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

Psychological Approaches: Functionalism, Structuralism, Gestalt, Psychoanalysis & Behaviorism
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  • 0:01 What Is Behavior?
  • 1:10 Approaches to Psychology
  • 5:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

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.

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