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Compare & Contrast Two Approaches to Psychology

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Psychology is a discipline that involves monitoring mental processes and behaviour scientifically. Psychologists try to delve into the basic functions of a person and animals cerebral activity. This usually involves studying relationships, emotions, personality and many more areas of a person or animals day to day life. Psychology tends to steer towards finding reasons for a person or animals actions in an attempt to resolve them.

There are many different sub – fields of psychology, however it is possible to draw similarities and differences to all aspects of these fields. The main fields deal with the different approaches used by various psychologists throughout history. Whilst there are no 100% correct theories in Psychology to help to understand a person, we do need to compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of each theory in order to work out which is more beneficial for the subject. In this instance, it is possible for me to discuss Behaviourism and Psychodynamic approaches.

One of the main psychologists in recent history is John B. Watson (1878 – 1958). Watson was responsible for creating Behaviourism by developing on theories discovered by earlier psychologist Pavlov (1849 – 1936). This phenomenon had a profound effect on how psychology developed. The General assumptions of the Behaviourist approach show that it relies on the study of objective and observable behaviours and does not take into consideration any internal thoughts or feelings. Basically, behaviourism is the study of the relationship between a persons environment and their behaviour whilst ignoring the internal thoughts and feelings of the individual (Carlson & Buskist, 1997). The Psychodynamic approach is a stark contrast.

This approach was developed by Freud (1856 – 1939) in the 1890s in Vienna and looks at the internal conflicts within a subjects unconscious mind to create theories on the subjects personality development. It also allows treatment for psychological disorders based on these theories. In effect, Behaviourism and Pychodynamic approaches are polar opposites of each other in the techniques that they use to draw their conclusions. However, they do have one main similarity in the fact that they both draw on past experiences of the subject to define how they are as an adult, but they do this in very different ways.

Behaviourism relies on the Stimulus-Response principle which consists of using an object to create a reaction. A good example of this is Pavlovs Classical Conditioning theory that we learn through association. Pavlov influenced Watson with his experiment using dogs. Pavlov learnt that when a dog sees food as a Stimulus it has the natural response to salivate to prepare its body for food. Pavlov decided to expand on this knowledge by training a dog to see a bell as a Stimulus.

In comparison, Freud managed to draw his conclusions by discovering that all behaviour is motivated by two basic inner drives: The natural urge to procreate which is known as The Eros, and the natural urge to destroy which is known as the Thanatos. Freud also delved deeper into the mind unlike Watson, to discover that our subconscious is split into 3 parts. The first is the “ID” also known as our natural drive which seeks constant gratification, the second is the “EGO” also known as our personal set of values developed as children, and finally the “SUPEREGO” also known as set of learned values taken from society and our parents.

Freud also discovered that our adult personalities are defined by five psychosexual experiences that we experience as children. These stages are known as oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. Freud believed that if a child is exposed to over gratification in any of these stages, they will grow to have problems in adulthood which can lead to mental illness.

In contrast, Behaviourism as a discipline looks into environmental factors surrounding a person and disregards any actions which may be deemed as hereditary and also uses Conditioning as its major principle.

Another main psychologist who succeeded in developing Behaviourism was Skinner (1904 – 1990). Skinner created the theory of Operant Conditioning as he believed that all behaviour can be controlled by rewards or reinforcement. This is very different from Pavlovs theory of Classical Conditioning as Skinner is trying to control voluntary behaviour. This is done by giving the subject a positive or negative reaction to an action with the theory that a negative response will discourage the subject to repeat the action. A good example of this is house training a dog, as the dogs natural reaction is to relieve itself, however it must be taught to wait until it is outside. The more the dog waits until he is outside, the more praise he receives therefore it is less likely to wish to instigate a negative reaction by relieving himself inside the house.

A huge difference between the two theories is the way they carry out their research. Behaviourism uses animals to gain an insight into human behaviour, whereas Psychodynamic uses human subjects to research into the inner psyche.

One of Freuds most famous experiments was ‘Little Hans’. This was about a five year old boy who was afraid of horses, and was jealous of the birth of his sister. It was thought that Hans’ anxiety culminated from his inner desire to be his mothers mate. Freud used Hans in order to help develop another of his theories – the ‘Oedipus Complex’ which is a small boys inner jealousy of his father and fear of punishment by castration by him. It must be stressed that the turmoil Freud discovered is very much in the subconscious. There is also the Electra complex which is a small girls inner belief that she has already been castrated and experiences ‘penis envy’. This was a very complicated conclusion to derive from equinophobia, and has had a number of criticisms such as the discovery that just before the experiment took place, Hans witnessed an accident with a horse which resulted in a man losing his life (Eysenck 1985). Behaviourists would argue that this would have been the roost of Hans problems and his inner turmoil could be relieved by using techniques to reintegrate the boy with horses.

Behaviourism is now used commonly to provide techniques to change unwanted behaviour such as phobias, or to help overcome addictions. Its scientific approach is very methodical and it is able to explain and correct undesirable behaviour by leaving a lasting impression upon the subject. This is especially felt in todays society with doctors and psychologists dealing with children with minor attention disorders. A unique study was carried out in America in 1987 to try and correct the delinquent behaviour of hyperactive boys and this study showed that over a ten year period the children who were in the controlled group had fewer acts of delinquency than the uncontrolled group (Satterfield, Schell 1987 & 1997).

Whilst it is fair to say Behaviourism has been a dominant influence within Psychology in the West, there are some disadvantages to using this kind of therapy. Because Behaviourism was, and still is a very dominant theory within Psychology, it initially made people feel that there was no subconscious or conscious actions within a person and that “psychology, having first bargained away its soul and then gone out of its mind, seems now…to have lost all consciousness” (Burt 1962 p.229). Similarly, Psychodynamic approaches have their fair share of disadvantages and critiques. Freud was famously criticised by Adler (1870 – 1937) as it was felt that Freuds ‘Oedipus Complex’ theory was insignificant, as he believed that children were driven by a need for praise and acceptance and not by the urge for sexual gratification.

Also, Psychodynamic approaches do not take into consideration a persons current situation or their social factors – it relies solely on past events. But despite this, we have seen the rise of Psychotherapy – especially within the National Health Service. Psychotherapy is the idea from Freud that if there are no physical findings for a problem, it can help a person if they talk about their thoughts and feelings and experiences to reach some form of closure. This is also commonly known as counselling.

To conclude this discussion, it is fair to say that neither theory can be deemed as the correct way to help a subject, as both have major areas of disadvantage as well as elements that are useful and effective within todays society. Psychologists will never be able to come up with a single tried and tested method to treat people due to the fact that every person is an individual with unique needs, so these theories will continue to be expanded and critiqued for many years to come.


Books1.Burt, C. (1962). The concept of consciousness. British Journal of Psychology, 53, 229-2422.Carlson, N., & Buskist, W. (1997). Psychology: The science of behavior (5th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

3.Eysenck, H. (1985). The Rise & Fall of the Freudian Empire.

4.Hopkins, R (2007) The Psychological Approaches (Class Handouts)5.Satterfield, J.H., Satterfield, B.T., & Schell, A.M.(1987). Therapeutic interventions to prevent delinquency in hyperactive boys. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, pp.26, 56-646.Satterfield, J.H. & Schell, A. 1997). A prospective study of hyperactive boys with conduct problems and normal boys: Adolescent and adult criminality. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36, pp.1726-1735Websites1.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychology2.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behaviorism3.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychodynamic

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