Theories in Psychology Types of Psychology Psychological Perspectives

There are several schools of thought in psychology, although probably none more widely known as the Psychodynamic perspective, a concept developed by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s idea was that our actions and behaviors, if not driven by physical causes or derived from conscious thought, must be the product of an unconscious desire (Kowalski and Westen, p.12). There has been extensive debate over Freud’s ideas, however, and other psychological concepts have become more widely accepted. A few of those other concepts include behaviorism, cognition, and the evolutionary perspective.

Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis has been widely criticized. Much of the criticism is due to a lack of measurable scientific data needed to validate his theories. However, there are some well- known facts regarding certain ideas that Freud put forth. For example, it is known that stress can cause physical illnesses, and that suppressed negative thoughts and emotions can lead to the development of mental illnesses (Kowalski and Westen, p.14). Although the psychodynamic perspective has fallen somewhat out of favor in comparison to other psychological concepts, there are elements of psychoanalysis that are considered valid by professionals who subscribe to other schools of thought, including behaviorism.


The behaviorist perspective argues that behaviors are directly related to the process of learning (Kowalski and Westen, p.14). Our behaviors manifest in response to experiences we have, and those behaviors are controlled or manipulated by stimuli. A person who is deathly afraid of the dark may exhibit certain behaviors if the darkness reminds him of a traumatic experience in his past. The thought of sunset may cause him to become distressed and can begin to behave and think irrationally. Furthermore, sometimes a person may experience physiological responses such as rapid heartbeat or nausea. This example is a learned behavior.

 Experimental methods are used to study behaviorism and to measure the influence of stimuli that cause or alter certain behaviors. The cognitive perspective also deals with experience, although its primary focus is on “how people perceive, process, and retrieve information” (Kowalski and Westen, p.19).


Like behaviorism, cognition also relies on scientific experiments for its validity. Scientists often use the metaphor of a computer to explain how a person’s brain retrieves, decodes and stores information (Kowalski and Westen, p.17). Some information can be readily pulled from the brain on request, while other information may be less important and harder to recall.  People can have different ideas about the same piece of information, and the perception of objects or events can vary greatly from one person to the next. Cognitive psychologists are also interested in how people make decisions that can trigger certain emotions (Kowalski and Westen, p.19). Decision making and behaviors motions can also be linked to the evolutionary perspective.


The evolutionary perspective states that our behaviors have developed over time, and that some behaviors are due to instinct. For example, a person lost in the wilderness will soon die of starvation if food and water are not available. Rather than sitting and waiting to die, a man will take action and do what is necessary to find nourishment to stay alive. Involuntary needs like requiring food and water automatically trigger behaviors conducive to survival. As species have evolved over time, the need to survive and thrive has carried from one generation to the next.

According to the evolutionary perspective, the strongest of each species, including humans have progressed into modern times by adapting their behaviors to suit the environment. Debate continues over some part of the evolutionary perspective. People use the argument of nature vs. nurture to try to explain why certain things occur. For example, are some people gay because of environmental or biological influence?


Biology affects behavior in certain ways, depending on the information transported to the brain from different regions of the body. Neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin can cause changes in behavior. An excess of dopamine can cause schizophrenics to experience auditory or visual hallucinations, and medication is often necessary to quell the production of dopamine so the person can stabilize. Dopamine is also associated with drug abuse. It causes a person to feel high when production is stimulated artificially. Similarly, serotonin plays a role in mood and behavior. Too little serotonin activity can lead to depression, mood swings and aggression, among other things. Medication is often needed to correct an imbalance of serotonin that can occur when it is “reabsorbed” into the presynaptic membrane (Kowalski and Westen, p.68).

It is interesting that the various schools of thought in the field of psychology share some ideas, while being completely contradictory about others. According to an article in Individual Psychology: The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice, Dreikurs (1987) suggests, “emphasis on the differences between various schools of thought is probably more important than the recognition of their similarities” (p.271).


Dreikurs, R. (1987). Are Psychological Schools of Thought Outdated?. Individual Psychology:

The Journal of Adlerian Theory, Research & Practice, 43(3), 265. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.