highly informative and equally important. Although it is on the backs of these very case studies, theories and experiments that provide us with the knowledge already known, to further our understanding of psychology and human behaviour it is looking at the findings collectively which can enable a true and fuller picture.

    It is my belief, standing alone, the humanistic and the behaviourist approaches hold valuable advantages but their strengths would be far greater if they worked in partnership with one another rather than against; looking at all possible routes to obtain results and not limiting studies to only one strain or belief. It is from this same stance that my opinion stems from in terms of if psychology is more than just case studies, theories and experiments.

    If we were to only use one form of study to obtain our knowledge on the human mind and behaviours, we would be limiting the potential findings to one strain or belief. It is important to take a more open minded approach to the study of humans as it is clear to see we are all different and therefore cannot be boxed into one category. Whilst I agree psychology is a science there are some things within science that cannot be explained with a simple answer and it is my belief the human mind is one of those things.

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