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Human behaviour is a complex and fascinating phenomenon that has intrigued psychologists for centuries. There are many different theories that attempt to explain why people act the way they do, how they develop their personality, what motivates them, how they learn, how they cope with Stress, and how they interact with others. These theories are not mutually exclusive, but rather complement each other and offer different perspectives on human nature. In this article, we will introduce some of the major psychological theories that have shaped our understanding of human behaviour, such as psychoanalysis, behaviourism, humanism, Cognitive psychology, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. We will also discuss how these theories can be applied to various domains of life, such as education, health, work, and relationships.
Fundamentals of Human Behaviour
Before we look at the key psychological theories, it’s worth reviewing the fundamentals of human behaviour. Human behaviour is the result of the interaction between biological, psychological and social factors. Biological factors include genes, hormones, brain structures and functions, and sensory systems. Psychological factors include cognition, emotion, motivation, personality and intelligence. Social factors include culture, norms, values, roles and relationships. These factors influence how humans perceive, think, feel and act in different situations and contexts.
What are psychological theories, and why are they important for understanding human behaviour?
Psychological theories are systematic explanations of how people think, feel and behave in different situations and contexts. They are important for understanding human behaviour because they help us to identify the causes, patterns and consequences of our actions and interactions. Psychological theories can also guide us to develop interventions, strategies and policies that can improve the well-being and functioning of individuals, groups and societies.
How to evaluate and compare different psychological theories?
Psychological theories are frameworks that attempt to explain human behaviour, cognition, and emotion. They are based on empirical evidence, logical reasoning, and theoretical assumptions. However, not all psychological theories are equally valid, useful, or applicable to different situations and contexts. Therefore, it is important to be able to evaluate and compare different psychological theories using some criteria.
One possible criterion is the empirical support for a theory. This means how well a theory can be tested by observation and experimentation, and how consistent its predictions and explanations are with the available data. A theory that has strong empirical support is more likely to be accurate and reliable than a theory that has weak or contradictory empirical support.
Another possible criterion is the parsimony of a theory. This means how simple and elegant a theory is, and how well it can account for a wide range of phenomena with a few basic principles. A theory that is parsimonious is more likely to be generalizable and coherent than a theory that is complex and ad hoc.
A third possible criterion is the practical utility of a theory. This means how useful a theory is for solving real-world problems, improving human well-being, and advancing scientific knowledge. A theory that has high practical utility is more likely to be relevant and beneficial than a theory that has low practical utility.
These are some examples of criteria that can be used to evaluate and compare different psychological theories. However, there may be other criteria that are also important, depending on the Purpose and context of the evaluation. Therefore, it is essential to be clear about the goals and scope of the evaluation before applying any criteria.
The main assumptions and principles of behaviourism
Behaviourism is a psychological approach that focuses on observable behaviour and its relation to environmental stimuli. The main assumptions and principles of behaviourism are:
- Behaviour is determined by external factors, not by internal mental processes or free will.
- It can be explained by learning principles, such as classical conditioning, operant conditioning and observational learning.
- It can be measured objectively and scientifically, using experimental methods and quantitative data.
- Behaviour can be modified or changed by manipulating the environmental consequences or reinforcements.
The main assumptions and principles of psychodynamic psychology
The Psychology of Freud is based on some main assumptions and principles, such as:
- The unconscious: Psychoanalysis assumes that most of our thoughts, feelings, and motivations are hidden from our conscious Awareness, and that they influence our behaviour in ways that we are not aware of. The unconscious can be accessed through techniques such as free association, dream analysis, and interpretation of slips of the tongue.
- The id, Ego, and superego: Psychoanalysis proposes that the human personality consists of three parts: the id, which is the source of our instinctual drives and desires; the Ego, which is the rational and realistic part that mediates between the id and reality; and the superego, which is the moral and Idealistic part that represents our internalized values and standards.
- The psychosexual stages: Psychoanalysis suggests that our psychological development is shaped by our experiences in different stages of childhood, each characterized by a different erogenous zone and a different conflict. The stages are: oral (birth to 18 months), anal (18 months to 3 years), phallic (3 to 6 years), latency (6 to puberty), and genital (puberty to adulthood). If a conflict is not resolved in a stage, it may lead to fixation or regression in later life.
- The defence mechanisms: Psychoanalysis believes that we use various strategies to protect ourselves from Anxiety and guilt caused by the conflicts between the id, Ego, and superego. These strategies are called defence mechanisms, and they include denial, Repression, projection, displacement, rationalization, sublimation, and others. Defence mechanisms can be adaptive or maladaptive, depending on the situation and the degree of their use.
Carl Jung founded Analytical psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on the unconscious and the collective aspects of human nature. Jung proposed that the unconscious consists of two layers: the personal unconscious, which contains individual memories and emotions, and the Collective unconscious, which contains universal symbols and Archetypes that are shared by all people. Jung also developed the concepts of Psychological types, such as introversion and extroversion, and the process of Individuation, which is the Integration of the conscious and unconscious aspects of the self. Jung’s theories have influenced many fields of study, such as literature, philosophy, Religion, and art.
The psychology of Carl Jung is based on several main assumptions that distinguish it from other schools of thought. Some of these assumptions are:
- The psyche is composed of three layers: the Ego, the personal unconscious, and the Collective unconscious. The Ego is the conscious mind that mediates between the inner and outer worlds. The personal unconscious contains forgotten or repressed memories, emotions, and complexes. The Collective unconscious is a deeper layer that holds the inherited and universal patterns of human experience, called Archetypes.
- The goal of psychological development is to achieve Individuation, which is the process of integrating and harmonizing the various aspects of the psyche, such as the conscious and unconscious, the rational and irrational, the masculine and feminine, and the persona and shadow. Individuation leads to a more Authentic and balanced personality that can fulfils potential.
- The psyche is influenced by two opposing forces: the principle of opposites and the principle of compensation. The principle of opposites states that every aspect of the psyche has its opposite, such as good and evil, light and dark, love and hate, etc. The principle of compensation states that the psyche tends to balance out these opposites by creating symbols or images that express their reconciliation or synthesis.
- The psyche manifests itself through symbols that can be found in dreams, fantasies, art, mythology, Religion, and culture. These symbols are expressions of the Archetypes that reside in the Collective unconscious and reflect the universal themes of human existence. Jung developed methods of interpreting these symbols, such as amplification, active imagination, and synchronicity.
- The psyche can be classified into four Psychological types based on two dimensions: the attitude (introversion or extraversion) and the function (thinking, feeling, sensation, or intuition). Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, preferences and tendencies, and ways of perceiving and judging reality. Jung believed that understanding one’s psychological type can help one to develop one’s personality and relate better to others.
- The shadow is a concept that refers to the hidden and repressed aspects of one’s personality that are deemed as unacceptable or inferior by oneself or society. The shadow is instinctive and irrational, and can project its negative qualities onto others or create illusions between the Ego and the real world. The shadow can vary in darkness and density depending on how much it is integrated into one’s conscious life.
The main assumptions and principles of humanism
Humanistic approaches in psychology are based on the idea that human beings have inherent worth and potential for growth. They emphasize the importance of individual experience, free will, Self-actualization, and positive psychology. Humanistic psychologists reject the deterministic and reductionist assumptions of behaviourism and psychoanalysis, and instead focus on the holistic and subjective aspects of human nature. Some of the main concepts and methods of humanistic psychology are:
The self-concept: A collection of beliefs and perceptions that one has about oneself, including one’s abilities, values, goals, and roles.
The person-centred therapeutic theory: A theory developed by Carl Rogers that states that psychological wellbeing depends on the degree of congruence between one’s self-concept and one’s actual experience.
The client-centred therapy: A form of psychotherapy that aims to facilitate personal growth and self-acceptance by providing a supportive and empathic environment where the client is seen as the expert of their own life.
Positive psychology: A branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive and flourish.
The main assumptions and principles of Cognitive psychology
Cognitive psychology is a branch of psychology that studies mental processes such as perception, memory, reasoning, problem-solving and language. The main assumptions and principles of Cognitive psychology are:
- The human mind is like an information processor that receives, stores, transforms and outputs information.
- Mental processes can be studied scientifically by using experiments, observations and measurements.
- Mental representations such as schemas, scripts and mental models guide our behaviour and cognition.
- Cognitive processes are influenced by social, emotional and cultural factors.
The main assumptions and principles of biological psychology
Biological psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the biological basis of behaviour, cognition, and emotion. It assumes that mental processes and behaviours are influenced by the interactions between the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the environment. Some of the main principles of biological psychology are:
- The principle of localization: Different regions of the brain have specific functions and are responsible for different aspects of mental activity.
- The principle of plasticity: The brain can change its structure and function in response to experience, learning, and injury.
- The principle of evolution: The brain and behaviour have evolved through natural selection to adapt to the environment and enhance survival and reproduction.
- The principle of multiple causation: Behaviour and mental processes are determined by a complex interplay of genetic, neural, hormonal, environmental, and social factors.
The main assumptions and principles of social psychology
- Human behaviour is influenced by both individual factors (such as personality, attitudes, beliefs, emotions, motivations) and social factors (such as norms, roles, groups, culture, communication).
- Human cognition is constructive and interpretive. People do not passively perceive reality, but actively construct their own meanings and interpretations of social events and situations.
- Human social behaviour is dynamic and adaptive. People can change their behaviour in response to changing social contexts and feedback from others.
- Human social behaviour is governed by both explicit and implicit rules. People follow certain norms and expectations that are explicitly stated or implicitly learned through socialization and observation.
- Human social behaviour is shaped by both conscious and unconscious processes. People are not always aware of the reasons and motives behind their own or others’ actions, and may be influenced by subconscious biases and heuristics.
A summary of the main points and findings from each psychological theory
A summary of the main points and findings from each psychological theory is a useful way to compare and contrast different perspectives on human behaviour and cognition. Some of the most influential psychological theories are:
- Behaviourism: This theory focuses on observable behaviours and how they are shaped by environmental stimuli and consequences. Behaviourists believe that learning occurs through reinforcement and punishment, and that mental processes are irrelevant or inaccessible.
- Psychodynamic psychology: This theory emphasizes the role of unconscious drives, conflicts and motives in influencing human behaviour and personality. Psychoanalysts believe that early childhood experiences, especially with the primary caregivers, have a lasting impact on one’s psychological development and mental health.
- Humanism: This theory stresses the importance of human potential, free will, Self-actualization and personal growth. Humanists believe that humans are inherently good and capable of making positive choices for themselves and others, and that they need a supportive and accepting environment to flourish.
- Cognitive: This theory examines how humans process, store, retrieve and use information in various domains of cognition, such as perception, memory, attention, language, reasoning and problem-solving. Cognitive psychologists believe that mental representations and schemas guide human behaviour and influence how we interpret and interact with the world.
- Biological: This theory explores how biological factors, such as genes, hormones, neurotransmitters, brain structures and functions, affect human behaviour and cognition. Biological psychologists believe that humans are the product of complex interactions between genetic and environmental influences, and that behaviour and cognition can be explained by physiological mechanisms.
A comparison and contrast of the similarities and differences between the theories
Psychological theories are frameworks that attempt to explain human behaviour, cognition, and emotion. There are many different psychological theories, each with its own strengths and limitations. Some of the most influential psychological theories are:
Psychodynamic psychology: This is a collection of theoretic models, developed by figures such as Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and their followers. These tend to focus on the role of unconscious drives and conflicts in shaping personality and behaviour. It emphasizes the importance of early childhood experiences, especially the relationship with the parents, and the use of defence mechanisms to cope with Anxiety.
Behaviourism: This theory was founded by John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, and it views behaviour as the result of learning from the environment. Behaviourism ignores the influence of internal mental processes, and instead relies on observable stimuli and responses. Behaviourism uses principles of reinforcement and punishment to modify behaviour.
Humanism: This theory emerged as a reaction to psychoanalysis and behaviourism, and it emphasizes the positive aspects of human nature, such as free will, creativity, and Self-actualization. Humanism was influenced by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, and it views humans as inherently good and capable of reaching their full potential.
Cognitive: This theory focuses on the role of mental processes, such as perception, memory, attention, reasoning, and problem-solving, in influencing behaviour. Cognitive theory was inspired by the work of Jean Piaget, Albert Bandura, and Aaron Beck, among others. Cognitive theory assumes that humans are active information processors who construct their own reality based on their experiences and beliefs.
Biological: This theory examines the influence of genetic, hormonal, neural, and physiological factors on behaviour. Biological theory is based on the findings of neuroscience, genetics, endocrinology, and evolutionary psychology. Biological theory assumes that behaviour is determined by biological mechanisms that have evolved to adapt to environmental challenges.
These psychological theories have some similarities and differences in their assumptions, methods, and applications. Some of the similarities are:
- They all aim to understand human behaviour and its causes.
- They all use empirical evidence to support their claims.
- They all have practical implications for various fields, such as education, health, law, and business.
Some of the differences are:
- They have different levels of analysis, ranging from the micro-level (biological) to the macro-level (humanistic).
- They have different views on human nature, ranging from deterministic (psychoanalytic) to optimistic (humanistic).
- They have different approaches to therapy, ranging from directive (behavioural) to non-directive (humanistic).
A critical evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each theory for explaining human behaviour
A critical evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of each psychological theory for explaining human behaviour requires a comprehensive and balanced approach. There are many psychological theories that attempt to account for the complexity and Diversity of human behaviour, such as behaviourism, Cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis, humanism, and evolutionary psychology. Each theory has its own assumptions, methods, evidence, and applications, but also its own limitations, criticisms, and controversies. In this paragraph, I will briefly summarize the main features of each theory and highlight some of their strengths and weaknesses.
Behaviourism is a psychological theory that focuses on observable and measurable behaviour as the object of study. Behaviourists assume that all behaviour is learned through the interaction with the environment and can be modified by reinforcement and punishment. Behaviourism has been influential in many fields of psychology, such as learning, conditioning, behaviour modification, and animal research. Some of the strengths of behaviourism are its empirical rigour, its practical applications, and its parsimony. However, some of the weaknesses of behaviourism are its neglect of mental processes, its reductionism, its determinism, and its ethical issues.
Cognitive psychology is a psychological theory that emphasizes the role of mental processes in human behaviour. Cognitive psychologists assume that humans are active information processors who use mental representations, such as schemas, scripts, and models, to perceive, remember, think, solve problems, and communicate. It has been influential in many fields of psychology, such as memory, language, intelligence, decision-making, and Cognitive neuroscience. Some of the strengths of Cognitive psychology are its scientific methods, its theoretical Diversity, and its interdisciplinary Connections. However, some of the weaknesses of Cognitive psychology are its artificiality, its complexity, and its underestimation of social and emotional factors.
Psychodynamic psychology is a number of psychological theories which explore the unconscious motives and conflicts that shape human behaviour. Psychoanalysts assume that humans are driven by instinctual forces, such as sexuality and aggression, that are repressed in the unconscious mind and influence behaviour through defence mechanisms. Psychoanalysis has been influential in many fields of psychology, such as personality, development, abnormal psychology, and psychotherapy. Some of the strengths of psychoanalysis are its depth of analysis, its therapeutic potential, and its cultural impact. However, some of the weaknesses of psychoanalysis are its lack of empirical support, its subjective interpretation, and its sexism.
Humanism is a psychological theory that emphasizes the Uniqueness and potential of human beings. Humanists assume that humans are free to choose their own goals and values and to strive for Self-actualization and personal growth. Humanism has been influential in many fields of psychology.
Biological theory is a Perspective that attempts to explain human behaviour in terms of genetic, hormonal, neural and evolutionary factors. It has some strengths, such as providing empirical evidence for the influence of biology on behaviour, and offering potential interventions for psychological disorders based on biological mechanisms. However, it also has some weaknesses, such as neglecting the role of environmental and social factors in shaping behaviour, and oversimplifying complex phenomena into reductionist explanations. Therefore, biological theory can be useful for understanding some aspects of human behaviour, but it cannot account for the whole picture.
Other related theories
Universal Primal Needs
Universal primal needs are the essential requirements for human well-being and happiness. They include both physical and psychological needs that must be met for optimal functioning. These needs are not fixed or rigid, but rather dynamic and interrelated. When these needs are satisfied in healthy and balanced ways, people can thrive and grow as individuals. When these needs are neglected or frustrated, people can suffer from various emotional and mental problems.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology that proposes five levels of human needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem and Self-actualization. These needs are arranged in a pyramid, with the most basic and essential needs at the bottom and the most complex and advanced needs at the top. According to Maslow, people must satisfy their lower-level needs before they can pursue their higher-level needs. The objective of human motivation is to achieve Self-actualization, which is the realization of one’s full potential and creativity.
Self-concept and Rogers’ theory of personality
Self-concept is the perception that we have of ourselves, our answer when we ask ourselves the question “Who am I?”. It is formed and regulated by our interactions with others and our experiences in life. Rogers’s theory of personality emphasizes self-concept as a central factor in human behaviour. He believed that every person has an innate tendency to grow and achieve their potential, which he called Self-actualization. However, this process depends on the quality of the environment that provides us with genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. These qualities help us develop a positive and congruent self-concept, which means that our ideal self (who we want to be) matches our actual self (who we are). A positive and congruent self-concept leads to a fully functioning person who is open to new experiences, creative, and Authentic.
Attachment theory is a Psychological framework that describes how humans form emotional bonds with others. It proposes that the quality of these bonds depends on the early experiences of Care and responsiveness from caregivers, which shape the expectations and behaviours of the individual in later relationships. According to attachment theory, there are four main types of attachment styles: secure, anxious, avoidant and disorganized.
Cloninger’s theory of personality
Cloninger’s theory of personality is a biopsychosocial model that explains how biological, psychological and social factors interact to shape human behaviour. It consists of two main components: temperament and character. Temperament refers to the innate emotional tendencies that are observable from early childhood and relatively stable over time. Cloninger identified four dimensions of temperament: novelty seeking, harm avoidance, reward dependence and persistence. Each dimension is associated with a specific Neurotransmitter system in the brain. Character refers to the learned aspects of personality that reflect self-concept, values and goals. Cloninger proposed three dimensions of character: self-directedness, cooperativeness and Self-transcendence. Each dimension represents a different level of Self-awareness and Integration with others and the world. Cloninger’s theory of personality has been widely used in clinical and research settings, as it provides a comprehensive framework for understanding individual differences and their implications for mental health and wellbeing.
The trait approach to personality
The trait approach, influenced by Francis Galton and Raymond Cattell, assumes that personality can be described by a set of stable and measurable characteristics or traits. According to this approach, personality is determined by biological factors and can be assessed by standardized tests, such as the 16PF or the Big Five. The trait approach also seeks to identify the genetic and environmental influences on personality traits.
According to self-worth theory, an individual’s main priority in life is to find self-acceptance, and that self-acceptance is often found through achievement (Covington & Beery, 1976). In turn, achievement is often found through competition with others. This means that people who base their self-worth on external factors such as what others think of them are more likely to engage in behaviours that will enhance their perceived competence and avoid behaviours that will expose their perceived incompetence. Self-worth theory also suggests that people may adopt different strategies to cope with threats to their self-worth, such as self-handicapping, defensive pessimism, or self-enhancement.
Social comparison theory
Social comparison theory is a psychological concept that explains how people evaluate their own abilities and opinions by comparing themselves to others. The theory was first proposed by Leon Festinger in 1954, who suggested that people have an innate drive to seek accurate self-assessments. According to the theory, people compare themselves to others who are similar to them in some way, and they can make either upward or downward comparisons. Social comparison theory has important implications for understanding human behaviour, motivation, Self-esteem, and wellbeing.
The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM)
The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) is a cutting-edge method of psychotherapy that addresses the impact of attachment, relational and developmental Trauma, also known as Complex trauma. Complex trauma can result from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that disrupt the normal development of the self and impair the capacity for Connection and regulation. NARM integrates Neuroscientific, Somatic and relational perspectives to help clients heal from Complex trauma and reclaim their Authentic identity.
The self-affirmation theory
The self-affirmation theory, which posits that humans have a fundamental need to maintain a positive and coherent self-image. When this self-image is threatened by negative feedback or events, people tend to engage in self-protective strategies that can impair their performance, health, and relationships.
The terror management theory
The terror management theory, which suggests that humans cope with the existential threat of death by creating and maintaining a cultural world-view that provides Meaning, order, and value. However, this world-view can also create self-image concerns and conflicts with others who hold different world-views.
Structural Dissociation theory
Structural Dissociation theory is a Psychological framework that explains how Trauma can lead to the fragmentation of the self into different parts or identities. According to this theory, the self is composed of two types of parts: apparently normal parts (ANPs) and emotional parts (EPs). ANPs are responsible for daily functioning and adaptation, while EPs are associated with traumatic memories and emotions.
The sociometer theory
The sociometer theory is a Psychological framework that proposes that Self-esteem is an indicator of how well we are perceived and accepted by others. According to this theory, humans have a fundamental need to belong and to maintain positive Social relationships, and they use Self-esteem as a gauge of their social value. The sociometer theory suggests that when we receive positive feedback from others, our Self-esteem increases, and when we receive negative feedback, our Self-esteem decreases.
Self-determination theory of motivation
Self-determination theory (SDT) is a Psychological framework that examines human motivation, behaviour, and wellbeing. It proposes that people have three basic psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. SDT suggests that when these needs are satisfied, people experience optimal growth and development, as well as Positive emotions and intrinsic motivation. However, when these needs are thwarted, people experience negative outcomes such as Anxiety, Depression, and extrinsic motivation.
Wholeness theory of Self-esteem
The wholeness theory of Self-esteem in a thesis created by Self-transcendence Research in 2023. Within this theory, the idea of Self-esteem is linked to the individual’s sense of inner connectedness and wholeness, and it is suggested that it is personality dissociations which are the cause of low Self-esteem. The theory goes on to suggest these dissociations further exacerbate this loss of Self-esteem and wholeness by creating negative aspects of self which work as critics and adversaries within the mind of the affected individual. The theory suggests humans are multiplicities, and have multiple independent aspects of self that normally work in cooperation, but childhood Trauma, for example, can cause us to reject one for more of these aspects, creating those dissociations.
The theory of self-discrepancy
Theory of Cognitive dissonance
The human multiplicity
The human multiplicity question has been debated for thousands of years. Are humans singular or plural? This question may seem paradoxical, but it is at the heart of a growing field of inquiry that challenges the conventional notion of human identity as fixed and unitary. In this article, we will explore the concept that humans are multiplicities, Meaning that they are composed of multiple selves, identities, perspectives, and experiences that coexist and interact within a single person. We will examine the theoretical and empirical foundations of this concept, as well as its implications for various domains of human life, such as psychology, ethics, politics, and art. We will also consider some of the critiques and limitations of this concept, and how it can be applied in a constructive and respectful way. By doing so, we hope to shed some light on the complexity and Diversity of human nature, and to invite readers to reflect on their own multiplicity.
Multiple intelligences theory
The multiple intelligences theory, proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, is a framework for understanding the Diversity of human Cognitive abilities. According to this theory, there are eight types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, musical, bodily kinaesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic. Each type of intelligence reflects a different way of processing information, solving problems and expressing oneself. The theory challenges the traditional view of intelligence as a single, fixed and measurable entity, and suggests that individuals can develop their potential in different domains through education and experience.
Multiple social categorization theory
Multiple social categorization theory is a branch of social psychology that examines how people perceive and respond to others who belong to more than one social group. The theory proposes that multiple social categorization can have both positive and negative effects on intergroup relations, depending on how people cognitively represent and emotionally react to the complex social Diversity around them.