Human beings are very complex, resulting in variable behavior; hence, there are various ways to study said behavior. Modern psychology consists of seven perspectives that differ in their approach to observing behavior–the neuroscience, evolutionary, behavior genetics, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and social-cultural perspectives. These perspectives tackle different questions within their limit; however, no approach is right or wrong. Sometimes, the perspectives may complement one another, and other times, conflict. For example, psychologists with different perspectives specializing in a specific psychological approach would have different ways to diagnose and treat generalized anxiety disorder.
The neuroscience perspective consists of how the body and brain enable emotions, memories, and sensory experiences (Myers, 2014). This perspective emphasizes the influence of brain chemistry on how human beings act or react in certain situations. The neurotransmitter dopamine aids in the human ability to learn and make decisions. An article by the Salk Institute states that by measuring dopamine levels right before a decision, scientists can predict the outcome of that decision, and if the dopamine levels are manipulated, those decisions can be altered. Neurodegenerative illnesses, such as Parkinson’s, damage the neurons that release dopamine, impairing the ability of a person to execute a given set of tasks in order; thus, before scientists can develop a treatment for such illnesses, they need to understand the role of dopamine and the levels in which it is present in the brain of normal patients (Salk Institute, 2017).
The evolutionary perspective looks at how the natural selection of traits has increased the survival of genes (Myers, 2014). According to this perspective, the only reason humans continue to thrive is due to natural selection. Natural selection ensures that traits that are advantageous continue to be passed down to offspring while disadvantageous traits are pushed out. The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to learn and understand how the human mind works. Evolutionary psychology sees the mind as “a set of information-processing machines designed by natural selection to solve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors.” Evolutionary psychology’s approach to studying the brain, mind, and behavior changes how scientists approach past topics and initiate new ones (Cosmides & Tooby, 1997).
The behavior genetics perspective focuses on how our genes and our environment shape our individual differences (Myers, 2014). Genetic influence can shed light on how a person’s environment serves to influence their behavior. For example, parents who have more books in a household have children who excel in school, but this does not necessarily mean that having more books in the home leads to having children who excel in school. Rather, genetic factors influence parental traits that relate both to the number of books in their household and their children’s success in school (Plomin and McClearn, 2008).
The psychodynamic approach delves into how behavior stems from unconscious drives and conflicts (Myers, 2014). This perspective may seem the most common to people who have studied psychology in high school or taken an introductory psychology class in college. It was popularized by the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud and his infamous contributions to psychology. Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory of personality development. The theory argues that personality forms through the interactions between the three fundamental structures of the mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is impatient and thus seeks to satisfy an urge immediately. The superego consists of specific moral and social obligations and so, acts as a moral compass. The ego is more rational and thus, maintains a balance between the superego and id. The id, ego, and superego are said to help determine how human beings tend to behave and approach the world.
The behavioral perspective centers on and interprets observable behavior (Myers, 2014). The behavioral psychology perspective may also seem the most common to people who have briefly delved into psychology. It consists of famous psychologists and their contributions to behavioral psychology: Ivan Pavlov with classical conditioning and B.F. Skinner with operant conditioning. In classical conditioning, behaviors are involuntary responses to stimuli, whereas, in operant conditioning, behavior is voluntary depending on the stimuli that follow (Myers, 2014). Pavlov classically conditioned a dog to involuntarily salivate each time in response to the sound of the bell, for the dog learned to associate the sound with the presentation of the food. Skinner taught rats to push a lever through positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement was met with food, while negative reinforcement was the removal of electric shocks. According to O’Donohue and Kitchener in 1999, behaviorism rejects internal causes, particularly human agency, and instead concentrates on environmental factors related to behavior. It assumed that all behaviors ought to be lawfully associated with the surroundings. In return, it increases the objectivity of the behavior of a human in the observable surroundings.
The cognitive approach focuses on how human beings encode, process, store, and retrieve information (Myers, 2014). In simpler terms, cognitive processes help experience the world by recognizing familiar people and places, communicating feelings and desires, and recalling memories from the past (Braisby and Gellatly, 2012). In addition, the cognitive perspective ultimately studies how people’s interpretations of a situation affect how they experience the world and how their experiences affect their thinking. Cognitive processes enable individuals to experience the world around them and recognize a face in the crowd, recall memories in the past, and communicate their passions. When such processes stop working, it can render speech impossible, turn a friend into a stranger, and confuse history with lies and truth (Myers, 2014).
The socio-cultural take looks at how behavior and thinking vary across situations and cultures (Myers, 2014). Individuals grow up in varying circumstances; thus, their behaviors are influenced by social and cultural factors. Acknowledgment of cultural differences is necessary for an accurate understanding of development (Harris and Graham, 2014). The socio-cultural approach supports the “multileveled, cross-individual, and cross-situational elements” that contribute to development and learning at every level—individualistic, cultural, and societal (Pea, Scribner, Brown, & Heath).
The cognitive and behavioral perspectives complement each other well. Specifically, the cognitive approach looks at how human beings process information that can influence human behavior. Cognitive psychology helps to understand behavior by first attempting to understand perceptions and memories, as well as how people reason and solve problems. Cognitive psychologists also look at how people process language and make judgments that encompass behavior. Behavioral psychology studies how the environment affects observable behavior. Behavioral psychology excludes cognitive psychology by emphasizing that only observable behavior should be studied because it can be objectively measured, undermining the complexity of the human mind and how it works to encode, process, store, and retrieve information. Although the behavioral psychology approach rejects other perspectives, it is inevitably bound to all of them in theory.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a psychological disorder characterized by constant and excessive worry about various things. An individual with generalized anxiety disorder tends to imagine the worst possible outcomes that result in fear and avoidance of situations that could possibly turn their worst imaginations into reality. The cognitive approach to generalized anxiety disorder studies how interpretations of certain situations influence anxiety and how anxiety affects the thought process. According to research, generalized anxiety disorder is linked to cognitive impairment, specifically with working memory and selective attention (Yang, Zhang, Zhu, Dai, Liu, and Wang, 2015).
There are many different psychological schools of thought, and none are considered the ultimate one. Each one has its own take on studying humans, so each would have its own unique approach to classifying and treating disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder. Each has its strengths and weaknesses; however, all these views help in understanding human behavior. Therefore, it is essential to consider these different perspectives simultaneously and how they may complement or contradict each other to study human behavior.
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