Week Four Notes and Key Takeaways


The great schools of psychology

1. Structuralism (Wundt, Titchener) examined the structures of the mind. It was rigidly tied to a single methodology: introspection.

2. Functionalism focused on how the mind works

Functionalism originated in the United States as a counter-movement to structuralism, which began in Germany.

Structuralists and functionalists asked fundamentally different questions:

Structuralists asked, What are the contents (particular sensations or thoughts) of the human mind?

Functionalists asked, What do people do, and why do they do it?

Functionalists viewed humans as more actively engaged in their mental and emotional processes.

3. Behaviorism (Watson, Skinner) focused strictly on observable behavior, not on experience (excluded thoughts, feelings, emotions, which are subjective and unobservable).

4. Gestalt Psychologists (Koffka, Kohler), considered as a holistic (more whole) approach, believed that both behavior and experience matter. Observable behavior alone is not enough, the hidden processes of the mind are also crucial to the understanding of the human mind and how it perceives the world.

5. Psychoanalysis - Sigmund Freud believed that behavior is driven by desires and fears deeply buried in our unconscious. His psychoanalytic method was developed in an effort to reach and uncover unconscious motivations.

Behaviorism - A Learning Theory

At the core of behaviorism are three extremely radical views:

1. A strong emphasis on learning. The view of behaviorism is everything you are and everything you know is the result of experience. People are easily influenced.

There's a famous quote from John Watson:

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed and my own specified world to bring them up and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train them to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chief, and yes, even beggar-man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors" (in Wertheimer, p. 164).

In other words, none of the above facts about people will ever make any difference. What you learn plays a role in what you are. So, in essence, Watson claimed he could create anyone simply by treating them in a certain way.

2. Behaviorists felt that internal mental processes like desires, wishes, and emotions are unscientific. These unobservable phenomena can never form the basis of a rigorous science. And so, behaviorists developed a science that instead focused on notions that point to real world events such as stimulus and response, reinforcement and punishment, and environment.

3. Finally, behaviorists believed there were no great differences across species. From that theoretical standpoint, emerged the methodological approach that one could study human learning by studying animals.

Behaviorism's two dominant learning principles

The two main learning principles that behaviorists argue can explain all of human mental life and behavior:

1. Pavlov's Classical conditioning:

The learning of an association between one stimulus and another stimulus (sound, sight, smell).

Pavlov distinguished between two sorts of stimulus response relationships:

  • the unconditioned response (when an unconditioned stimulus gives rise to an unconditioned response--the dog-food-saliva sequence, for instance);
  • the conditioned response (when a neutral stimulus (a bell) is associated with an unconditioned stimulus (food), in time the bell alone triggers saliva--a conditioned response).

2. Skinner's Operant conditioning:

Learning what works and what doesn't. It is very different from classical conditioning in that operant conditioning is voluntary. You choose to do things. A behavior followed by a reinforcer is more likely to be repeated. When the reinforcer disappears, the behavior will most likely stop.

Two kinds of behaviorists

There were two kinds of behaviorists:

The molecular (Watson, Hull, Spence, Guthrie), and the molar (Tolman, Lashley) (in Wertheimer, p. 170). Simply put, for the molar behaviorist, behavior is best understood as the product of an organism's history (a history of behaviors), not as isolated events (a molecular view).

Freed from behaviorism (and the rejection of the mind), psychology in the mid 50's brought the mind back (now referred to as cognition) to examine and interpret behavior.