It’s 8 AM and you are standing in your kitchen, facing a classic dilemma: cereal first or milk first? You stare at the bowl, box of Cheerios in one hand, carton of milk in the other. Whichever approach you choose, you know you’ll have a great breakfast, but it won’t taste quite the same.
Like a delicious breakfast, psychology can be approached from many different perspectives. And just like individual breakfast-goers have their own preferred order of cereal-mixing, different psychologists have preferred psychological approaches to use when addressing an issue.
One popular approach to psychology is called the psychoanalytic or psychodynamic perspective. Inspired by the work of famous psychologist Sigmund Freud, the psychoanalytic perspective focuses on the way your past influences the decisions you make in the present and the way your unconscious mind can affect your conscious decisions. Freud used techniques such as free association, or speaking whatever thoughts come to mind, to help patients figure out what their subconscious secretly wanted.
If psychoanalysis is the cereal-before-milk approach, the milk-before-cereal approach would be behaviorism. Behaviorists like B.F. Skinner believe that every action occurs as a response to a stimulus. Behavioral psychology focuses on how rewards and punishments can condition, or modify, behavior.
Behaviorism was criticized by some psychologists as being too impersonal and disregarding the influence that emotions and thinking have on our actions. The humanistic perspective, practiced by famous psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, stresses the importance of an individual’s wants, needs, and desire to fulfill their full potential. Humanists believe that we need to be provided with unconditional positive regard to grow successfully and live happy lives.
If you like to think outside of the (cereal) box, you may know of other cereal-pouring combinations, such as rapidly alternating between cereal and milk, pouring the milk directly into the cereal box, or dumping both simultaneously into your open mouth. Like cereal, psychological approaches can get creative!
The biological perspective examines the way our bodily functions affect our thinking and behavior. Psychologists with this frame of mind look at the effect that hormones and neurotransmitters have on different parts of our brain, which in turn influence how we behave.
If you’ve heard of Charles Darwin, you can probably guess how evolutionary psychologists study our mind and actions. Evolutionary psychologists believe that behaviors that we exhibit have been developed because they were useful in the survival of our primitive ancestors.
Last, but not least, is cognitive psychology, which focuses on the way our brain works to solve problems, sense and perceive, and store memory.
Whichever approach you use to look at a problem, psychology is ready to offer a delicious way to find a solution!