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Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis

Psychology has existed for an extensive period of time in human history. New psychological approaches are put forth in response to changing social situations and dissatisfaction with previous theoretical explanations. As a result, each “system” of psychology has different objectives and differing perspectives on what is fact or fiction. Therefore, the utilization of differing research methods, techniques and goals defines what each system views as the truth. This will be examined through the examples of Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis, two divergent systems of psychology.

Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis both evolved out of unique social and intellectual contexts. Psychoanalysis, arguably the most influential system of psychology was pioneered by Sigmund Freud in Vienna during the 19th century. During this time various social trends were in operation. These were the proliferation of the German School, anti-Semitism and the role of women in society. All of these aspects impacted Freud for instance, the German school provided the basis for his treatment situation and anti-Semitic policies forced him into the medical profession. Freud was also influenced by several significant individuals Josef Breuer, Jean-Martin Charcot and Rudolf Chrobak. All three of these intellectuals had radical views about the role of sex in neurotic disorders, for example Breuer once said that “neurotic disorders were always concerned with secrets of the marital bed”. (PAT) These views influenced Freud as did Breuer’s former patient Anna O. Through his sessions with her he developed free association one of the main staples of psychoanalysis.

Oppositely, Behaviorism was developed from a utilitarian school of thought and was designed to predict and control behavior. Behaviorism in essence is a revolt against the study of consciousness and an attempt to “transform psychology into a science much like physics or biology”. Behaviorism was born in the U.S. where the English school of thought was dominant. The intellectual climate lead Watson to do specific goal orientated research, conducted in a lab and that predicted behavior. John B. Watson, one of the preeminent behaviorists was dissatisfied with current theories and this was a factor in the development of behaviorism. In addition, he was also influenced by several of his contemporaries. Jacques Loeb a researcher who studied tropism showed that complicated behaviors were really S-R behaviors. Also, Robert Yerkes who wrote a book with Watson and at the time had the only animal research lab in the country. This stimulated Watson to look further into S-R relationships and do research on animals and led to the proliferation of Behaviorism.

Both Behaviorism and Psychoanalysis utilize different methods and research techniques and these can be tied to the aforementioned social and intellectual circumstances. Some of the techniques that Freud used were free association, dream analysis, transference, resistance and parapraxes. These research techniques stressed that behavior is “not what it seems on the surface, but a large part of the personality is below the level of awareness”. Therefore, the focus of his research on an individual level was to offer treatment for suffering patients by delving into the psychological underpinnings of their overt behavior. In addition, through analytic work Freud believed it would be possible to define universals about personality.

Conversely, Behaviorism employed methods to evaluate the S-R relationship and its effects on behavior. Behaviorism was not concerned with the mental origins of behavior and even sought to “reduce mentalistic concepts into physical terms”. Research in behaviorism focused on overt behavior and the effect of behavior. Behaviorists such as Skinner did research with animals to show that behaviors that were rewarded would continue, while ones that were not would be extinguished. Behaviorist used lab studies to discover what behaviors were exhibit and by what causes. The bases of their research was to study the S-R relationship and its goal was to predict the stimulus response to behavior.

Each system of psychology has its own notion of truth. For the psychoanalyst truth can only be revealed when looking at the unconscious, while for the behaviorist truth what is seen and can be reduced to the S-R method. Psychoanalysis is defined by the Id, ego and superego and one underlying desires and repressed emotions. “All mental and Physical behavior is determined by prior causes”. Therefore, truth for the psychoanalyst is not what has been presented at the present moment by what has transpired before. Each behavior has an unconscious precursor and only when the underlying cause of behavior is examined can the truth be revealed. Conversely, the behaviorist only acts on the behavior that is elicited as a response to a situation. Introspection was not needed and the mind was seen as a “mystery box to be avoided as a determent of behavior”. As illustrated the notion of truth varies depending on the system that is employed. For the psychoanalyst the only truth stems from the unconscious and is not indicative of overt behavior. While for the behaviorist overt behavior is the truth and the mind should not be used to asses what is true in regards to ones actions.

Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism are two systems of psychology that both developed under unique social contexts. These systems reflect there origins by the ideologies and methodologies they use, as well as by the goals they try to achieve. Each system provides its constituents with different ideas of truth and each employ different methods to reach there goal. Even thought these systems differ in so many respects the ultimate goal of both were very similar, to discover truth.

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