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Schools of Thought

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Schools of Thought

Pavlov's dog. Id, ego, and superego. Classical conditioning. Chances are you've heard of, and may even be familiar with, one of these. But what do all of these theories (and references to case studies) have in common? They are all to be found within the major schools of thought in the field of psychology. Let's explore them in more detail.

  • What are the major schools of thought in psychology?
  • What is behaviorism?
  • What is psychoanalysis?
  • Are psychological schools of thought still relevant?

What is a School of Thought?

A school of thought refers to a group of people who share similar viewpoints and opinions about a particular subject. It serves to unify and identify those with common beliefs, traditions, or practices concerning a field of study or subject.

There are five primary schools of thought in psychology.

The Five Major Schools of Thought in Psychology

Let's dive straight into these.

Structuralism

Structuralism was the first school of thought in psychology. It was founded by Wilhelm Wundt, a German professor, philosopher, and physiologist. Although it was Wundt's work that built the foundation of structuralism, the school of thought was formally established by his student, Edward B. Titchener in the 1890s.

Structuralism gets its name from its objective, which is to explore the structure of the mind. Wundt sought to understand the structure of the mind by using introspection as his primary tool. Events or experiences were broken down into the smallest possible elements to be assessed, so the researcher could better understand the contents of consciousness.

If this is hard to understand, here's another example. Take a table: To a structuralist, a table isn't a place to work or a surface to put things on. It is wood, metal bars, bolts, and screws.

Though this school of thought pushed the field of psychology forward during its time, it was ultimately critiqued for the subjective nature of introspection. Stimulus is rarely perceived the same way from one person to the next.

Functionalism

The American psychologist, historian, and philosopher William James developed the school of functionalism in the late 19th/early 20th century, after strong criticism of the structuralist approach. Unlike structuralism, which broke experiences down into small elements, the functionalist approach focused on the whole of an experience. Functionalists define a mental state not by what it is made of, but by what it does. A particular mental state depends on its function to be understood.

Schools of Thought (Psychology) mousetrap StudySmarterMousetrap with cheese, pixabay.com

The example of a mousetrap is famously used to explain the functionalist theory. While not all mouse traps are made equally - some are large and elaborate, some are a simple spring hinge on a board - they all serve the same purpose, which is to kill mice. Regardless of what it is made of, how many parts it possesses, or even the supposed quality of the material, it is a mousetrap if its function is to kill mice.

Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis was founded by the Austrian scholar Sigmund Freud. It focused on the workings of the unconscious mind to explain human behavior. This school of thought holds that all people have unconscious desires, memories, and thoughts, resulting in repressed emotions. Psychoanalysis aims to make these unconscious elements conscious to find catharsis.

Freud developed a three-part structure of the human mind. These were the id, ego, and superego. Psychoanalysis maintains that the interaction of these three parts explains personality and human behavior. Freud stressed the importance of the proper development of id, ego, and superego across his five Psychosexual Stages of Development. Unresolved conflicts during any stage of development can cause one to become fixated in that stage, emphasizing or repressing certain behaviors or personality traits.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism was founded by John B. Watson in 1924. It emphasizes experience and one's environment over internal or subconscious forces. Behaviorism believes that human psychology is better understood through a subject's behavior, rather than their personal beliefs or thoughts.

According to this school of thought, behavior is learned through two types of conditioning, classical and operant. In classical conditioning, an association is forged between two stimuli; a conditioned stimulus, and an unrelated unconditioned stimulus, to create a behavior. A classic (and famous) example of this is Pavlov's dog.

In operant conditioning, behaviors are created or enforced through reward or punishment. Here the association is made between behavior and consequence.

Gestalt Psychology

While some schools of thought emphasized the structure of the mind or the expression of behavior to understand our world and human nature, Gestalt psychology believed it took both of these things to gain a true understanding of the whole of our world. Indeed, a central tenet of Gestalt psychology is holism, which emphasizes the whole over the sum of its parts. The term Gestalt itself is a German word loosely meaning "configuration". It is the configuration of multiple things that give us true meaning, and this true meaning sits apart from its parts.

Think of your experience of a song. Our minds perceive a song as a meaningful whole. Every song is made up of individual notes; however, it is the configuration of the notes that creates a meaningful experience. Upsetting or altering one small component can result in a completely different experience.

Why are Schools of Thought in Psychology Less Important Today?

In the past, it was more common for psychologists to house their practice and treatment under one particular school of thought. Today, this has changed considerably and psychologists are much less likely to align themselves with one exclusive school of thought.

Our understanding of personality and behavior is much more nuanced. Professionals will utilize elements and ideas from multiple theories and schools.

Schools of Thought - Key takeaways

  • Structuralism was the first school of thought in psychology. It concerned itself with exploring the structure of the mind through introspection.
  • Functionalism defined mental states by their function, or what they do.
  • Psychoanalysis emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind in understanding perception and behavior.
  • Behaviorism emphasized the importance of experience and environment to understand behavior. This school believed behavior was learned through classical or operant conditioning.
  • Gestalt psychology emphasized the configuration of parts to reveal an independent and meaningful whole.

Frequently Asked Questions about Schools of Thought

school of thought refers to a group of people who share similar viewpoints and opinions about a particular subject.

Structuralism was the first school of thought in psychology. 

Our understanding of personality and behavior is much more nuanced. Today, professionals will utilize elements and ideas from multiple theories and schools of thought. 

The five major schools of thought in psychology are Structuralism, Functionalism, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, and Gestalt Psychology. 

Functionalists define a mental state not by what it is made of, but by what it does. A particular mental state depends on its function to be understood. 

Final Schools of Thought Quiz

Question

What are the five schools of thought in psychology?

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Structuralism, functionalism, psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and Gestalt.

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What was the first school of thought in psychology?

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Structuralism

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What are the two types of conditioning in behavioral psychology?

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Classical and operant conditioning.

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Pavlov's dog is an example of which type of conditioning?

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Classical

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Who founded the psychoanalysis school of thought?

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Sigmund Freud

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A mousetrap is an example that helps us understand which school of thought?

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Functionalism

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What is a school of thought?

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A group of people who share similar viewpoints and opinions about a particular subject.

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Structuralism sought to understand the structure of the mind by using this as its tool.

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Introspection

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Why is introspection an unreliable tool in the understanding of the mind?

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It is too subjective. Stimulus is rarely perceived the same way from one person to the next. 

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This school of thought focused on repressed thoughts and emotions.

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Psychoanalysis

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What are the three parts of the mind in Psychoanalysis?

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Id, ego, and superego.

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What is the meaning of the German word "gestalt"?

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Configuration

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Holism is a core belief of which school of thought?

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Gestalt Psychology

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Which type of conditioning reinforces behavior through reward and punishment?

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Operant conditioning

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Are the schools of thought more or less important to the practice of psychology today?

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Less

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Reinforcement that removes an unwanted stimulus or consequence is called

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Negative Reinforcement

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 Who coined the term "operational conditioning"?

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B.F. Skinner

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True or False? The Law of Effect is a principle originated by Edward Thorndike.

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True

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Type of conditioning in which the subject begins to form an association between an environmental stimulus and a naturally occurring stimulus.

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Classical Conditioning

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Type of conditioning in which reward and punishment are used to create associations between a behavior and a consequence.

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Operant Conditioning

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True or False? John B. Watson believed that we are already born with innate behaviors. 

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False

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Frank apologizes to his wife and no longer has to sleep on the couch. This is an example of what type of reinforcement?

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Negative Reinforcement

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 What was the conditioned response in Pavlov's Dog experiment?

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The dog's salivation at the sound of the bell.

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This principle states that behavior that is followed by a satisfying or pleasant consequence is likely to be repeated in the same situation and behavior that is followed by a dissatisfying or unpleasant consequence is less likely to occur in the same situation.

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Law of Effect

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Jack receives $15 from his parents for cleaning his room. This is an example of what type of reinforcement?

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Positive Reinforcement

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What experiment used a specially designed box to study operant conditioning and reinforcement in rat and pigeon behavior?

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Skinner box

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True or False? Behaviorism theory states that psychology should include the study of thoughts and emotions.  

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False

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What are the two main types of behaviorism theory? 


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Methodological Behaviorism and Radical Behaviorism. 

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Why was the "Little Albert" Experiment considered so controversial? 


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Watson did not decondition the subject. 

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The results of the "Little Albert" Experiment supported what type of conditioning? 



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Classical Conditioning

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Freud believed this psychoanalysis technique provided the most direct path to the unconscious mind.

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Dream analysis

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Psychoanalysis is both a theory and a therapy. True or False?


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True

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This term is used to describe a moment where a person says or does something they didn’t intend, reflecting some inner conflict of the unconscious mind.


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Freudian slip

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Psychoanalysis is traditionally a short process involving only one session a week.


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 False.

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The idea that boys, due to their fear of losing the love of their mother, feel threatened by, and resentful of their fathers is called:

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Oedipus complex

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What are the five stages of Freud's Psychosexual Theory?

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Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent, Genital

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Psychoanalysis is often criticized for being too scientific and focusing too little on case studies. True or False?

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False

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Carl Jung believed that behavior was not only dictated by past experiences or early childhood but also by a person’s:

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Future aspirations

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The 'Wolf Man' case study was an example of which psychoanalytic technique?

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Dream analysis

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What three parts make up Freud's structure of personality?

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Id, Ego, Superego

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This part of Freud's structure of personality holds our ideals and values and acts as a censor for both the Id and ego functions of our personality.

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Superego

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What are multiple perspectives in psychology?

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The concept of multiple perspectives is that there is not one singular psychological perspective that is right and one that is wrong, but rather multiple perspectives that can overlap.  

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What are the seven perspectives in psychology?

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  1. Humanist
  2. Psychoanalytic
  3. Biopsychology
  4. Evolutionary
  5. Behavioral
  6. Cognitive
  7. Socio-cultural

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 The _____ ________ might explain introversion as cultural. Even different cities within the same region might have different values involving social interactions.  


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Socio-cultural Perspective

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The _____ ______ seeks to explain human thought and behavior by looking at biological processes. 


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biopsychology perspective 

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________ is the science that seeks to answer the major questions of human behavior and mental processes. 


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Psychology

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The ______ ______  in psychology focuses on individual will and the belief that most of our behavior is based on choice, and we make our choices based on fulfilling an internal need. 


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humanist perspective

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The ______ _______ would seek to explain introversion as a survival tactic. 


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evolutionary perspective 

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Why should we have multiple perspectives in psychology?

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The different perspectives in psychology are meant to work together to explain human behavior and mental processes more fully.  

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What is the downside to having multiple perspectives in psychology?

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In psychology, there can be many answers simultaneously. This can come across as scattered and disunited.

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