What kind of (armchair) psychologist are you?

October 9, 2015

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Psychology is not really a unitary thing. There are many ways to approach questions of the mind. And many people fall into distinct camps. Here, we outline the seven major perspectives you can find yours.

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This article has been updated, but first appeared on our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology.

I think it was visionary thinker and inspirational philosopher, Tupac Amaru Shakur, who posed the question,

who do you believe in?

Tupac was, as often, searching for solace while questioning the oppression of ethnic minorities, their exploitation at the hands of the authorities and the failings of ghetto culture to promote communitarianism (no, not communism, pay attention). Essentially, Tupac was searching for leadership. Someone to look up to as the world crumbled.

At the risk of belittling Tupac’s message, I’m going to now segue into the less depressing world of psychology. Psychologists also look for leadership. We’ve talked before about some of the researchers who, despite having some puzzling ideas, drove the development of our discipline through their (oddly specific) leadership.

In this article I want to outline the seven major psychological perspectives in general. Which kind of psychologist are you, and which bizarre leader birthed your discipline?

Psychodynamic

These guys were the among the first of modern psychology, starting with Sigmund Freud. They focused on our unconscious drives and the conflicts that raged underneath our perception. They believe that our behaviour is an overt expression of [unconscious motives](/articles/unconscious-processes).

Behaviourist

Behaviourism was driven most recently by the extremely problematic John Watson, and less problematic but extremely rigid [B.F. Skinner](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner), but birthed from René Descartes work in the 17th Century. The most radical behaviourists focus only on our specific overt responses. Essentially they believe that the environment drives our behaviours (or the consequences of our behaviours drive them) and that our cognitions (thoughts) are less important or don't exist at all.

Humanistic

This was a movement that focused more on the person that their behaviour. Exploring the human experience and our potential, this movement was birthed by people like Abraham Maslow and (one of my favourites) Carl Rogers. These guys focused on life patterns, values and goals.

Cognitive

Rebelling against those ‘radical’ behaviourists, these people paid attention to our mental processes and the role of language, like Albert Bandura. They study thought by inferring mental processes through our behaviours. Arguably, however, the importance of our ‘mental structures’ were considered as early as the 17th Century.

Biological

From very early on, people have understood that our mental state is influenced by our body. But some scientists prefer to stay focused on our brain and nervous system processes to understand our minds. They try to explore the biochemical basis of behaviour and mental processes. Since the development of the fMRI, we’ve been able to progress this field of study by leaps and bounds too, even exploring questions of religion.

Evolutionary

People like David Buss have really sought to push this perspective hard into the literature and drive his point deep into the foundations of other theories. They focus on our [evolved psychological adaptations](/articles/tinbergen-four-questions-evolution), how our mental processed formed as a result of their evolved adaptive functions.

Sociocultural

One of the more recent (and less researched) of the perspectives. As we move toward more cross-disciplinary methods of research, we’ve noticed that the human experience can really change based on what culture you’re in (like our experience of jealousy). So, these researchers focus on cross-cultural patterns of attitudes and behaviours; what is universal and what’s culture-specific in terms of the human experience.

Outro

Now, although a lot of these started with egoistic powerhouses who believed (against all logic) that their way was the only way, most psychologists are very clear that we must employ all of the perspectives to have any serious understanding of the human mind. But really, everyone sits in a camp. So I, like Tupac, ask again; who do you believe in.

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