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  What Is Psychology?
Written By: Dr. Levinson
The investigation of the mind remained the absolute province of philosophy until the nineteenth century. In fact, many of modern psychological issues related to human's behavior can be traced back to China, India and Ancient Greeks, when


philosophers such as, Plato and Aristotle tried to explain how people feel, behave and acquire knowledge. Psychology was declared, for the first time, as an independent field only in 1879, with Wundt’s experimental laboratory).
Leading Modern Psychological Schools Include: Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Cognitivist, and Humanism.


Psychoanalysis refers to the theory and application of mind investigation. The theory was conceptualized by the Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) in the 1890s  Freud’s main premise was that adult’s personality is shaped, and to a large extent, determined by childhood memories and experiences. He contended that emotional sickening symptoms, such as Hysteria, are rooted in troubling memories-- buried in the unconscious mind.

   Dr. Sigmund Freud

In addition, conflicts and formation of mental disorders are based on specific developmental/ psycho-sexual stage in which the child was in at the time. Each stage is characterized by erogenous zone that is the source of the libidinal/sexual instinct. The stages are: Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent, and Genital.
Furthermore, these unconscious, repressed memories, almost always, have some sexual content and associations.

Specifically, unresolved conflicts between various Mental Structural Constructs may result in neurosis.
For example, conflict between the Id and Ego, may lead to unhealthy personalities to develop. While the Id, which operates solely on the 'pleasure principle', seeks immediate gratification of basic drives, (e.g. sex, aggression); the Ego, which operates on the 'reality principle', acts as a mediator between the need to satisfy the Id's urges and realities’ constrains. For a person to cope with these inner mental conflicts, Defense Mechanisms (e.g. Repression) are developed. However, when defense mechanisms fail to serve the person in adaptive ways, disturbances may develop.

Freud's theory was further elaborated, by other psychoanalytic theorists and clinicians. However, all theoretical schools share some basic Freudian's assumptions. Specifically, all recognize the strong influence of unconscious elements on people's psyche, including mental suffering.

Dr. Mary Ainsworth

Among the many Freudian followers are: Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan, Jacques Lacan, Margaret Mahler, Otto Kernberg, Erik Erikson, Carl Young, Ainsworth, Wilfred Bion, John Bowlby, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, and Donald Winnicott.

Although it is beyond the scope of this article, it is important to note that each theorist added a remarkable contribution to the psychoanalytic understanding of human's behavior.
Many diverted from the “Classical Freudian Theory" that over stressed sexual drives, as well as, from the premise that adult personality is mostly determined by early childhood experiences and fixations. Neo-Freudians illuminated other critical elements for healthy mental growth. For example, Eriskson studied mental growth later, in adult life.

Psychoanalysis Has Been Criticized For:

Being pseudoscience since it lacks scientific coherence of empirical methodology. While other, well-established branches of science are based on quantitative and experimental research, Psychoanalysis is based mostly on clinical Case Study. This means that none of the Psychoanalytic terms can be empirically tested or refuted. For example, modern research and technology cannot pinpoint any of the mental structures (Id, Ego & Super Ego) Freud referred to. Finally, another major critic is related to the fact that psychoanalysis put too much emphasis on sexuality, often neglecting other relevant qualities of human's psyche.

Behavioral Psychology, also known as the Learning Perspective, is a brunch of psychology that became dominant during the early half of the 20th century and eroded thereafter. The theoretical goal of Behaviorism is prediction and control of behavior. It is based on the premise that all things organisms do, both animals and human, are learned behaviors. Furthermore, pure Behaviorism investigates observable behaviors only, avoiding the study of inner processes. This is partly because it is easier to collect and quantify data when conducting research.

The school of Behaviorism intended to create a comprehensive model of stream of behavior- from birth to death. Prominent thinkers in this field are: Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, and B.F. Skinner.

Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), was a well- known Russian physiologist, who among his much recognition received the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1904.  Through his work, Pavlov discovered the phenomenon of Classical Conditioning.

Ivan Pavlov
John B. Watson
This discovery was based on a series of research related to dog's reflexive digestive system (where he proved that these reflexes originate in the cerebral cortex of the brain). Dogs learned that when a sound of a bell was heard, food was coming. Thus, bell and food were learned to be associated. This set the ground for the study of: Learning by Association.

John B. Watson (1878- 1958), was an American psychologist, who is considered the Father of Modern Behaviorism. He argued that psychology should be the science of observable behavior and rejected Psychoanalytic Introspection as a form of mind investigation. Inspired by Pavlov's work, and in line with his views, Watson demonstrated techniques of studying reactions to the environment, utilizing objective and scientific methods.
"Psychology as the behaviorist views, it is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science (1913)".
One of Watson's famous, yet controversial experiments was the study of: "Little Albert". He conditioned a small child to fear a white rat through repeatedly pairing it with a loud noise. Later, this fear was generalized to other white, furry objects.

B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), was an influential figure in defining Radical Behaviorism. His school was also named: Experimental Analysis of Behavior/ EAB. He is one of the well-known behavioral scientists, whose work contributed immensely to Experimental Psychology. He is best acknowledged for his theory of Operant Conditioning and the invention of 'Skinner Box'. Skinner proved a rat learned to get food by pressing a lever—thus operating of the environment. In contrast to Classical Conditioning, which is Learning by Association, in Operant Conditioning, the organism learns through acting / operating on the environment.

Criticisms on the Behavioral School:
There are several main critics: In light of the multi-dimensional layers of human’s psyche, Radical Behaviorism often seems to be uni-dimensional and too simplistic. It tends to neglect more complex processes such as: free will, genetic influences, moods, thoughts, and feelings. As such, strict Behaviorism does not account for all types of learning. For example, learning that occurs without the use of reinforcements or/and punishments. Finally, since many of the Behaviorist's findings are based on animal research, many by definition do not apply to human's behavior.

In the early 50s, the intellectual landscape began to change dramatically and gave rise to modern scientific research of cognition. Behaviorism was largely eclipsed as a result of the Cognitive Revolution. Cognitive Psychology refers to the process of acquiring knowledge (in Latin: cognoscere means: “to know”). It incorporates related disciplines like philosophy, neuroscience, computer science, anthropology, and linguistics into the understanding of human behavior and pathology. It aims towards understanding the way people solve problems, learn, speak, socialize with others, remember, and perceive.

It is fundamentally and radically different from both Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis: In contrast to Behaviorism, which focuses only on observable behaviors, Cognitive Psychology is concerned with internal mental states.
And, in contrast to Psychoanalysis, which relies heavily on subjective methods (e.g. Introspection), Cognitive Psychology uses empirical, measurable research methods to study mental processes.
The school of Cognitive Psychology is based on quantitative and scientific methodology. For example, many cognitive researchers use the: “computer- mind” analogy to explain how the human’s mind operates. It is argued that the mind store, process and retrieve information in a similar manner to a computer. Others, emphasize that one's emotion at a given time, depends on her interpretation of the situation (for more info see: Cognitive- Appraisal Theory).

         Aaron Beck

Among the many marked Cognitive Psychologists, who departure from the prevalent Psychoanalytic and Behaviorist schools at the first half of the 20s century were: Aaron Beck, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, Albert Bandura & Noam Chomsky.

Aaron Beck (Born 1921) is regarded as the Father of Cognitive Therapy. Initially

he focused on depression and conceptualized it through Mental Schemas. Beck believed that depressive schemas are mental structures built early in childhood/adolescents as a result of a trauma (e.g. when a child losses her parent). These schemas may remain dormant for years, until the individual encounters situations that resemble the original ones, which then awakens it.
Moreover, Beck conceptualized the term: Cognitive Triad of depressive schemas.

It refers to negative beliefs about: The self, future and the world. Thus a depressive patient might feel that he is worthless, his future is hopeless, and the world is unfair. A concrete example of the Depressive Cognitive

Albert Bandura

Noam Chomsky
Triad would be: “I am worthless, I am not going to get anywhere, and my future seems shady".

Some common logical errors Beck emphasized include:
•   Selective abstraction- when conclusions are based 
     on some but not all evidence.
•   Arbitrary inferences- when one draws a specific conclusion
     without supporting evidence, or even in the face of
     contradictory one.
•   Minimization of positives life evens & Magnification of
     negative qualities.
•   Overgeneralization- is the application of a general rule 
     based on a few isolated incidents.
•   Personalization- is attributing external events onto oneself
     without evidence of a causal connection.
•   Dichotomous thinking-is categorizing experiences into 
     one oftwo extremes good or bad.

Noam Chomsky (born1928), a key cognitive thinker in the subfield of psycho-linguistic, who has had profound implications for modern psychology. In many ways, he helped start the Cognitive Revolution of Psychology, by formulating the theory of Generative Grammar.

Chomsky investigated the development of innate structures for syntax, that is- the human ability for creative, organized, coherent, adaptive way of combining words and phrases into intelligible utterances. His Nativist Approach posits Innate/biological Universal Grammar roles and ability for Language Acquisition. He claimed that humans are genetically pre-programmed to learn language. For example, Cooing, which appears at about 6 months or so, is used by Infants all around the world, including congenitally deaf babies.

This approach, which incorporates biological aspects, is seen by many as a direct critic to the established Behaviorist Theories of the time. Through his review of: B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior, he challenged the behaviorist’s view of defining language as a learned behavior.

Lev Vygotsky’s (1896 – 1934), known for his theory of cognitive development. Vygotsky's emphasized the role of social and cultural factors in the family and child's milieu. He believed that universal internal cognitive structures or schemas are built first within the child, and then are affected by her surroundings. "Scaffolding”, a Vygotsky's term, refers to the assistance adults give children in order to help them comprehend the world. In this context, language is often seen as primarily social. Thus, a child's language and cognitive processes are immensely related to her social relationships and culture. Scaffolding is often used in modern educational systems.

Bandura (born 1925), considered personality to be an interaction between three components: the environment, behavior, and one’s psychological processes (one’s ability to store images in minds and language). He developed the Social Learning Theory which is viewed as a bridge between Behavioral and Cognitive theories. He claimed that although behavioral practice and reinforcement are important, they are not absolutely necessary. That is, there are ample behaviors that do not require reinforcement or conditioning.

In addition, Bandura argued that learning can take place via imitation, observation, and modeling. It is possible to learn a given behavior merely by watching a model perform it. Bandura believed in “Reciprocal Determinism”--the world and a person’s behavior cause each other. For example, Aggressive thoughts may result in aggressive behavior, which in turn, may have an effect on causing others to have aggressive thoughts.




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