Psychological Theories Essay, Research Paper
Psychological Theories and Theorists
In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt started the first laboratory for studying humans. This is the reason he is called the father of Psychology (F. McMahon, J. McMahon, and Romano 12). Since Wundt first started his laboratory there have been great strides made in the field of Psychology. Many theories about what the human is and how we develop have arisen. Some theories have come and gone, but four approaches have survived up to the present. I will discuss three of the four that have been of interest to me, in further detail.
The Behavioral Model dates back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. One of the first psychologists to lay the foundation for behaviorism was Edward Thorndike. He conducted different experiments on animal learning. In 1898 Thorndike conducted an experiment using cats. In this study he put cats in a cage, put food outside the cage, and timed how long it took the cats to learn how to unlock the door to get to the food. Continuing this over and over again, Thorndike found that the cats would repeat behaviors that worked successfully escaping more quickly each time. Soon thereafter he proposed the law of effect:
Of several responses made to the same situation, those which are accompanied or closely followed by satisfaction to the animal will, other things being equal, be firmly connected with the situation, so that, when it recurs, they will be more likely to recur; those which are accompanied or closely followed by discomfort to
the animal will, other things being equal, have their connections with that situation weakened, so that, when it recurs, they will be less likely to recur. The greater the satisfaction or discomfort, the greater the strengthening or weakening of the bond (Robinson 115-116).
What Thorndike didn t know was he was just starting to scrape the surface of behaviorism. Psychologists were starting to turn away from the research on the mental processes that they couldn t see and beginning to study behavior that could be observed directly. Among some of these psychologists was a man by the name of Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was one of the great pioneers of psychology even though he was a physiologist. In 1904 he received a Nobel Prize for his studies of digestion. What Pavlov didn t know was, he was about to stumble upon one of the most important principles of learning and behavior. In Pavlov s experiment he gave a dog food to evoke saliva flow. Pavlov found that if he rang a bell each time he fed the animal, the dog would eventually come to salivate in response to the bell alone. A conditioned reflex had been established. This form of learning called classical conditioning (also referred to as Pavlovian conditioning) in which a person or animal associates one stimulus for another. This theory was the basis for future behaviorists to conduct their research. One of Pavlov s followers was a man by the name of John Watson. Watson is considered by many to be the founder of behaviorism (Durand and Barlow 21). The experiment that people most associate with Watson is his experiment with a little boy named Albert. Watson and a colleague would show Albert a fluffy white rat. Albert was not afraid of the animal and enjoyed playing with it. However, each time the boy would reach for the rat the researchers would make a loud noise behind him. After about five times of this, Albert began to show fear each time the rat came near. The researchers then determined that Albert showed fear towards any white fluffy thing. This experiment was the first
example ever recorded in a laboratory of producing fear of an object not previously feared (Durand and Barlow 22). Watson s view of behaviorism can be summed up best in his opening paragraph from an article he wrote:
Psychology as the behaviorist views it is a purely objective natural science. Its theoretical goal is the prediction and control of behavior. Introspection forms no essential part of its methods, nor is the scientific value of its data dependent upon the readiness with which they lend themselves to interpretation in terms of consciousness. The behaviorist, in his efforts to get a unitary scheme of animal response, recognizes no dividing line between man and brute. The behavior of man, with all of its refinement and complexity, forms only a part of the behaviorist s total scheme of investigation (Fancher 319).
After Watson other behaviorists emerged with their theories of behaviorism. B.F. Skinner was one of the leading behaviorists of his time. In 1938 he published The Behavior of Organisms, in which he laid out the principles of operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a type of learning in which behavior changes as a function of what follows it (positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement). This idea is a lot like Thorndike s law of effect the only difference is Skinner took Thorndike s simple notations and developed them into a variety of complex ways to apply to many behaviors. Skinner was very influential in the behaviorist movement and in helping shape other theories of psychology. The important aspect of behaviorism is that the learner is viewed as adapting to the environment and learning is seen largely as a passive process in that there is no explicit treatment of interest in mental processes. The learner merely responds to the demands of the environment. The downside of behaviorism is it takes away from a person s free will. Another problem is that the theory doesn t take into account what is going on
in your life. Finally, the behaviorist theory sees us as little more than robots (B. McMahon, J. McMahon, and Romano 15).
Psychoanalysis is a system of viewing the individual as product of the unconscious. This theory developed by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century was the leading theory of its time. The theory did not emerge suddenly, nor was it a product of Freud s isolated genius. Developing over a period of several years. Based on psychodynamic principles, it seeks to bring about resolution of intrapsychic conflicts by strengthening the executive part of the personality (Encyclopedia Americana 735). Freud believed that people are motivated largely by unconscious forces, including strong sexual and aggressive impulses that are hidden in our unconscious from early childhood. According to Freud our unconscious mind consists of a structural model containing the id, ego, and superego. The id is the part of the unconscious that contains our animal instincts. The ego refers to the self. Finally the superego is the part of the unconscious that represents the internalized moral standards of parents and society. To probe the unconscious mind, Freud developed a technique called free association. In free association, the patient reclines and talks about thoughts, wishes, memories, and whatever else comes to mind. The analyst tries to interpret these verbalizations to determine their psychological significance. Freud encouraged patients to free associate about their dreams. According to Freud dreams are the royal road to the unconscious (Hunt 200).
From the start of psychoanalysis, Freud attracted followers, many of whom later proposed-competing theories. As a group, these neo-Freudians shared the assumption that the unconscious plays an important role in a person s thoughts and behaviors. Most parted company with Freud, however, over his emphasis on sex as the driving force. One such individual named Carl Jung theorized that all humans inherit a collective unconscious that contains universal
symbols and memories from their ancestral past. Alfred Adler theorized that people are primarily motivated to overcome inherent feelings of inferiority. He wrote about effects of birth order in the family and coined the term sibling rivalry (Durand and Barlow 18). Unlike Freud, both Jung and Adler believed that the basic quality of human nature is positive and that by removing barriers to both internal and external growth the individual would improve and flourish into self-actualization.
In the development of the psychoanalysis theory Freud had the greatest impact. When talking to an admirer, I am not a great man-I made a great discovery. This great discovery he referred to changed the direction modern psychology. L. S. Hernshaw writes:
[Freud] brought psychologists face to face with the whole range of human
problems, with the central questions that had been treated by great thinkers,
artists and writers from ancient times, but had been almost excluded from the arid
abstractions of the academic schools-with problems of love and hate, of happiness
and misery; with the turmoil of social discontent and violence, as well as the
trifling errors and slips of everyday existence; with the towering edifices of
religious belief as well as the petty, but tragic, tensions of family life
In the end Freud may have been being modest when he said he wasn t a great man, because only a great man could have made such a discovery.
Faced with a choice between psychoanalysis and behaviorism, many psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s sensed a void in psychology s conception of human nature. Freud had drawn attention to the darker forces of the unconscious, and Skinner was interested only in the effects of reinforcement on observable behavior. Humanistic psychology was born out of a desire to
understand the conscious mind, free will, human dignity, and the capacity for self-reflection and growth. An alternative to psychoanalysis and behaviorism, humanistic psychology became known as the third force (Robinson 237).
American psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow led the humanistic movement. According to Rogers, all humans are born with a drive to achieve their full capacity and to behave in ways that are consistent with their true selves. Rogers, a psychotherapist, developed person-centered therapy, a nonjudgmental, nondirective approach that helped clients clarify their sense of who they are in an effort to facilitate their own healing process (F. McMahon, J. McMahon, and Romano 16). At about the same time, Maslow theorized that all people are motivated to fulfill a hierarchy of needs. At the bottom of the hierarchy are basic physiological needs, such as hunger, thirst, and sleep. Further up the hierarchy are needs for safety and security, needs for belonging and love, and esteem-related needs for status and achievement. Maslow hypothesized that we cannot progress up the hierarchy until we have satisfied the needs at lower levels. Once these needs are met, Maslow believed people strive for self-actualization, the ultimate state of personal fulfillment (Durand and Barlow 20).
The humanistic model contributed relatively little new information to the field of psychology. One reason for this that its proponents, with some exceptions, have not been much interested in doing research that would discover or create new knowledge. Rather, they stress the unique experiences of the individual, emphasizing that people are more different than they are alike. The humanistic model found its greatest application among individuals without psychological disorders.
Many people think of psychologists as individuals who dispense advice, analyze personality, and help those who are troubled or mentally ill. But psychology is far more than the
treatment of personal problems. Psychologists strive to understand the mysteries of human nature-why people think, feel, and act as they do. If it were not for psychologists thinking in this way, the above mentioned theories would not exist. With the broad scope, psychology investigates an enormous range of phenomena. Psychologists conduct research on learning and memory, sensation and perception, motivation and emotion, thinking and language, personality and social behavior, intelligence, infancy and child development, mental illness, and much more. Taking an eclectic approach, borrowing a bits and pieces from different theories, psychologists are able to study all the different aspects of psychology.
Behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and humanism are just three of the early theories that have helped shape psychology as we know it. Psychologists such as Maslow, Rogers, Freud, Adler, and others are owed a great debt of gratitude for their persistence in their research. Through their capacity to manipulate symbols and to engage in reflective thought, people can generate novel ideas and innovative actions that transcend their past experiences. It is likely that theories of the future will, like those of the past, prove useful to humankind in ways ranging from trivial to the highly consequential. Finally, psychology in a far greater extent surely will satisfy the most truly of human desires, the wish to understand (Hunt 653).
Durand, Mark, and David Barlow. Ed. Abnormal Psychology: An Introduction. 2nd ed.
Canada: Wadsworth. 2000.
Encyclopedia America. Vol. 22. Connecticut: Grolier Inc. 1998.
Fancher, Raymond. Pioneers of Psychology. New York: Norton and Company, 1979.
Hunt, Morton. The Story of Psychology. New York: Doubleday, 1993.
McMahon, Frank, McMahon, Judith, and Tony Romano. Ed. Psychology and You.
Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1990.
Robinson, Daniel. Systems of Modern Psychology. New York: Columbia University Press,