5 Different Ways to Look at Psychology

The first thing every psychology student is made aware of, and something that we all need to set right at the back of our head, are the 5 current perspectives or schools of psychology. The best way to explain these schools of thought would be to pick a situation and look at it how any individual subscribing to any one of these perspectives would. So here it goes!

Situation: Angela has problems in social situations. She had experienced a highly stressful event in her childhood and she finds it really difficult and stressful to use public transportation or stand in line to purchase a good. She also gets anxious while in closed spaces like a theatre or a store, since she feels completely helpless. She is only 21, its normal for people of her age to socialise and make friends, but she cannot get herself to do that because of extreme fear of social situations. Finally, being unable to cope with the anxiety and stress, she locks herself in her room and doesn’t get out for days.

Angela’s situation can be analysed and treated in different ways depending on the school/ perspective of Psychology. Currently, there are five major schools of Psychology and I will be analysing and interpreting Angela’s situation according to all five of them.

Behavioural perspective: This school of thought believes that the observable behaviour should be the main component of study in Psychology- not one’s thoughts or beliefs. It focuses on overt behaviour i.e the behaviour that can be seen or observed. The behavioural school of thought emphasises on the role of learning (classical conditioning, operant conditioning, observational learning, trial and error, etc) in one’s life; and that the attitudes and beliefs that one holds are all learnt and can also be unlearnt. Abnormal behaviour, according to this perspective, is a result of faulty ways of learning.

In Angela’s case, the behavioural school of thought might diagnose her as an agoraphobic, i.e a person who suffers from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder, specifically a phobia where the individual is scared of social situations which include open or public places, from where escape is impossible. This disorder of hers will be seen as a learnt response during her early years and the psychologist will encourage her to ‘unlearn’ this behaviour by using reward, punishment and reconditioning processes. The behavioural psychologists will see it as a result of faulty learning and might suggest her with therapies. Therapies can be used to treat the disorder and bring the client back to normal social functioning. Behaviour therapy is initiated through behavioural analysis which involves interviewing the client and family members about the causes of such behaviour and depending on the results, a suitable treatment (for example: token economy, systematic desensitization or cognitive behavioural therapy) can be given.


Biological/ Neuroscience perspective: This school of Psychology focuses on biological basis of all behaviour. While the behavioural school of Psychology focuses on the ‘nurture’ (environment), the biological/ neuroscience school emphasises on the role of ‘nature’ (heredity), whereas both nature and nurture contribute largely to the behaviour and functioning of the individual. This perspective emphasises on the involuntary aspects of human behaviour (especially hereditary and evolution), like the secretions of hormones by different glands in the body, the different parts of the brain that perform different functions, how hereditary and inheritance of certain characteristics from our ancestors influences our behaviour, etc and the effects of these on the behaviour of the individual.

If Angela approaches a psychologist from the neuroscience perspective, she is most likely to be prescribed certain drugs- mostly antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications- to control her anxiety and fear during social situations. Agoraphobia is also connected to Panic disorder and can develop as a reaction to Panic disorder. If Angela has had episodes of panic attack before, she is most likely to avoid social situations in the fear that it will happen again. The biological school can find causes to the panic attacks as a natural fight or flight response triggered wrongly during certain situations, or imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that influence emotions, or even that her brain is wired differently from most of the individuals.


Psychodynamic perspective: This perspective of Psychology focuses on the inner forces and conflicts which we have no control over. It focuses on the intrapsychic conflicts relating to the structure of the psyche- Id, Ego and Superego- and defense mechanisms. There is also a focus on the unconscious- a part of the mind that the individual is completely unaware of, and where all the repressed childhood traumas and incidents are stored and that these incidents may have led to the problem behaviour later on in life. It is also believed that slips, or accidents, have an inner or an unconscious hidden motive.A psychologist from the psychodynamic perspective might view Angela’s condition as a result a childhood trauma that is pushed into the unconscious, away from her awareness. Possibly, Angela was abused in her childhood- sexually, verbally or physically- and it’s causing her to behave this way. Not specific to abuse, any traumatic incident, like the death of a parent or a loved one could have led to the problem. In this case, the psychologist would use free association or dream analysis to identify the problem and to gain a clear understanding of the relationship between her mental distress and unresolved issues. The psychologist would then analyse the resistance and help her deal with the problems in a realistic manner. The development of transference by Angela towards her therapist will also play a huge role in the treatment process. Finally, the therapist will explain to her the causes of her problems and help her get over them.


Cognitive perspective: According to this school of Psychology, the way the individual perceives the world has huge effects on his/her behaviour. It mainly focuses on mental processes like thinking, decision making, memory, perception, etc. Many a times, our mental processes or thinking is compared to the working of a computer which also involves taking in information, analysing the information, storing it, and then retrieving the information. It is also believed that differences in information processing can lead to differences in behaviour. This school of thought believes that as the individual grows, thoughts that are faulty and beliefs that are wrong start to create problems in behaviour.Therefore, in Angela’s case, her thoughts and beliefs about the world and the way she perceives all social situations will be questioned. Maybe Angela has wrong beliefs about people, which she developed when she was younger, and now these thoughts and beliefs are causing her problems and are preventing her from looking at social situations in a positive way. A cognitive psychologist might advise her Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which clubs two principles- cognitive and behavioural- and aims at changing the thinking pattern of the individual by removing the distress that has both cognitive and behavioural causes. Also, Rational Emotive Therapy, which attempts to change the faulty belief system of the individual into a rationalistic one; and Beck’s Cognitive Therapy that aims at changing the illogical thoughts of an individual towards the world, self and the future, can be provided to Angela along with relaxation techniques


Humanistic perspective: The humanistic perspective of Psychology mainly came up as a rejection to all other perspectives of Psychology. Accordingly, this school of thought believes that an individual always aspires to reach self-actualisation, and have the capacity to reach fulfilment. It believes in free will, and the fact that every individual has a choice in each and every situation, and everything that is happening to them is their own choice and their own responsibility, and when an individual is unable to achieve self-actualisation, it leads to distress and problem behaviour. This perspective believes in helping people to complete their goals and reach the stage of self-actualisation.A humanistic psychologist will look at Angela’s condition as a result of failed attempt to reach self-fulfilment or self-actualisation and that whatever Angela is going through, it’s because of her own free will and choice and she is herself responsible for that behaviour. Therefore, the psychologist might conclude that Angela needs to be given a suitable environment and opportunity so she can reach her goal to eliminate the problem behaviour for which, a Client Centered Therapy can be used where the client is given unconditional positive regard. Also, the humanistic psychologist might be interested in knowing the effects of this behaviour on Angela and work on reducing them. The humanistic psychologist might suggest her methods that she can use to reduce the anxiety and fear that she is facing during social situations.

Therefore, one single problem can be looked at differently from different perspectives of Psychology. Depending on the condition and the situation of the individual, one perspective might be preferred more over the other and a suitable treatment (medication or psychotherapy) might be given.


Is There a ‘why’ to Terrorism?

The combination of terrorism and psychology is one field that has been grabbing the attention of media and the general public very recently. And just a few days back, another beautiful country fell into the plunges of terrorism. Although it was really upsetting to hear about the Paris attacks that happened on 13th November, what was even more upsetting was the fact that we couldn’t do anything about it- except of course, updating status on social networking sites with a bunch of hashtags.

There have been numerous terrorist attacks all over the world- hardly any country has been able to escape from its hands. All this just leaves one with one question- why? Why do people join such terrorist organisations? Why do they kill people based entirely on the group they belong to? Why do people choose violence over all other means to attain ‘peace’?

“We tend to think they are crazy,” said John Horgan, a psychologist and professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell’s Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, “because of what terrorists do, we assume that can be explained via the pathology of those people, but trying to explain terrorism as mental illness is misleading”. Because psychologists who have studied several terrorists say that they are stable individuals, not paranoid or delusional .

And then there is the video message to the public from Poulin, who called himself Abu Muslim, and explained why he joined the Islamic State and why other people should join as well. According to Horgan, people are driven towards joining such organisations is because they want to “belong to something special”. And what follows is even worse; “they de-humanise members of other groups, seeing them as a collective rather than individuals, and viewing each member of the group as responsible for the crimes of others” .

Of course, as mentioned by Horgan, it was believed earlier that the roots of terrorism and the terrorist mentality lied in their pathology, and that something was probably wrong with their brain. More recently, this approach to terrorism has faded and the effect of situational and environmental forces in influencing individuals to join such organisations has gained attention. As Albert Bandura, a renowned social psychologist notes, “it requires conductive social conditions rather than monstrous people to produce atrocious deeds”. Also, what is more interesting is the ability of these individuals to be able to ‘switch off’ the empathy they feel for other people. Lack of remorse, no pain or even the slightest of worry is shown on their face even when they very clearly know what they are doing.

But when it comes to why people commit such horrible crimes, it becomes pretty evident that the public justifications that terrorists make are only misleading as “private motivations cannot always be gleaned from public justifications.” Maybe then, to some degree, the individuals are aware of the consequences of the act they are putting up- and how much its hurting others, causing harm to them. Because if it was not so, admitting the actual reason for such crimes much not be a hard task.

However, people are motivated to do certain things without any particular reason- or at least, a reason that they are not consciously aware of. “The most valuable interviews I’ve conducted have been ones in which the interviewees conceded, ‘To be honest, I don’t really know,’” writes Horgan. It’s always been a puzzle answering questions starting with ‘why’- since human behaviour is so complicated and influenced by factors one cannot count or identify, and even so, it’s difficult to identify which factor played the most important part and to examine it in isolation, is just next to impossible.

After all the developments and research done in the field, one can only conclude that certain questions will always create some sort of mystery- and that the answer to them might not be available sooner or later. However, it has been clearly noticed that an interplay of both pathological and situational factors play a major role in determining why certain people join certain organisations, and why they do what they do.

Social ‘Life’ Stress

Have you ever felt like you are missing out on a lot of things when you hear your friends talk about posts on Facebook, tweets on Twitter and pictures on Instagram? And that the low number of likes and comments on Facebook makes you feel unpopular when compared to the amount of likes your friends get? Or do you feel overwhelmed when you wake up in the morning with messages from fifteen people on WhatsApp?

If any of these (or even all of these) make you feel stressed out, well, you’re not the only one. According to reports by the Pew Research Center, individuals who are active on social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc are more prone to categorise themselves as ‘somewhat stressed out’ or ‘very stressed out’ than those who are not. One of the major reasons for this, as mentioned in the report, is the exposure or awareness of stressful events in the lives of loved ones- like family and friends. And Facebook was seen to be providing higher levels of awareness of stressful events in the lives of loved ones.

On the other hand, an individual can also be stressed if he/she sees only happy posts by other people. It makes one wonder as to why other people’s lives are so perfect while their’s is just complicated and messed up. What we don’t realize is that Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles display the self as we want others to see, and not as how it really is. How often do you see posts about a demotion, a failed class, or a suspension?

We all like to create a good image of ours on people we meet. Such presentation tactics take a complete different form on the social networking sites. We not only show our positive features and plus points, but we tend to display the image of a complete different individual online, who only happens to look like us. We always want to portray our ideal self to the public, and social media gives us the exact resources to do so. While this is supposed to make us feel better about ourselves, it just adds on the extra stress to maintain our ‘ideal’ image to the public.

Because of the social media, privacy has a new evolved definition. We might fight for our rights for privacy at home, while simultaneously posting who we went out with on Facebook. The obsession for likes and comments on Facebook has reached to the level where the companies try to sell their brands by showing the increase in the number of likes one gets by using their products. I bet Facebook will see a lot less posts and pictures once the ‘dislike’ button is introduced!

Along with the extensive use of these social networking sites comes the involvement of making ‘virtual’ friends. People you’ve never met before, people you know nothing about, and whose claims about being the captain of the college football team or being the president of a club are almost impossible to verify. Sure Facebook does ask us to ‘add people we actually know’, how many of us end up knowing each and every person in our friend list?

Even though we find these social networking sites really entertaining and we might feel that we can’t do without them (because we actually can’t), we should also not ignore the fact that they are turning out to be ad-ons for our already existing stress levels and making it difficult for us to get on with our lives efficiently. But what can we really do about it? We have to find what Barry Schwartz calls the ‘sweet spot’ (believe it or not); the centre line between fun, and addiction/need. It sure sounds like a conundrum, but then again, when did human lives stop being complicated?