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Sigmund Freud As the Father of Psychodynamic Approach: Analytical Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Behaviourism
  2. Biological
  3. Psychodynamic


Behaviourism looks at human behaviour as being a result of stimulus-response, behaviourism says that not matter what behaviour we look at it can be boiled down to this simple stimulus response. Due to this behaviourism is generally more interested with observable behaviour, and not things such as dreams and thoughts. It also believes that due it being a result of stimulus-responses that all behaviour is learnt, thus planting itself firmly on the nurture side of the nature nurture debate. Behaviourists argue that human behaviour is learned in a very similar way to that of animals, this was originally explained by Pavlov (1897) whilst he was doing a study on dogs salivation, Pavlov noticed that the dogs he was carrying out tests on would begin to salivate before being presented with food, the sound of his colleagues footsteps would cause the dogs to salivate in anticipation of their food arriving, Pavlov realised that the dogs would salivate for anything that they associated with food. Pavlov (1902) went on to do further work to test his new theory, he conducted an experiment to see if he could illicit a response from the dogs with something completely unrelated to the food, such as a metronome.

In behaviourist terms, food is an unconditioned stimulus and salivation is an unconditioned response. (i.e., a stimulus-response connection that required no learning).

Unconditioned Stimulus (Food) > Unconditioned Response (Salivate)

In his experiment, Pavlov used a metronome as his neutral stimulus. By itself the metronome did not elicit a response from the dogs.

Neutral Stimulus (Metronome) > No Conditioned Response

Next, Pavlov began the conditioning procedure, whereby the clicking metronome was introduced just before he gave food to his dogs. After a number of repeats (trials) of this procedure he presented the metronome on its own.

As you might expect, the sound of the clicking metronome on its own now caused an increase in salivation.

Conditioned Stimulus (Metronome) > Conditioned Response (Salivate) (McLeod, 2018)

This study by Pavlov showed how Stimulus-response conditioned behaviour in dogs, this was then linked to how behaviour is conditioned in humans later by Watson and Raynor (1920) in an experiment named “Little Albert”. Little Albert was 9 months old and was introduced to a number of different stimuli to which he showed no fear, one such thing that he was introduced to was a white rat, something that Little Albert was scared of was when a hammer was struck against a metal bar, it caused him to cry. Everytime the rat was introduced to Albert in the future, the hammer was hit against the metal bar, this was done several times for a number of weeks, and each time Albert started to cry, by the end of the weeks Albert only had to be shown the rat for him to start crying, even if the hammer was not hit against the metal bar. From this experiment we can see that just like Pavlovs Dogs, Little Albert was conditioned to responded (crying) to the neutral stimulus (rat) by using the unconditioned stimulus (hammer on the metal bar) and its unconditioned response (crying).

Behaviourism seems to totally ignore biology, and how this can play a part in human behaviour, it would put all humans in the same box and not consider the differences between men and women, in addition it ignores the biological differences between humans and animals and would assume the brains of humans and animals are essentially the same. It is also deterministic and implies that humans have a total lack of free will. The ecological validity in these behaviourist experiments can be called into question, most don’t take part in a natural setting, or with natural people, this could then in part elicit a different response. Behaviourism cannot explain all of learning, as it only focuses on observable behaviour.

Behaviourism can be considered a very scientific study though, all its studies have a clear aim and can be monitored and repeated to get similar results, in addition to this it also has medical applications, and can be used in the treatment of phobias etc. There is also a long list of studies to support their beliefs.


As far as the nature nurture debate goes, biological psychology is the opposite of behaviourism, it believes us to be consequence of our genetics and physiology. Biological psychology looks at us from a very physical point of view whilst considering our thoughts and behaviours, it has 3 focuses within psychology: -

  1. Comparative method: different species of animal can be studied and compared. This can help in the search to understand human behaviour.
  2. Physiology: how the nervous system and hormones work, how the brain functions, how changes in structure and/or function can affect behaviour. For example, we could ask how prescribed drugs to treat depression affect behaviour through their interaction with the nervous system.
  3. Investigation of inheritance: what an animal inherits from its parents, mechanisms of inheritance (genetics). For example, we might want to know whether high intelligence is inherited from one generation to the next. (Mcleod, 2015)

In the Investigation of inheritance, geneticists use twin studies as a natural experiment to see the likeness, in behaviour terms, of monozygotic twins and dizygotic twins. If inheritance of genes causes certain behaviour to happen, then it should be more visible in shared behaviours of monozygotic twins due to them sharing 100% genetical information, where as dizygotic twins only share 50% genetical information. Bouchard and McGue (1981) reviewed studies of IQ tests which compared the IQ tests of family members. Their reviews showed that there was a high correlation of IQ scores between monozygotic twins than dizygotic twins, although dizygotic twins again had higher correlations than general siblings. There are organisational flaws which reduce the validity of twin studies. For example, Bouchard and McGue included many poorly performed and biased studies in their analysis. Also, studies comparing the behaviour of twin raised apart have been criticized as the twins often share similar environments.

Biological Psychology looks at how the nervous system works, and its role within human behaviour. The basic function of the nervous system is dependant on a lot of tiny cells called neurons. The brain has billions of them, and they have many secialized jobs, such as, Sensory Neurons take information from the 5 senses to the brain. Motor Neurons carry messages away from the brain and back to the rest if the body. There is estimated to be anythere between 10 billion and 100 billion Neurons in the human nervous system and 80% of these are in the Cerebral cortex of the brain. Neurons are the communticators of the nervous system, and consist of 3 main parts, Sensory, Motor and Connector, which connect Sensory and Motor Neurons. Below is a typical diagram of a Neuron.

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Biological psychology has been able to explain many conditions, such as schizophrenia, where studies have show that people suffering from schizophrenia have different brain structures, smaller brains, as well as having different levels of dopamine to other people. Studies of the chemical make up of the brain have also led to the production of many successful drug treatments within the recent decades that have helped in the treatment of many mental disorders such as depression. In a similar fashion too behaviourism, the biological approach in psychology is highly reductionist in its approach to the complexity of human behaviour and emotion. Reducing our feelings and reactions to robot-like behaviour is not only unethical, it also ignores the factors in our everyday environment - our childhood experiences and the influence and behaviour of friends and media - that have been found to affect us. Many drug treatments have unwanted side-effects, for example, Prozac can cause violent behaviour after taking it, so the claim that the biological approach can produce effective treatments is one that can be argued to be incorrect. Drugs only treat the biologically-visible effects, not the causes of problems. Childhood experiences that cause trauma and depression during adulthood may be better treated by actually confronting the root cause of an issue as opposed to just treating the symptoms of it.


The psychodynamic approach focuses on behaviour and feelings being influenced by our unconscious mind, these influences come from both our past experiences and our basic instincts. They also believe that 3 different parts of the mind, which are in conflict with each other, influence our behaviour. Sigmund Freud the father of psychodynamic approach said that the 3 parts are, the id, the ego and the superego.

The id is the primitive and instinctive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited (i.e., biological) components of personality present at birth, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido), and the aggressive (death) instinct – Thanatos. (McLeod, 2017)

The ego is 'that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world.' (Freud, 1923, p. 25)

The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one's parents and others. It develops around the age of 3 – 5 years during the phallic stage of psychosexual development. (McLeod, 2017)

The psychodynamic approach also believes that there are psychosexual stages of development: -

Oral Stage – from birth to 18 months. In the first stage the enjoyment is centred around the mouth, babies get most of their satisfaction from putting things in their mouths

Anal Stage – 18 Months to 3 years. The enjoyment now becomes more focused towards the anus, babies/children enjoy defecating. During this stage children have learnt that they are a person, and what they want can bring them into conflict with the world around them, Freud said that this is shown primarily through potty training, where a parent tries to stop a child defecating at will and tries to impose restrictions on this

Phallic Stage – 3 years to 5 years. At the phallic stage childrens source of enjoyment is centred around the genitals. This is also when children start to notices the sexual differences anatomically between men and women, which in turn them leads to jealousy, rivalry and fear, which Feud says manifests itself in form of the Oedipus and Electra complexes, which are both resolved when the children adopt the process of identification and end up copying the characteristics of their respective same sex parental figure.

“The Oedipal complex, also known as the Oedipus complex, is a term used by Sigmund Freud in his theory of psychosexual stages of development to describe a child's feelings of desire for his or her opposite-sex parent and jealousy and anger toward his or her same-sex parent. Essentially, a boy feels that he is competing with his father for possession of his mother, while a girl feels that she is competing with her mother for her father's affections. According to Freud, children view their same-sex parent as a rival for the opposite-sex parent's attention and affections.” (Cherry, 2019)

Latent Stage – 5 years to 11 years. During this stage no psychosexual development takes pace

Genital Stage – 11 years onwards. This is the final stage of psychosexual development, which takes place during puberty. This is the time of sexual experimentation, which leads to the settling down with a partner in our twenties.

The psychodynamic approach looks at both the nature and nurture debate within psychology and considers the effect of both with regards to human behaviour, Freud argues that human behaviour is made up of our born instincts and our childhood experiences. Psychoanalysis has been a popular form of therapy for people, it has also helped us to realise that mental health problems can be caused by traumatic events that have happened in childhood. Even though Freud gets criticised by some for being educationalist his work on the brain has lead people to see just how complex the workings of the behaviour actually are.

As mentioned above, Freud is critisied for having a reductionalist approach to human behaviour, due to boiling behaviour down to the id, ego and superego as well as the five stages of sexual behaviour. One thing the psychodynamic approach doesn’t do is put much focus on the influence genetics have on behaviour. As with the other 2 approaches we’ve looked at, it would appear through Freuds work that we have no actual free will, thus making this approach determinist, Freud believes that our personality is pre-determined or shaped by things that we have no control of. The main objection to Freuds theory is that it cannot be tested, there is not way of doing replicatory studies to prove this right or wrong.

We can see that all three approaches focus on different aspects to try to explain the complex matter that is human behaviour, and although all three make good claims as to what shapes our behaviour none of them can explain it in its entirety. Through many points we can see that there are things each approach agrees on, the psychodynamic approach and the behaviourist approach both agree that nurturing plays a part in development in human behaviour, as well as the psychodynamic approach agreeing with biological psychology that certain part of human behaviour are genetic dispositions. The psychodynamic approach is different to both the biological and behaviourist approaches in that is cant really be studied and tested as well, where as we can study the other two approaches and find similar results to the findings made previously. Ultimately even in combining parts of all three approaches we can only go part of the way to explain how the complexity of human behaviour actually works.

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Sigmund Freud As the Father of Psychodynamic Approach: Analytical Essay. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from
“Sigmund Freud As the Father of Psychodynamic Approach: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 14 Jul. 2022,
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