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1. Approaches and Perspectives In Psychology OCR Module G544 1 2. The Biological / Physiological or Medical Approach The biological approach explains our behaviour as…
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  • 1. Approaches and Perspectives In Psychology OCR Module G544 1
  • 2. The Biological / Physiological or Medical Approach The biological approach explains our behaviour as being determined by our genetics, the workings of our nervous system, endocrine system (hormones) and the structure and functioning of our brain. It is the only approach in psychology that examines thoughts, feelings, and behaviours from a medical/biological, and therefore physical point of view. Examples you have studied include; our language centre stored in our left hemisphere (Sperry); memories (stored in the temporal lobe) (Loftus and Palmer); the over active prefrontal cortex’s causing high levels of aggression (Raine); the hippocampus and spatial awareness enabling us to find our way home (McGuire); our corpus collosum transferring memories from the two hemispheres of the brain so that separate information stored in those separate areas can be shared (Sperry); hormones like serotonin or dopamine regulating mood; dysfunctional behaviours like schizophrenia being genetically inherited (Gottesman and Shields); stress causing high blood pressure, sweating and long term illness (Hans Seyle) etc Evolutionary genetically inherited instincts or behaviours are also considered in this approach. We have evolved both physically and psychologically in response to our environment. For example men may be more pre-disposed to crime than women as they are genetically determined to be hunter gatherers and protect their family from threat. Advantages of the biological approach are that it is based on reliable scientific data like DNA or blood analysis. The biological approach used accurate measuring devices like PET scans or blood pressure readings etc. The approach has been very useful in the development of drug treatments for a variety of mental disorders. Schizophrenia is understood caused by the over-production of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Depression comes from physiological changes to neurons that dull them to serotonin. Both disorders are treated with drugs which affect the production of transmission of these hormones. Identifying genetic pre-dispositions may help early diagnosis of conditions and even lead to prevention through genetic screening. However our understanding of the structure and function of the brain is still in its early stages and although we may identify structural or functional abnormalities we often still cannot determine the cause (eg: Raine). The biological approach plays down the influence of environment and does not account for why diseases like schizophrenia are not 100% genetic. The biological approach finds itself firmly on the genetic or nature side of the ‘nature-nurture’ debate. It accused 2
  • 3. of being reductionist and deterministic. The biological approach has been criticised because of its use of non-human subjects in experimental research. Many researchers do not believe that findings from animal research can be applied usefully to human behaviour and some argue it is unethical to experiment on animals for the benefit of humans. Some drug treatments or surgical interventions are also considered unethical due to their potential serious side effects. There are other ethical dilemmas with the biological approach and crime. If a person is pre-disposed to be extremely aggressive, how do we handle this potential information? It would be wrong to label a person with ‘expected’ tendencies when we do not understand all of the other contributing factors. Study 1 from the biological Study 2 from the biological approach: (4) approach: (4) a. Using your knowledge of psychology, briefly outline the physiological approach (4) b. Describe two pieces of physiological research that use the physiological approach (8) c. Using examples of research that you have studied discuss the strengths and limitations of explaining behaviour using only the physiological approach (12) d. Compare the physiological approach with any one other approach in psychology (8) e. Discuss how the physiological approach can help our understanding of everyday life (8) The Psychodynamic Perspective 3
  • 4. The psychodynamic perspective sees behaviour as a balance between our instincts (nature) and how these instincts are ‘nurtured’ by early experience in the family. It explains behaviour from the point of view of our unconscious and early childhood experiences. The contents of our unconscious can give us neurosis, an anxiety state that affects the quality of your life (Little Hans). Freud was the first researcher to explain how some behaviour is not within our conscious control but may be driven instead by unconscious motivations and anxieties. Freud's psychodynamic structure of personality suggests that our behaviour is influenced by id, ego and superego, the three components of personality. Those with a strong super ego may be carers of others and campaigners in society for equality, whilst those with a strong Id may be self centred and lacking in empathy or concern for others. We are born id, and acquire ego and superego during childhood. Our personality is therefore shaped by early experiences. Freud’s theories were important as they shaped our view of the importance of these early times and parental nurturing. Freud also explains that iff we fail to resolve conflicts associated with a particular (oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital) stage of personality development we could develop fixations which will show themselves in our personality-related behaviours as adults, e.g. a smoker would be said to have an oral fixation. We also unconsciously use ego- defence mechanisms to protect ourselves from the anxieties of life. Examples, you have encountered are the denial of ill health by patients who do not adhere to medical requests or an unconscious desire to hurt oneself like having an accident at work and the denial by some criminals to take personal responsibility for their crimes. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a treatment which has been developed by followers of Freud. This includes free association, dream analysis, regression using hypnosis and projective personality tests (Eve White and Thigpen and Cleckley) all of which try to uncover unconscious thoughts, desires or motivations. This approach to treatment has been important in changing society’s attitudes from covering problems up, to the idea of ‘talking’ about and sharing problems with others. This was the start of the development of counselling as a therapeutic practice. However some aspects of psychotherapy have been criticised. For example hypnosis is now thought to cause false memory syndrome. The main limitations of the psychoanalytic approach are the case study method. This method is non-scientific and lacks generalisability. The constructs of Id, Ego and 4
  • 5. Super Ego are also hypothetical and cannot be proved. Projective personality tests lack validity as there is no proof they are actually measuring unconscious thoughts or desires. However, it does appear to have mundane realism (appears to be valid according to our everyday experiences) which may account for its enduring importance. Most of us instinctively feel that early childhood experience does have an effect on our long term behaviour. It is also hard to deny that some of our behaviours are driven by our unconscious. There is also evidence to support the idea that early childhood trauma causes dysfunctional behaviour in patients who have been abused and who later develop DID (Dissasociative Identity Disorder). There is also correlational evidence which supports the idea that boys who have an absent or sick mother are more likely to turn to crime in adolescence. Study 1 from the Study 2 from the psychodynamic perspective: psychodynamic perspective: (4) (4) a. Using your knowledge of psychology, briefly outline the psychodynamic perspective (4) b. Describe two pieces of research that use the psychodynamic perspective (8) c. Using examples of research that you have studied discuss the strengths and limitations of explaining behaviour using only the psychodynamic perspective (12) d. Compare the psychodynamic perspective with any one other perspective or approach in psychology (8) e. Discuss how the psychodynamic approach can help our understanding of everyday life (8) The Behaviourist Perspective 5
  • 6. Founded by JB Watson in 1915 the behaviourist perspective studies observed behavioural responses of humans and animals. The perspective assumes that all behaviour is environmentally determined, i.e. nurture rather than nature. The behaviourist believes we learn to behave in response to our environment, either by stimulus-response association, or as a result of reinforcement. Important contributors to the behaviourist perspective are Ivan Pavlov, with his theory of classical conditioning, and BF Skinner who worked on operant conditioning. Classical conditioning identifies learning by association. This is often instinctive learning through association (being sick after eating chocolate can lead to the learning of the association of chocolate with sickness and an automatic feeling of nausea when you see chocolate etc) Operant conditioning identifies learning through reinforcement. Reward, (or positive reinforcement) tends to encourage the repetition of a learned behaviour. Avoidance of unpleasant consequence, (or negative reinforcement), tends to discourage the repetition of behaviour etc. Bandura developed the early ideas of the behaviourists to include social learning theory. He said that as well as classical and operant conditioning we can also learn through vicarious reinforcement (that is seeing the reward someone else gets for behaviour). He also demonstrated how some behaviour occurs through modelling without the need for any specific conditioning or reward (Bobo doll studies). The idea that children simply model what they see, has had an influence on our attitude to violent TV and video games. This theory has been useful as it has changed our understanding in what young children should be exposed to in the media and has led to the introduction of a ‘watershed’ on TV and the rating of films and video games for their violent or sexual content which make them unsuitable for young children. Classical conditioning has also been effective as it has been used in programmes of systematic desensitisation (McGrath), to reduce the effects of a learned phobia. Operant conditioning is used in biofeedback techniques to help learn new ways of relaxation to reduce stress (Budzinski). Operant conditioning has also been used in behaviour modification regimes such as the token economy systems used with schizophrenic patients, young children or children with special needs, to change overt behaviour. A great strength of Behaviourist theories is that they are based on a large amount of empirical evidence (scientific data). The theories are able to be tested under laboratory conditions and are replicable. However, early research centred on animal research rather than human research, so may not always be generalisable to humans. 6
  • 7. The complexity of human thought, feeling, and behaviour is thought to be more sophisticated than the behaviourist approach originally suggested. Another problem with the behaviourist approach is that it may change the overt behaviour of a person by offering rewards but this does not necessarily change the way the person thinks. There is also some irrefutable scientific data provided by the biological approach that some behaviours are, at lest in part, genetically inherited (Gottesman and Shields) making the theory reductionist and environmentally deterministic. Study 1 from the behaviourist Study 2 from the behaviourist perspective: (4) perspective: (4) a. Using your knowledge of psychology, briefly outline the behaviourist perspective (4) b. Describe two pieces of research that use the behaviourist perspective (8) c. Using examples of research that you have studied discuss the strengths and limitations of explaining behaviour using only the behaviourist perspective (12) d. Compare the behaviourist perspective with any one other approach or perspective in psychology (8) e. Discuss how the behaviourist perspective can help our understanding of everyday life (8) The Cognitive Approach 7
  • 8. The cognitive approach studies information processes like perception, attention, language, memory, and thinking, and how they influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The cognitive approach views us as active processors of information from the outside world and likens our thought processes to the workings of micro chips and computers. We are not passive learners, as behaviourism would have us believe, but act upon our world interpreting and reinterpreting information that is presented in the light of existing information. It is our previous experience that makes the difference between one person's perception and another's. The cognitive approach has been extremely popular since the advent of computer modelling systems. It has led to useful understandings of how the processes of memory function and the failings and complexities of these memories (Elizabeth Loftus, eye witness testimony, and Bartlett’s reconstructive memory). Cognitive psychologists have enabled us to understand how there are specific cognitive differences in some dysfunctional behaviours (Simon Baron Cohen, Autism, Yochelson and Samenow, errors in the thinking patterns of criminals etc). Piaget was an important cognitive psychologist who demonstrated how children go through stages of development in their thinking. This has been effectively used by educationalists to plan appropriate learning activities for children of different ages and to help early identification of children with slow or abnormal patterns of development. Cognitive research has been praised for its scientific and reliable approach with much of its research being carried out under laboratory conditions which are strictly controlled. However it is also criticised for its lack of ecological validity and reductionist or mechanistic approach which ignores the role of emotion in cognitive processing. The approach tends to rely on quantitative measurable data and ignores qualitative data like social factors and emotions, which explain why we think, feel, and behave as we do. Some say not only is the approach reductionist but it is also incomplete as it fails to explain why certain thinking patterns occur. Another great strength however, of the approach is its effectiveness as a therapy. There is considerable empirical research to show the effects of behaviour change from cognitive therapy (Beck). It has been useful in identifying how to change behaviour by changing the way we think. In recent years it has become closely associated with behavioural therapies and many clinicians now use a combined approach, CBT, (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), as a preferred and more holistic form of therapy. Study 1 from the cognitive Study 2 from the cognitive approach: (4) approach: (4) 8
  • 9. a. Using your knowledge of psychology, briefly outline the cognitive approach (4) b. Describe two pieces of research that use the cognitive approach (8) c. Using examples of research that you have studied discuss the strengths and limitations of explaining behaviour using only the cognitive approach (12) d. Compare the cognitive approach with any one other approach in psychology (8) e. Discuss how the cognitive approach can help our understanding of everyday life (8) Social Psychology and the Social Approach 9
  • 10. Social psychology (or the social approach) is interested in studying individuals in a social context, such as family, friends, institutions, and wider society. Social behaviour involves activity within a group or between groups. Social psychologists focus on the individual and attempts to explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by other people. Psychologists who study social psychology are interested in such topics as roles, conformity, obedience, group dynamics, altruism, social change, leadership styles and aggression etc. Their research methods are varied although often centered on laboratory experiments, for example the Milgram experiment, the Piliavin subway experiment, the Reicher and Haslam and Zimbardo prison experiments etc. You should also be familiar with the work of Moscovici (minority influence) and Asch (majority influence) from forensic psychology. Other social research tends to use existing data to draw conclusions through correlation (comparing income, housing or environmental situation with rates of criminality or mental illness etc) or use longitudinal methods (The Cambridge study on families and crime) to investigate changes in social behaviour in groups over time. The social approach is often hampered in its attempt to study contemporary social effects on behaviour by ethical dilemmas involved in experimentation. One of the debates in social psychology is whether an individual's behaviour is a result of their personality or their social context. Social psychologists believe the situation we are in has a more powerful effect on behaviour that our personality. Zimbardo demonstrated this effect in the Stanford Prison Experiment. However, social psychologists often fail to explain why some individuals with similar social experiences behaviour differently to others (for example why not all family members turn to crime). They may be able to explain general trends or expectations of behaviour but are rarely able to predict behaviour in the individual. Social psychologists are environmentally deterministic in their approach and are therefore reductionist. They fail to take account of the genetic or biological component of behaviour and so fail to explain individual differences like gender. Their deterministic view also fails to take account of free will. The social approach has lost favour in recent years with advances in DNA technology which have extended our understanding of the contributions to behaviour of biology. However it has been an extremely effective approach in enabling us to affect changes in behaviour such as reducing prison riots by changing the conditions inside of prisons, 10
  • 11. by ensuring that individuals take responsibility for their own decision making and do not enter an ‘agentic state’ (Ahbu Graib), through providing family support, improving education or social conditions as a way to improve life chances etc. The social approach is also important as it takes away blame from the individual for some actions and enables us to see behaviour in the light of the situation in which the behaviour occurs (for example increased crime or aggression in communities with most poverty and disadvantage). Study 1 from the social Study 2 from the social approach: (4) approach: (4) a. Using your knowledge of psychology, briefly outline the social approach (4) b. Describe two pieces of research that use the social approach (8) c. Using examples of research that you have studied discuss the strengths and limitations of explaining behaviour using only the social approach (12) d. Compare the social approach with any one other approach in psychology (8) e. Discuss how the social approach can help our understanding of everyday life (8) 11
  • 12. Individual Differences in Psychology The approach of individual differences is different from other approaches in that it tends to identify what factors cause some individuals not to behaviour in ways which might be expected in any group or social context. This approach studies, what is considered a relatively small number of ways, in which individuals are different. Individual differences tend to focus on differences between genders or age and behaviour, differences in dysfunctional behaviour and di
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