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Understanding Psychological Perspectives and the Motives Behind Our Actions

Updated on April 5, 2013
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What is a Psychological Perspective?

A psychological perspective is a way of viewing psychological phenomena, such as behavior. In this article, I will explain the different perspectives of psychology and talk about famous psychologists from each point of view. Some psychologists study previous experiences and relate them to a certain behavior, others believe that behavior is biologically driven. Some even believe that humans behave a certain way in order to grow as a person.

The four perspectives covered in this article are

-Behavioral

-Biological

-Humanistic

-Psychoanalytic


Behavioral Perspective

Behaviorists believe that behavior is shaped by learning from previous experiences. They observe the environment or surroundings that someone has lived in or grown up in and make assumptions based on them. They emphasize nurture and the influence of other people in the lives of those they are analyzing.

So, for example, if John was having anger issues and was seeing a therapist to cope with his problem, the therapist would check on his environment. Maybe John grew up around parents who argued or were easily angered. John would see his parents become angry and mimic that trait, therefore John had anger issues.

Influential Behaviorists

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)

Does this name ring a bell? It should, considering he coined the term classical conditioning. He experimented with behavior using a dog, food, and a bell. Initially, the dogs salivated at the food placed in front of them. After ringing a bell before bringing out the food several times, he discovered that eventually, the bell would make the dog salivate without the food.

John B. Watson (1878-1958)

Watson believed that all behaviors are the result of conditioning, which means they occur because of stimulus in the environment. He believed that human beings have no free will, and that they are directly influenced by what their surroundings are. He is famous for his controversial experiment "Little Albert".

B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)

Ever heard of the Skinner Box? Skinner used his box to train animals how to receive food through a process called operant conditioning. The skinner box was a small enclosure in which an animal can make a specific response that is systematically recorded while the consequences of the response are controlled.

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949)

Thorndike was the first to conduct systematic investigation of animal behavior. He discovered positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. By reinforcing a certain behavior, he learned that he could easily control the actions of an animal.

Albert Bandura

He studied humans and talked about how humans learn through watching and imitating examples. This process, called modeling, could explain how violent video games may cause violent behavior in young children or how people could model their likes and interests after a certain celebrity or leader.

A visual explanation of the Pavlov experiment.
A visual explanation of the Pavlov experiment.
A visual representation of a Skinner box.
A visual representation of a Skinner box.

The Humanistic Perspective

The humanistic perspective focuses on the need to grow and reach one's full potential. This is called self-actualization. This approach, unlike the behavioral approach, believes that human nature is active and creative and not just reactive to the environment. It is believed that humans can change their environment instead of the environment changing humans.

Influential Humanists

Carl Rogers (1902-1987)

He emphasized the concept of free will and choice in human behavior. Through his beliefs and experimentations, he found that humans become anxious, unhappy, and restless if they are not allowed to thrive to their full potential.

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

He created the Hierarchy of Needs, which is a triangle ranking the most important needs and the least important needs. Like Rogers, he stressed self-actualization and considered it the high point of human motivation.

This is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs triangle, which shows the most important needs to be met and the self-actualization triangle at the tip.
This is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs triangle, which shows the most important needs to be met and the self-actualization triangle at the tip.

The Biological Perspective

Those with the Biological Perspective study the physiological mechanisms in the brain, endocrine, and nervous system. They believe that these systems organize and control behavior like eating, emotions, or learning. While other perspectives focus on free will or the environment, this is more of a scientific viewpoint on behavior.

Scientists who study this perspective do understand how people's needs, like food, affect their mood and how their mood changes over time.

Biological Perspective Psychologists study the physiological factors of psychology and how they change over time.
Biological Perspective Psychologists study the physiological factors of psychology and how they change over time.

Psychoanalytic Perspective

Evolving from the work of Sigmund Freud, this perspective focuses on the combinations of conscious and unconscious influences. These drives and urges influence thoughts and behavior of individuals. This is similar to the behavioral perspective because they also believe that childhood and environments have a strong influence on how a person turns out.

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