Psychological Approaches: Functionalism, Structuralism, Gestalt, Psychoanalysis & Behaviorism

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Psychological Specializations: Cognitive, Humanistic, Social, Developmental & Clinical

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 What Is Behavior?
  • 1:10 Approaches to Psychology
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Expert Contributor
Jennifer Levitas

Dr. Levitas has a Ph.D. in psychology from George Mason University. She has taught myriad psychology courses for 30 years on both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

In this lesson, you will explore some of the popular approaches that psychologists use to help them study the human mind. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

What Is Behavior?

When you were a child, did you ever hear a parent ask you to please behave? Ha! If only it were that simple. What is behavior? How do we recognize and construct and perform behavior? Is behavior formed in the brain, in the mind, in the subconscious, in the soul? Does behavior exist, or is it simply a theoretical manifestation of our conscious surroundings? Please behave. As if.

The study of the mind and behavior is a field called psychology. Psychologists attempt to unravel these complex and confusing questions about how we think and behave, including such seemingly simple questions as why?. Why do we behave? Whoa - not so simple after all. To explain their understanding of the human mind, psychologists developed several approaches, or ways to look at these questions. None of these are accepted by all psychologists, but all reveal something different about the mind and how it works.

Approaches to Psychology

Functionalism is the theory that defines mental states by their function. What this means is that your brain is inherently neutral, without behavior, but produces different behaviors depending on the signal it receives. Think of it like a computer. You type in a set of data, the computer analyzes it and creates a chart analyzing the data. Like a computer, your brain receives all sorts of data: what you see, hear, feel, taste, and touch. Your brain calculates the data and creates a behavior that is an appropriate response to your surroundings. That's the essence of functionalism.

Functionalism looks to the brain, but other approaches are more connected with the mind, or consciousness. In structuralism, the structure of the mind is defined by the interaction of basic parts of the mind. What this means is that consciousness is the accumulation of all of your experiences throughout your life. At their most basic, these experiences can be separated into three categories: sensations, images, and emotions. By understanding how these basic components interact, structuralists believe you can understand the structure of the mind. Unlike functionalism, structuralism does not see the brain as chemically causing conscious awareness and behavior.

From here we can look at another fundamental approach, Gestalt psychology. A gestalt is something in its entirety, so Gestalt psychology looks at the mind as a whole as independent of the individual parts. This means that the mind is not just a compilation of different parts, like structuralism would argue. In the words of Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka, the whole is other than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt psychologists are interested by how the mind turns the individual stimuli of experiences into a greater whole that is entirely unique. For example, your sense of awareness may be related to the smell of your house, the feel of the sun coming through the window, and the sound of this video, but your mind turns these individual things into a greater awareness of existence. In simple terms, why do we look at a picture of a face and recognize it as a face? Why not just a series individual dots and lines? Gestalt psychology is all about how our minds create entire concepts, not the individual pieces.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Activities Using Different Psychological Approaches

Activity 1:

Consider the following scenario: A ten-year-old is running around his new house. He notices that there are three bedrooms. He smells cookies baking. He hears the dog next door barking. He trips over a loose board on his back porch and falls and skins his knee. He gets back up, seemingly unphased. He sees a playground in the backyard and yells to his parents, "I am going to play on the playground!" His father replies, "Not yet, son! I need to make sure it is safe." The child yells back, "But I want to! Now! I am going to scream if you don't let me!" The father responds, "Stop making a scene, the neighbors will hear you! You can play on the playground if you stop making such a fuss!" The child, happy once again, skips out to play on the new playground.

Examine this scenario from the five perspectives from the lesson. How would you describe it from the following viewpoints: functionalist, structuralist, gestalt, behaviorist, and psychoanalytic? What elements in the story lend themselves to analysis from each viewpoint? Write two or three sentences about the scenario from each of the five perspectives.

Activity 2:

Write a journal entry about an episode from your own life. Choose two of the perspectives you learned about and analyze your own episode using those two theories. Write at least one paragraph per theory.

Activity 3:

Reflect on each of the five perspectives about which you learned in this lesson. Write two or three sentences about each in a "stream of consciousness" fashion, writing down your own opinions, thoughts, impressions, and ideas about each perspective. Next write a paragraph stating which theory resonates most with you and why. Will this theory change the way you view future episodes in your life? If so, how?

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account