Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Psychology: General Overview

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Sigmund Freud was a physiologist born in 1856. Freud is renowned world-wide as one of the founding fathers of psychology. By his own estimation he was one of the premier names in Western science, up there with Darwin and Copernicus (Glassman & Marilyn, 2004). Freud attended medical school at the University of Vienna and graduated with his physiology degree in 1881. Following this he was awarded the opportunity of a fellowship under a leading French doctor in the field of neurology named Jean Charcot. It was through Charcot’s tutelage that Freud was drove towards his future in psychology. The psychodynamic school of thought was created by Freud in response to his findings in the field of psychoanalysis.

The primary concepts and theories regarding this school of thought are metaphorical in nature and therefore can be difficult for individuals studying to grasp. One of the principal ways of understanding how the psychodynamic school views the way human consciousness works is known as the ‘iceberg metaphor’. Freud promotes the idea that in the same way that an iceberg holds most of its mass under the surface so too does the human mind. Freud separates human consciousness into three component parts: the conscious mind, the pre-conscious mind & the unconscious mind (Wilderdom, 2003). On the conscious level of the brain is the individual’s interpretation of their surroundings, also on this level are all the emotions and thoughts that the individual is actively aware off. The preconscious level is the accumulated understanding of the world by the individual garnered over the course of their life, everything on this level is under the surface but is recallable. The unconscious mind is totally inaccessible to the individual and forms the largest part of the mind. According to Freud it contains mostly the negative aspects of a person such as their immoral urges and fears.

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Freud also theorized that during childhood humans go through a process called the Psychosexual stages of development. There are 5 clear phases an individual goes through ranging from birth to puberty. These stages are known as the Oral (0-12 Months), Anal (1-3 Years), Phallic (3-5 Years), Latency (5-Puberty) and the Genital stages (Puberty onwards). These processes primarily describe where in the body the libido seeks pleasure from. If either overindulgence or neglect of an individual’s needs occurs in one of these stages and a person does not progress onto the subsequent period. Freud argues that this results in a fixation. Freud says that for a person to become a fully well-rounded individual they must not develop a fixation as this can cause negative personality traits to develop.

Freuds research produced many real-world applications. Free association is a process in which a therapist asks a patient to share all thoughts that cross their mind. This process was created by Sigmund Freud, as an alternative to hypnosis, to help patients of his suffering from neurological symptoms. It was Freuds idea that by using this stream of consciousness that the patient could divulge information regarding the origin of certain psychological issues they are facing. Using this new-found information, the therapist could then devise a sort of care plan for the best way to treat their patient.

Building upon Freuds work Hermann Rorschach devised a method of psychological testing similar in fashion to free association. What Rorschach developed became known as the Rorschach Inkblot Test. The test works as such, a patient is shown one of ten ink blot pictures; these pictures vary in colour, but they are all ambiguous by nature. The patient is then asked to describe what they see depicted within the image, the psychologist will further question the subject to gain more insight into their impression of the image. They will then mark the patients answer and then proceed onto the next ink blot until all 10 have been shown. The trained psychologist then marks the individual based upon numerous factors, such as how much attention they paid to the image, and then produces the results of the test. Using the information provided from the results the psychologist can then go on to use this context to help in a diagnosis of any mental health issues the patient may be facing.

The psychodynamic school of thought offers one of the most confusing perspectives on psychology. This does not mean it is without its merits however. Freuds methods of free association are still used today, albeit in a slightly modified form. The same can be said for the Rorschach Ink Blot Test as in 1995 a study showed that occasional use of these tests are still in practice by 82% of psychologists (Cherry, What Is the Rorscahc Inkblot Test?, 2018). There is even an argument that Freudian techniques are better at dealing with mental health issues such as depression than the commonly used alternative CBT (Burkeman, 2016). Another positive aspect that Freud and his school pass on is their legacy. Whilst it all may seem slightly outdated Freud and his concepts have set down the foundations upon which the whole discipline of psychology has been built upon.

However, there is some glaring issues that need to be addressed when looking into Freud and his works. The foremost of which being that Freuds methods being reasonably unscientific. This is due to the theoretical nature of the material that Freud deals with being vague causing scientific reproduction of his results extremely difficult. Freud can also be said to generalise massively in his work. Freud gathered most of his data through the utilisation of individual case studies. Whilst this provides great qualitative data for one individual case it is very difficult and usually quite inaccurate to generalise those examples onto the wider population.

As an alternate to Freuds theoretical approach, the Behaviourist school cropped up arguing for study to focus upon observable phenomena. The founding father of the Behaviourist school is one Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov was a Russian physiologist studying the digestive system in dogs. It was through this study that he discovered an interesting phenomenon. Whenever Pavlov entered the room where the dogs were kept a little bell would go off. The dogs began to associate the bell with Pavlov supplying them with food and therefore whenever the bell would go off the dogs would begin to salivate even if no food was present. This psychological phenomenon is an example of classical conditioning. It wasn’t until American psychologist John B. Watson began applying this theorem to humans that the Behaviourist school began to form.

Classical Conditioning states that an unconditioned stimulus(US) creates an unconditioned response(UR). In the case of Pavlov’s Dogs, food being the US and the dog salivating being the UR. Introduction of a neutral stimulus(NS) that produces no response, in this case the bell, alongside the US will still produce the UR. Through this eventually the subject will begin to associate the NS with the UR, this results in the NS alone bringing about the UR. This changes the NS into a conditioned stimulus and the UR into a conditioned response. Watson and Rayner achieved this exact result in their 1920 case study. They used a young toddler, dubbed ‘Little Albert’, and conditioned him to produce a fear response when exposed to many mundane things. A prime example being a white rat. They induced the fear in Little Albert by frightening him whenever he was in the presence of the white rat, this was done typically by banging steel rods to produce a loud sound. Eventually Albert began to associate the rat with the fear he felt, and a CR was produced (Watson & Rayner, 1920). This led psychologists to the conclusion that fear, and phobias can be a learned behaviour. They had intended to reverse the process and disassociate the fear with the stimuli, but Albert was pulled from the study before this could happen.

Following up on Watson & Rayner’s work Mary Cover Jones successfully managed to reverse condition fear in a child. In her case study, focusing upon a young child dubbed ‘Little Peter’. Little Peter had an inherent fear of rabbits and many other small animals (Jones, 1924). Over the course of 40 days Jones introduced the rabbit to Peter in varying degrees of closeness whilst also providing him with his favourite snacks. By the end of the study Peter could eat his snacks whilst being near the rabbit, even going so far as to touch it. It was noted that Peter even started to develop a fondness for the rabbit. This deconditioning of fear is one of the earliest studies that showed the effectiveness of what would later become known as Systematic Desensitisation.

Behaviourism itself is praised worldwide for its usefulness. It was shown that via the implementation of systematic desensitisation that 75% of participants in a study had their phobias successfully treated (McGrath, 1990). Behaviourists realise that, from an entirely practical standpoint, the environment a person finds themselves in actively affects their behaviour. Using highly scientific methods behaviourists have managed to accurately provide easily reproducible results of high importance. The shortcomings of the school come primarily from its scope, behaviourists can be accused of putting too much weight in the influence of outside factors on people. They don’t consider the effect that the wide spectrum of human consciousness can have on complex issues such as fear. Another disadvantage worth considering is the ethical responsibilities placed upon researchers. By modern standards the tests that Watson performed on Little Albert would be considered unethical. This can be argued as an advantage in so far as it ushered in the era of ethical approval in psychology.

The biological approach to psychology is a purely scientific one. Its primary focus is how biological factors affect our behaviour. Biological psychologists will attempt to do this by looking at the human nervous system, genetics and the brain to get a better grasp on the role these systems take. The biological school can be split down into two perspectives; evolutionary psychology and neuropsychology. Evolutionary psychology is massively influenced by Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin theorised that genetic mutations passed down from a species’ ancestors through natural selection gives subsequent generations a survival advantage. In this modern era of technology, we have developed machines capable of mapping the entire human brain whilst highlighting what parts of it are getting used at what times. These MRI and CT scanners have allowed biological psychologists a whole new insight into how the human body affects individual behaviour.

The human body transmits electrical signals through cells called neurons (Cherry, Neurons and Their Role in the Nervous System, 2018). Whenever a neuron forms a connection with another neuron it is possible for these electrical signals to be passed on down the line into other parts of the body. These junctions where neurons form connections are known as synapses. These electrical signals typically originate from the brain and are carried throughout the body by the nervous system. The signals themselves are used to carry information and instructions to different limbs and organs. The nervous system itself can be divided into distinct sub-divisions; the central nervous system (comprised of the brain and the spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (MedlinePlus, 2017). Furthermore, the peripheral nervous system can be sub-divided yet again into the autonomic nervous system (wherein communications with internal organs and glands take place) and the somatic nervous system (responsible for muscle and sense organ communication). These can be even further sub-divided and separately categorised highlighting the high complexity of the human nervous system.

The human brain contains roughly 86 billion neurons, as a comparison a chimpanzee’s brain contains just 7 billion neurons. The human brain can be split up into a multitude of sections, with each section responsible for a different process going on in the body. The first way we have of categorising the brain is by splitting it in half into two hemispheres. The two sides of the brain are responsible for different aspects of human cognition, for example creativity primarily comes from the right hemisphere whilst language and logistical skills primarily come from the left hemisphere (Why Study Brains?, 2018). These two hemispheres are connected by something called the corpus callosum, this allows the two hemispheres to communicate with one another. The term used to describe how the two hemispheres operate differently is referred to as brain lateralisation. An example of this is how the left side of the brain is responsible for the operation of the left side of the body and vice versa. Through this understanding of how the brain works we have managed to observe the effects that damage has on the brain. For instance, if a person has a stroke and loses function on the left side of their body then we know that damage has occurred on the right-hand side of the brain.

Lots of practical applications have come about because of research into biological psychology studies, such as medication devised to help treat mental health issues. The most infamous example of a medical treatment devised from this school being electroconvulsive therapy(ECT). ECT is a procedure wherein the patient is placed under general anaesthetic and has electrical currents passed through the brain with the purpose to induce a minor seizure (What is ECT?, 2016). The procedure was created in the 1930s with the intention of helping patients however due to the treatment not being done under anaesthetic at the time it was used as threat and even a punishment to patients during the 1950s (Sadowsky, 2017). Whilst it certainly has a barbaric start ECT has recently been shown to be highly beneficial. In a study done by the universities of Dundee and Aberdeen it was found that in cases of severe depression ECT had been successful in reducing brain activity in a section of the brain linked to depression (Perrin, et al., 2012).

The inherent scientific nature of the biological school has garnered lots of praise for its reliability. Almost everything the school covers is quantifiable and therefore extremely reliable. Conversely this is also one of the school’s biggest criticisms; it is reductionist. By explaining everything with biology and only biology it wipes out discussion regarding social factors or cognitive issues that may affect an individual.

The cognitive approach can be traced back as far as 1879 when Wilhem Wundt launched the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig. This was the first ever academic facility solely dedicated to the study of psychology (McLeod, Wilhelm Wundt, 2008). Whilst behaviourists focus on stimulus and response, cognitive psychologists focus on the process the mind goes through between these two steps. Cognitive psychology developed alongside the behaviourist approach. It provides criticism of the staunch view held by the behaviourists, whilst providing insight into the affects that an individual’s thought processes have on their behaviour.

Psychologists studying under the cognitive school attempt to explain these views through the implementation of scientific testing. One way in which cognitive psychologists try to explain why humans react to certain situations the way they do is through the implementation of schemas. Schemas are almost like a set of rules that humans create within their minds regarding external occurrences (Fournier, 2018). Schemas can change or expand through two methods; assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is when information is taken in and made to fit a schema the individual currently possesses. Whilst accommodation is when information is taken in and the schema is altered to accommodate the fresh data. Another key concept of the cognitive approach is one of irrational beliefs. An irrational belief is “Unfounded attitudes, opinions, and values we hold to that are out of synchrony with the way the world really is.” (Messina, 1992). Irrational beliefs can generally be categorised into three divisions: overgeneralisation, personalisation and selective abstraction. Overgeneralisation is the case where an irrational belief stems from one unrelated incident. An example of this would be getting bit by a spider and then fearing all insects will bite you. If you were to see someone across the room laughing and then glancing at you, it is possible for you to believe that they were laughing at you when in fact they were laughing at something their friend said. This incorrect assumption is known as a personalisation as you are directly relating the irrational belief to yourself. Finally, a selective abstraction is losing a sense of perspective on an issue and focusing on just a minor negative aspect rather than the overwhelming positives. This can be found in people that pass their driving test but are greatly disappointed because they picked up two minor infractions.

Cognitive psychologists have provided many great benefits to society as a direct result of their research. The foremost example of this being Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT is a talking therapy focused on helping the individual deal with problems they are facing in the present rather than fixating on difficulties from their past. CBT is highly effective at dealing with a wide multitude of psychological conditions ranging from depression to addiction (Overview: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), 2016).

Cognitive psychologists are praised for the highly scientific approaches they use when gathering their information. The repeatable nature of their experiments provides a lot of validity to their research. This has led to the cognitive approach becoming arguably the most popular psychological approach (McLeod, Cognitive Psychology, 2015). Its affects are felt far and wide amongst the medical communities as it has brought about revolutionary new techniques such as CBT. Criticisms levelled at the cognitive school are valid. It is argued that due the highly controlled laboratory experiments, in which cognitive psychologists rely upon heavily, their data is not ecological. This is because conditions in a laboratory are in no way like the conditions of those in wider society. Another criticism cognitive psychology faces comes from the biological psychologists. What cognitive psychology fails to consider is the role that genetics plays in the inheritance of psychological conditions. It is shown that the chance of having schizophrenia can be 79% attributed to genetic factors (Bugno, 2017).

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