The history of psychology consists of several differing philosophies and models believed to comprise of fundamental definitions that assist in unraveling the mysteries of human behaviour and development. In this Essay I will identify two schools of psychology. The first Psychology school chosen to research is that of Humanism describing Abraham Maslow's theory in relation to his Hierarchy of needs. The second school chosen is that of Behaviorism explaining Bernard F Skinner's theory in relation to operant conditioning. For each school and theory, I will specify relevance to nature versus nurture followed by demonstrating contrasts and comparisons of both schools whilst explaining the application of both theories in a practice environment. I will take in to consideration cross cultural aspects of these theories signifying implications in relation to gender, age or disability. Lastly, I will conclude the essay by illustrating an understanding of my new found knowledge and learning's.
The Humanist school has had an impact on psychology by "highlighting the importance of subjective views of oneself and for confronting the question of what makes for a healthy personality" (Weiten, 2007, p. 491); Humanistic methodologies focuses on distinctively human aspects of personality (Weiten, 2007). Abraham Maslow's theory for personality development involved the belief that a healthy personality starts with exceptional mental health (Weiten, 2007). Maslow believed that in order to experience this, you must reach a sense of self-actualisation which is the need to realise one's own human potential as depicted in his "Hierarchy of needs". This model has five levels consisting of both psychological and physiological needs. Maslow believed that "once a person manages to satisfy a level of needs that this satisfaction will activate needs in the next level" (Weiten, 2007, p. 488). The last of the levels is discovering self-actualisation. According to Maslow's theory, once at this level, individuals experience a profound sense of reality produced from one's own personal experiences and continued self-growth (Weiten, 2007). In regards to the Nature and nurture debate, Maslow's theory is that of "Nurture"; "he believed people have no fixed nature and must therefore create themselves "(Burton, L. 2009, p. 15). Maslow believed that personality is not predetermined by genetics but is influenced by our environment and how we choose to manage life's many obstacles and experiences.
The Behaviourist school has had an impact on psychology by focusing on observational learning. It studies the way environmental events control behaviour through experimenting and only taking in to account observable reactions or responses (Weiten, 2007). The term Behaviour refers to all of a person's overt actions that others can directly observe.
Bernard. F. Skinner; specialised in Behavioural psychology. Skinners theory involved the belief that humans did not have free choice - rather that we are products of our conditioning, or schedules of reinforcement as he believed behaviour is controlled by operant conditioning. This model implies that learning occurs because responses come to be influenced by the outcomes that follow them suggesting that operant conditioning is attained through voluntary responses (Weiten, 2007). For example, if the behaviour is positive, the consequences will also be positive. "Essentially, Skinner's theory states that good behaviour is reinforced while bad behaviour is reprimanded. This states that not only is good behaviour rewarded, but the subject can learn to manipulate the system by continuing the positive behaviour so that reinforcement is consistently given" (Dany, Yahoo.com, 2006).
In regards to the nature and nurture debate, Skinners theory is based around that of "nurture"; He alleged "there is no place in a scientific analysis of behaviour for a mind or self" (B.F.Skinner, 1990, p. 1209) He claimed "that behaviour is learned and selected by environmental consequences" (Burton, L. 2009, p. 24). Therefore, this model and theory eliminates all likelihood of nature being a contributory influential component.
Maslow's theory is based around motivation; he believed that each individual had the innate need to want to strive for personal excellence gained through self-growth and personal experience. He believed we adaptively or maladaptively learnt to deal with life's experiences and situations in order to reach our full potential. Maslow believed that we needed both basic psychological and physiological needs meet before we could attain what he thought was the pinnacle of developed mental health; Maslow also believed in unconscious motivation. Unconscious Motivation refers to hidden and unknown desires that are the real reasons for things that people do. Skinner did not believe in the power of the unconscious and its effects on human behaviour. Skinners theory also has "less applicability when the clients concerns or problems are related primarily to decision making, value conflicts and distorted thinking" (Bradford, 2008, p. 97). This could contribute to a less empathetic attitude to the situation or client whereas Maslow's approach took those elements into consideration as they are believed to be a dominant factor in Humanistic development theory. (Bradford, 2008, p. 97).
Like Maslow, Skinner believed that personality behaviour consisted more of nurture than nature but unlike Maslow, Skinner believed that behaviour is purely shaped through conditioning as opposed to believing that individuals possess inborn intuition of behaviour. Like Maslow's five stage hierarchy of needs, Skinner also identified three levels of behaviour in regards to types of responses resulting from operant conditioning that can aid in subsequent behaviour. "One being Neutral operants, second being reinforcers and thirdly, Punishers (Mcleod, 2007). Understanding these concepts of behaviour in Skinners theory and understanding Maslow's stages in his hierarchy of needs both have in common the passion to understanding human behaviour but from two dissimilar interpretations. One theory does not have more precedence over the other as each theory will apply to different client's situation and needs. However, it has been argued that Maslow's theory is only applicable in predominantly white western ideology and cultures where Skinners theory is perceived to be more significant and feasible in today's societies.
Maslow's theory can be applied to social work practices as a self-motivational, group motivational or goal setting tool. An example of a this theory being used as a self-motivational encourager in a social work environment would be helping people to interpret and realise that their own selves are valid and worthwhile which is a positive start to realising one's own potential. This initiation influences positive goal setting which aids in continued self-growth and discovery. In a group environment, the Humanistic approach can influence new beginnings as the principles allow peoples participation in working together on an equal basis to help achieve a common purpose or goal (Payne, 2005). This theory can also be considered from a strength perspective meaning it is an "orientation or a philosophical stance that anticipates the existence of positive and constructive elements" (Bradford, 2008, p. 97). It encourages the social worker to look for these elements ensuring that they are used during the helping process; recognising these strengths can increase client motivation revealing new possibilities. This encourages a helping relationship between social worker and client that is collaborative in nature; the basis of a strong foundation in which to build upon.
Skinners theory can be applied to social work practices as a learning tool. For example, as an intervention objective it can be used to learn a new behaviour or modify an existing one (Bradford, 2008); operant conditioning can be put into practice when there is need to increase desired behaviour or reduce undesired behaviour/s in a client. It can be used to change (train) thoughts and feelings which can influence a client's behaviour. For instance, the client can be taught how to modify his or her own behaviour through self-administration of reinforces (Bradford, 2008). This theory can also be used to help a client understand why they do the things they do which can help target certain problem areas in their behavioural patterns. With this clearer understanding comes a need to discover new ways to rectify and change certain behaviour as only when you understand why you behave the way you do can you see clearly what steps and changes need to be made. This is only possible through close observation leading to an improved understanding of your behaviour because you will be more self-aware.
A cross cultural aspect for Maslow's theory in regards to race is that his theory was developed around white male psychologists where the theory was based on findings from white middle class university students. In today's multi-cultural societies, Maslow's theory may not suite other races or cultures outside of white westernised culture; for example, those from far eastern countries have different views, values and beliefs on how life should be lived and abided by. They may have their own ideology of what achieving happiness is and the path to reach this may be different as well; Maslow may have five levels, Eastern cultures may have three which omit needs and necessities mentioned in Maslow's theory. For example, many eastern cultures have strong spiritual beliefs that differ from westernised spiritual beliefs; this can influence greatly the way in which a culture or society views or chooses its norms and guidelines in which it exists by. The implication of this is that Maslow's theory or parts of it may not apply to a client who associates with a different culture or background as they may find it restricting or completely unusable for their needs and way of life. Another example of an implication to Maslow's theory in regards to race is that westernised culture is based around very individualistic needs whereas many other cultures believe working together as a collective group is a main contributory factor in achieving happiness.
A cross cultural aspect of Skinners theory in regards to other races and cultures is that language barriers and differences can cause people to behave in different ways that are considered to be un-normal in western culture and societies as language determines the way we see and think about the world. From a behaviourist view using operant conditioning as a helping tool with a client from a different race where English is not their first language could cause undesired effects; for example, the way in which you approach a client experiencing communication difficulties due to a language barrier may interoperate your body language first instead of understanding the actual words you have used. This could cause the client to react or respond in a completely different way than anticipated as other cultures communicate more through body language and gestures whereas westernised cultures speak forthrightly and the words we use are the main focus. The implication of this is that a behaviourist may misinterpret a client's reactions or behaviours when trying to determine behavioural or target behavioural patterns where adjustment is needed. Missing these queues could mean on-going problems for the client as the attention needed to help in certain areas of their lives could be missed.
In conclusion to this essay, I believe I have shown a good depth of understanding in how the school of Humanism coincides with Abraham Maslow's theory in relation to his hierarchy of needs and how the school of Behaviour is strongly influenced by Bernard.F.Skinners theory on operant conditioning. I now feel that I have gained a deeper knowledge of how Humanism and Behaviourism are relevant to that of nurture and how they can both be applied to Social work practices. I believe I have demonstrated an appropriate understanding of how both schools and theories could have implications when used in a situation where the client is from a different culture or race as I did not entirely comprehend these situations before now. Due to this essay, I now feel a profound appreciation for those who strived before us in the endeavour to unravel the many intricacies of Psychology as I see now that there are no limits to understanding Psychology which makes it all the more fascinating to learn.