Contemporary Perspectives in Psychology

What is Perspective?

Literally perspective means view, a mental view or an outlook. It also refers to background or “from the point of view” of someone or something. Perspective in Psychology refers to the different ways that psychologists look at issues or problems and offer an explanation from a particular point of view. There are several perspectives in contemporary psychology. We have explained briefly each perspective, its strengths and weaknesses.

Biological Perspective

This perspective takes into account the neurological and biological processes behind mental and behaviour processes. Central nervous system, neurons, neurotransmitters, heredity, genes and inherited characteristics and traits are the subjects of Biological perspective. This approach identifies biological bases for behaviour and mental processes. This has led to the science of treating various mental illnesses biologically. This approach over-emphasizes the biological elements and ignores the role played by spiritual factor. It may lead to deterministic beliefs. For example, one may think that he is born fat and will stay like that simply because of his genes, or that this is something he acquired from his forefathers.

Behavioural Perspective

According to the behavioural perspective our behaviour is moulded by external environment. Mental processes are not considered in this approach. It is what we gain and absorb from the outside environment. Behavioural approach has been quite useful in understanding the effects of environment on human behaviour. It is a scientific approach and has led to the development of various treatments in the field of psychology.

Behaviourism views people to be the product of environment. “We are what we have learnt from the environment” is the principle of the approach. In the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

O Lady! We receive what we give

Ours is her wedding garment, ours is her shroud!

Behaviourism consists of two things.

a. Stimuli:  These are the various environmental factors around us.

b. Response: This is the observable behaviour affected by stimuli (environmental factors).

The approach proposes two ways in which people are affected by their environment and what and how they learn from it.

a. Classical conditioning: This refers to learning by association.

b. Operant Conditioning. This refers to learning as result of some behaviour i.e. consequence.

The problem with behavioural approach is it under estimates the role of mind and mental processes. According to Hunt (1994), “Mind is an illusion, there is no incorporal self within us; or mental experiences, including consciousness, awareness of self, and thinking, are only physiological events taking place in the nervous system in response to environmental stimuli.”

Behaviourism derives conclusion through scientific methodology. Controlled experiments are undertaken on animals to observe their behaviour in response to the set external environment. This has led to numerous scientific studies and findings. Behavioural perspective has been criticized in many ways. Below are the main points on the basis of which behaviourism is regarded as infective.

1. It fails to take into account the complexity of human behaviour.

2. The scientific studies on animals cannot be always generalized and applied to humans.

3. It ignores the biological factors.

Cognitive perspective

It is at the other extreme of the spectrum. Cognitive means “of cognition” Cognition can be defined as the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired. For every action we need to know the mental process behind it. Mental functions, thinking, perceptions, attention, believing etc.

Human mind is not just a passive recipient. It receives, processes, stores and retrieves information. It is strictly a scientific approach in which mind is compared to a computer system. As a computer system receives data, processes and outputs, same way our mind gets data, processes and transforms it into meaningful information. Just like on a computer hard drive information is stored for later retrieval, our mind stores information in the form of memory and is retrieved as and when necessary.

The cognitive perspective is popular both with professional as well as lay people. As it is scientific and lab based and backed by evidence, it has led to the development of various treatment used for a variety of mental illnesses.

Humanistic Perspective

This is also known as a holistic approach which means to study humans as a whole. The theory focuses on the subjective experiences along with personal growth. Individuals are basically good and they make their own fates by taking their own decisions. If an individual wants to achieve happiness, he must get there by constant self-improvement and self-understanding. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are the two major and influential supporter of this approach.

Humanistic approach inspires the human ability to achieve goals. It is positive and even considers the negative or evil to have good in them and can be changed by individual. However, it fails realise the existence of evil along with good. It is also more philosophical than scientific.

Socio-Cultural Perspective

As the name indicates, it bases its view upon the sociological as well as cultural factors. In order to understand an individual one must take into account all the social and cultural variables. Something normal in one society or culture may be just the opposite in another society or culture.

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