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The Behaviourist and The Psychoanalytical Approach in Psychology

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To help try and explain human behaviour and learning processes psychologists have many different theories, this essay will look at two of the theoretical approaches in psychology, the behaviourist approach and the psychoanalytical approach. It will analyse and compare them as well as looking at each one’s strengths and limitations. It will give key names that heavily influenced both approaches, along with the implications on human behaviour, supported by the laboratory tests and experiments or case studies carried out by each.

The behaviourist approach theorises that all behaviour is learned from our environment and experiences, this is according to John B Watson a leading psychologist within the behaviourist approach who is often considered to be the “father” of behaviourism. He believed that all humans should be thought of as complex creatures and studied using the same scientific techniques used by chemistry and physics. (Gross, 1993) Behaviourism remained dominant within psychology for several years. The psychoanalytical approach which was founded by Sigmund Freud who believed our behaviour is deeply rooted in the unconscious mind caused from repressed emotions and experiences from childhood, this presented an alternative to behaviourism and was the first of this kind of theory and is where all psychodynamic theories stem from and collectively these are known as “depth psychology”.

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(Gross, 1993)

Behaviourism is a psychological approach that uses scientific and objective methods of investigation these are theorised using methods that only use observable stimulus-response behaviours. It was formally established in 1913 with the publication of John B Watson’s paper, “Psychology as the Behaviourist views it” summed up at best with his famous quote

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select-doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors”. (Cherry, 2018)

Although Watson is considered the father of the behaviourist approach he was inspired by the earlier research by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov who discovered classical conditioning and American psychologist Edward Thorndike famously known for his learning theory that led to the development of operant conditioning. (Tutor2U,2018)

Classic conditioning is a type of learning technique that had a major influence on behaviourism. Discovered by Ivan Pavlov it is a learning process that occurs in an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus, it involves forming an association between two stimuli resulting in a learned response. Pavlov learned this through an experiment he conducted involving dogs, Pavlov suggested that salivating was a learned response, he observed that the dogs would salivate at the sight of the research assistants’ white lab coats which the dogs, over a period of time associated with food. Unlike the salivation response to the sight of food, which is an unconditioned reflex, salivating to the expectancy of food is a conditioned reflex. Pavlov then proceeded to introduce a further experiment, this was a ticking metronome being exposed to the dogs, food would then be presented immediately after, eventually the dogs would begin to salivate at the sound of the metronome. The metronome had become a conditioned stimulus that provoked a conditioned response (salivating). (Very well mind, 2018)

Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behaviour and consequence (Skinner, 1938). Edward Thorndike used operant conditioning in his famous puzzle box experiment, he placed a cat inside a puzzle box with a piece of fish placed outside to encourage the cat to try to escape, after attempting to escape the cat would come across a lever which when pressed would open the cage. When the cat escaped it was placed back inside, it was noted that the cats learnt that pressing the lever would aid them in escaping and they would become quicker in pressing it. Suggesting that any behaviour that results in rewards will most likely be repeated and behaviour that produces punishments will not. (McLeod, 2018) Burrhus Frederic Skinner a prominent key name in behaviourism noted two behaviour types the first being respondent behaviour, which prompts an automatic reflex-like when a doctor taps on your knee which prompts a jerking reaction or when you touch something hot and your reflexes automatically pull your hand back. These behaviours and movements are not learned they happen naturally and involuntary. The other type is operant behaviours which are under our control they may happen unconsciously and others consciously, but the results of these actions are the deciding factor as to whether or not they will happen again. (Cherry, 2018) Almost all research for the behaviourist approach uses laboratory experiments as they desire their results to be scientific. Conducting experiments in laboratories allows control and for them to be measured and recorded accurately. (Tutor2U, 2018)

Both classical conditioning and operant conditioning make up the behaviourist theory which has the opinion that all behaviour is learnt from environmental factors and experiences. Watson wanted to understand how certain behaviours develop as a consequence of conditioning to stimuli. To further explore this, he developed the” Little Albert” experiment where he conditioned Albert to fear white rats, rabbits and other stimuli through loud noises. Watson believed rage, fear and love were to be learned and not present at birth. (Very well mind, 2018) This approach has many strengths, it is supported by the many experiments taken place for this theory, it can be scientifically tested, comparisons can be made between animals (Pavlov) and humans (Watson) but it’s not without its limitations, it is considered to be too deterministic meaning there is only one possible outcome and that outcome is already pre-determined, and according to the approach the environment shapes our behaviour through classical and operant conditioning. It is also reductionist as well as ignoring biological and or genetic factors. (McLeod, 2017)

Whilst the behaviourist theory is a popular one the psychoanalytical theory is considered to be a little different. The psychoanalytical focal point is on the unconscious mind rather than the conscious mind, it is based on the idea that all behaviour is determined by past experiences we have that are embedded in our unconscious mind where we are unaware they lay. (Positive Psychology Program, 2018)

The psychoanalytical theory sometimes described as the instinct theory was founded by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) he was convinced that all our behaviour was a result of any occurrence or encounters we may have experienced in the past, these experiences can lay dormant in the unconscious mind where they may cause deep-rooted psychological problems, typically these are unresolved childhood issues or repressed trauma. For example, phobias as an adult can be as a result of trauma or an unpleasant experience during childhood. Freud concluded that if unconscious thoughts were to be made conscious people could be cured, thus gaining insight. (McLeod, 2014) To understand the mind better Freud came up with a structured model of the human mind, in this model were three metaphorical parts to the mind: 1. ID our identity works at an unconscious level and focuses on basic, instinctual drives and desires. 2. EGO the ego works to meet the ID’s needs in a socially adequate way, this begins developing in infancy. 3. SUPEREGO the superego is the part of the mind where morals and principles sit, this is what inspires and prompts us to behave in socially and morally acceptable ways. (Positive Psychology Program, 2018) A case famously associated with the psychoanalytical approach is that of Anna O (real name Bertha Pappenheim) who was being treated by a close associate of Freuds, a physician named Josef Breuer, although never personally treated by Freud the case proved to be highly significant in his psychoanalytical theories. Both Breuer and Freud went on to publish “Studies on Hysteria” in 1895 discussing Annas case. Anna was experiencing paralysis, hydrophobia (fear of water), physical ticks, hallucinations as well as speaking in mixed languages. Anna went on to receive talking therapy from Breuer and further went on to make a recovery in 1882 and expressed she valued the “talking therapy” Breuer provided, she portrayed the sessions as “chimney sweeping”. (Psychologist World, 2018) Psychoanalysis is not just a theory but a therapy as well with several therapies to explore the unconscious mind, the free association being one of these. During free association, a patient is encouraged to talk freely and openly. A therapist will read from a list of words (e.g. mother, father, school etc.) the patient will then respond with the first word that comes to mind. The aim is for any repressed memories to come to light. Even though it may not be useful if the patient is reluctant or is resisting with the first word, this resistance provides an idea that the therapist is on the right route to pursue. Freud also believed in dream analysis, in his book “The Interpretation of Dreams” Freud suggests the elements and essence (manifest content) of the dream is related to wish fulfilment, the images and events in the dream are disguising the unconscious wishes (latent content) of the dreamer. According to Freud analysis of dreams is “the royal road to the unconscious”. (Cherry, 2018) During psychoanalysis some therapists may use the Rorschach inkblot test, the inkblot itself represents nothing its subjective, different people will see different things. it is believed the patient will see what the unconscious mind projects, again bringing forth the rooted psychological problem. Whilst this theory is dominated by Sigmund Freud, another key name related to the theory is Carl Jung. Carl Jung worked alongside Freud and supported his work, however, differences eventually led to a split and Jung went on to work alone. He mostly agreed with Freuds theory that past experiences determine our future behaviour, but he also believed our future can be shaped by our aspirations too. (McLeod, 2014) The psychoanalytical approach has some compelling strengths, it has laid the foundations for how several of the psychological therapies are based “talking cure”, the approach takes both sides of the nature vs nurture debate into account, it is argued that Freud emphasized the importance that childhood plays in mental health. Although the strengths are compelling, there are limitations that counteract them. The approach places too much thought on the psychological factors eliminating any biological or genetic factors that may play a part, it is thought to be too deterministic that there is little free will, its case studies are subjective, ignores thinking as well as being reductionist. (McLeod, 2017)

Although both theories are heavily supported by various influential psychologists the behaviourist approach is noticeably backed by the presence of scientific experiments as well as being able to make comparisons between human and animal behaviour, this is done so in a laboratory setting where the psychoanalytical approach cannot be tested this way and is theorised mainly through case studies. Both behaviourist and psychoanalytical approaches seem to ignore biology and or genetics, in addition to this they both look to be too reductionist and deterministic and the psychoanalytical approach is in particular evidently subjective, whilst the behaviourist approach is applied and tested on both humans and animals. However, the behaviourist theory concentrates wholly on the nurture side of the nature vs nurture debate whereas the psychoanalytic theory, on the other hand, takes into consideration both sides. Both theories attempt to explain the workings of the mind, behaviourism uses human behaviour while psychoanalysis uses the unconscious mind. Each theory has been extremely beneficial in science that is psychology.

Cite this The Behaviourist and The Psychoanalytical Approach in Psychology

The Behaviourist and The Psychoanalytical Approach in Psychology. (2020, Aug 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/the-behaviourist-and-the-psychoanalytical-approach/

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