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Six Major Schools of Thought in

Psychology
By David Koenig

Every academic discipline, from literature and history to sociology and theology, has
competing theories or schools of thought: perspectives from which to study the
subject. Psychology, the study of the mind, has hundreds of theories and
subtheories, but it is possible to identify six main schools of thought every
psychology student should know.

Functionalism
Functionalism has the most influence of any theory in contemporary psychology.
Psychological functionalism attempts to describe thoughts and what they do without
asking how they do it. For functionalists, the mind resembles a computer, and to
understand its processes, you need to look at the software -- what it does -- without
having to understand the hardware -- the why and how underlying it.

Gestalt Psychology
According to Gestalt psychologists, the human mind works by interpreting data
through various laws, rules or organizing principles, turning partial information into a
whole. For example, your mind might interpret a series of lines as a square, e ven
though it has no complete lines; your mind fills in the gaps. Gestalt psychotherapists
apply this logic to problem-solving to help patients.

Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalytic theory, which originated with Sigmund Freud, explains human
behavior by looking at the subconscious mind. Freud suggested that the instinct to
pursue pleasure, which he described as sexual in nature, lies at the root of human
development. To Freud, even the development of children hinged on key stages in
discovering this pleasure, through acts such as feeding at the mother's breast and
defecating, and he treated abnormal behavior in adults by addressing these stages.

Behaviorism
In the 1950s, B.F. Skinner carried out experiments with animals, such as rats and
pigeons, demonstrating that they repeated certain behaviors if they associated them
with rewards in the form of food. Behaviorists believe that observing behavior, rather
than attempting to analyze the inner workings of the mind itself, provides the key to
psychology. This makes psychology open to experimental methods with results that
can be replicated in the same way as any scientific experiment.

Humanistic Psychology
Humanist psychologists teach that to understand psychology, we must look at
individuals and their motivations. Abraham Maslow's "hierarchy of needs" exemplifies
this approach: a system of needs, such as food, love and self -esteem, determines a
person's behavior to various extents. Meeting these needs leads to a sense of self -
satisfaction and solves psychological problems.

Cognitivism
Cognitive psychology follows behaviorism by understanding the mind through
scientific experimentation, but it differs from it by accepting that psychologists can
study and understand the internal workings of the mind and mental processes. I t
rejects psychoanalysis, as it regards psychoanalytic theories about the subconscious
mind as subjective and not open to scientific analysis.