Why do we behave the way we do? Is our environment responsible for shaping our personalities? Does childhood influence who we are? These are all questions that have intrigued philosophers and society in general for centuries. ‘There are many experts that share and dispute the answers to these questions, but there are two in particular that have contributed greatly in finding explanations’ (Crux, 2006); Sigmund Freud and Burrhus Frederick Skinner.
This essay will compare Freud’s and Skinner’s approach towards human behaviour, highlighting the main ideas and focus of their theories and subsequently coming to an informative decision as to who provides the better approach. This is achieved by pinpointing criticisms that hinder their reasoning, practicality and efficiency. ‘Psychodynamic theories embrace all the diverse theories descended from the work of Sigmund Freud, which focuses on unconscious mental forces and asserts the idea that behaviour is caused by internal, mental mechanisms’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 488).
Freud’s (1901, 1924, 1940) psychoanalytic theory grew out of his decades of interactions with his clients in psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychoanalytic approach seeks to explain behaviour, motivation and mental disorders by focusing on the influence of early childhood experiences, on unconscious motives and conflicts, and on the methods people use to cope with their sexual and aggressive urges (Weiten, 2001). Freud identified three components of personality structure: the id, the ego and the superego. He saw a person’s behaviour as the result of interactions between these three components. The id is the primitive, instinctive component of personality that operates according to the pleasure principle’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 488). The id is entirely centered on your needs and wants, and it drives you to fulfill those desires at whatever cost. The ego is the ‘decision making component of personality that operates according to the reality principle’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 488). It causes you to meet your needs and wants in a socially acceptable manner. In the long run, the ego wants to maximise pleasure, just as the id does.
However, ‘the id engages in secondary process thinking, which is relatively rational, realistic and orientated towards problem solving’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). In addition, the ego establishes the division between yourself and others, and it identifies the need to negotiate within the world in order to satisfy your desires. The ego also acts as a link between the id and superego. ‘The superego is the moral component of personality that incorporates social standards about what represents right and wrong’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). Furthermore, according to Freud, unconscious conflicts between the id, ego and superego sometimes lead to anxiety.
When this happens the ‘ego uses several defense mechanisms including: denial, repression, intellectualization, displacement, projection, reaction formation, identification, regression, rationalization and sublimation’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 34). According to Freud, the id, ego and superego are distributed differently across three levels of awareness: the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. ‘Perhaps Freud’s most enduring insight was his recognition of how unconscious forces can influence behaviour. He inferred the existence of the unconscious from an array of observations that he made with his patients’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 89). For example, he recognized that ‘slips of the tongue’, or now more commonly known as the Freudian slip, often revealed a person’s true feelings. He also noticed that his patients’ dreams often expressed secret desires. ‘Most important, through psychoanalysis he often helped patients to discover feelings and conflicts of which they had previously been unaware’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). Therefore, put simply the unconscious mind contains thoughts, memories and desires that are not easily accessible but greatly influence our behaviour. The preconscious mind contains material just beneath the surface of awareness that can be easily retrieved’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 489). For example, what we ate for lunch yesterday, your telephone number, or the name of our first true love. Finally the conscious mind is that part of the mind that contains all the things we are aware of. For example, your conscious might be that you’re tired and hungry. According to Freud’s theory, ‘people must successfully pass through five stages of development in order to become healthy, well adjusted adults’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 35).
Each phase has an objective that must be accomplished successfully. If the goal is not reached, the person becomes ‘fixated at the uncompleted stage, which results in problems later in life’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 34). The five stages are: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital. The oral stage lasts from birth to eighteen months of age and is primarily based on eating, drinking and sucking. In Freud’s view, the ‘handling of the child’s feeding experiences is crucial to subsequent development’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 495). He attributed considerable importance to the manner in which the child is weaned from the breast or the bottle.
In fact, according to Freud, fixation at the oral stage could form the basis for obsessive eating or smoking later in life (Benson, 1998). In the anal stage, the two year olds focus of pleasure shifts to the anus, helping the child become aware of its bowels and how to control them. The crucial event at this time is toilet training, which represents ‘society’s first systematic effort to regulate the child’s biological urges’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 495). However, over strictness about forcing the child to go to the toilet or about timing and cleanliness can cause personality problems, depending on how the child reacts.
For example; over concern about going regularly may cause either obsessive time keeping. The phallic stage starts from about four years of age and is where the ‘genitals become the focus for the child’s erotic energy, largely through self stimulation’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 495). During this fundamental stage the Oedipus Complex emerges. That is little boys develop an erotically tinged preference for their mother. They also feel resentment towards their father, whom they view as a challenger for their mum’s affection. Similarly, little girls develop a special connection to their father.
At the same time they learn that little boys have very different genitals, and supposedly they develop penis envy. The latency and genital stages last from around age six through puberty, where the child’s sexuality is greatly suppressed (Weiten, 2001, p. 495). The latency stage focuses on expanding social contacts beyond the immediate family. Subsequently, with puberty the child advances into the genital stage. Sexual drives re-emerge and the focus moves to the genitals once again. At this point, sexual energy is normally channeled towards peers of the other sex, rather than towards ourselves as in the phallic stage. Freud argued that future developments are rooted n early, formative experiences and that significant conflicts in later years are replays from crises from childhood. In fact, Freud believed that unconscious sexual conflicts rooted in childhood experiences cause most personality disturbances’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 495). ‘Behaviourism is a theoretical orientation based on the premise that scientific psychology should study only observable behaviour’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 499). Skinner made no provision for internal personality structures similar to Freud’s id, ego and superego because such structures can’t be bserved. Following in the tradition of Watson’s radical behaviourism, Skinner showed little interest in what goes on ‘inside’ people. He argued that it’s useless to speculate about private , unobservable cognitive processes. Instead, he believed that reinforcement is the primary factor that shapes behaviour, and that behaviour is based exclusively on external consequences. This means he focused on how the external environment moulds overt behaviour. ‘Skinner’s theory accounts for personality development by explaining how various response tendencies are acquired through learning’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 00). He built a ‘box’ in which he was able to teach animals to receive food by pecking or tapping a bar or light. He referred to this as operant conditioning. ‘Operant conditions are simply environmental stimuli that have reinforcing or adverse effects on the individual’s future behaviour in the presence of those stimuli’ (Stokes, pg 263). He believed that most human responses are shaped by this type of conditioning. Skinner’s theory asserts that ‘different types of reinforcement affect whether or not a particular behaviour will be repeated’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 0). These different kinds include: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, extinction and punishment. Firstly, positive reinforcement is a ‘reward given for a particular response’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 50), such as giving a chocolate to a child who completes their homework on time. By rewarding the desirable behaviour you increase the likelihood that the behaviour will be repeated. Secondly, negative reinforcement is an increase in behaviour by taking away a reinforcer (Miller & Shelly, 2001). For example; if it’s cold, you would close the window.
Thirdly, extinction is the theory that you stop providing reinforcement, and consequently the response will eventually disappear (Miller & Shelly, 2001). For example; if you stop giving a child a chocolate when they complete their homework, the likelihood that they will continue to complete their homework will decrease. Lastly punishment is ‘inducing pain with the expectation that it will suppress a behaviour’ (Miller & Shelly, 2001, p. 51). For example; if your impulsive decisions always backfire, your tendency to be impulsive will decline.
Furthermore, Skinner found that the optimum period between response and reinforcement is about half a second. This discovery is very crucial, for example, if a parent wants to reward or punish a child, then to be effective it should be done straight away. According to Benson (1998, pg 79), ‘this also explains one reason why the penal system often doesn’t work. For instance, a burglar steals from a house, and three months later the police arrest him, and one year later he is convicted in court. ’ However, according to Skinner, this isn’t the only reason why punishment doesn’t always work.
Skinner argues that punishment: ‘often causes the individual to avoid being punished, rather than stop the undesired behaviour; can cause the individual to associate the punishment with the punisher, rather than the behaviour; and trains an individual about what not to do, but it doesn’t train what to do’ (Benson, 1998, pg 80-81). Given that response tendencies are continuously being strengthened or weakened by new experiences, Skinner’s theory views ‘personality development as a continuous, lifelong journey’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 500). Unlike Freud, Skinner saw no reason to break down the developmental process into stages.
Nor did he attribute special importance to early childhood experiences. In fact, Skinner believed that conditioning in humans works much the same as in rats and pigeons that he studied in his laboratory. Hence, he believed that conditioning strengthens and weakens response tendencies without the person’s conscious participation. Therefore, Skinner was able to explain consistencies in behaviour without being concerned about individual’s cognitive processes. Although it is generally argued that Skinner’s and Freud’s views were worlds about, Overskied’s article presents an alternative view.
In fact, according to Overskeid (2007), Skinner’s ideas were evidently influenced by Freud, and they actually held many common views. Therefore, taking into account both Freud’s and Skinner’s approach to human behaviour, it can be argued that Skinner’s theory is more practical and efficient. Freud’s theory is criticized on several grounds including: poor testability, inadequate base of empirical evidence, and male centered views (Eysenck, 1990). Freud’s approach to human behaviour revolves around internal processes that are unobservable.
Therefore people argue that they are unscientific, and consequently are only assumptions that cannot be taken seriously. Freud is also criticized because his ‘theories are made by generalizing from a small number of patients to the whole human population. Relying only on case studies can lead to faulty conclusions’ (SparkNotes, 2006). In addition, ‘others argue that most psychodynamic theories are not based on studies that follow people from childhood to adulthood. Instead, psychodynamic theorists listen to descriptions of an adult patient’s past and draw conclusions about the relevance of childhood experiences’ (SparkNotes, 2006).
Furthermore, according to Van Wagner (2008), other criticisms of Freud’s theories consist of ‘overemphasis on: the unconscious mind, sex, aggression, and childhood experiences’. However, there is no denying that Freud’s ideas have been very influential on today’s society, fundamentally changing the way people think about themselves and others. Freud cured many patients or at least helped them understand and cope with their problems, and is methods are still used in Psychiatry today. In contrast, similarly to Freud, Skinner’s theory is relevant and widely employed today.
It’s important in terms of how children are assimilated into society and how they deal with everyday life. His ideas have played an integral role in our schools, society’s standards of discipline and punishment and how we learn to fear certain things. Although he provides convincing evidence that biological factors exert considerable influence over personality, Skinner’s theory isn’t perfect and he also attracted criticisms. Firstly, because of ‘methodological problems with heritability ratios’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 13), and secondly because it offers ‘no systematic model of how physiology shapes personality’ (Weiten, 2001, p. 513). In addition, the theory is limited just by the fact that it is focused on behaviour, with little regard for what goes on in the mind. In conclusion, the different schools of psychology express various ideas on the reasons and drives for human behaviour. Freud argues that unconscious processes is central to human behaviour, whilst Skinner debates that the mind doesn’t exist, alternatively behaviour revolves around the environment.
Although, Freudian psychology is composed of considerably different reasoning than Skinner’s behaviourism approach, they both provide interesting and engaging theories that have influenced psychology and philosophers in today’s society immensely. However, evidence is a crucial component when it comes down to evaluating the validity of a particular theory, especially in today’s society. Without proof, it is very hard to justify any sort of reasoning. Consequently, although Skinner attracts criticisms, he also provides significant evidence to support his ideas, and therefore presents a more convincing and credible approach to human ehaviour that that of Freud, who adopts very minimal evidence to support his theories. Reference list Benson, C. N. (1998). Introducing psychology. United Kingdom: Icon Books Limited. Crux, E. (2006). Behavioural development theories of Freud and Skinner. Retrieved 20th April 2008 from: http://www. echeat. com/essay. php? t=31292 Eysenck, H. J. (1990). Decline and fall of the Freudian Empire. Washington, DC: Scott-Townsend. Freud, S. (1901/1960). The psychopathology of everyday life. In J. Strachey (Ed. ), The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud Vol (4 & 5).
London: Hogarth. Freud, S. (1924). A general introduction to psychoanalysis. New York: Boni & Liveright. Freud, S. (1940). An outline of psychoanalysis. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. Vol (22) London: Hogarth. Miller, R. A. , & Shelly, S. (2000). The complete idiot’s guide to personality profiles. America: Alpha Books. Overskeid, G. (2007). Looking for Skinner and finding Freud. American Psychologist, Vol 62(6), p. 590-595. Retrieved April 14th 2008 from: http://web. ebscohost. com. ezproxy. uws. edu. au/ehost/pdf? vid=8&hid=17&sid=86bc6283-432a-4c62-98ea-6ba090dc69a3%40SRCSM2
SparkNotes. (2006). Personality. Retrieved 20th April 2008 from: http://www. sparknotes. com/psychology/psych101/personality/section2. rhtml Stokes, P. (2007). Philosophy: The great thinkers. London: Arcturus Publishing Limited. Thompson, M. (2001). Philosophy of Science. United Kingdom: Hodder Headline Limited. Van Wagner, K. (2005). Psychoanalysis: The psychodynamic approach. Retrieved 20th April 2008 from: http://psychology. about. com/od/historyofpsychology/a/psychodynamic. htm Weiten, W. (2001). Psychology: Themes and Variations. New York: Wadsworth.