Compare and Contrast Psychodynamics and Learning Theory

Personalities Theory Activity

As I read about different psychological theories this past week I was fascinated with the depth of understanding in human behavior that they collectively represented. At odds with many of the theorist mentioned in the text, I did not find that any one theory sufficiently explained a large spectrum of human behavior; rather, I found that each theory described only one aspect, one perspective of human behavior. The two theories that I found the most contrast between were the psychodynamic theory and the learning theories, specifically behaviorism. The psychodynamic theory seems to be predicated on only biological, unconscious elements; whereas, learning theory, at least behaviorism, relies solely on personal experience.

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I have to admit that after reading about Freud’s thoughts on psychosexual development I had to sit there and let it digest for a second. There was a similar episode that took place after reading about behaviorism but more on that a little later. According to Freud human behavior can be explained through the concept of ID, the ego, and the superego (Nevid, Rathus, 2005). The ego apparently plays mediator between the ID or instinctual drives, and the superego or our conscience. According to psychosexual development, our lives can be broken down into five sections all having to do with the sexual release of some type: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. According to the psychodynamic theory, a healthy personality is one who can find a socially acceptable means to express their instinctual drives, thereby satisfying both the ID and the superego.

Learning theory sounds a whole lot like Hegelian absolute idealism. Even though absolute idealism is a philosophy, not a psychological theory, there are still many relevant parallels between their explanations of human behavior. I was particularly fascinated with behaviorism. According to behaviorism free choice is nothing but an illusion because those choices are made upon the foundation of past experiences. To that end, the theorists attempted to use the experience as a conditioner of behavior through the use of learning by association and learning by consequences. The learning theory also espouses the use of positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, and punishment to increase or decrease the likelihood of certain behaviors. The behaviorist would explain that a healthy personality is one that is able to utilize positive and negative reinforcements in order to avoid negative events and anticipate positive events.

Both the psychodynamic theory and the learning theory of behaviorism explain very distinct aspects of human behavior. Neither theory appears to be mutually exclusive but rather work in unison to explain both the subconscious and learned reinforcements that collectively account for human behavior. After reading about both theories it appears to me that psychodynamics is mostly introspective, in that human behavior is accounted for through the understanding of internal struggles rather than external stimuli; and that behaviorism is mostly outward-looking, in that human behavior is explained mostly through response to the external environment. Coincidentally psychodynamics describes the healthy personality as one that deals well with internal struggles while behaviorism describes the healthy personality as one that is able to adapt well to the external environment. They are different sides of the same coin: personality. 

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Nevid, J.S., Rathus, S.A. (2005). Psychology and the challenges of life: Adjustment in the new millennium. Danvers, M.A.: Wiley.


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