Cognitive Approaches in Psychology

In this essay I will outline two approaches in psychology, compare and contrast them as well discussing the nature and nurture debate regarding both approaches. I will be examining a theorist from each approach outlining and evaluating his theory including the positive alltributes along with the negative. Finally I will include a therapy from each theorist and approach. The Behaviourist approach focuses on the concept of explaining behaviour by observation, and the belief that our environment is what causes us to behave differently and suffer illnesses.
The Behaviourist approach believes that behaviour is influenced by each and every individuals experiences. This could include their background, social and home living circumstances. Behaviourist psychologists argue that when we are born our mind is ‘tabula rasa’ meaning a blank state and that events taking place in our life time can affect and change the way we behave. Behaviour is the the result of stimulus response, i. e all behaviour no matter how complex can be reduced to a simple stimulus response. All behaviour is learnt from the environment.
We learn new behaviour through classical and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning is stimulus- response. If a stimulus that results in a emotional response is repeated along with another stimulus which does not cause an emotional response, then eventually the second stimulus will result in the same emotional response. Classical conditioning is therefore learning by association. Some assumptions are made on the behaviourism approach, for example one assumption made is that there is no mind or body dualism and that everything we do is because of behaviour and not because of the mind.

A second assumption would be that discovering a stimuli that causes behaviour associations between stimlulus and response will allow us to predict and control behaviour. They also viewed learning as a change of behaviour due to experience. However some critics object against the behaviourist view that behaviour is determined by our enviromnets as psychologist Garrett (1996) suggested that ‘… behaviour is now shaped by what goes on inside their heads… and not simply by what goes on in the external environment’ (p. 19) Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behaviour.
Through operant conditioning, an association can be made between a certain behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour. For example if a good thing is presented and a certain behaviour is encouraged then the behaviour will increase, this is called positive reinforement. However if the good thing is taken away then the behaviour will decrease. For example is a dog is told to fetch the ball and every time it fetches the ball it gets rewarded with a treat. This would influence the dogs behaviour to always fetch the ball as it will be rewarded.
Another key feature of the behaviourist approach is the social learning theory. The social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context. It considers that people learn from one another including such concepts as observational learning, imitation, and modeling. It says that people can learn by observing the behaviour of others and the outcomes of their behaviour. The cognitive approach deals with metal processes or cognitions. These mental processes include memory, thinking and perceptions. Cognition means “knowing”.
Therefore cognition is the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired. Cognitive psychology has been influenced by the developments in computer science and comparisons have often been made between how a cumputer works and we process information. The main focus of the cognitive approach is how information received from our senses is processed by the brain and how this processing affect how we behave. Cognitive processes show examples of hypothetical constructs. This means that we can not directly analyse processes such as thinking but we can dissect what a person is thinking based on how they act.
Cognitive psychologists use laboratory experiments to study behaviour. This is because the cognitive approach is a scientific one. These experiments would involve participants taking part in memory tests in strictly controlled conditions. An assumption made about the cognitive approach is that there exists a circular relationship between learning, meaning and memory. The basis for cognitive theories follows this patern in which what is learned is affected by its meaningfulness, the meaning is determined by what is remebered and the memory is affected by what we learn.
The cognitive approach places itself in direct opposition to the behaviourist approach which mostly ignores mental processes. The cognitive approach is internal whereas the behaviourist is external as it focuses on the human environment. The cognitive approach examines behaviour which is directed through the mind rather then the body. It studys the thought processes, memory, language, perception and decision making. Whereas the Behaviourist approach examines our behaviour by our responses to our surroundings and the events taking place around us which may influence us to act in a certain way through imitation.
It assumes that we learn things by associating certain events with certain consequences and that we will behave in the way that achieves the most desirable consequences. There are many methods in which the cognitive approach examine. Such as the holistic method which is a view that all aspects of people’s needs such as the psychological, physical and social should be taken into account and seen as a whole. The nature and nurture debate is one of the longest running debates in the area of psychology in which theorists have various different views and opinions.
Nurture is the view that everything we learn is through interaction with our surrounding environment, this could include with people, family and mass media. Some assumptions of this approach would be that the nurture theory did not discount that genetics exist but argues that they simply made no difference to how we behave and act. Studies on children temperament showed the most crucial evidence for the nurture theory. Another would be that the nurture argument is most represented by the behaviourist approach as behaviourists believe that all behaviour is the outcome of learning through conditioning.
The nature theory focuses on the heredity and specific genes which can determine passing on of traits such as eye colour and skin colour. The nature theory would suggest that even personality, intelligence and aggression is also encoded in our DNA. Some assumptions of this approach would be that behaviour is innate, conditions such a schizophrenia show genetic links and a large amount of research shows that there is a link between hormones and aggression. Behaviourism follows the nurture approach as it studies that we learn from our environment, hence making this approach nurturist.
It believes that our behaviour is influenced by our surroundings. Watson- the father of behaviourism quoted: ‘Give me a dozen healthy infants and my own specified world to bring them up in and I will garantee to take anyone at random and train him to become any kind of specialist I might select: doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant chef and yes beggar and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tenancies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors. ’ Watson is clearly stating that he could change any person from any different social background and race if he could bring them up in his own way.
His statement strongly argues the nurture side of the debate. He argued that human behaviour could be conditioned depending on their surroundings. On the other hand the Cognitive approach is an interaction between the two nature and nurture. As much as it focuses on reactions of the senses to the brain and the mind which make it nature it also has many nurture altributes also. The cognitive psychologist would recognise that experience and the environment also contribute and shape these innate abilities. Piaget’s therory backed this up as he believed that humans use their experiences to construct new understandings.
He agreed that both nature and nurture are important, humans move through universal stages due to maturation however the rate they mature in depends on experience. He said that people are, by nature active contributors to their own development. Piaget’s argued that both nature and nurture interact to produce cognitive development. He said that the nature side helps the maturation of the brain and the body, along with the ability to percieve and learn. Whereas the nurture helps with the adaptation of children and how they respond to their enviroment. Bandura was a behaviourist theorist.
He believed that there are three sources of models which influenced humans behaviour, these included the family, the mass media and the sub-culture. He conducted a number of experiments in which he carried out on children. One of his experiments involved an inflatable Bobo doll, his aim was to investigate the effects of observing aggression in an adult model. The procedure of this experiment was for it to take place in a playroom containing a range of toys. Young children watched an adult attacking a large inflatable Bobo doll by hitting it with a hammer and saying ‘pow’!
Once the adult left the playroom, the behaviour of the children was then observed. A control group of children who did not see the adult attack the doll were also observed in the playroom. The results showed that the children who had seen the adult attack the doll also attacked the doll in similar ways. However the children who had not seen the adult attack the doll did not. The conclusion to this was that children learned particular behaviours towards the Bobo doll through observational learning and then copied the behaviour when given a chance.
Two years later he conducted a similar experiment however this time it was to observe the effects on modelling by children of seeing a model reinforced or punished for a behaviour. This experiment, like the previous involved a bunch of children watching and adult kick and attack a Bobo doll but this time get rewarded for it. Another set of children watched the same thing however saw the adult get punished for it. The children in the group that saw the model being punished were later offered a reward if they could reproduce the behaviour they had observed.
The results showed that the children in the group that saw the model get punished for the attack were less likely to imitate that behaviour. This experiment concluded that observation is enough for behaviour to be learned, however reinforcement is necessary for the behaviour to be modelled. The values of Bandura’s social learning theory were that it extended the operant conditioning theory. It focused on the idea of the influence of the social environment in behaviour therefore providing an explanation for cultural and individual differences.
It could account for individual differences and allowed for more complex human behaviour. Bandura’s theory had a role to play in personality theory and introduces the idea of vicarious learning. Although the criticisms are that his theories are reductionist, environmental and determinism. Reductionist ways of explaining behaviour often examine one single cause ignoring other explanations. Reductionism attempts to understand and describe the human behaviour in terms of simple components or units. Any explanation of behaviour at its simplest can be described as reductionist.
This approach reduces a complex behaviour to a simple set of variables which offer the possibilities of identifying a cause and effect. The reductionist approach is therefor a from of determinism. Determinists believe that it is possible to predict behaviour by identifying the cause of behaviour. His theories were also criticised as being environmental, meaning that the environment that he uses in his experiments can affect the human behaviour. The use of violence towards a doll in his experiments were not ethical as he only used children.
It was also sociably incorrect as it was influencing violence to receive a reward. The biological influences are ignored, lack cohesiveness and still excludes influences such as emotions. Jean piaget was a psychologist who studied the development of children’s understanding and how their minds work. His theory on how the children’s mind works and develops has been hugely influential, specially in educational theory. Piaget was particularly interested in the way in which a child’s mind matures in the different developmental stages and how their maturing increases their capacity to understand their world.
His theory was that all infants have the same structures and they all have innate reflexes and schemas. He believed that children cannot undertake certain tasks until they are psychologically mature enough to do so. He thought that childrens thinking develop at different stages, and that at certain points the mind would mature into different capabilities such as the first transition taking place at 18 months, then at the age of 7 and 11 or 12. He meant that before these ages children could not have a capable understanding of certain things in certain ways.
The stages which took place according to this theory were firstly the sensorimotor stage which takes place between birth and two years. At this stage the child can identify itself and acts as an agent of action purposely banging on pots and pans to make noises to hear the reaction. The child can differentiate self from objects and learns object permanence realising that objects still do exist even if they are not in sight. The second stage is the pre-operational stage. This is the stage in which the child learns to use language and images to identify objects.
However their thinking is still egocentric indicating that they cannot see things from another persons point of view. This stage usually takes place from the age of two till seven. The third stage is called the concrete operational stage, this takes place between the ages of seven and eleven. The final stage is called the formal operational stage, at this stage children start to think about the future and ideological problems. The child’s cognitive structure is more like that of an adults and includes conceptual reasoning. His theory was successful in the fact that they used his theory as a basis for scheduling in the school curriculum.
His theory has a huge influence on the understanding of cognitive development and it was the first comprehensive theory of children’s cognitive development. His theory also challenged the traditional idea of the child being passive in development, also as his theory was scientifically based this made it come across as more accurate. However his theory has received some criticism, some critics challenged some of his developmental stages such as the sensorimotor stage and the pre-operational stage. Gelman questioned what Piaget viewed about children as young as four not being able to take on another persons point of view.
Gelman believed that it was possible for children to do so. Behaviour therapy refers to techniques based on classical conditioning. This therapy consists of using learning principles to change maladaptive behaviour. There are a number of various behaviour therapies including systematic desensitisation. This therapy is a form of counter conditioning using a hierarchy of fear. One example could be to remove a phobia of animals. The patient is taught how to relax so that relaxation and fear cancel each other out, to do this hypnosis or tranquillisers may be used.
It is believed that it is impossible for a person to experience two opposite emotions at the same time. The systematic part of the therapy involves a recorded series of contacts with the object of the phobia. Whilst relaxing a least frightening image of the object is introduced to the patient until this can be done without the patient having any feelings of anxiety. Some of the therapies based on classical conditioning are effective, such as the systematic desensitisation therapy. However it is mostly effective only for anxiety disorders and addictions. They are more effective in phobias than in psychotic disorders.
An advantage is that the therapies are relatively quick and only take a few months to work as oppose to psychodynamic treatment which can take years. There is also a high success rate, McGrath found that systematic desensistisation to be effective for around 75% of people with phobias. In the case of single sessions success, if conducted in one session it is proved that 90% of patients with phobias made vast improvements and some were even fully recovered. Systematic desennsitisation helped treat one of the most difficult phobias to treat called agoraphobia, this therapy however helped between 60-80% of cases.
Critics of these therapies would suggest that many patients with phobias may have no recollection of bad experiences with the object and simply just have a phobia, therefore the therapies would not be effective and solve the problem. Psychodynamic theorists would say this is due to the symptom being a sign that something unconscious is wrong with the patient. Another disadvantage is the unpredictable effects that the therapy can have on the patient such as heart attacks and hyperventilating. The cognitive approach has many therapies to explain and modify behaviour.
Cognitive forms of therapy include the Ellis rational therapy, which is now more commonly known as rational emotive behaviour therapy. Ellis came to conclusions about patients negative thoughts and their tendencies to catastrophise situations making things seem so much worse then they actually are. This therapy focuses on when irrational thoughts are seen as the main cause of all types of emotional distress and behaviour orders. The aim of this therapy is to exchange the irrational unreasonable with the more positive and realistic beliefs and ways of thinking. Patients are encouraged to ‘look on the bright side’.
Ellis identified patients irrational beliefs and ideas which are emotionally self defeating and are mostly associated with psychological problems such as negative thoughts and feelings about ones self. Patients are told to practice certain positive statements like “ I can do” rather then “ I can’t do” to help them create a more positive state of mind. The benefits of using such therapies are that it is a structured therapy with outcomes which are achievable, these methods are becoming more commonly used as they are short term and are cost effective aswell as economically effective.
This therapy is appealing towards patients who find insight therapies which look deep into their inner emotions and problems seem less threatening and intimidating. Although there are disadvantages of this therapy. It may not uncover the problem completely, however it does almost try to empower patients to help themselves with their issues and feel better. It also may not work well for adults who are not willing to take part and collaborate with the therapist to achieve a new way of thinking. It may also not be successful for those who feel that they can’t achieve self happiness without something or someone else contributing towards it.
This therapy is mostly successful for clients suffering from anxiety disorders, stress management and sexual problems. Studies have shown that this therapy is more effective in depression than drugs are and the relapse rate is proved to be lower with cognitive behavioural therapy. This from of therapy has been proved to be more effective then anti depressants. In conclusion, I have included all the points mentioned in the introduction that I said I would include in my essay, I have outlined and evaluated two approaches and discussed two theorists and therapies for each approach.

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