The history of professional psychology is marked by a variety of approaches and perspectives. These are distinct ways of observing and analyzing human behavior and thought processes. Students earning a psychology degree are often curious about which perspective is correct. The truth is that no approach is necessarily better or more accurate than the others.
In fact, psychologists may embrace multiple perspectives, as each perspective has strengths and weaknesses. Understanding a variety of psychological perspectives can help students and professionals develop a more comprehensive view of mental health and developmental issues.
The Biological Perspective
The biological perspective is also known as biopsychology or physiological psychology. Biopsychology focuses on the physical and biological roots of behavior. For example, a biological psychologist may research the influence of genetics on behavior or the changes in personality after a person suffers damage to certain parts of the brain. This type of research also explores the physiological effects of drugs and diseases on patients. Diagnostic tools, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, play a vital role in biological psychology.
The findings of biological psychologists are often useful in discovering new treatments. For example, a biological psychologist may determine that the level of dopamine in the brain plays a significant role in schizophrenia. This could influence research to test new drugs intended to stabilize dopamine levels in schizophrenia patients.
The Cognitive Perspective
Cognitive psychology stands in stark contrast to behavioral psychology. This approach focuses on how internal thoughts and feelings influence one’s behavior. The cognitive approach emphasizes the importance of memory, perception and attention, language, decision-making and problem-solving.
This approach often compares the human mind to that of a computer. It states that human memory is comprised of three stages:
- Encoding: Information is received.
- Storage: Information is retained.
- Retrieval: Information is recalled.
Cognitive psychology seeks to understand why people learn and process information the way they do. Cognitive psychologists might help patients cope with memory disorders, or they might consult on ways to improve educational environments and curriculum.
The Behavioral Perspective
The behavioral perspective gained popularity during the early 1900s with groundbreaking work by John B. Watson and Edward Thorndike.* This approach centers around learned behaviors rather than internal processes like cognition. In other words, behavioral psychologists explore psychology through observable behaviors and actions. In this perspective, psychologists treat all behavior as learned or acquired. For example, a researcher could conclude that an introverted behavior pattern was acquired in response to childhood rejection by peers during attempts at interaction.
The Humanistic Perspective
The humanistic perspective, due to work by notable thinkers like Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, arose during the 1950s. Humanistic psychology focuses on the importance of helping people achieve their full potential for well-being. Instead of focusing on abnormal psychology, the humanistic perspective emphasizes free will, self-actualization and self-efficacy.
Before the development of this approach, the psychology profession was dominated by the behavioral and psychodynamic approaches. Some psychologists critiqued these approaches as deterministic and pessimistic. Some of the central principles of the humanistic perspective are:
- Human beings have inherent goodness and will thrive under the right conditions.
- Each person is unique and has unique experiences. As a result, psychologists should not rely heavily on group studies.
- Individuals have free will and must accept responsibility for their self-actualization.
The Psychodynamic Perspective
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) founded the psychodynamic perspective. Freud believed that human beings possess little free will. Rather, the behaviors exhibited by adults result from their childhood experiences and the contents of their subconscious mind.
An analogy Freud used to explain the subconscious mind is the iceberg. Only a small part of a floating iceberg is visible above the water. Most of the iceberg is underneath the water. In Freud's analogy, the tip of the iceberg represents the conscious mind. The conscious mind makes up only a small percentage of a person’s thought processes. A second, larger layer is the subconscious mind. The subconscious mind consists of thoughts that a person could retrieve with effort. The last and deepest layer is the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind consists of thoughts that a person is unaware of. Even with effort, people are unable to become aware of unconscious thought processes.
The psychodynamic perspective theorizes that the subconscious mind influences behaviors. A person can overcome undesirable behaviors and thoughts by forming a better understanding of their subconscious root causes. As a result, “talk therapy,” or “the talking cure,” was developed to guide patients to a better understanding of their internal processes.
There are benefits to taking a page from some or all these schools of thought in psychology. Psychologists can form regimens that use different a combination of psychological perspectives to offer a diverse understanding and practice.
Nurture your passion for the human mind and behavior by enrolling in psychology programs at Grand Canyon University. Our Bachelor of Science in Psychology program offers specialization options. If you already earned your undergraduate degree, explore our graduate-level programs such as the Master of Science in Psychology with an Emphasis in Health Psychology. To find out whether becoming a psychology major at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences is a good fit for your academic ambitions, click on Request Info button above.
*Retrieved from: https://www.simplypsychology.org/behaviorism.html, January 2021.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.