The five major theoretical perspectives in psychology are biological, learning, cognitive, psychodynamic, and sociocultural perspectives. Each one of these perspectives searches for answers about behavior through different techniques and through looking for answers to different kinds of questions. Due to the different approaches, each perspective form their own assumptions and explanations. Some perspectives are widely accepted while others struggle for acceptance.
“The premise behind the biological perspective in psychology is that all actions, feelings, and thoughts are associated with bodily events.” Biological psychologists examine how all of the electrical impulses, hormones, and chemicals flowing through the body can effect behavior and how changes to these bodily functions can change behavior. They are concerned with how the aspects of biology effect peoples’ emotions, learning abilities, and their perception of events.
One of the major theories of biological psychology is that “We cannot know ourselves if we do not know our bodies.” Through application of this theory, biological psychologists strive to understand the relationship between the mind and body and they influence sickness or health. It is believed that poor health can lead to negative attitudes while poor attitudes can lead to poor health. Biological psychologists research and study the correlation of this theory in an attempt to help solve some mental and emotional problems.
The writings and findings of Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner have done much for the advancement of modern psychology. Many of the important findings in psychology from their theory of behaviorism, later evolving into the social-learning theory or cognitive social-learning theory. Proponents of the learning perspective think that mentalism should be abandoned for behaviorism. Psychologists should concentrate on observation and direct measurement rather focusing on introspection.
Behaviorists believed that actions were responses to stimuli that were learned. The basic concept was that positive responses would be triggered by good stimuli while negative responses would could from bad stimuli. Actions that would produce positive results tended to repeated, while those that led to negative results tended to be avoided.
This concept led to a broadening of psychology. Many groups that were often overlooked by psychologists were being discovered and observed. Behavior became the dominant school of psychology in the U.S. until the 1960’s.
Adversaries to this approach were repulsed by the concept that humans did not think or feel, but only thought that they did. Nonbehaviorists and behaviorists parted company. Behaviorists believed that feelings could not explain behavior. Out of behaviorism came the social learning theory, which taught that in addition to behavior, imitation and observation led to learning.
The cognitive perspective of psychology focuses on the thought process. Psychologists from this school argue that it is necessary to know what is going on in the mind to fully understand why a person will do the things that they do. By observing behavior, psychologists try to interpret what thought process led to the action. Critics who disapprove of this theory do so on the basis that in addition to perceptions, external forces must also be taken into consideration.
The objective of cognitive psychology is to understand how perceptions and interpretations relate to behavior. Why is that one person will turn to violence when insulted while another person will make excuses for that person rather than acting violently. Through the use of computers, research data can be further analyzed to discover the thought process used in behavior and in some instances, programs can even be written to help understand how humans will react in certain situations.
Many critics of the psychodynamic perspective do not think that this school of psychology has any bearing on academic psychology. Primarily based upon the fact that many of the psychoanalysis assumptions could not be verified, research psychologist was more related to philosophy rather than clinical science. Though not as scientific as the other perspectives, the psychodynamic perspective is none the less still associated with psychology.
When Sigmund Freud released his book The Interpretation of Dreams, it was met with very little success; but it eventually provided the foundation for psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis contends that urges and thoughts live in the unconscious and manifest themselves in events during normal everyday life. The goal of psychoanalysis is to dig into the unconscious to find the source of the disturbances.
Concerned more with therapy than scientific observation and research, psychodynamic psychologists probe the mind to find events, usually from childhood, that manifest feelings of fear, violence, love, etc. Aggressive feelings, or even sexual feelings, are located in this unconsciousness; and regardless of what a person does, they will come out during normal activities. By finding the root of these feelings, it can be understood why a person may act the way that they do. Also by discovering these events, it may be possible to help people channel the energy in a positive way or solve the problem.
Unlike the other perspectives, the sociocultural perspective concentrates on an individual’s or individuals’ culture or society rather than the individual. To understand why people tend to show certain behavior traits, psychologists look at what effects the person’s community might have on their thought process. Some of the questions pondered are if a person behaves a certain way to be accepted or commits an act because it is accepted amongst their society.
They mainly study how other people affect a person. Some studies look at how male and female roles relate to their respective emotion or how job status relates to their ambitions. In this perspective violence does not reside in instincts or brain waves, but instead, in cultural rules and political arrangements.
These five perspectives are similar in that all try to determine what cause certain behavior traits, though they all approach their explanations differently. The biological and cognitive perspectives both look at the physiological aspects of behavior. The learning and sociocultural perspectives look at how society affects a person’s behavior. With the exception of the psychodynamic perspective, the other disciplines focus on a scientific approach, many of their theories being able to be tested for accuracy. Each of these perspectives has their strong supporters as well as their strong critics. Regardless of opinion, these are the main perspectives and more than likely a psychologist has roots in one of these psychological perspectives.