The Biological ApproachKey pointsThe biological approach stresses the importance of naturein the nature-nurture debate.The principles of biology are applied to psychology in orderto understand behaviours such as imprinting.We are able to manipulate a species’ genetic make-up inorder to investigate the genetic basis of behaviour.Darwin’s theory of evolution shows how strongest genessurvive and are passed onto the next generation, whilstmaladaptive genes die out.We can observe many examples of evolutionary behaviourin non-human species, for example sexual selection and, inhumans, for example the rooting reflex.StrengthsThe biological approach uses scientific, experimentalprocedures in its investigations.It provides strong arguments for the nature-nurture debate.The biological approach has had many useful applications,for example drugs that alleviate disorders such as bipolardepression.LimitationsThe biological approach is reductionist. It explains allthoughts and behaviours in terms of the actions of nervesor chemicals.The approach is over-simplistic. It fails to fully appreciatethe influence that environmental factors can have onbehaviour.The approach raises ethical issues, for example geneticmapping. Is it right to artificially manipulate our geneticmake-up?
The behaviourist approachKey pointsPsychology should focus on observable behaviour, notminds, if it is to be regarded as a scientific discipline.All behaviour is learnt, or determined by, interactions andexperiences in our environment.Operant conditioning is concerned with the use ofconsequences or reinforcements to modify and shapebehaviour.Classical conditioning demonstrates how a new associationcan be made between a neutral stimulus and an alreadyexisting response.There are many practical applications of the behaviouristapproach, for example the modification of speech in autisticchildren.StrengthsBehaviourists’ use of rigorous, experimental methods ofresearch enhances the credibility of psychology as ascientific discipline.The approach provides strong arguments for the nurtureside of the nature-nurture debate in psychology.The approach has provided a number of practicalapplication and techniques to shape behaviour, for examplethe use of rewards in education.LimitationsThe behaviourist approach ignores the mental processesthat are involved in learning unlike the cognitive approach,which views these processes as important.The approach rejects the possible role of biological factors,that is nature, in human behaviour.Behaviourists view humans as passive learners at themercy of the environment unlike humanistic psychologists,who view humans as active agents – being able to controland determine their own development.The principles of operant and classical conditioning do notaccount for spontaneous behaviour in humans.
The use of animals in applying laws of learning to humanshas been criticized. Surely we are more complex thananimals?
Social learning theoryKey pointsSocial learning theory takes into account the cognitiveprocesses involved in learning.We learn by observing others (role models) in ourenvironment.There are four conditions necessary for effective modelingto occur: attention, retention, motor reproduction andmotivation.Social learning theory has been applied to many areas ofpsychology, for example gender development.StrengthsSocial learning theory takes into account the cognitiveprocesses that are involved in learning.Social learning theorists use both experimental and non-experimental methods of research, for example Bandura’suse of the experimental and observational method wheninvestigating the gender differences in aggression.Social learning theory has been applied to many areas ofpsychology and has provided effective explanations ofbehaviour, for example acquisition of gender roles.LimitationsSocial learning theory does not fully explain individualdifferences, that is to say that what may be perceived to bereinforcement for one person, may not be for another.Social learning theory does not account for all behaviour.For example, if we learn by observing others, how is it that aperson becomes a criminal when he or she has notassociated with criminals and/or observed criminalbehaviour?
The cognitive approachKey pointsCognitive psychologists focus on internal mental processesthat lie between stimulus and response.Humans are like computers in the way in which bothencode, store and retrieve information.Many models, for example connectionist, have been used toexplain internal mental processes.The approach has provided many useful applications, forexample improving reliability of eyewitness accounts.StrengthsThe cognitive approach focuses on internal mentalprocesses, unlike behaviourism.The approach uses scientific, experimental methods, unlikehumanistic psychologists.Models such as the information-processing approach havebeen effectively used to explain mental processes.LimitationsCognitive models have been criticized as over-simplistic –ignoring the complexities of the mind.Humans are viewed as machines with the crude comparisonof the mind to a computer (software and hardware).Many cognitive theories are based on performance ofartificial laboratory tasks therefore unrepresentative ofeveryday behaviours.
The psychodynamic approachKey pointsThe unconscious mind contains instinctive drives, needsand psychic actions of which we are unaware.The way in which we progress through the fivepsychosexual stages of development as a child willdetermine our adult behaviour.Our personality is structured by the interactions of the id,ego and superego.The ego employs defence mechanisms, such as denial, toprotect us from feelings of guilt and anxiety.StrengthsFreud acknowledged the importance of childhoodexperiences in determining adult personality.Freud’s theories offer causal explanations for underlyingatypical psychological conditions.Freud’s methods of psychoanalysis are still used inpsychiatry today.LimitationsFreud’s theories are considered to be unfalsifiable andtherefore unscientific.Freud’s use of the case study method lacks generalisability.Freud’s controversial idea that infants display sexual urgeshas received enormous criticism.The effectiveness of psychoanalysis as a therapy isquestioned in comparison to the proportion of patients whorecover spontaneously from atypical disorders.
The humanistic approachKey pointsHuman beings are active agents who have free will tocontrol and determine their own development.Rogers stated that to be psychologically healthy, a person’sideal self and real self must be congruent.Maslow stated that all individuals strive towards self-actualisation – the ability to realise one’s potential.Person-centred therapy is still used in counseling today asan effective tool to achieve personal growth andpsychological health.StrengthsHumanistic psychologists view the person as an activeagent, able to control and determine their own development,unlike behaviourism.Humanistic psychologists promote the idea of personalresponsibility – free will as opposed to determinism.The subjective experience of a person is of value andimportance.Person-centred therapy is used by psychologists andcounsellors in therapy today.LimitationsHumanistic theories are hard to falsify. They lack predictivepower and are therefore unscientific.In rejecting the use of the scientific method, humanistictheories lack empirical support.Humanistic psychologists over-emphasise the person’sability to change and develop, for example they ignorecultural constraints.Individual emotions and consciousness are difficult to studyobjectively.