Post-Modern to Contemporary Psychology Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3161 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Doctoral  ·  Topic: Psychology

Post-Modern to Contemporary Psych

Psychology: Post-modern to Contemporary

From its foundation as a separate science from philosophy and biology, psychology has been a dynamic and ever evolving discipline with ongoing debate as to how to explain and describe behavior and the human mind. Many attribute the beginning of psychology as a separate discipline to German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt, during the mid-1800's, with his study of human consciousness. Since that time, there have been a number of theories and schools of thought that have served to shape contemporary psychology, and to inform many related fields such as Criminal Justice. Whereas psychologists and philosophers of the past utilized various methods such as logic and observation to define, study, and draw conclusions regarding thought and behavior, modern day psychologists utilize many scientific methodologies in an effort to denote these same concepts. The following will serve to provide historic and foundation context for the field of psychology, analysis of relevant issues regarding diversity as it relates to psychology, and the impact of notable philosophical assumptions on contemporary psychology.

Pre-modernism, Modernism, and Post-modernism

The terms pre-modernism, modernism, and post-modernism relate to a sense of time and the philosophical systems that informed them. Understanding the importance of these systems can be best described in terms of their individual epistemologies. Up until approximately 1650, the primary epistemology, established as pre-modernism, was based upon knowledge derived from authoritative sources; many of which were related to the church. Pre-modern epistemology posited that attaining the knowledge of Ultimate Truth was possible through direct revelation assumed to be derived from God (Barbour, 2000). Modernism, established as the time period from 1650 to 1950 saw new epistemologies generated. Empiricism, determined to be knowledge through the sense, evolved and became scientific empiricism with the advent of methodology. The accompany epistemology during this time period was logic or reason and the two are said to have worked collaboratively with each other. The authority of the church was overcome by authority established via scholars, governments and political forces. The religious perspective was not entirely absent as it was frequently integrated into modern authority and its sources (Hofer & Pintrich, 2004).

Post-modernism, from 1950 to the present, challenges prior epistemology and questions previous thought with regard to knowledge and knowing. Epistemological pluralism has been purported as post-modernist believe there are multiple ways of knowing including spiritual, relational, and intuition. The old systems of power have been distrusted with less of a focus on a hierarchical approach to authority (Doehring, 2006).

Foundational Philosophical Assumptions and Principles

The first recognized psychological school of thought according to many scholars and historians is structuralism. Edward Titchener, a student of Wundt's, is considered the founder of structuralism which posits that human consciousness is capable of being broken down into smaller components using the process of introspection (Sass, 2008). This assertion stemmed from research with trained subjects who would make efforts to break down their reactions and responses to the mot primal or basis perception or sensation. Structuralism, although recognized for the focus on scientific research, was considered limited, subjective, and unreliable because of the methodologies that were utilized.

Structuralism gave way to functionalism in the mid-1900's with the work of William James. Functionalism focused on consciousness, just as did structuralism; however, functionalists utilized different methodologies including observation (Hergenhahn, 2005). Moreover, functionalism purported that consciousness was a changing and continuous process rather than a component that could be subdivided as structuralism suggested. Although functionalism was not sustained as an independent school of thought, remnants of this philosophy and its influence can be seen in later psychological theories regarding behavior and human cognition.

Whereas the initial schools of thought in psychology emphasized consciousness and its impact on the human experience, the face of psychology was significantly altered with Sigmund Freud and his theory and philosophy regarding personality. Freud's theory of personality recognized and emphasized the importance of unconscious. He proposed the psychoanalytic theory (Knafo, 2010). Freud with his cohort Breuer posited that the splitting of somatic conversion symptoms and consciousness, which were deemed characteristic of hysteria, derived from repression and experienced events converting into bodily symptoms of expression. For Freud, repression was a self-protection mechanism that negated negative affect states that ideas and painful memories that were determined to be incompatible with one's self-concept. Freud's psychoanalytic theory posited a continuum between "normal and pathological mental functioning" (Knafo, 2010, p. 174).

At the turn of the twentieth century, there were a number of changes in what had historically been an industrialized society. There existed more philosophical inclination and reflection regarding the future for humans because of the conditions of modern existence. Psychoanalytic theory came at a time when change from scientific positivism to interpretive phenomenology would be accepted.

The basic tenets of psychoanalysis posit that experience, cognition and human behavior are predominantly determined by irrational drives that are largely unconscious; efforts to bring these drives into conscious awareness meets with internal resistance as conflicts between the conscious view of reality and the repressed or unconscious view can result in anxiety, neurosis, depression or other neurotic traits; as well as a move from primarily an unconscious focus to bringing material into consciousness (Leichsenring, 2005). Although Freud has been credited with much of the foundational elements and philosophy that began psychoanalytic theory, at present there are a number of predominant psychoanalytic theories that constitute various schools of thought. Although there are some differences, the majority of these theories continue to emphasize the prominent influence of unconscious elements that affect mental health. Some of today's prominent theories include conflict theory and object relations theory (Knafo, 2010).

The early 20th century saw additional and dramatic changes in the field of psychology with the emergence of another school of thought referred to as behaviorism. This school of thought presented a significant departure from the studies of conscious and unconscious. Behaviorism emphasizes the importance of environmental events in determining behavior. Further, behaviorism posits that the source of action lies outside the person and in the environment (Hergenhah, 2005). With the development of a comprehensive understanding of the environment's influence, there can then be a complete understanding of human behavior. This philosophy is what delineates behaviorism from other schools of thought. Some of the major thinkers in behaviorism were Pavlov and the psychological theory of learning based on the notion that behaviors emanate from or through operant conditioning; a deviation from Freud's classical condition.

Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, is credited with some of the earliest work in behaviorism with his research on a dog's digestive system or "Pavlov's Dog." Following Pavlov was an American psychologist, John Watson who outlined the basic tenets of behaviorism. Operant conditioning or operant behavior is consequence-based learning where behavior is directly associated with a stimulus (Domjan, 2003). BF Skinner is credited with identifying operant conditioning and the premise of reward and punishment as a means of shaping behavior. Skinner discounted the relevance or importance of motivation and internal thoughts as predictors of behavior; rather, he posited that the focus should be on observable external causes of human behavior.

Behaviorism was largely held within the field of psychology and its prominence lasted approximately 50 years (Domjan, 2003). The basic tenets and principles of behavioral psychology are still very much in use today as evidenced by therapeutic techniques including behavior modification, token economy systems, and behavior analysis used to address and remediate maladaptive behavior.

Although the first half of the twentieth century was dominated by behaviorism and psychoanalysis, a new school of thought emerged referred to as humanistic psychology. This 'third force' focused on human conscious experiences. Carl Rogers is considered a pioneer of the perspective with his philosophies of phenomenology and existentialism, free will and self-determination. Humanistic psychology posits a holistic approach to human potential, self-actualization, personal responsibility, and spirituality; purporting that people are inherently good (Colman, 2009). Abraham Maslov is also noted as a significant contributor to humanistic psychology with his hierarchy of needs. The primary tenets of humanistic psychology favor the derivation of methodology from the subject matter and not natural science and advocates for pluralism in methodology which lends the perspective to qualitative approaches (Giorgi, 2009).

Near the beginning of the 20th century, Gestaltism or Gestalt psychology emerged out of the Berlin School, and is a humanistic theory positing analog, parallel, and self organizing tendencies. The new school of thought was initially introduced in contemporary psychology by Christina von Ehrenfes and purported a 'whole form' approach with defining principles of perception (Sternberg, 2003). Gestalt psychology posits a series of methodological and theoretical principles that attempt to redefine research. The primary tenets of Gestalt psychology consist of the principle of totality wherein the conscious experience is to be considered from a global perspective; taking into account individual mental and physical aspects simultaneously as the mind demands each part be considered in conjunction with the system. The principle of psychophysical isomorphism purports a correlational relationship between cerebral activity and conscious experience. Additionally Gestalt psychology is credited with establishing the conduction of real experiments in distinct… [END OF PREVIEW]

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