Theoretical Perspectives in Modern Psychology

Abnormal Psychology

Abnormal psychology seeks to study, understand, diagnose, and treat psychological disorders.

Learning Objectives

Distinguish between disordered and normal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors using psychological criteria

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Abnormal psychology is the study of psychological disorders; its purpose is to describe, predict, explain, and treat abnormal or disordered patterns of functioning.
  • Psychological disorders are conditions characterized by abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Although challenging, it is essential for psychologists to agree on what kinds of inner experiences and behaviors constitute the presence of a psychological disorder.
  • Inner experiences and behaviors that are atypical or violate social norms could signify the presence of a disorder.
  • “Harmful dysfunction” describes the view that psychological disorders result from the inability of an internal mechanism to perform its natural function.
  • According to the American Psychological Association, psychological disorder is signaled by significant disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors; these disturbances must reflect some kind of dysfunction; they must cause significant impairment in one’s life; and they must not reflect culturally expected reactions to certain life events.
  • The diagnosis and classification of psychological disorders, aided in the US by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), is essential in studying and treating psychopathology.

Key Terms

  • comorbidity: The presence of one or more disorders (or diseases) in addition to a primary disease or disorder.
  • psychopathology: The study of the origin, development, diagnosis and treatment of mental and behavioral disorders.

Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal thoughts, behaviors, or internal experiences in order to describe, predict, explain, and treat these patterns of functioning. This branch of psychology studies the nature of psychopathology and its causes, and the resulting knowledge is applied in clinical psychology to the treatment of clients with psychological disorders.

The names and classifications of these disorders are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is currently in its 5th edition (DSM-V) and has been designed for use in a wide variety of contexts and across clinical settings (including inpatient, outpatient, partial hospital, clinic, private practice, and primary care).

Defining Disorder and Dysfunction

A psychological disorder is a condition characterized by abnormal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychopathology is the study of psychological disorders, including their symptoms, etiology (i.e., their causes), and treatment. The term “psychopathology” can also refer to the manifestation of a psychological disorder. Although consensus can be difficult, it is important for mental-health professionals to agree on what kinds of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors constitute the presence of a psychological disorder.

Certain patterns of behavior and inner experience can easily be labeled as abnormal and signify some kind of psychological disturbance. A person who washes their hands 40 times per day and a person who claims to hear the voices of demons exhibit behaviors and inner experiences that most would regard as abnormal. However, consider the nervousness someone feels when talking to a person they are attracted to or the loneliness and longing for home a freshman might experience during their first semester of college—these feelings may not be regularly present, but they fall in a range most would consider normal. So, what kinds of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors represent a true psychological disorder? Psychologists work to distinguish psychological disorders from inner experiences and behaviors that are merely situational, idiosyncratic, or unconventional.

Atypical Behaviors, Thoughts, and Inner Experiences

Behaviors, thoughts, and inner experiences that are atypical, distressful, dysfunctional, and sometimes even dangerous may be signs of a disorder. For example, if you ask a classmate for a date and you are rejected, you probably would feel a little dejected. Such feelings would be normal. If you felt extremely depressed—so much so that you lost interest in activities, had difficulty eating or sleeping, felt utterly worthless, and contemplated suicide—your feelings would be atypical, would deviate from the norm, and could signify the presence of a psychological disorder. However, simply because something is atypical does not necessarily mean it is disordered.

Cultural Norms and Expectations

Similarly, violating cultural expectations is not, in and of itself, a satisfactory means of identifying the presence of a psychological disorder. Since behavior varies from one culture to another, what may be considered appropriate in one culture may not be viewed as such in other cultures. For example, making eye contact with others can signify honesty and attention in one culture while being a sign of aggression in another (Pazain, 2010). Hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not physically present) in Western societies are readily labeled as a sign of psychological disorder. In other cultures, however, such visions may be regarded as normal experiences that are respected and valued (Bourguignon, 1970). It is also important to recognize that cultural norms change over time: what might be considered typical in a society at one time may no longer be viewed that way later—similar to how fashion trends from one era may elicit quizzical looks decades later.

What Causes Harm?

Inner experiences and behaviors that are atypical or violate social norms could signify the presence of a disorder. One of the more influential conceptualizations of psychological disorder was proposed by Wakefield (1992), who defined disorder as a “harmful dysfunction.” Under this model, dysfunction occurs when psychological processes (such as cognition and perception) cannot do what they are meant to. Importantly, this dysfunction must be harmful in that it leads to negative consequences for the individual or for others, as judged by the standards of the individual’s culture. The harm may include significant internal anguish (e.g., high levels of anxiety or depression) or problems in day-to-day living (e.g., in one’s social or work life).

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2013), a psychological disorder is a condition characterized by the following criteria:

  • There are significant disturbances in thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  • The disturbances reflect some kind of biological, psychological, or developmental dysfunction.
  • The disturbances lead to significant distress or disability in one’s life.
  • The disturbances do not reflect expected or culturally approved responses to certain events.

Diagnosing Disorder

The diagnosis and classification of psychological disorders is essential in studying and treating psychopathology. The classification system used by most US professionals is the DSM-V. The diagnostic manual includes a total of 237 specific diagnosable disorders, each described in detail, including its symptoms, prevalence, risk factors, and comorbidity. Over time, the number of diagnosable conditions listed in the DSM has grown steadily, prompting criticism from some. Nevertheless, the diagnostic criteria in the DSM are more explicit than those of any other system, which makes the DSM system highly desirable for both clinical diagnosis and research.

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DSM disorders and their prevalence : The DSM is used as a tool by psychologists to diagnose and treat a wide range of psychological disorders. This graph shows the breakdown of psychological disorders from the DSM-IV in 2007, comparing the percentage prevalence among adult males and adult females in the United States.  Major depressive disorder has the highest total prevalence among males and females.

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology stems from the humanistic psychology of the 20th century and focuses on optimizing psychological health and well-being.

Learning Objectives

Describe the theories from which positive psychology emerged

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • While much the field of psychology has been primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness and impairment, positive psychology seeks to study the psychology of people in good mental health.
  • Positive psychology has roots in the humanistic psychology of the 20th century, which emerged in response to the seemingly pessimistic focus of psychoanalysis and instead focused on happiness and fulfillment.
  • One of the founding theorists behind humanism was Carl Rogers, who developed client-centered therapy and coined the term “actualizing tendency.”
  • The term “positive psychology” originates with Abraham Maslow, who expanded on Rogers’s ideas to create a “hierarchy of needs.” In this model, self-actualization involves a desire for fulfillment of one’s potential and can only be attained after lower needs have been met.
  • Positive and humanistic psychology are both interested in positive aspects of psychological health and well-being, focusing on such phenomena as creativity, free will, and positive human potential.

Key Terms

  • psychoanalysis: A family of theories and methods within the field of psychotherapy that work to find connections among patients’ unconscious mental processes.
  • qualitative: Focused on descriptions or distinctions based on some characteristic rather than on a quantity or number.

Positive psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning. The field of psychology as a science has been primarily dedicated to addressing mental illness rather than mental wellness; its research programs and application models have dealt mainly with how people are impaired rather than how they thrive. Rather than detail mental illness, positive psychology aims to study the psychology of people in good mental health.

Historical Roots in Humanistic Psychology

Positive psychology has roots in the humanistic psychology of the 20th century, which focused heavily on happiness and fulfillment. Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1950s in response to the limitations of Sigmund Freud ‘s psychoanalytic theory and B. F. Skinner’s behaviorism. Beyond simply the brain and nervous system, humanistic psychology also takes individual subjective experience into account, and as such it seeks to understand human beings and their behavior through qualitative research. In fact, many humanist psychologists completely reject a scientific approach, arguing that turning human experience into measurements and numbers strips it of all meaning and relevance to lived existence.

One of the founding theorists behind this school of thought was Carl Rogers, whose focus was to ensure that developmental processes led to healthier, if not more creative, personality functioning. The concept of client-centered therapy and the term “actualizing tendency” were both created by Rogers and influenced the later work of Abraham Maslow. Both Rogers and Maslow introduced this positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis. Fritz Perls, who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy, also developed theories and practices pertaining to human happiness and flourishing.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Self-Actualization

The term “positive psychology” originates with Abraham Maslow’s 1954 book Motivation and Personality. Maslow formulated a theory that portrays personal needs or motives as a hierarchy, meaning that basic or lower-level needs must be satisfied before higher-level needs become important or motivating (1976, 1987). Maslow’s hierarchy is only loosely developmental; he was more concerned with the sequence in which changes occur, regardless of a person’s age.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the highest state a person can reach after all lower needs are met. Maslow’s research on self-actualization was a central component of both humanistic and positive psychology.

The most basic needs in Maslow’s hierarchy are physiological needs such as food, sleep, and clothing. Once these needs are met, safety and security needs such as stability and protection become important. After both physiological and safety needs are met, love and belonging needs emerge: people turn their attention to making friends and cultivating positive personal relationships. The next level of needs are esteem needs, which are concerned with gaining recognition and respect from others and self.

Once these four levels of needs are met, Maslow believed people turn toward what he called self-actualization. Also referred to as “being needs,” these include such things as a desire for knowledge and understanding, an appreciation of beauty and order, and a desire for fulfillment of one’s potential. People who are motivated by self-actualization have a variety of positive qualities, and Maslow went to some lengths to identify and describe those individuals by analyzing information about them, both through written primary sources (e.g., diaries) and through personal interviews and contacts. Self-actualizing individuals, he argued, value deep personal relationships with others, but also value solitude; they have a sense of humor, but not one used against others; they accept themselves as well as others; they are spontaneous, humble, creative, and ethical. Maslow felt that true self-actualization is rare, but his research led to advancements in humanistic psychology and the later field of positive psychology.

The Focus of Positive Psychology

Positive and humanistic psychology are both interested in positive aspects of psychological health and well-being, focusing on such phenomena as creativity, free will, and positive human potential. These fields of psychology advocate the belief that all people are inherently good, and adopt a holistic approach to human existence. They encourage viewing ourselves as a “whole person” greater than the sum of our parts and encourage self-exploration rather than the study of behavior in other people. They often acknowledge spiritual aspiration as an integral part of the human psyche.

Positive psychology is concerned with three issues: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions. Positive emotions are concerned with being content with one’s past, being happy in the present, and having hope for the future. Positive individual traits focus on one’s strengths and virtues. Finally, positive institutions are based on strengths to better a community of people.

Psychodynamic Psychology

Psychodynamic theory studies the psychological forces underlying human behavior, feelings, and emotions.

Learning Objectives

Trace the evolution of psychodynamic theory

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The psychodynamic perspective focuses on the dynamic relations between the conscious and unconscious mind and explores how these psychological forces might relate to early childhood experiences.
  • Psychodynamic psychology originated with Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century. Freud suggested that psychological processes are flows of psychosexual energy (libido) within a complex brain.
  • Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis holds two major assumptions: (1) that much of mental life is unconscious, and (2) that past experiences, especially those from early childhood, shape how a person feels and behaves throughout life.
  • Freud’s structural model of personality divides the personality into three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. When these parts are in conflict, the imbalance manifests as psychological distress.
  • Freud also proposed the psychosexual theory of development, in which he asserted that children develop through different pleasure-seeking urges focused on different areas of the body, called erogenous zones.
  • Carl Jung expanded upon Freud’s theories, introducing the concepts of the archetype, the collective unconscious, and individuation.
  • Modern psychodynamic theory is an evolving multidisciplinary field that continues to analyze and study human thought processes, response patterns, and influences.

Key Terms

  • psychoanalysis: A family of psychological theories and methods within the field of psychotherapy that work to find connections among patients’ unconscious mental processes.
  • libido: A person’s overall sexual drive or desire for sexual activity.
  • Sigmund Freud: (1856–1939) An Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis.

Psychodynamic theory is an approach to psychology that studies the psychological forces underlying human behavior, feelings, and emotions, and how they may relate to early childhood experience. This theory is especially interested in the dynamic relations between conscious and unconscious motivation, and asserts that behavior is the product of underlying conflicts over which people often have little awareness.

Psychodynamic theory was born in 1874 with the works of German scientist Ernst von Brucke, who supposed that all living organisms are energy systems governed by the principle of the conservation of energy. During the same year, medical student Sigmund Freud adopted this new “dynamic” physiology and expanded it to create the original concept of “psychodynamics,” in which he suggested that psychological processes are flows of psychosexual energy (libido) in a complex brain. Freud also coined the term “psychoanalysis.” Later, these theories were developed further by Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, and others. By the mid-1940s and into the 1950s, the general application of the “psychodynamic theory” had been well established.

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Sigmund Freud: Sigmund Freud developed the field of psychoanalytic psychology and the psychosexual theory of human development.

Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory

The Role of the Unconscious

Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis holds two major assumptions: (1) that much of mental life is unconscious (i.e., outside of awareness), and (2) that past experiences, especially in early childhood, shape how a person feels and behaves throughout life. The concept of the unconscious was central: Freud postulated a cycle in which ideas are repressed but continue to operate unconsciously in the mind, and then reappear in consciousness under certain circumstances. Much of Freud’s theory was based on his investigations of patients suffering from ” hysteria ” and neurosis. Hysteria was an ancient diagnosis that was primarily used for women with a wide variety of symptoms, including physical symptoms and emotional disturbances with no apparent physical cause. The history of the term can be traced to ancient Greece, where the idea emerged that a woman’s uterus could float around her body and cause a variety of disturbances. Freud theorized instead that many of his patients’ problems arose from the unconscious mind. In Freud’s view, the unconscious mind was a repository of feelings and urges of which we have no awareness.

The treatment of a patient referred to as Anna O. is regarded as marking the beginning of psychoanalysis. Freud worked together with Austrian physician Josef Breuer to treat Anna O.’s “hysteria,” which Freud implied was a result of the resentment she felt over her father’s real and physical illness that later led to his death. Today many researchers believe that her illness was not psychological, as Freud suggested, but either neurological or organic.

The Id, Ego, and Superego

Freud’s structural model of personality divides the personality into three parts—the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the unconscious part that is the cauldron of raw drives, such as for sex or aggression. The ego, which has conscious and unconscious elements, is the rational and reasonable part of personality. Its role is to maintain contact with the outside world to keep the individual in touch with society, and to do this it mediates between the conflicting tendencies of the id and the superego. The superego is a person’s conscience, which develops early in life and is learned from parents, teachers, and others. Like the ego, the superego has conscious and unconscious elements. When all three parts of the personality are in dynamic equilibrium, the individual is thought to be mentally healthy. However, if the ego is unable to mediate between the id and the superego, an imbalance is believed to occur in the form of psychological distress.

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Freud’s theory of the unconscious: Freud believed that we are only aware of a small amount of our mind’s activity, and that most of it remains hidden from us in our unconscious. The information in our unconscious affects our behavior, although we are unaware of it.

Psychosexual Theory of Development

Freud’s theories also placed a great deal of emphasis on sexual development. Freud believed that each of us must pass through a series of stages during childhood, and that if we lack proper nurturing during a particular stage, we may become stuck or fixated in that stage. Freud’s psychosexual model of development includes five stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. According to Freud, children’s pleasure-seeking urges are focused on a different area of the body, called an erogenous zone, at each of these five stages. Psychologists today dispute that Freud’s psychosexual stages provide a legitimate explanation for how personality develops, but what we can take away from Freud’s theory is that personality is shaped, in some part, by experiences we have in childhood.

Jungian Psychodynamics

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychotherapist who expanded upon Freud’s theories at the turn of the 20th century. A central concept of Jung’s analytical psychology is individuation: the psychological process of integrating opposites, including the conscious with the unconscious, while still maintaining their relative autonomy. Jung focused less on infantile development and conflict between the id and superego and instead focused more on integration between different parts of the person. Jung created some of the best-known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and synchronicity.

Psychodynamics Today

At present, psychodynamics is an evolving multidisciplinary field that analyzes and studies human thought processes, response patterns, and influences. Research in this field focuses on areas such as:

  • understanding and anticipating the range of conscious and unconscious responses to specific sensory inputs, such as images, colors, textures, sounds, etc.;
  • utilizing the communicative nature of movement and primal physiological gestures to affect and study specific mind-body states; and
  • examining the capacity of the mind and senses to directly affect physiological response and biological change.

Psychodynamic therapy, in which patients become increasingly aware of dynamic conflicts and tensions that are manifesting as a symptom or challenge in their lives, is an approach to therapy that is still commonly used today.

Behavioral Psychology

Behaviorism is an approach to psychology that focuses on observable behaviors that people learn from their environments.

Learning Objectives

Describe the major contributions to the development of behaviorism

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Behaviorism emerged in the early 20th century as a reaction to the psychoanalytic theory of the time, and focused on observable behaviors rather than on unconscious inner states.
  • The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov is widely known for describing the phenomenon now known as classical conditioning in his experiments with dogs.
  • John B. Watson was an American psychologist best known for his controversial “Little Albert” experiment using classical conditioning.
  • Edward Lee Thorndike was an American psychologist whose work on animal behavior and the learning process led him to discover what he termed the ” law of effect .”
  • B. F. Skinner coined the term ” operant conditioning,” which describes the strengthening or attenuation of a voluntary response based on association with positive or negative consequences.

Key Terms

  • conditioning: The process of modifying a person’s or an animal’s behavior.

Behaviorism is an approach to psychology that emerged in the early 20th century as a reaction to the psychoanalytic theory of the time. Psychoanalytic theory often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested using rigorous experimental methods. The behaviorist school of thought maintains that behaviors can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as thoughts and beliefs. Rather than focusing on underlying conflicts, behaviorism focuses on observable, overt behaviors that are learned from the environment.

Its application to the treatment of mental problems is known as behavior modification. Learning is seen as behavior change molded by experience; it is accomplished largely through either classical or operant conditioning (described below).

Developments in Behaviorism

The primary developments in behaviorism came from the work of Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, Edward Lee Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner.

Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning

The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was widely known for describing the phenomenon now known as classical conditioning. In his famous 1890s experiment, he trained his dogs to salivate on command by associating the ringing of a bell with the delivery of food. As Pavlov’s work became known in the West, particularly through the writings of John B. Watson, the idea of conditioning as an automatic form of learning became a key concept in the development of behaviorism.

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Ivan Pavlov: Ivan Pavlov is best known for his classical conditioning experiments with dogs.

Watson’s “Little Albert” Experiment

John B. Watson was an American psychologist who is best known for his controversial “Little Albert” experiment. In this experiment, he used classical conditioning to teach a nine-month-old boy to be afraid of a white toy rat by associating the rat with a sudden loud noise. This study demonstrated how emotions could become conditioned responses.

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Watson’s “Little Albert” experiment: In Watson’s famous experiment, he taught an infant to be afraid of a fur coat, among other things, through the process of conditioning.

Thorndike’s Law of Effect

Edward Lee Thorndike was an American psychologist whose work on animal behavior and the learning process led to the “law of effect.” The law of effect states that responses that create a satisfying effect are more likely to occur again, while responses that produce a discomforting effect become less likely to occur.

Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

“Operant conditioning,” a term coined by psychologist B. F. Skinner, describes a form of learning in which a voluntary response is strengthened or weakened depending on its association with either positive or negative consequences. The strengthening of a response occurs through reinforcement. Skinner described two types of reinforcement: positive reinforcement, which is the introduction of a positive consequence such as food, pleasurable activities, or attention from others, and negative reinforcement, which is the removal of a negative consequence such as pain or a loud noise. Skinner saw human behavior as shaped by trial and error through reinforcement and punishment, without any reference to inner conflicts or perceptions. In his theory, mental disorders represented maladaptive behaviors that were learned and could be unlearned through behavior modification.

Behaviorism Today

In the second half of the 20th century, behaviorism was expanded through advances in cognitive theories. While behaviorism and cognitive schools of psychological thought may not agree theoretically, they have complemented each other in practical therapeutic applications like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which has been used widely in the treatment of many different mental disorders, such as phobias, PTSD, and addiction.

Some behavior therapies employ Skinner’s theories of operant conditioning: by not reinforcing certain behaviors, these behaviors can be extinguished. Skinner’s radical behaviorism advanced a “triple contingency” model, which explored the links between the environment, behavior, and the mind. This later gave rise to applied behavior analysis (ABA), in which operant conditioning techniques are used to reinforce positive behaviors and punish unwanted behaviors. This approach to treatment has been an effective tool to help children on the autism spectrum; however, it is considered controversial by many who see it as attempting to change or “normalize” autistic behaviors (Lovaas, 1987, 2003; Sallows & Graupner, 2005; Wolf & Risley, 1967).

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology examines internal mental processes such as problem-solving, memory, and language.

Learning Objectives

Describe the central theories of cognitive psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Cognitive psychologists are interested in how people understand, diagnose, and solve problems. Major areas of research include perception, memory, categorization, language, and thinking.
  • The cognitive perspective values the scientific method over reliance on introspection (unlike Freudian psychology) but still acknowledges the existence of internal mental states (unlike behaviorist psychology).
  • Cognitive theory contends that solutions to problems take the form of algorithms, heuristics, or insights.
  • Cognitive psychology is one of the more recent additions to psychological research; it only developed as a separate subfield in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
  • The cognitive perspective had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in contemporary advancements in technology and computer science.
  • Jean Piaget, an influential leader of cognitive psychology, studied intellectual development in children and is most widely known for his stage theory of cognitive development.

Key Terms

  • algorithm: A precise step-by-step plan for a computational procedure that begins with an input value and yields an output value.
  • heuristic: An experience-based technique for problem-solving, learning, and discovery that gives a solution that is not guaranteed to be optimal.

Cognitive psychology is the school of psychology that examines internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language. ” Cognition ” refers to thinking and memory processes, and “cognitive development” refers to long-term changes in these processes. Much of the work derived from cognitive psychology has been integrated into various other modern disciplines of psychological study, including social psychology, personality psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, and behavioral economics.

Principles of Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is radically different from previous psychological approaches in that it is characterized by both of the following:

  1. It accepts the use of the scientific method and generally rejects introspection as a valid method of investigation, unlike phenomenological methods such as Freudian psychoanalysis.
  2. It explicitly acknowledges the existence of internal mental states (such as belief, desire, and motivation), unlike behaviorist psychology.

Cognitive theory contends that solutions to problems take the form of algorithms, heuristics, or insights. Major areas of research in cognitive psychology include perception, memory, categorization, knowledge representation, numerical cognition, language, and thinking.

History of Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is one of the more recent additions to psychological research. Though there are examples of cognitive approaches from earlier researchers, cognitive psychology really developed as a subfield within psychology in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The development of the field was heavily influenced by contemporary advancements in technology and computer science.

Early Roots

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Jean Piaget: Piaget is best known for his stage theory of cognitive development.

In 1958, Donald Broadbent integrated concepts from human-performance research and the recently developed information theory in his book Perception and Communication, which paved the way for the information-processing model of cognition. Ulric Neisser is credited with formally having coined the term “cognitive psychology” in his book of the same name, published in 1967. The perspective had its foundations in the Gestalt psychology of Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka, and in the work of Jean Piaget, who studied intellectual development in children.

Although no one person is entirely responsible for starting the cognitive revolution, Noam Chomsky was very influential in the early days of this movement. Chomsky (1928–), an American linguist, was dissatisfied with the influence that behaviorism had had on psychology. He believed that psychology’s focus on behavior was short-sighted and that the field had to reincorporate mental functioning into its purview if it were to offer any meaningful contributions to understanding behavior (Miller, 2003).

Jean Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development

Instead of approaching development from a psychoanalytic or psychosocial perspective, Piaget focused on children’s cognitive growth. He is most widely known for his stage theory of cognitive development, which outlines how children become able to think logically and scientifically over time. As they progress to a new stage, there is a distinct shift in how they think and reason.

Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology adopts a holistic view of human existence through explorations of meaning, human potential, and self-actualization.

Learning Objectives

Identify the origins, theorists, and basic principles of the humanistic perspective

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that rose to prominence in the mid-20th century. It draws on the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology, as well as Eastern philosophy.
  • Early humanistic psychologists focused on uniquely human issues such as the self, self-actualization, health, hope, love, creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning.
  • This approach focuses on maximum human potential and achievement rather than psychoses and symptoms of disorder; it emphasizes that people are inherently good and pays special attention to personal experiences and creativity.
  • Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) is considered the founder of humanistic psychology and is noted for his conceptualization of the hierarchy of human needs.
  • Carl Rogers (1902–1987) is best known for his person-centered approach to therapy, as well as his emphasis on unconditional positive regard.
  • Rollo May (1909–1994) focused on existential ideas, the importance of human choice, and the tragic dimensions of human existence.
  • Humanistic psychology has led to advances in positive, educational, and industrial psychology, and has been successfully applied to psychotherapy and social issues; however, it has also been criticized for its subjectivity and lack of evidence.

Key Terms

  • phenomenology: A philosophy based on intuitive experiences and on the premise that reality consists of objects and events as consciously perceived by conscious beings.
  • mirroring: A therapeutic technique in which the therapist reflects a client’s words, feelings, or thoughts back to the client.
  • existentialism: A 20th-century philosophical movement emphasizing the uniqueness of each human existence and every person’s ability to freely make their own self-defining choices.

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective that rose to prominence in the mid-20th century, drawing on the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology, as well as Eastern philosophy. It adopts a holistic approach to human existence through investigations of concepts such as meaning, values, freedom, tragedy, personal responsibility, human potential, spirituality, and self-actualization.

Basic Principles of the Humanistic Perspective

The humanistic perspective is a holistic psychological perspective that attributes human characteristics and actions to free will and an innate drive for self-actualization. This approach focuses on maximum human potential and achievement rather than psychoses and symptoms of disorder. It emphasizes that people are inherently good and pays special attention to personal experiences and creativity. This perspective has led to advances in positive, educational, and industrial psychology, and has been applauded for its successful application to psychotherapy and social issues. Despite its great influence, humanistic psychology has also been criticized for its subjectivity and lack of evidence.

Developments in Humanistic Psychology

In the late 1950s, a group of psychologists convened in Detroit, Michigan, to discuss their interest in a psychology that focused on uniquely human issues, such as the self, self-actualization, health, hope, love, creativity, nature, being, becoming, individuality, and meaning. These preliminary meetings eventually culminated in the description of humanistic psychology as a recognizable “third force” in psychology, along with behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Humanism’s major theorists were Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, and Clark Moustakas; it was also influenced by psychoanalytic theorists, including Wilhelm Reich, who discussed an essentially good, healthy core self, and Carl Gustav Jung, who emphasized the concept of archetypes.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow (1908–1970) is considered the founder of humanistic psychology, and is noted for his conceptualization of a hierarchy of human needs. He believed that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential—or to reach what he called “self-actualization.” Unlike many of his predecessors, Maslow studied mentally healthy individuals instead of people with serious psychological issues. Through his research he coined the term “peak experiences,” which he defined as “high points” in which people feel at harmony with themselves and their surroundings. Self-actualized people, he believed, have more of these peak experiences throughout a given day than others.

To explain his theories, Maslow created a visual, which he termed the “hierarchy of needs.” This pyramid depicts various levels of physical and psychological needs that a person progresses through during their lifetime. At the bottom of the pyramid are the basic physiological needs of a human being, such as food and water. The next level is safety, which includes shelter and needs paramount to physical survival. The third level, love and belonging, is the psychological need to share oneself with others. The fourth level, esteem, focuses on success, status, and accomplishments. The top of the pyramid is self-actualization, in which a person is believed to have reached a state of harmony and understanding. Individuals progress from lower to higher stages throughout their lives, and cannot reach higher stages without first meeting the lower needs that come before them.

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a person must first have their lower-level, physical needs met before they can progress to fulfilling higher-level, psychological needs.

Rogers’ Person-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers (1902–1987) is best known for his person-centered approach, in which the relationship between therapist and client is used to help the patient reach a state of realization, so that they can then help themselves. His non-directive approach focuses more on the present than the past and centers on clients’ capacity for self-direction and understanding of their own development. The therapist encourages the patient to express their feelings and does not suggest how the person might wish to change. Instead, the therapist uses the skills of active listening and mirroring to help patients explore and understand their feelings for themselves.

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Carl Rogers: Carl Rogers was one of the early pioneers of humanistic psychology, and is best known for his person-centered approach to therapy.

Rogers is also known for practicing “unconditional positive regard,” which is defined as accepting a person in their entirety with no negative judgment of their essential worth. He believed that those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves, while those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard only feel worthy if they match conditions that have been laid down by others.

May’s Existentialism

Rollo May (1909–1994) was the best known American existential psychologist, and differed from other humanistic psychologists by showing a sharper awareness of the tragic dimensions of human existence. May was influenced by American humanism, and emphasized the importance of human choice.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Humanistic psychology is holistic in nature: it takes whole persons into account rather than their separate traits or processes. In this way, people are not reduced to one particular attribute or set of characteristics, but instead are appreciated for the complex beings that they are. Humanistic psychology allows for a personality concept that is dynamic and fluid and accounts for much of the change a person experiences over a lifetime. It stresses the importance of free will and personal responsibility for decision-making; this view gives the conscious human being some necessary autonomy and frees them from deterministic principles. Perhaps most importantly, the humanistic perspective emphasizes the need to strive for positive goals and explains human potential in a way that other theories cannot.

However, critics have taken issue with many of the early tenets of humanism, such as its lack of empirical evidence (as was the case with most early psychological approaches). Because of the inherent subjective nature of the humanistic approach, psychologists worry that this perspective does not identify enough constant variables in order to be researched with consistency and accuracy. Psychologists also worry that such an extreme focus on the subjective experience of the individual does little to explain or appreciate the impact of external societal factors on personality development. In addition, The major tenet of humanistic personality psychology—namely, that people are innately good and intuitively seek positive goals—does not account for the presence of deviance in the world within normal, functioning personalities.

Personality Psychology

Personality psychology studies the long-standing traits and patterns that propel individuals to consistently think, feel, and behave in specific ways.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the differences among the various approaches to personality

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that studies personality and its variation among individuals; it looks at our idiosyncratic patterns of enduring, long-term characteristics.
  • Freud’s psychodynamic perspective theorized that personality is formed through early childhood experiences, as well as through inner conflicts among the id, ego, and superego.
  • Neo-Freudian theorists, such as Adler, Erikson, Jung, and Horney, expanded on Freud’s theories but focused more on the effects of social environment and culture on personality.
  • Other perspectives have emerged in reaction to the psychodynamic perspectives, including the learning, humanistic, biological, trait, and cultural perspectives.

Key Terms

  • personality: Long-standing traits and patterns that propel individuals to consistently think, feel, and behave in specific ways.

Personality psychology is a branch of psychology that studies personality and its variation among individuals. Its areas of focus include:

  • Construction of a coherent picture of the individual and their major psychological processes.
  • Investigation of individual psychological differences.
  • Investigation of human nature and psychological similarities between individuals.

What Is Personality?

Personality refers to the long-standing traits and patterns that propel individuals to consistently think, feel, and behave in specific ways. Our personality is what makes us unique individuals. Each person has an idiosyncratic pattern of enduring, long-term characteristics, and a manner in which they interact with other individuals and the world around them. Our personalities are thought to be long-term, stable, and not easily changed.

Theories of Personality

Freud’s Psychodynamic Theory

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist whose psychodynamic theory holds that personality is formed through early childhood experiences. According to his structural theory of the mind, our personality develops from a conflict between the interacting systems within our minds, which he termed the “id” (our biological pleasure-seeking drive), “ego” (the rational part of our personality), and “superego” (our conscience and moral compass).

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The id, ego, and superego: According to Freud, the job of the ego, or self, is to balance the aggressive/pleasure-seeking drives of the id with the moral control of the superego.

Freud also developed the psychosexual theory of development, in which personality develops during childhood through a series of psychosexual stages. Failure to resolve a stage can result in a person becoming fixated in that stage, leading to unhealthy personality traits; successful resolution of the stages leads to a healthy adult.

Neo-Freudian Approaches

Freud attracted many followers who modified his ideas to create new theories about personality. These theorists, referred to as neo-Freudians, generally agreed with Freud that childhood experiences matter, but de-emphasized sex, focusing more on the effects of social environment and culture on personality. Four notable neo-Freudians include Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and Karen Horney. Adler is known for proposing the concept of the inferiority complex; Erikson proposed the psychosocial theory of development; Jung introduced the concepts of the collective unconscious and the persona; and Horney focused on the role of unconscious anxiety related to early childhood needs.

Learning Approaches

In contrast to the psychodynamic approaches, the learning approaches to personality focus only on observable behavior. Behavioral theorists view personality as significantly shaped and impacted by the reinforcements and consequences outside of the organism; essentially, people behave in a consistent manner based on prior learning. Notable behaviorists that made advancements in theories of personality include B. F. Skinner, Walter Mischel, Albert Bandura, and Julian Rotter.

Humanistic Approaches

Humanistic psychologists Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers focused on the growth potential of healthy individuals. They believed that people strive to become self-actualized—each individual desiring to become the best person they can become—and
they emphasized free will and self-determination. Both Rogers’s and Maslow’s theories greatly contributed to our understanding of the self.

Biological Approaches

Psychologists who favor the biological approach believe that inherited predispositions as well as physiological processes can be used to explain differences in our personalities. Some aspects of our personalities are largely controlled by genetics; however, environmental factors (such as family interactions) and maturation can affect the ways in which children’s personalities are expressed.

Trait Theorists

Trait theorists believe personality can be understood through the idea that all people have certain traits, or characteristic ways of behaving. These theorists have identified many important dimensions of personality. The five-factor model is the most widely accepted trait theory today: it includes the five factors of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, which each occur along a continuum.

Cultural Understandings of Personality

The culture in which we live is one of the most important environmental factors that shapes our personalities. Western ideas about personality are not necessarily applicable to other cultures, and there is evidence that the strength of personality traits varies across cultures. Individualist cultures and collectivist cultures place emphasis on different basic values: people who live in individualist cultures tend to believe that independence, competition, and personal achievement are important, while people who live in collectivist cultures tend to value social harmony, respectfulness, and group needs over individual needs. There are three approaches that can be used to study personality in a cultural context: the cultural-comparative approach, the indigenous approach, and the combined approach, which incorporates both elements of both views.

Educational Psychology

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings.

Learning Objectives

Identify the origins, tenets, and goals of educational psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Educational psychology studies how humans learn within educational settings by examining the effectiveness of various educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social aspect of schools.
  • School psychology applies the principles of both educational psychology and clinical psychology to treat children with learning and/or behavior problems.
  • The goals of educational psychology are to understand and treat children with learning disabilities, to foster the intellectual growth of gifted and talented children, to teach pro-social behaviors, and to promote safe, effective, and supportive learning environments.
  • Both Jean Piaget’s theory of development and Lawrence Kohlberg ‘s stage theory of moral development are influential in educational psychology, since they examine how children progress through learning stages as they age.
  • Educational psychology dates back to the early 20th century, where it branched out from functional psychology. Lightner Witmer is considered the founder of school psychology, and Arnold Gesell is noted as being the first official school psychologist.

Key Terms

  • cognitive: Relating to mental functions that deal with logic, as opposed to affective, which describes those functions that deal with emotions.

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn within an educational setting. It examines the effectiveness of various educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social aspect of schools. School psychology applies educational psychology, along with the principles of clinical psychology, to treat children’s learning and/or behavior problems.

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Educational psychology: Educational psychology aims to provide the best education for all students, regardless of ability, by studying how humans learn in educational settings. School psychology is essentially the application of educational psychology in schools.

Goals and Tenets of Educational Psychology

There are four main goals of educational psychology:

  1. To understand and treat children with learning disabilities.
  2. To foster the intellectual growth of gifted and talented children.
  3. To teach pro-social behaviors.
  4. To promote safe, effective, and supportive learning environments.

Educational psychology aims to understand a child’s cognitive development and learning characteristics. The practice is based on the belief that every child has an individual capacity and style of learning that results from predisposition, experience, and development. The principles of educational psychology are used to provide children struggling with learning and/or behavior problems with the help necessary to achieve an education similar to their peers.

Some of the more common theories used in educational and school psychology are Jean Piaget’s theory of development and Lawrence Kohlberg’s stage theory of moral development. Each looks at how children progress through learning stages as they age. Educational and school psychologists can use these stages to assess how children learn and what interventions are necessary to help them progress most effectively.

Origins of Educational Psychology

Educational psychology dates back to the early 20th century. It was highly influenced by functional psychology, which considers mental life and behavior in conjunction with a person’s adaptation to his or her environment. Lightner Witmer, considered the founder of school psychology, opened the first psychological and guidance clinic in 1896 in Pennsylvania. It was at this first clinic that children with learning and/or behavior problems were assessed and treated to help improve their educational potential. Arnold Gesell is noted as being the first official school psychologist; he evaluated children and made recommendations for the special education of exceptional children.

Social Psychology

Social psychology studies individuals in a social context and examines how situational variables influence behavior.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the history and purpose of social psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.
  • Social psychologists examine the factors that lead us to behave in a given way in the presence of others, as well as the conditions under which certain behaviors, actions, and feelings occur.
  • Social psychology investigates the effects of several cognitive biases, including the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer bias, the self-serving bias, and the just-world hypothesis.
  • The discipline of social psychology began in the United States in the early 20th century and expanded during World War II.

Key Terms

  • bias: An inclination toward something; predisposition, partiality, prejudice, preference, predilection.
  • attribution: The act of assigning a characteristic, quality, or explanation to something.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. This subfield of psychology is concerned with the way such feelings, thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and goals are constructed, and how these psychological factors, in turn, influence our interactions with others.

Focus of Social Psychology

Social psychology typically explains human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and immediate social situations. Social psychologists, therefore, examine the factors that lead us to behave in a given way in the presence of others, as well as the conditions under which certain behaviors, actions, and feelings occur. They focus on how people construe or interpret situations and how these interpretations influence their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). Thus, social psychology studies individuals in a social context and how situational variables interact to influence behavior.

Social psychologists assert that an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are very much influenced by social situations. Essentially, people will change their behavior to align with the social situation at hand. If we are in a new situation or are unsure how to behave, we will take our cues from other individuals.

The field of social psychology studies topics at both the intrapersonal level (pertaining to the individual), such as emotions and attitudes, and the interpersonal level (pertaining to groups), such as aggression and attraction. The field is also concerned with common cognitive biases—such as the fundamental attribution error, the actor-observer bias, the self-serving bias, and the just-world hypothesis—that influence our behavior and our perceptions of events.

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Trayvon Martin: Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American youth, was shot to death at the hands of George Zimmerman, a white volunteer neighborhood watchman, in 2012. His death sparked a heated debate around the country about the effects of racism in the United States. Social psychologists theorize about how different cognitive biases influence people’s perspectives on the event. (credit “signs”: modification of work by David Shankbone; credit “walk”: modification of work by “Fibonacci Blue”/Flickr)

History of Social Psychology

The discipline of social psychology began in the United States in the early 20th century. The first published study in this area was an experiment in 1898 by Norman Triplett on the phenomenon of social facilitation. During the 1930s, Gestalt psychologists such as Kurt Lewin were instrumental in developing the field as something separate from the behavioral and psychoanalytic schools that were dominant during that time.

During World War II, social psychologists studied the concepts of persuasion and propaganda for the U.S. military. After the war, researchers became interested in a variety of social problems including gender issues, racial prejudice, cognitive dissonance, bystander intervention, aggression, and obedience to authority. During the years immediately following World War II there was frequent collaboration between psychologists and sociologists; however, the two disciplines have become increasingly specialized and isolated from each other in recent years, with sociologists focusing more on macro-level variables (such as social structure).

Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology seeks to understand how forces of society and culture influence individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Learning Objectives

Characterize the field of cultural psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Both cultural psychology and cultural-historical psychology seek to examine how sociocultural factors (such as attitudes, gender roles, child-rearing practices, etc.) influence human mental states and behavior.
  • Cultural psychology is the study of how psychological and behavioral tendencies are rooted and embedded within culture. Its main tenet is that mind and culture are inseparable: people are shaped by their culture, and their culture is shaped by them.
  • Western and white populations tend to be overrepresented in psychological research, yet findings from this research tend to be labeled “universal” and inaccurately applied to other cultures.
  • The theory of cultural-historical psychology, developed by Lev Vygotsky in the late 1920s, focuses on how aspects of culture are transmitted from one generation to the next.

Key Terms

  • Vygotsky: (1896–1934) A Soviet Russian-Belarusian psychologist and the founder of cultural-historical psychology, a theory of human cultural and biosocial development.
  • sociocultural: Relating to both society and culture.
  • cross-cultural psychology: The scientific study of human behavior and mental processes, including both their variability and invariance, under diverse cultural conditions.

Sociocultural factors are the larger-scale forces within cultures and societies that affect the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals. These include forces such as attitudes, child-rearing practices, discrimination and prejudice, ethnic and racial identity, gender roles and norms, family and kinship structures, power dynamics, regional differences, religious beliefs and practices, rituals, and taboos. Several subfields within psychology seek to examine these sociocultural factors that influence human mental states and behavior; among these are social psychology (discussed in another section), cultural psychology, and cultural-historical psychology.

Cultural Psychology

Cultural psychology is the study of how psychological and behavioral tendencies are rooted and embedded within culture. The main tenet of cultural psychology is that mind and culture are inseparable and mutually constitutive, meaning that people are shaped by their culture and their culture is also shaped by them.

A major goal of cultural psychology is to expand the number and variation of cultures that contribute to basic psychological theories, so that these theories become more relevant to the predictions, descriptions, and explanations of all human behaviors—not just Western ones. Populations that are Western, educated, and industrialized tend to be overrepresented in psychological research, yet findings from this research tend to be labeled “universal” and inaccurately applied to other cultures. The evidence that social values, logical reasoning, and basic cognitive and motivational processes vary across populations has become increasingly difficult to ignore. By studying only a narrow range of culture within human populations, psychologists fail to account for a substantial amount of diversity.

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White American culture: Populations that are Western, educated, and industrialized tend to be overrepresented in psychological research. By studying only a narrow range of human culture, psychologists fail to account for a substantial amount of variation.

Cultural psychology is often confused with cross-cultural psychology; however, it is distinct in that cross-cultural psychologists generally use culture as a means of testing the universality of psychological processes, rather than determining how local cultural practices shape psychological processes. So while a cross-cultural psychologist might ask whether Jean Piaget’s stages of development are universal across a variety of cultures, a cultural psychologist would be interested in how the social practices of a particular set of cultures shape the development of cognitive processes in different ways.

Vygotsky and Cultural-Historical Psychology

Cultural-historical psychology is a psychological theory formed by Lev Vygotsky in the late 1920s and further developed by his students and followers in Eastern Europe and worldwide. This theory focuses on how aspects of culture, such as values, beliefs, customs, and skills, are transmitted from one generation to the next. According to Vygotsky, social interaction—especially involvement with knowledgeable community or family members—helps children to acquire the thought processes and behaviors specific to their culture and/or society. The growth that children experience as a result of these interactions differs greatly between cultures; this variance allows children to become competent in tasks that are considered important or necessary in their particular society.

Biopsychology

Biopsychology is the application of the principles of biology to the study of mental processes and physical behavior.

Learning Objectives

Describe key aspects of the biological perspective on psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Biopsychologists attempt to relate biological, physiological, and/or genetic variables to psychological and/or behavioral variables.
  • Key areas of focus include sensation and perception, motivated behavior, control of movement, learning and memory, sleep and biological rhythms, and emotion.
  • Behavioral neuroscience contributes to the understanding of medical disorders, including those that also fall into the realm of clinical psychology.
  • Neuroimaging tools, such as PET, CT, and fMRI scans, are often used to observe which areas of the brain are active during particular tasks; this helps psychologists understand the link between brain and behavior.
  • Biopsychology as a scientific discipline emerged during the 18th and 19th centuries, when philosophers such as Descartes and James proposed physical models to explain animal and human behavior.

Key Terms

  • behavioral neuroscience: The application of the principles of biology (in particular, neurobiology) to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in human and nonhuman animals.
  • neuropsychology: A branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relate to specific behavioral and psychological processes.

Biopsychology—also known as biological psychology or psychobiology—is the application of the principles of biology to the study of mental processes and behavior. The fields of behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and neuropsychology are all subfields of biological psychology.

Overview of Biopsychology

Biopsychologists are interested in measuring biological, physiological, and/or genetic variables and attempting to relate them to psychological or behavioral variables. Because all behavior is controlled by the central nervous system, biopsychologists seek to understand how the brain functions in order to understand behavior. Key areas of focus include sensation and perception, motivated behavior (such as hunger, thirst, and sex), control of movement, learning and memory, sleep and biological rhythms, and emotion. As technical sophistication leads to advancements in research methods, more advanced topics, such as language, reasoning, decision-making, and consciousness, are now being studied.

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Brain-imaging techniques: Different brain-imaging techniques provide scientists with insight into different aspects of how the human brain functions. Three types of scans include (left to right) PET scan (positron emission tomography), CT scan (computed tomography), and fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). (credit “left”: modification of work by Health and Human Services Department, National Institutes of Health; credit “center”: modification of work by “Aceofhearts1968″/Wikimedia Commons; credit “right”: modification of work by Kim J, Matthews NL, Park S.)

Behavioral neuroscience has a strong history of contributing to the understanding of medical disorders, including those that fall into the realm of clinical psychology. Neuropsychologists are often employed as scientists to advance scientific or medical knowledge, and neuropsychology is particularly concerned with understanding brain injuries in an attempt to learn about normal psychological functioning. Neuroimaging tools, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, are often used to observe which areas of the brain are active during particular tasks in order to help psychologists understand the link between brain and behavior.

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MRI of the human brain: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of the head are often used to help psychologists understand the links between brain and behavior.

History

Biopsychology as a scientific discipline emerged from a variety of scientific and philosophical traditions in the 18th and 19th centuries. Philosophers like Rene Descartes proposed physical models to explain animal and human behavior. Descartes suggested, for example, that the pineal gland, a midline unpaired structure in the brain of many organisms, was the point of contact between mind and body. In The Principles of Psychology (1890), William James argued that the scientific study of psychology should be grounded in an understanding of biology. The emergence of both psychology and behavioral neuroscience as legitimate sciences can be traced to the emergence of physiology during the 18th and 19th centuries; however, it was not until 1914 that the term “psychobiology” was first used in its modern sense by Knight Dunlap in An Outline of Psychobiology.

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Pineal gland: Descartes suggested that the pineal gland was the point of contact between mind and body.

Developmental Psychology

Developmental psychologists study the physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development of humans from conception through adulthood.

Learning Objectives

Describe the central debates surrounding human development

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Developmental psychologists study how humans change and grow from conception through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death. They focus primarily on three developmental domains—physical, cognitive, and psychosocial.
  • Theories of development examine whether development is continuous (involving gradual change) or discontinuous (taking place in unique stages).
  • The nature-versus-nurture debate seeks to understand how our personalities are shaped by genetic and biological factors (nature) and how they are shaped by environmental factors (nurture).
  • Prominent theories of human development include Freud’s psychosexual theory, Erikson’s psychosocial theory, Piaget’s cognitive theory, and Kohlberg’s moral theory.

Key Terms

  • psychosocial: Having both psychological and social aspects.

Developmental psychologists study how humans change and grow from conception through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death. They view development as a lifelong process that can be studied scientifically across three developmental domains—physical, cognitive, and psychosocial development. Physical development involves growth and changes in the body and brain, the senses, motor skills, and health and wellness. Cognitive development involves learning, attention, memory, language, thinking, reasoning, and creativity. Psychosocial development involves emotions, personality, and social relationships.

There are several theories of development that focus on the following issues: whether development is continuous or discontinuous, whether development follows one course or many, and the relative influence of nature versus nurture on development.

Continuous vs. Discontinuous Development

The continuous-development perspective views development as a cumulative process, gradually improving on existing skills. With this type of development, there is gradual change—such as a child growing slightly taller each year. In contrast, theorists who view development as discontinuous believe that development takes place in unique stages: it occurs at specific times or ages. With this type of development, the change is more sudden, such as an infant’s ability to conceive object permanence.

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Continuous vs. discontinuous development: The concept of continuous development can be visualized as a smooth slope of progression, whereas discontinuous development sees growth in more discrete stages.

Nature vs. Nurture

Are we who we are because of nature (biology and genetics), or are we who we are because of nurture (our environment and culture )? This longstanding question is known in psychology as the nature-versus-nurture debate, and is a central question in developmental psychology. It seeks to understand how our personalities and traits are the product of our genetic makeup and biological factors, and how they are shaped by our environment, including our parents, peers, and culture.

Theories of Development

There are many theories regarding how babies and children grow and develop into happy, healthy adults:

  • Sigmund Freud suggested that we pass through a series of psychosexual stages in which our energy is focused on certain erogenous zones on the body.
  • Eric Erikson modified Freud’s ideas and suggested a theory of psychosocial development: he said that our social interactions and successful completion of social tasks shape our sense of self.
  • Jean Piaget proposed a theory of cognitive development that explains how children think and reason as they move through various stages.
  • Lawrence Kohlberg turned his attention to moral development: he said that we pass through three levels of moral thinking that build on our cognitive development.

Evolutionary Psychology

Evolutionary psychology seeks to understand human behavior as the result of psychological adaptation and natural selection.

Learning Objectives

Dicuss the core premises of the evolutionary perspective of psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective.
  • Just as evolutionary physiology has worked to identify physical adaptations of the body that represent “human physiological nature,” evolutionary psychology works to identify evolved emotional and cognitive adaptations that represent “human psychological nature.”
  • The field of evolutionary psychology has its historical roots in Charles Darwin ‘s theory of natural selection, but it has also been heavily influenced by fields such as ethology, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, genetics, and anthropology.
  • According to evolutionary psychology, the brain has evolved specialized neural mechanisms that are specially designed for solving problems that have recurred over evolutionary time.
  • Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that humans have inherited special mental capacities for adaptations such as acquiring language, inferring others’ emotions, discerning kin from non-kin, identifying healthier mates, and cooperating with others.

Key Terms

  • adaptation: The dynamic evolutionary process by which a trait with a current functional role in the life of an organism is maintained and/or modified by means of natural selection in order to render the organism better fit to survive in its current environment.
  • natural selection: A process by which heritable traits conferring survival and reproductive advantage to individuals tend to be passed on to succeeding generations and become more frequent in a population.
  • evolutionary biology: A scientific subfield concerned with the origin and descent of species and their evolution, multiplication, and diversity over time.

Evolutionary psychology is an approach in the social and natural sciences that examines psychological traits such as memory, perception, and language from a modern evolutionary perspective. It seeks to identify which human psychological traits are evolved adaptations—that is, the functional products of natural selection. For instance, evolutionary biology researches the human body (such as the heart, lungs, or immune system) and how it adapts over time. Evolutionary psychology applies this same thinking to psychology, arguing that much of human behavior is the result of psychological adaptations that evolved to solve recurrent problems in human ancestral environments.

Proponents of evolutionary psychology suggest that it seeks to bridge the division between the human social sciences (such as psychology and sociology) and the natural sciences (such as biology, chemistry, and physics). They argue that the psychology of human beings should be understood as a branch of biology, since humans are living organisms. Just as evolutionary physiology has worked to identify physical adaptations of the body that represent “human physiological nature,” evolutionary psychology works to identify evolved emotional and cognitive adaptations that represent “human psychological nature.” Evolutionary psychology has been applied to the study of many fields, including economics, aggression, law, psychiatry, politics, literature, and sex.

History of the Evolutionary Perspective

Evolutionary psychology stems from Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution, adaptation, and natural selection. Evolutionary biology emerged as an academic discipline in the 1930s and 1940s, along with the study of animal behavior (ethology), both of which heavily influence the development of evolutionary psychology. The field also draws on cognitive psychology, behavioral ecology, artificial intelligence, genetics, anthropology, archaeology, biology, and zoology. Though the term “evolutionary psychology” was most likely coined by American biologist Michael Ghiselin in 1973, it wasn’t until 1992 that the term was popularized by Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby in their highly influential book The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and The Generation of Culture .

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Charles Darwin: Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been highly influential in the field of evolutionary psychology.

Core Premises

Evolutionary psychology is founded on several core premises:

  • The brain produces behavior in response to external and internal inputs.
  • The brain’s adaptive mechanisms have been shaped over time by natural and sexual selection.
  • Different neural mechanisms in the brain were developed to solve problems in humanity’s evolutionary past; in many regards, humans can be considered to have Stone Age minds.
  • Most processes of the brain are unconscious; most mental problems that seem easy to solve are actually extremely difficult problems that are solved unconsciously through complicated actions within the brain.
  • Human psychology consists of many specialized mechanisms, each sensitive to different information or inputs. These mechanisms combine to produce observable behavior.

Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize, for example, that humans have inherited special mental capacities for learning language, making this process nearly automatic. Other adaptations might include the abilities to infer others’ emotions, to discern kin from non-kin, to identify and prefer healthier mates, to cooperate with others, and so on. Consistent with the theory of natural selection, evolutionary psychology sees organisms as often in conflict with others of their species, including mates and relatives. For example, mother mammals and their young offspring sometimes struggle over weaning, which benefits the mother more than the child.

Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychology is the scientific study of animal behavior and mental processes, which can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the history and purpose of comparative psychology

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Comparative psychology is often used to emphasize cross-species comparisons; however, some researchers point out that understanding animal behavior for its own sake is also valuable.
  • Charles Darwin was central in the development of comparative psychology; he theorized that factors that set humans apart—such as higher mental, moral, and spiritual faculties—could be accounted for by evolutionary principles.
  • George John Romanes was also highly influential in the field’s development and he set out to prove that animals had a “rudimentary human mind.”
  • Comparative psychologists seek to understand the similarities and differences among how humans and animals behave in their environments and day-to-day lives. Topics of research can include reproduction, hygiene, learning, and motivation.
  • A wide variety of species have been studied by comparative psychologists, from Pavlov’s early work with dogs to Harlow’s studies of maternal deprivation in rhesus monkeys.

Key Terms

  • primate: A mammal in the order that includes apes, humans, and monkeys.
  • Darwin: (1809–1882) An English naturalist and geologist best known for his contributions to evolutionary theory.

“Comparative psychology” refers to the scientific study of the behavior and mental processes of nonhuman animals (especially as these relate to the adaptation, evolution, and development of behavior), which can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology. Research in this area addresses many different issues, uses many different methods, and explores the behavior of many different species, from insects to primates.

Comparative psychology is sometimes assumed to emphasize cross-species comparisons, including those between humans and animals. However, some researchers caution that direct comparison with human psychology should not be the sole focus of comparative psychology, and that intense focus on a single organism to understand its behavior is also valuable. Research in comparative psychology is usually studied under controlled laboratory experiments in order to discover general principles of behavior.

History

The earliest works on “the social organization of ants” and “animal communication and psychology” were written by al-Jahiz, a 9th-century Afro-Arab scholar who wrote many works on these subjects. The 11th-century Arabic writer Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen) wrote the Treatise on the Influence of Melodies on the Souls of Animals, an early work dealing with the effects of music on animals. In the treatise, he demonstrates how a camel’s pace can be hastened or slowed with the use of music. Through the 19th century, a majority of scholars in the Western world continued to believe that music was a distinctly human phenomenon, but experiments since then have vindicated Ibn al-Haytham’s view that music does indeed have an effect on animals.

Charles Darwin was central in the development of comparative psychology; in fact, the field is often separated into pre- and post-Darwin phases because his contributions were so influential. Darwin’s theory led to several hypotheses, one being that the factors that set humans apart—such as higher mental, moral, and spiritual faculties—could be accounted for by evolutionary principles. George John Romanes was also highly influential in the development of comparative psychology; following Darwin’s work, he set out to prove that animals had a “rudimentary human mind.”

Topics of Comparative Psychology

Comparative psychologists study many issues, and typical questions involve the similarities and differences among how humans and animals behave in their environments and day-to-day lives. The field examines such things as individual behavior, interaction with the environment, reproduction, grooming and hygiene, how different life forms learn, forms of motivation, and mental capacities. Researchers who study animal cognition are interested in understanding the mental processes that control complex behavior, and much of their work parallels that of cognitive psychologists working with humans.

A wide variety of species have been studied by comparative psychologists. Ivan Pavlov’s early work used dogs; Edward Thorndike began his studies with cats; and B. F. Skinner introduced the use of pigeons in his work. American comparative psychologists quickly shifted to the more economical rat, which remained the almost invariable subject for the first half of the 20th century and continues to be used today. There has always been interest in studying various primate species; important contributions to social and developmental psychology were made by Harry F. Harlow’s studies of maternal deprivation in rhesus monkeys.

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The brain of a cat: A wide variety of species have been studied by comparative psychologists in order to gain insight into the behavior and mental processes of nonhuman animals.