Psychology has taken many turns over time, from its beginnings in philosophy to the current study of biopsychology. Psychology has been, at its worst, an investigation of the murky waters of mysticism and, at its best, the study of how the physical brain interacts with the metaphysical mind. As currently defined, psychology is, “…the scientific investigation of mental processes…and behavior” (Kowalski, & Westen, 2005, p. 3). However, at the heart of any discussion about psychology are the four major schools of thought within psychology and the biological basis of psychology.
The modern scientific investigation of mental processes and human behavior is best understood within the framework of the four major psychological schools of thought: psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and evolutionary perspectives. Each perspective has a distinct approach to the study of human behavior, but the perspectives also overlap quite a bit as well (Kowalski, & Westen, 2005). The founder of the first perspective, psychodynamics, was Sigmund Freud. Freud postulated that subconscious mental processes and conscious mental processes affect one another in a complex interplay of thoughts, feelings, and forces. This approach to psychology is highly predicated on clinical observations and case studies. Because of this dependence on subjective observation, rather than reproducible experimentation, many psychologists exhibit a level of skepticism when applying the principles of the psychodynamic approach. However, the psychodynamic perspective also allows for a more in-depth study of a person’s personality and behavior, rather than the fractional approach of the other perspectives. On the other hand, the behavioral perspective is entirely based on a rigorous implementation of the scientific method through reproducible experimentation. The behavioral approach to psychology is concerned primarily with how environmental factors direct behavior through the mechanism of learning. The primary means by which the behavioral model states we learn is classical conditioning (through association) and operant conditioning (through consequences). This approach to the understanding of human behavior was pioneered by people like Pavlov, Locke, Skinner, and John Watson. Alternatively, the cognitive perspective centers more on how mental mechanisms affect our perception of the world than how the world affects our mental mechanisms. Specifically, the cognitive theory of psychology focuses on how people perceive, retrieve, and process information (Kowalski, & Westen, 2005). The cognitive approach is grounded in experimentation, but in an odd quirk seeks to infer mental processes through that experimentation. The ideas behind this perspective have their foundation in philosophers such as Descartes, Plato, and Locke. Lastly, the evolutionary perspective seeks to explain human behavior, at least partially, through the evolution of behavioral tendencies necessitated by our quest for survival. One of the primary creators of this perspective was Charles Darwin, who spearheaded the biological theory of evolution utilizing natural selection. The evolutionary perspective espouses that adaptive traits, which give an organism an advantage, are likely passed on to offspring. Through this process of evolutionary weeding more adaptive traits are adopted into a species and evolutionary disadvantageous traits are discouraged. The evolutionary approach generates psychological knowledge primarily through the deductive method, which entails explaining logically through argumentation something that already exists in nature. These four perspectives of modern psychology offer specific worldviews and means of deducing psychological information, which can then be used to better understand human behavior.
A great deal of the total psychological activity that goes on in the body is located in the cerebral cortex of the cerebrum, specifically through graded potentials. The cerebrum is the part of the brain most implicated in complex thought; furthermore, the cerebral cortex is involved in the formation of ideas, plans, and perceptions. The cerebral cortex makes symbolic thinking and abstract thinking possible. Additionally, graded potentials offer neurons the ability to create new information at the cellular level through voltage changes. These voltage changes occur between neurons and are the primary mechanism by which psychological activities take place in the cerebral cortex. On another front, the heritability of traits across individuals also falls into the realm of the biological foundation of psychology. Heritability explains the process by which genetic information passes from one generation to the next and the subsequent effect the genetic information has on observable traits. Heritability has a strong foundation in the aforementioned evolutionary perspective of psychology. In all, the biological foundation of psychology is a relatively new approach to psychology and is only beginning to have a return on its original investment.
In conclusion, the four main psychological perspectives each have unique ways of understanding the relationship between the physical world and the mental mind. From the psychodynamic approach, which seeks to understand psychology through subjectivity, to the behavioral perspective, which endeavors to explain human thought through purely scientific means, the study of psychology examines a wide swath of human experience. What’s more, the biological foundation of psychology is grounded in the graded potentials that take place in the cerebral cortex of the brain, which is a result of the heritability of genetic traits.
Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Prepare a 700 to 1,050-word paper in which you examine the foundations of psychology. In your paper be sure to address the following components:
- Identify the major schools of thought in psychology and examine their major underlying assumptions.
- Describe the biological foundations of psychology.