Psychology's five major perspectives explained

Why do you feel the way you feel, think the way you think and behave the way you do? Here are 5 possible explanations.

hand with 5 fingers up
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
  • Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior, but did you know there are actually 5 different perspectives to psychology?
  • The earliest study of human psychology can be traced back to 400-500 BC.
  • The biological approach, the psychodynamic approach, the behavioral approach, the cognitive approach, and the humanistic approach offer valid yet opposing ideas on why humans behave the way we do.

Human beings are fascinating. Have you ever wondered why some people can remember certain dates really well and others can't? Or why you are a home-body while your best friend is usually the life of the party? What makes us think, feel, and behave the way we do?

According to Simply Psychology, psychology is "the scientific study of the mind and behavior." The art of studying the psychology of humans can be traced back to as early as 400-500 BC, while modern psychology is said to have started in 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt opened the first psychology lab.

Wundt's laboratory would become a focus for those with a serious interest in psychology. First, opening its doors to German philosophers and psychology students, then for American and British students, as well. Wundt's aim was to record thoughts and sensations and to analyze them into their constituent elements in much the same way a chemist would analyze chemical compounds, in order to get to the underlying structure.

Psychology’s five major perspectives: Why are you the way you are?

concept of psychology five approaches to human psychology

There are five approaches to human psychology - which one do you trust most?

Image by FGC on Shutterstock

The study of psychology has progressed greatly, thanks to Wundt and other pioneers. Over the years, psychologists began to study all aspects of human behavior from personality traits to brain functions. Eventually, the studies began to look at the same human behaviors from various angles including biological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic perspectives. These became known as the "five major perspectives" in psychology.

The biological approach

The biological approach to psychology focuses on examining our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors from a strictly biological point of view. In this approach, all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors would have a biological cause.

This approach is relevant to the study of psychology in three ways:

  1. Comparative method: different species of animals can be studied and then compared to each other. This helps us better understand human behavior.
  2. Physiology: the study of how the nervous system and hormones work, how the brain functions, how changes in the structure and/or function can affect our behavior. For example, how prescribed drugs to treat depression can affect our behavior through their interaction with the nervous system.
  3. Investigation of inheritance: the study of what we inherit from our parents (through genetics). For example, whether high intelligence is inherited from one generation to the next.

Each of these is inherently important to how we study human psychology from a biological point of view, and it's suggested that behavior can be largely explained through biology.

The psychodynamic approach

The psychodynamic approach to psychology is most well-known for its ties to Sigmund Freud and his followers. This approach includes all theories in psychology that see humans functioning based on the interaction of drives and forces within the person, particularly unconscious and between the different structures of the personality.

Freud developed a collection of theories (most of which were based on what his patients told him during therapy) that formed the basis of the psychodynamic approach.

The psychodynamic approach can be best described in basic assumptions that:

  1. Our behavior and feelings are powerfully affected by unconscious motives.
  2. Our behavior and feelings as adults are rooted in childhood experiences.
  3. All behavior has a cause, and that cause is usually an unconscious one.
  4. Personality is made of three parts (ID, ego, and super-ego).

The behavioral approach

The behavioral approach to psychology focuses on how one's environment and external stimuli impact a person's mental states and development. More importantly, it focuses on how these factors specifically "train" us for the behaviors we exhibit later on.

People who support this approach to psychology over others may believe that the concept of "free will" is an illusion because all behaviors are learned and based on our past experiences. In other words, that we've been conditioned to act the way we act so nothing is ever truly our own choice.

The cognitive approach

The cognitive approach to psychology shifts away from conditioned behavior and psychoanalytical notions to the study of how our mind works, how we process information, and how we use that processed information to drive our behaviors.

This approach focuses on:

  1. The meditational processes that occur between the stimulus and our response to the stimulus.
  2. Human beings are information processors and all learning is based on the relationships we form with various stimuli.
  3. Internal mental behavior can be scientifically studied using experiments that show us how we react to certain stimuli.

In other words, the cognitive approach focuses on how our brains react to the environment around us and how our cognitive brain has very specific ways of processing certain stimuli which can explain why we think, feel and behave in certain ways.

The humanistic approach

The humanistic approach to psychology was considered something of a rebellion against what psychologists saw as the limitations of the behaviorist and psychodynamic theories of psychology. It's the idea that we should approach psychological studies uniquely for each individual because we are all so vastly different.

This approach focuses on:

  1. The idea that we all have free will.
  2. The idea that people are all basically good and that we have an innate need to make ourselves and the world better.
  3. That we are motivated to self-actualize, grow, and thrive.
  4. That our experiences are what drive us.

This approach puts emphasis on the uniqueness of every person and every situation, suggesting that the other studies can never be fully accurate as there is such a wide range of thoughts, feelings, and human behaviors that can adapt and change as we do.

90,000-year-old human hybrid found in ancient cave

Researchers have just discovered the remains of a hybrid human.

Researchers in a chamber of the Denisova cave in Siberia, where the fossil of a Denisova 11 was discovered. CreditIAET SB RAS, Sergei Zelensky
Surprising Science

90,000 years ago, a young girl lived in a cave in the Altai mountains in southern Siberia. Her life was short; she died in her early teens, but she stands at a unique point in human evolution. She is the first known hybrid of two different kinds of ancient humans: the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

Keep reading Show less

The 10 most influential women in tech right now

These thought leaders, founders, and entrepreneurs are propelling the kind of future we want to be a part of.

Kimberly Bryant (left) , Joanna Stern (middle) ,and Susan Wojcicki (right)

Credit: Flickr, The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch
Technology & Innovation
  • The tech industry may be dominated by men in terms of numbers, but there are lots of brilliant women in leadership positions that are changing the landscape.
  • The women on this list are founders of companies dedicated to teaching girls to code, innovators in the fields of AI, VR, and machine learning, leading tech writers and podcasters, and CEOs of companies like YouTube and Project Include.
  • This list is by no means all-encompassing. There are many more influential women in tech that you should seek out and follow.

Keep reading Show less

Teen popularity linked to increased depression in adolescence, decreased depression in adulthood

The results of this study showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence, declining in early adulthood and then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.

Credit: Dragana Gordic on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A 2020 Michigan State University study examined the link between teen social networks and the levels of depression later in life.
  • This study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, specifically targeting social network data. The results showed depressive symptoms being highest in adolescence and declining in early adulthood, then climbing back up again into one's early 30s.
  • There are several ways you can attempt to stay active and socially connected while battling depression, according to experts.
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

In quantum entanglement first, scientists link distant large objects

Physicists create quantum entanglement, making two distant objects behave as one.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast