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Psychodynamic Approach and Behaviourism

Info: 2293 words (9 pages) Essay
Published: 19th May 2017 in Psychology

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Compare and contrast two approaches to psychology, highlighting the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of each approach

Psychodynamic approach use concepts which are purely psychological and not physiological. This approach ignores the scientific method of observation and instead focuses on trying to get inside the mind of an individual, in order to understand their experiences and relationships. Sigmund Freud (1896) was the founder of the psychoanalytical approach, his theory focuses on the unconscious mind and how this affects an individual’s behaviour. Freud believed that an individual’s personality was made up of three parts with two main drivers called Eros and Thanatos. The three main personalities are the ID which is present at birth and consists of basic impulses such as the need to feed, drink and avoid pain. ID seeks immediate gratification of these impulses, no matter what the external situation may be. The ego develops as the child realises that gratification cannot always be immediate, and certain actions will be punished such as hitting another child. The ego decides when the impulses if the ID will be satisfied and how that will be done, the ego does this by mediating between ID’s demands and reality. The super ego is the final part of the personality to develop; the super ego decides what is right and wrong and is the inner representation of the morals and values. This develops through parental rewards and punishments. As an individual grows the super ego also incorporates the morals and values of society an example of this is stealing, as instead of the parents telling their child it is wrong to steal the super ego will tell the child it is wrong to do this. Freud believed that by violating the super egos standards will cause the individual to feel anxiety which is caused by the unconscious mind. Freud believed these three parts of the personality are in constant conflict, as the ego does not allow the immediate gratification of the ID and the super ego is in conflict with both the ID and the ego as the behaviour of these often falls short of the moral code it represents. In order for the individual to cope with this inner turmoil and avoid anxiety Freud and his daughter Anna Freud found several coping mechanisms, which Freud called ‘defence mechanisms.’ These are repression which represses harmful or painful memories from the conscious mind; rationalisation is to find socially desirable reasons for the individuals actions; reaction formation which is when the individual conceals the true reason and strongly express the opposite; projection, this is when an individual projects their actions onto other individuals; intellectualisation attempts to detach from a stressful situation; denial is when an individual refuses to recognise an unpleasant reality and finally displacement involves an individual redirecting their actions somewhere else. The psychodynamic approach includes both Freud’s theories and the theories of his followers, who although agree with the Freud’s basic theories on motivation, which means behaviour is motivated by mental processes, and some of this is outside of the individuals awareness, and also personality in which they view behaviour as part of a coherent whole and reflects both current motivation and past experiences. These theorist also view the conflicting elements of the unconscious mind differently, an example of this is Carl Jung (1912) who emphasised that conflict was between the ego and the collective unconscious.

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As with the psychodynamic approach Behaviourism is a combination of different theories, who share the same basic beliefs. All behaviourists believe all individuals are born tabula rasa and have no pre-conceived behaviours. Another shared belief is that an individual’s personality is shaped by environmental stimuli and learned responses. Behaviourists also believe in using only a scientific method in their research and that this can only be done through observations which are carried out in a controlled laboratory setting, they also use animals in their experiments as this does not raise any ethical issues. The three main psychologists of this approach are described below. Behaviourism was founded by John Broadus Watson (1878-1958), who was inspired by the work of Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) who originally began researching the dog’s digestion system, which lead him to his theory on classical conditioning. This is a learned response in which Pavlov conditioned a dog to salivate when hearing a bell as the dog learned to associate the sound to food without seeing it. His work paved the way for a new more objective science. During 1913 Watson published his first book on classical conditioning, in this he argues that classical conditioning was able to explain all aspects of human psychology, he also denied completely the existence of the mind of body in determining an individual’s behaviour, as it cannot be scientifically tested. In 1920 Watson and Rayner carried out an experiment which they called Little Hans. Both Rayner and Watson were successful in their experiment, which involved classically conditioning Little Hans to have a phobia of mice and other small furry animals and toys. This experiment would be highly unethical in today’s society. Watson also identified that stimulus-response connections are the basic foundations of behaviour and a complete understanding of behaviour, he argued, can be built up from the systematic study of stimulus-response and how they combine. This approach is referred to as a reductionist theory. Following Watson’s research on stimulus-response connections was Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904-1990), who investigated operant conditioning, this study was also influenced by Edwin L Thorndike’s law of effect principle, which is a principle of learning that states any response that leads to a satisfying outcome for the individual or animal is likely to be repeated and responses that lead to an unpleasant outcome are not likely to be repeated. (Glassman et al 2009) In 1930 Skinner studied voluntary and involuntary behaviour and argued that all behaviour occurs for a reason, and identified three main behaviour shaping techniques which are positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement and punishment.

By comparing the different theories it is apparent that both behaviourism and the psychodynamic approach believe that an individual’s current behaviour is determined by past experiences. However behaviourists infer that an individual’s action is a result of influences through past experience albeit through conditional learning therefore it is the consequences of previous behaviours, i.e., punishments and reinforcements. Whereas the psychodynamic approach believes behaviour is controlled biologically by unconscious instincts, the ID, ego and super ego that are related with early childhood experiences which effect adult life. However even in this area it should be noted that behaviourists don’t take into account internal personality structures as do the psychodynamic approach as they cannot be scientifically observed but instead focus upon response tendencies and personality development. Behaviourists focus upon a child’s response to situations through classical, operant and observational conditioning which influences future acts. However as it portrays elicit reactions and there are other responses to stimuli, that do not respond in this way but rather are emitted as a volunteered response to consequences Skinner (1953, 1974, 1990). Therefore all behaviourists believe that all behaviour is learnt, as the consequence of actions and have been ingrained within a person through positive and negative reinforcement that influence an adult’s reaction to a situation. Watson famously stated

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select – doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and the race of his ancestors”. (Watson, 1924, p. 104)

The idealism of this statement shows that individuals are not shaped by genetics, and that any individual given the right learning environment can achieve anything they wish to be.

Another major difference between the behaviourist approach and psychodynamic approach is the source of their material used to conduct research, as behaviourism is based on a scientific methodology and follows the principles of being observable which enables the research to gain measurable responses from physical stimuli as well as having both high reliability and validity, behaviourists do not study internal behaviour because of its inability to be measured therefore denying the existence of the mind, behaviourist criticise the psychodynamic approach as Freud’s theories are seen as subjective, unfalsifiable and scientifically unstudyable for example, how can research be taken on the perspectives of an unconscious mind or tripartite personality. However they do not study internal behaviour because of its inability to be qualified or measures although they do not deny that there may be other influencing brain functions i.e. Cognition. On this they argue that any behaviour can be predicted from related events regardless of any invisible factors. In contrast to this belief is the psychodynamic approach as its main focus is on the thoughts and feeling of the individual and how the individual’s childhood experiences have contributed to that individual’s behaviour. The psychodynamic also use different methods of investigation by using assumptions and hypotheses based around psychodynamic forces which help to determine and predict behaviours within an individual and focuses on getting inside the head of an individual to try to gain an understanding that individuals thoughts and feeling about relationships and the world, this is done through several methods including free association, analysis of resistance, dream analysis, and case studies, which behaviourists argue are to individually centred to be generalised to the rest of the population.

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Psychodynamic theorists also do not use animals in the research as they believe the human mind is a more complex process than that of an animals, however behaviourists argue that by using an animal it is a more pure form as the animal will have no pre-conceived thoughts for example an individual may be more concerned with making the researcher look bad than actually helping with the research, the psychodynamic approach also criticises behaviourism as they do not take into account the unconscious mind. Another contrast between these two approaches is the Psychodynamics approach assumes that a person is born with the two instincts Eros (the life and sexual instinct) and Thanatos (the aggressive instinct) and they are therefore an integral part of a person’s personality from birth. Whereas Skinner and Watson assume that people are born with a blank slate (tabula rasa) and all behaviour is learned from the environment which confirms that the behaviourist approach disagrees with innate behaviour assumptions such as instincts. Within the behaviourist approach Skinner and Watson only study external observable behaviour that can be objectively measured and believe Internal behaviour, like personality, cannot be seen or measured and should not be considered. In contrast the psychodynamic approach believes that people have a tripartite personality, which is made up of the ID, ego and superego which should be used to highlight innate personality as they believe inner experiences impact on how individuals react differently to similar situations, however this approach emphasises on what experiences the individual has had in childhood and that past experience has been “locked away” somewhere in the abyss of the individuals mind, but is influential nonetheless. They also believe that our behaviour and feelings as adults come from childhood experiences. However this has been criticised by behaviourists as being unscientific with no evidence to support the ideas or theories by the behaviourists approach. The evidence provided by Freud has itself been criticised as being biased or made to “fit” his own theories, i.e. his interpretation of the little Hans case study to fit in with his theory of Oedipus complex.

In conclusion both the behaviourism and the psychodynamic approach have both contributed hugely to the understanding and development of psychology. Although they commit to the study of psychology in different ways, both approaches have produced therapies which are still in use today. Behaviourist studies of operant conditioning language therapy with autistic children have indicated that behavioural techniques may be important in increasing the language skills of such children. In the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorder (1982), researched operant conditioning speech therapy in autistic children, this study showed that post treated children did show a significant increase in pre-speech, however although this study showed an improvement in the child’s speech there was no evidence of any further improvement after treatment. The psychodynamic approach is also produced important and useful therapies ranging from depression, anxiety and mental disorders as well as aid in overcoming substance abuse.


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