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Since ancient times, the most renowned thinkers in the human history have been arguing about the nature of mind and its components and how they function. As a result, today, psychology knows a variety of approaches to the subjects each of which is based on its own unique perspective. This paper provides comparison and contrast of such schools of thought as structuralism, functionalism, Gestalt psychology, behavioral, psychodynamic, humanistic, and neuroscience perspectives, as well as the issue of determinism versus free will.
As one of the oldest perspectives, structuralism had an objective to uncover all the aspects of mind such as consciousness, emotion, thinking among others. For the data collection, the structuralists used the introspective of their patients asking them to perceive and describe objects (Feldman, 2014). The perspective that soon replaced structuralism as a rather biased approach was functionalism that studied how the brain works instead of focusing on its functions (Feldman, 2014).
This approach is deeper than structuralism that mainly identified the presence of emotion while functionalism examined their role in various scenarios (such adaptation to a new environment, defense, or self-preservation) to satisfy persons’ needs. Another perspective opposing structuralism is Gestalt psychology that recognizes that the perception is based on various components of mind but still reads experiences as wholes that cannot be broken down into parts (Feldman, 2014).
Among the contemporary perspectives, the neuroscience point of view sees people as organisms with their physiological processes and connects the brain and the nervous system to the behavioral responses (Feldman, 2014). In contrast, behavioral perspective concentrates on the actions that can be observed and does not study their biology as deeply. Cognitive perspective focuses on the process of thinking and perception the world around withdrawing from behavior, and humanistic point of view is based on an optimistic idea that humans are able to alter and adjust their behavior attempting to reach their ultimate goal that is self-realization (Feldman, 2014).
Finally, psychodynamic perspective unites the positions of the behaviorists and neuroscience studying the behaviors as the reflections of the inner dynamics over which humans have no control (Feldman, 2014). In other words, the main difference between behavioral and psychodynamic approaches is in the nature of the manifestations of human personality they deal with – outer for behaviorism and inner for psychodynamic. The main difference between humanistic and psychodynamic perspectives is the way they see human nature and its main stimuli.
The former views people as willing to progress and actualize themselves according to their higher needs (such as intellectual development and creativity), whereas the latter suggests that humans are driven by their basic needs (for instance, hunger, lust, and safety). Besides, humanist psychologists believe that humans are capable of adjusting their behaviors to achieve the results they strive for while the proponents of the psychodynamic point of view are sure that humans are not in change of their behaviors as reflections of animalistic instincts and powerful natural forces.
Regardless of the different approaches to psychology, the professionals today agree about the main issues of this sphere of knowledge. They are nature versus nurture – the argument as to whether or not the characters and personality traits are inherited or learned; conscious versus unconscious causes of behavior – the issue that concerns whether or not humans are aware of the drivers of their behaviors; free will versus determinism – can or cannot human behaviors be controlled; and individual differences versus universal principles – the argument about the nature of human actions as caused by individual features or dictated by environmental factors (Feldman, 2014).
Feldman, R. S. (2014). Essentials of Understanding Psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Education.