Psychology Essays - Personal Construct

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Perspectives onPsychological Frameworks: A Comparison of Psychodynamic,Socio-Cognitive and Personal Construct Theories with Regards to Thoughts,Emotion and Behavior

Compare Freuds psychdynamic theory,socio-cognitive theories of Miscel and bandura and personal construct theoriesof C. Rogers and G. Kelly, compare these theories regarding their emphasis onthoughts, feelings and actions.

Introduction - Are there any 'right' answers?

As onebegins to study psychology, it becomes more and more apparent that manytheories are seemingly quite in opposition to one another. There are manylogical approaches that lead to this discovery: one could begin from thehistorical perspective and work forward, in the process finding a continualevolution of theorists and perspectives. One could also simply take a specificpathology such as depression and seek to find a therapeutic intervention. Bydoing so, one quickly discovers multiple approaches to the understanding of theetiology as well as recommended modalities of treatment. One could also take aphilosophical approach in terms of key fundamental beliefs about the nature ofman. Is man a tabula rosa, does he come hard-wired with certain alreadydefined traits, predispositions and instinctual drives, or rather does he amuch more cognitive creature, constantly reinterpreting a his version ofreality?

Though psychology may have the noble goal of understanding,predicting and influencing human behavior, making sense of a science that isuniquely and simultaneously quantitative and qualitative brings with it a complexand often conflicting paradigms. In order to achieve the objectives ofpsychology, one must carefully examine each for the insight that it can bring.Following this, though one may not be able to construct a fully cohesive theoryof behavior, it is possible to have an 'adaptive toolbox' by which it ispossible to understand, if not predict, a far greater portion of the range ofhuman behavior.

In reviewing the theories that attempt to provide these answers,there are a few that stand out due to both their historic influence on thescience as well as their ability to explain behavior. Though many theories canexplain what happened, the real test of a theory is in its ability toaccurately describe why an event occurred and, even further, to become avalid predictor of future behaviors. Without spoiling the narrative, itis likely no surprise that there is no one coherent theory that consistentlymeets all of these criteria. Were it that simple, the study of psychologywould consist solely of that one perfect theory. As such, it becomes necessaryto closely examine different theories, each of which makes a contribution tothe body of knowledge necessary to have even a basic grasp why people are asthey are.

On Freud & the Psychoanalytic School- The Emphasis of the Unseen

One would be hard pressed to find a figure that has had a greaterimpact on any field than that of Sigmund Freud on psychology. A keycontribution of Freud is that the proposition of hypothetical structures bywhich one could explain behavior. The basis for this was that most thoughtsand motivations exist in the unconscious, that is, a person is not consciouslyaware of them but they are nonetheless affected. The unconscious is composedof three psychical structures: the id, ego and the superego. The id is thesource of energy and drive, seeking pleasure and avoidance of pain. The egorepresents the more rational component of the unconscious in that it measuresthe will of the id with the realities of constraints of external environment.Finally, the superego is the 'cop' of the two previous structures in that itimposes values and ethics instilled by parents during early childhood on thedesires of the id and the rational (in terms of self-preservation, notnecessarily with regards to morals) ego (Mischel, 1971, pp.31-32).

Whenthese structures 'disagree', that is, when there is conflict caused by thepsychical struggle of being essentially denied the opportunity to pursue ahedonistic goal that might be against the ego's desire of self-preservation orthe superego's restrictive moral regulations, anxiety results. As thesestruggles occur in the unseen, unaware area of psychical space, they dononetheless produce behaviorally or somatically symptomatic effects. Thisconflict can express itself as frustration or anxiety in which there existstension between these three structures which a person seeks to reduce by theexpenditure of this pent up psychic energy directed to the pursuit of its ownself-seeking pleasure that is being restrained (Strachey, 1959, p. 21).

If it cannot be released 'safely', these inner urges, almost alwaysof a sexual or aggressive nature, finds ways to be released. In the eventthat it cannot be immediately released, it is either deferred by the realityprinciple of the ego or it expresses itself through anxiety coping strategiesknown as defense mechanisms (Strachey, 1959, p. 26; Gleitman, 1986,pp.419-420).

The initial mechanism is repression. Repression simply is theunwilling yet continued deferment that simply creates more anxiety.Consequently, other mechanisms such as displacement are employed. Displacementinvolves the acting out or release of frustrations upon some other, saferobject than the true source of the conflict. For example, stereotypicalemployee who is chewed out by a supervisor who comes home and kicks the dog.While certainly not good for the animal, it is an outlet which provides the mana release of his psychical energy while not involving law enforcement officersas it would were he to strike his spouse instead. Hence, in this example wesee the goals of both the id and the ego achieved though may still conflict asthe superego is fully satisfied with the outcome, a situation that can befurther remedied if our example man were to work his frustrations out throughan inanimate object rather than a living creature.

While there are numerous defense mechanisms, one of Freud's chiefworks is The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. In this tome, Freud deployshis psychodynamic structures to explain behaviors that are the result ofunconscious conflict but less severe than would qualify as psychotic in whichthere is more of a full departure from the constraints of external reality.For example, the term Freudian slip has been given to errors in speech inwhich the id sneaks out and the secret desire is given an accidental vocalexpression (Brill, 1938, pp. 69-72).

As the unconscious is unseen, it is the job of the therapistschooled in psychoanalytic techniques to draw out the true source of conflict.This is principally achieved by the process of interpretation and representingthe unconscious material to the conscious client for consideration and rationalresolution. Discerning these sources of conflict in the unconscious is done bycareful attention to areas in which the patient expresses resistance towardsinquiry and resolution and by errors in speech, forgotten memories or falserecollections that contribute to the indication of repressed conflict (Brill,1938, pp. 38-40).

Such repressed feelings, in addition to occasionally slipping out,can also be elicited by specific modalities such as free association, play, theinterpretation of dreams or even hypnosis. Each of these is based upon theidea that the unconscious exists and, when there is conflict, represses it realurges that can nonetheless be teased out by working around an individualsinability to completely mask these feelings. These feelings result infrustration which expresses itself, according to Freud, in any manner of activitiesand ideas which bring about relief so that we are not blaming ourselves andbearing resultant stress but displacing our own inadequacies and lack ofcapabilities upon another. In Future of an Illusion (1927), Freudposits perhaps the ultimate displacement in which, man, in his attempts andsubsequent frustration to influence death, the weather and other uncontrollableexternal phenomena, created a human-like god in his own image by which he couldpray and issue appeals. The futility of this concept led Freud to concludethat belief in religion was infantile and that his psychoanalytic technique,if not absolutely correct, was certainly in the right direction (Black, 2000,p. 14).

The psychodynamic approach, whether ultimately correct or not, has givenpsychologist of all 'denominations' a rich vocabulary and, at the very least,at starting point from which disagreement is possible. A chief source ofcontention with Freud is his emphasis upon sexual issues in early childhood.Critics reference Freud's preoccupation with this angle of pathology with hisown statements that, no neurosis is possible in a wholly normal sexual life(Strachey, 1959, p. 17). While Freud insisted that he found physical andpsychical activity of a definite sexual nature in the earliest stages ofchildhood, his stand on this issue likely had the unintended effect ofdirecting psychologist in other directions to search for the elusive andhopefully, more socially acceptable, means to understand human behavior. Itwas this type of encouragement that led subsequent scientists to postulateadditional corollaries and theorems.

Personal Construct Theory - Who am I?

One clear example of extensions of many of Freud's ideas can be seenin what is termed phenomenological approaches to the mysteries of behavior.Such theories have a primarily internal motivational system as well as theconstructs of psychical structures and the principles that incongruence inthese systems produces anxiety. While still emphasizing an internal, unseenmotivation impetus, a phenomenological theory deemphasizes the past and focuseson one's current situational experiences.

Onemethod utilized to elucidate the concepts of this approach is to highlightpoints of differentiation between this approach and the psychoanalytic school.One such difference that is readily discernable is that in the psychoanalyticapproach, motivations are somewhat constant and not limited to sexual oraggressive themes. Rather, Allport, a primary proponent of such an approach,advocates a system in which motivations are discontinuous throughout a person'slife. Taking this one step further from Freudian psychology, Allport describesmature, adult motives as being not necessarily tied to any specific unfulfilledbiological desire (Mischel, 1976, p. 100).

Additionally,phenomenological approaches stress the unique experiential perspective of theperson in question. The well-articulated of Carl Rogers is that, behavior isbasically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs asexperienced, in the field as perceived (Rogers, 1951, p. 491 as cited inMischel, 1976, p. 104). A key notion of this idea, like Freud's psychicalstructures, the idea of the self. This concept of a self is an organized,consistent, conceptual gestalt composed of perceptions of the characteristicsof I or me and the perceptions of the I or me relative to others and tovarious aspects of life (Rogers, 1959, p. 200 as cited in Mischel, 1976, p.105).

An additionaltenet of the self is that, somewhat like Freud's superego, it becomespossessed of values. Also like the superego or the ego, the one's self canbe in conflict with one's values and can also similarly cause stress andanxiety resultant from this conflict. Though such a seemingly Freudian exampleas potty training, psychical conflict can be resolved by an accommodationprocess in which the parents learn to accept the child's feelings in it'ssituation and the child comes to adopt or adapt to the imposed value system ofthe parents.

Goingto one step further, Kelly's Personal Construct Theory takes the experientialaspect of the phenomenological approach and essentially makes it'client-centric' in that it seeks to gain information from the person and thenfind a way to make sense of it rather than trying to first gather informationfrom a bias perspective of a specific approach. By seeking to understand ascenario from the understanding of the client, it is possible to see thatcertain behaviors are rational, given the circumstances (Mishcel, 1976, pp.108-109). One method understanding behavior utilizing this framework islabeled constructive alternativism. By using this method, one seeks forunderstanding of the another's perspective (i.e, the patient) by looking forwhat that person gains from having such a perspective. By understanding theconvenience or utility of a specific construction, one can then examine theoutcomes and rationally seek alternative means of cognitively interpretingexperiences (Mischel, 1976, p.110).

In addition, phenomenological approaches emphasize roles. Thatis, a role is simply a predetermined perspective that forces one to consider anevent from an additional point of view thereby often changing theinterpretation of the event (Mischel, 1976, p. 111).

An extension of Kelly's contributions to the phenomenologicalapproach to understanding behavior is that of Abraham Maslow's ubiquitoushierarchy of needs. According to this approach, an individual's motivationis not necessarily from repressed conflict but rather is expressed positivelyas a continual striving to be self-actualized. Self-actualization is at thetop of the hierarchy of needs and, as such, cannot be achieved until lowerneeds such as basic food and shelter, security and stability can be satisfied.

In regards to treatment, by necessity of the perspective which itadvocates, phenomenological approaches are very client-centered. A posit ofthis view is that the therapist does not interpret what is heard or observedbut rather the therapist clarifies and re-presents it to the client so thatthey may be aware of it. By this approach, the therapist brings an externalperspective to what had been an inner experience and the client can reinterpretthe material for themselves (Gleitman, 1986, pp. 703-704).

Behaviorism- A Contrast in Motivation from Psychodynamics

If psychodynamic theory and the phenomenological approach, bothfocused on the 'inner experiences' of an individual in order to explainbehavior, can be thought of as being on one end of a continuum ofunderstanding, the opposite side would be occupied by a behaviorist approach. Accordingto this paradigm, in its purest form, behaviors can be reduced to a simplepairing of a stimulus and a response. Such an outlook forms the basis foroperant conditioning made famous by such scientists as Pavlov and Skinner.These pure behaviorists esteemed the view that essentially all learning isdriven by the consistent pairing of a stimulus and response and that behaviorcould be understood and manipulated by an understanding of the operatingparameters of the experiment and the reinforcement schedules employed (Bolles,1979, p. 38 & p. 121).

From abehaviorist viewpoint, there are four means by which subjects learn andbehavior can be reinforced or extinguished:

  • Presentation of a positive stimulus - a traditional reward in which a desired behavior is paired with an object of desire such as a food pellet or love and acceptance (Bandura, 1969, p. 217, 225-226; Bolles, 1979, p. 122).
  • Removal of a positive stimulus - This is akin to a revoking of a privilege or a time-out in that unless performance is achieved, the reward is not enjoyed. (Bandura, 1969, p. 217, 225-226; Bolles, 1979, p. 122).
  • Presentation of a negative stimulus - Typically viewed as punishment, this can represent electric shocks, spanking or the combination of any undesirable consequence with substandard performance (Bandura, 1969, pp. 295-296; Bolles, 1979, p. 122).
  • Removal of negative stimulus - This is essentially the same as the presentation of a positive reinforcer in that the removal of a negative constitutes a positive.

These methods,along with various reinforcement schedules such as continuous fixed-interval,continuous variable-interval and continuous reinforcement not only haveexplanative power in terms of explaining past behaviors but are useful ininfluencing current behaviors. For example, consider the application in twocommon methods of discipline in child-rearing: spanking and time-out. Thetheoretical basis for each is readily understood through a behavioral perspective:spanking is a punishment while time-out is simply the removal of a positivestimulus.

By utilizingbehavior techniques such as shaping and modeling and various types ofcontingent incentive systems, it is possible to train complex and specificbehaviors. Though it may seem quite obvious for lab rats and dog training,behaviorism also has far reaching consequences for understanding andmanipulating human behavior. From the previously mentioned child-rearing tocomplex systems of compensation in organizations and consumer purchasingbehavior, it is apparent that you get what you reward (Foxall, 1993, pp. 7-8;Kerr, 1995, pp. 7-10).

Additionally,behaviorism has proven its utility in a number of deviant or pathologicalconditions ranging from anxiety to alcoholism and sexual deviance to overeatingand obesity related disorders. In each case, situations are analyzed todetermine what reinforcers are currently operating. Following this, anassessment of the most applicable techniques such as aversive conditioning,behavior shaping, or incentive systems are implemented and reviewed as necessaryto ensure compliance.

Contrastingbehaviorism with its emphasis on external cues for behavior and thepsychodynamic approach which emphasizes the internal, instinctual motivationaldrive, it becomes apparent that a something of a hybridized approach should betheorized. Social learning theory seeks to provide such a unifiedperpespective.

Social Learning Theory - In context: Internal Attenuation of External Stimuli

Perhapsbest stated by Bandura in his work, Social Learning Theory (1977, p. vii),social learning theory approaches the explanation of human behavior in termsof a continuous reciprocal interaction between, cognitive, behavioral, andenvironmental determinants. This system acknowledges that learning by operantconditioning occurs yet is tempered by internal cognitive processes anddrives. The behavioral component serves to both motivate and reinforce certainbehaviors but social learning goes one step further, indicating that peoplelearn from observation of the environment by modeling. From a behavioristperspective, it might be akin to a sort of vicarious learning scenario in whichpeople learn by witnessing the reinforcement schemes that apply to others. Bydoing so, a persons own inhibitions and motivations are strengthened (Bandura,1977, p. 49).

Though one could potentially label the internal self-regulation ofactivity as simply a self-deployed contingent reinforcement system, sociallearning theory postulates that there is a separate, more cognitive aspect ofthis type of motivation in which people choose for themselves which outcomesthey desire based upon such factors as how they feel about their own level ofachievement. Thus, the accuracy of their self-perception features a hallmarkof the Roger's phenomenological approach yet is still viewed within an almostSkinnerian context of behavioral reinforcers creating a synthesis of these twosystems (Mischel, 1976, p. 94; Bandura, 1977, pp. 138-139).

Social learning theorists explain dysfunctional behavior in a waythat emphasizes the idea of self-regulation from the perspective of theattractiveness of rewards within the context of a dynamic environment. Acommon form of pathology in this school is unrealistic, inaccurate or excessivecomparisons with others. Such judgments lead to self-disparagement, depressionand low self-worth (Bandura, 1977, pp. 140-141).

Such lines of thought have led to the formulation of the idea thatself-efficacy is a key construct in the ability of people to both regulatephysically and adapt cognitively to their environments. Defined from thephenomenological perspective, self-efficacy is the perceptions and beliefsabout one's ability to influence or manipulate the environment to create adesired result (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). Self-efficacy is closely related toother key aspects of social learning theory such as self-control and locus ofcontrol issues that have bearing on behavioral outcomes.

Self-control can be defined as the ability of a person to regulate(temporarily repress from a psychodynamic perspective) one's desires for aparticular course of action in lieu of an alternative choice that may be moreor less attractive for any number of reasons. One example of this comes fromthe work of Mischel in experiments with school children on their ability toexercise self-control in choosing to delay gratification for a larger deferredreward over a smaller yet immediate incentive. This research revealed a numberof factor influencing the children's' choices including the apparent trust ofthe experimenter to actually deliver a reward later, the age of the childrenand the extent to which the object was visible and tempting to them.Further, it became evident that some children (older and wiser) employstrategies such as distracting themselves in order to defer gratification sothat waiting was an easier choice. Similarly, some children developed seemingcontra-strategies in which they apparently hampered their ability to cope withthe temptation and choose the smaller, more immediate reward (Mischel &Mischel, 1983, pp. 603-604; Mischel & Underwood, 1974, p.1083).

From research of this nature, Bandura concludes that psychologicalfrustration is not necessarily one's perceived inability to control outcomes orthe environment but rather it is the perceived inefficacy to control oneself ina contextual environment (Bandura, 1997, pp. 324-325). Coming full-circle topsychodynamic approaches, Tobacyk, Nagot & Miller (1988) conclude thatlocus-of-control, a closely related concept to self-efficacy, had a significantrelationship with the degree to which subjects held to beliefs in paranormal orsuperstitious activity (p. 241).Conclusion - Putting it all in Perspective

Clearly,there is no one right answer. However, that is also not to indicate that anyof the above approaches to solving the mysteries of human behavior areincorrect. Even without a printed table of the strengths and shortcomings ofeach, it becomes apparent that the advantage is in having a broad repertoire oftheories.

Thereare a number of great debates in the world of explaining behavior. The rangeof theories described in the preceding pages focus chiefly but on one: what isthe source of motivation? It seems that both the advocates of an internalsource and the disciples of external motives have voluminous research,explanatory power and therapeutic value to pathological conditions.

Anothergreat debate touched upon by these pages is that of nature vs. nuture. Is aman what you can make him or is he that what he is, a product of biology andearly childhood experiences? One simple, illustrative and insightfulexperiment to this great debate occurred when researchers created identicalgenetic clones of a few specific plant specimens. Researchers then plantedeach of these plants in differing yet hospitable environments. As one mightguess, the plants did not grow identically (Tobach & Rosoff, 1994, p54).While the extent to which plants can be induced to have guilt or behaviorallyconditioned, the analogy is applicable in that people, under varyingcircumstances are also likely to develop differently. Such a broad pattern ofeven normal development warrants that there be a number theories, all ofwhich might apply at one point or another, to explain the rich diversity ofhuman experience.

Works Consulted

1.     Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: TheExercise of Control. New York, New York: W.H. Freeman & Company.

2.     Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory.Englewood Cliffs: New Jersey.

3.     Bandura, A. (1969). Principles of BehaviorModification. New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

4.     Black, D. (2000). The Functioning of Religionsfrom a Modern Psychoanalytic Perspective. Mental Health, Religion &Culture,3(1), 13-26.

5.     Bolles, R. (1979). Learning Theory, 2ndEdition. New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

6.     Brill, A. (trans. & ed.). (1938). TheBasic Writings of Sigmund Freud. New York, New York: Random House.

7.     Foxall, G. (1993). A Behaviourist Perspectiveon Purchase & Consumption. European Journal of Marketing, 27(8),7-16.

8.     Freud, S. (1927). The Future of an Illusion.New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

9.     Gleitman, H. (1986). Psychology, 2ndEdition. New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

10.  Kerr, S. (1995, Feb). On the Folly of Rewarding A, while Hoping forB. The Academy of Management Executive, 9(1), pp. 7-16.

11.  Mischel, W. (1976). Introduction to Personality, 2ndEdition. New York, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

12.  Mischel, H. & W. Mischel. (1983). The Development of Children'sKnowledge of Self-Control Strategies. Child Development, 54, 603-619.

13.  Mischel, W. & B. Underwood. (1974). Instrumental Ideation inDelay of Gratification. Child Development, 45, 1083-1088.

14.  Strachey, S. (trans.). (1959). Beyond the Pleasure Principle.New York, New York: Bantam Books. [Originally published in 1920 by S. Freud].

15.  Tobach, E. & B. Rosoff. (eds.). ( 1994). Challenging Racismand Sexism: Alternatives to Genetic Explanations. New York, New York: TheFeminist Press.

16.  Tobacyk, J., E. Nagot, & M. Miller. (1988). Paranormal Beliefsand Locus of Control: A Multidimensional Examination. Journal ofPersonality Assessment, 52(2), 241-246.