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Compare & contrast the Behaviourist and Psychodynamic approaches in

psychology. Paying particular attention to conceptual & methodological


When people think of applying psychology to the study or treatment of individuals
two very different approaches are often thought of: the first sees psychologists as
white-coated scientists busily observing people or animals in laboratory conditions;
the other conjures images of patients lying on leather sofas talking about their
innermost fears and fantasies.
This first approach, begins by seeing psychology as a science and as with other
sciences, such as chemistry or physics, believes that research must be controlled
and measurable To this end, Behaviourism is concerned with modifying behaviour
and producing empirical analysis of the results of this experiment, rather than looking
at emotions and psyche. At the very heart of the Behaviourist approach is the
concept that all animals are born as a blank canvas (John Locke)
consequently it is
the environment that moulds behaviour. Starting out as this blank canvas, the
environment shapes behaviour through simple stimulus-response; conditioning,
reinforcement and punishment
social learning
nomothetic (or shared personality
traits); reductionism and objective measurement.
In fact all behaviour no matter how simple or complex results from a simple stimulus
response association. It is also significant that in this approach it is thought that
there is very little difference between the learning that takes place in humans and
that in other animals, so observations of animal behaviour has validity in studying
As a scientific approach is taken the methodology used to collect data takes on a
similar form to any other standard scientific data collection method. Observations
are made under carefully controlled laboratory conditions using control groups and
measured parameters. Notably, Behaviourist approach to research includes
Associative Learning where two approaches to conditioning are taken: Classical
conditioning where stimuli are used to evoke responses, for example in the Pavlovs
Dog experiments
where dogs learnt to associate the sound of a bell with food and
in John Watsons studies in Humans where he used classical conditioning to make a
small child Little Albert fear a white rat.
Also in Operant or Instrumental
conditioning where a different approach to conditioning shows that behaviour is
learnt as a result of the consequences of our behaviours (Edward Thorndike - the cat
in a puzzle box)
which leads to the idea of reinforcement or punishment being used
to shape the individual (Skinner, The Behaviour of Organisms, 1936)

This approach to psychological research has many advantages. The most obvious
is its scientific approach which offers empirical evidence to support its theories. This
means that any measurements taken can be viewed objectively and are more
acceptable as proven and can be applied very easily to therapeutic cases. The
results of the studies by both Pavlov and Watson also showed the similarities in
experiments on animals and humans and suggested that the results of one could be
equally applied to other, therefore enabling controversial studies to be made on
animals and thus avoiding some of the ethical issues raised in studies such as the
Bandura Dolls studies.
On the other hand the Behaviourist approach has disadvantages too: It ignores any
genetic aspect of the subject under study, for example, tendency to overeating
shown in people with Prader-Willi Syndrome
or stereotypic movement disorder
found in Downs Syndrome
. It ignores mental processes and any idea that a
human can have free-will to make their own decisions. Everything is reduced to a
simple explanation which excludes any idea of complex explanations. And there is a
big assumption that animals and humans are exactly the same a suggestion which
has religious implications in many societies.
Not least there are ethical considerations in the methods used in behavioural
studies: The Bandura Bobo Doll Experiment has been strongly criticised for
releasing violent behaviour in children and in at the end of the experiment with Little
Albert he was released from the hospital with no form of desensitising taking place
and him therefore keeping his fear of rats and other things he associated, such as
rabbits, fur coats and even a Santa mask.
In complete contrast to Behaviourism another psychological approach is important.
Mention psychology to most laymen and an image of the Psychiatrics Chair comes
to mind, with the patient revealing their innermost secrets and fears. Developed by
perhaps the most famous psychologist of all time, Sigmund Freud, Psychodynamics
studies the interaction of various conscious and unconscious mental or emotional
processes, especially as they influence personality, behaviour and attitudes. The
Psychodynamic approach can be seen in complete contrast to the Behaviourist
approach, it completely ignores the formality of traditional science and instead
concentrates on making sense of the relationships, experience, motivations and
mental state of the subject.
Freud was the founder of the psychodynamic approach, based upon clinical
observations made whilst treating his patients during therapy sessions. His
collection of clinical notes formed the basis of psychodynamic theory. Later
psychologists such as Carl Jung (1964), Alfred Adler (1927) and Erik Erikson (1950)
worked on the basis of Freuds original ideas. The psychodynamic approach makes
a number of assumptions about the influences on our behaviour and feelings: firstly,
Freud set the basic theory that we are affected by unconscious motives and that our
behaviour and feelings are rooted in our childhood experiences. This then suggests
that all behaviour has a cause our experiences determine, often unconsciously, our
future personality. This personality is in itself made up of three parts:.the id
(uncoordinated instinct trends in particular: Eros the sex drive and instincts for
survival, and Thanatos the aggressive drive and death instinct), the ego
(organised, realistic realisation of self) and super ego (critical and moralising part of
self). Freud saw ego being driven by the unconscious mind and causing constraint
conflict with the conscious mind, we can see an example of this in how people will
behave in times of danger or extreme stress often placing themselves in a
vulnerable position in order to cope with the situation, for example, a person who has
taken up smoking in order to be part of the group, even they know it is bad for their
health. This constant conflict between ego, id and super ego will lead to anxiety in
the individual which could show itself in neurosis, in fear of real world events and
fear of going against moral principles. To cope with anxiety people make use of
defence mechanisms that most often work unconsciously to distort reality. Examples
of such defence mechanisms may include: denial, suppression, regression,
displacement, rationalisation, humour or passive aggression. These three aspects of
personality are modified through the conflicts of growing up through childhood when,
Freud suggested that psychosexual development may lead to an inheritance of
conflict in the later adult who will show behavioural traits based on oral, anal or
phallic fixations.

Although Freud set the building blocks for the psychodynamic approach to therapy
many other leading psychologists helped to shape the approach as we see it today.
Jung saw the human psyche as being made up of many layers: starting with the
conscious mind made up of memories thoughts, feelings and conscious perceptions
Layered onto the ego is the unconscious memories; those that have been forgotten
or suppressed, maybe because of a trauma. Jungs main contribution, however, was
to divide this sub consciousness into two main areas: a persons individual
unconsciousness for example forgotten traumas and collective unconsciousness,
predating the individual and inherited from religious, spiritual and mythological
symbols and experience of the social group
Freud had emphasised sexuality as a behavioural motive, whereas Alfred Adler
suggested that the most important motive is the feeling of inferiority, which he felt
originated in the sense of dependence and helplessness which infants experience.
His theory focussed on the individuals need to seek superiority and that personality
difficulties are rooted in a feeling of inferiority that has come from restrictions on the
individual's need for self-assertion.
A fourth important arm of psychological thought focussed on how children socialise
and how this develops their feeling of self. Erik Erikson (Theory of Psychosocial
Development) saw children going through eight main stages of social development
which if completed successfully would lead to a healthy personality and social
interactions. Each stage has to be resolved in order to enable a healthy
development to occur and to ensure a good sense of self. It begins with the
development of trust whereby the child gains confidence and security, moves on to
becoming more independent; develop initiative and leadership and a sense of pride
in their achievements. In adolescence increasing independence develops a sense of
identity. Developing intimate relationships is the next key stage and then gaining a
sense of productivity and worth within society. The final stage is a realisation of our
contributions and successes in life an overriding sense of integrity and self worth.
Failure to go through these stages positively can result in negative feelings of
anxiety, mistrust, shame, guilt, inferiority or confusion; it may lead to inability to form
relationships which may result in loneliness and depression or despair
The methods used to collect data in the psychodynamic approach are subjective, a
main method is the collection and analysis of case studies. Dream Analysis is also
an important method of collecting data for analysis; Freud saw dreams as an
expression of the unconscious mind which had a symbolic meaning that could only
be fully understood in the context of the individual's overall behaviour. In similar way
techniques such as hypnosis, free association, Projective Tests such as the
Rorschach ink blots and slips of the tongue are all seen as keys to unlocking the
unconscious mind.
The main strengths of this approach to psychology is in the recognition of the
importance of childhood, the influence of the unconscious mind and the importance
of defence mechanisms and dreams allowing for deeper insight into the shaping of
human behaviour to be made, and in the testing methods that have allowed access
into these obscure road signs to the meaning of behaviour. This methodology does
however have weakness too: case studies will always be subjective and
consequently will show a lot of bias, in fact many of Freuds theories are based on
the study of just one individual.. In addition, each individual is undoubtedly an
individual so it is difficult to make generalisations based on the data collected.
Empirical data cannot be collected so the results do not stand up to scientific scrutiny
nor can they in fact be proved wrong. The theories reject the existence of free- will
and tends to ignore the conscious processes of thinking and memory
In conclusion, evaluation of these two approaches to psychological analysis shows
that neither can stand alone as a tool. The behaviourist approach although scientific,
creates an artificial environment which in itself distorts the results; Psychodynamics
on the other hand does not have the scientific validity behind it and is very biased.
Regarding humans as the same as animals also calls the Behaviourist approach into
question as the intelligence, communicative skills and sense of free-will is usually
recognised as being very human and sets us apart from the animal kingdom. The
psychodynamic approach concentrates too much on the unconscious mind and
childhood and so tends to lose sight of the role of socialisation (which is different in
each country) and the possibility of free will. As with so many other scientific
theories the question of which approach to use in the analysis and therapeutic
treatment of behavioural problems has to come down to the nature of the problem
and recognise that both approaches may be necessary. A smoking addiction
resulting from peer pressure during youth, for instance, may benefit from aversion
therapy whereas a drug addiction springing from a lack of self worth may be better
suited to a psychodynamic approach. In most cases a combination of approaches is
likely to offer the most meaningful results.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Retrieved: 14/12/10:
Review of B. F. Skinner's The Behavior of Organisms
Ernest R. Hilgard
Cardwel, Mike and Flanagan, Cara Psychology AS. Revised Edition (2008): The Complete Companion. Nelson
Classical conditioning, Learning
pavlov.html. Retrieved 14/12/10
see above footnote
Thorndike's Law of Effect.
Introduction to Operant Conditioning. By Kendra Cherry, Guide.. Retrieved 13/12/10
. Retrieved 14/12/10
viii Retrieved 14/12/10
What is Prader Willi Syndrome
x Retrieved 14/12/10
xi Retrieved 14/12/10
xii Retrieved 14/12/10
xiii Retrieved 14/12/10