Psychology

The 20th century witnessed a tremendous variety of progress in terms of psychological understanding. In the early part of the 20th century Freudian psychoanalysis dominated mainstream intellectual thought, however in America it was ultimately replaced by behaviorism as the major system of psychological thought. These systems of psychological thought present two mutually exclusive understandings of human motivation. Psychoanalysis presents a version of psychology that is greatly rooted in childhood development. Sigmund Freud proposed multi-tiered psychosexual stages of human development wherein the individual advanced through each stage.

Complications in a specific stage would potentially result in the individual’s ego defenses enacting an unconscious repressive drive that have implications for the individual’s emotional and psychological development (Elliot 2002). Ultimately then, it is these unconscious psychological drives, as mediated by ego, id, and superego functions that ultimately determined human motivation. Psychoanalysis is contrasted with behavioral understandings of human behavior that consider behavior predominantly as learned experienced. Rather than unconscious childhood conditioning, in behaviorism aspects of daily existence that become conditioned within the individual’s psyche determine behavior. Behaviorism would ultimately come to replace psychoanalysis as the dominant psychology in America largely because of criticism levied against psychoanalysis related to its scientific testability (Elliot 2002). While behavioral methods could be replicated in research tests and readily observed, psychoanalysis largely eschewed the scientific method for qualitative and observational data. With psychoanalysis’ resistance of these scientific methods it was ultimately abandoned.

Another of the major psychological schools that emerged during the 20th century was humanistic psychology. Humanistic psychology was greatly influenced by the existential theories of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (Fine 1990). Sartre had argued for a theory of human existence and meaning where elements that were determined by the individual. Sartre believed that the individual was ultimately free to construct their purpose and identity. Psychologists Rollo May adopted this theory and implemented it in the humanistic approach to psychology where the patient went about resolving psychological problems by considering questions of meaning and change in this humanistic context (Fine 1990). One of the major criticisms levied against humanistic psychology by psychoanalysis was that it didn’t consider the complexities of human motivation.

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While psychoanalysis presented complex notions of unconscious impulses and human development, humanistic psychology was largely void of these elements. Humanistic psychology responded to these criticisms by arguing that while unconscious impulses and biological functioning might exist, they are still elements that can be handled by the individual patient. In terms of contributions, it’s clear that psychoanalysis contributed greatly to the structural nature of later psychological thought. For instance, psychoanalysis articulation of the psychosexual stages of human development foregrounded later theories of development that appeared in humanistic psychology. While humanistic psychology didn’t embrace the Freudian notion of these concepts, it did adopt the overarching developmental structure.

In conclusion, this essay has considered aspects of psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology. It has argued that American psychologists largely turned away from psychoanalysis for notions of behaviorism as psychoanalysis lacked a readily testable foundation. The essay also considered aspects of humanistic psychology, demonstrating that it was greatly influenced by existential philosophy. Ultimately, it’s clear the 20th century demonstrated great variety and evolution in terms of psychological thought.

References

Elliott, Anthony (2002). Psychoanalytic Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition, Duke
Fine, Reuben (1990). The History of Psychology. New Expanded Edition. Northvale:
Jason Aronson.

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