If you haven't yet, please read the introduction to this series. It will fill you in on what you're getting into by reading this post.
Okay, this is the first essay that I wrote for my PSY-300 course. This essay was due before the first night of class, so there was no interaction with my professor before I wrote it. We had the typical reading assignment which is the main source for the material. I start out with a quick description of what Psychology is, then I describe the four primary perspectives that drive the discipline. We were not required to provide a critique of them, but I did anyway. As I mentioned in the introduction post, this was originally written in APA format, so I have edited it for emphasis and hyperlinks to help you along. Please follow the links if you want to get a tighter grasp of what I am talking about.
Here it is:
Psychology is a knowledge discipline that sprung from the tradition of philosophy. Specifically, psychology targets questions about human behavior that have been unanswered by philosophy alone. “Why do we do what we do; and why do we think what we think?” The Psychological enterprise started as an attempt to bring a more empirical perspective to the philosophical debate. As a result of its empirical tendencies, the study of the human brain is one of its bases. Today, four major perspectives of psychology dominate the behavioral side of the discipline. This paper will scratch the surface of the biological base of psychology and introduce the reader to the four dominant perspectives for human behavior.
The Nervous System
The brain is the control center for the entire human body. It controls everything from our movement to our emotions. By implication, it also controls human behavior. If human behavior is to be understood, then it would stand to reason that the inner workings of the brain must be studied. The brain can be described as a large network of wires that constantly transmits data (communicates) to every other part of the body; some communications are two-way, while others are only one-way either to or from the brain. This network is called the Nervous System. It is fascinating to find that the brain’s signals are actually electricity. Scientists have used this knowledge to stimulate different parts of the brain to obtain different reactions. All sensory organs (skin, eyes, ears, nose, tongue) take “input” from the external world and send that data to the brain. The brain processes it and either stores it for later retrieval or transmits signals to “output” body parts (muscles- including diaphragm, tongue, and jaw). The “output” is considered the behavior. However, to further understand “behavior”, psychologists need to understand how the brain processes its input and even determine if it is possible to generate its own “input” or “free thought”. The assumption will be made that the senses can be trusted to provide accurate information about the world as we continue with the different perspectives of behavior.
The Psychodynamic Perspective
The Psychodynamic perspective was first proposed by Sigmund Freud. The perspective, in its most basic form, states that all behavior is the result of unconscious interactions of thoughts and feelings with one another. It can be described in this simple phrase, “I think; therefore, I do.” The Psychodynamic perspective was initially adverse to science because it was less of an empirical theory. Today, though, it has been studied more using the scientific method and has provided some empirical evidence.
Behaviorism’s most familiar (at least to the public) supporter is B.F. Skinner. Behaviorism seems as if it was a reaction to the Psychodynamic perspective, because Behaviorism leaves no room for thoughts to affect behavior. Behaviorism posits that all behavior can be explained as a result of past experiences that left indelible marks on the subconscious, and behavior is a direct result of those imprints- no further reflection is added to the thought (memory) to possibly change the behavior of the individual. Because of this, Behaviorism is quite deterministic, which is incompatible with human free thought (the whole purpose behind the perspective). A perspective was developed that combines both the Psychodynamic perspective’s dependence on the mind and Behaviorism’s dependence on the environment.
The Cognitive perspective holds that human behavior is the result of the perspective of the person. This is a form of Behaviorism; however, it adds the person’s point of view to the equation. Since the person’s point of view (perspective) is figured in, it allows for both the environment and the mind to affect human behavior. Since both the Psychodynamic perspective and Behaviorism have verification in the real world, they both can be said to accurately reflect human behavior. However they are incompatible as complete theories on their own. The Cognitive theory might be able to unite them. The overriding strength of the Cognitive theory is that, since it employs perspective (as opposed to actual and comprehensive reality), it can account for the behavior of the theorists of all the other three perspectives, and thus, the existence of the different perspectives themselves. This can also be applied to itself and its developer(s). It also has the power to accommodate any and all future perspectives and specific theories. Unfortunately, when applied back upon itself, it also casts a shadow of doubt about its own reflection of reality, since it is (by its own definition) “a perspective.” The behavior of the theorist (the formation of the psychological perspective) may just be their perspective and not truly reflect reality.
The three previous perspectives focus primarily on the relatively recent state of human behavior. The Evolutionary perspective takes a slightly different approach to behavior. It pushes to determine where different behaviors originated. Like its biological cousin, the theory states that different behaviors are the result of random biological processes, and that natural selection eliminated life that had obtained behaviors counter to survival and survival of their offspring. This allowed for behavior to change gradually and arrive where it is today. The Evolutionary perspective can accommodate the Behavioral perspective due to its, at least partial, dependence on the environment. The Evolutionary perspective is also deterministic, which makes it incompatible with the Psychodynamic perspective. The Evolutionary perspective cannot accommodate the Cognitive perspective because of the absence of compatibility with free thought (the Psychodynamic perspective). A perspective is a limited perception of the whole. With only a limited amount of knowledge, free thought must be applied to determine how one should react to what was observed. However, the Cognitive perspective has plenty of room for the Evolutionary perspective.
All in all, none of these perspectives are complete. The Psychodynamic and Behavioral perspectives both deny the other, while both provide convincing evidence of their truth. The Evolutionary perspective cannot stand alone because it fails to account for the findings of the Psychodynamic perspective. Of the four, the Cognitive perspective is the most plausible because it has the power to explain the existences of the others, itself, and any future perspectives and specific theories; yet it undermines its own reliability by its own definition.
Psychology is an ongoing pursuit in the understanding of human behavior. More research will yield more accurate perspectives and theories. Time will only tell what is in store for the discipline.
About a month ago I published two posts about evolution and genetics. Check them out to get some more info to help understand how the Evolutionary Perspective works. Keep in mind that bad mutations can lead to bad behaviors when reading these two:
"Is Evolution Repeatable?"
"Thoughts on Evolution and Genetics"
My Thanksgiving post also draws upon the Evolutionary Perspective.
I discovered from the feedback from my professor that parts of my essay were not clear, and in class I wasn't speaking very clearly either. Next week I will post my response to her feedback and make an attempt to explain myself further.
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