Approaches in Psychology

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Approaches in Psychology

What is an approach in psychology? An “approach” is a way of addressing the problem of explaining behaviour. Different psychologists prefer different approaches in the same way that you may be politically liberal whereas someone else is politically conservative. We all find that different things make sense. In terms of psychology, the situation is not as straightforward as in politics, as most people might favour one kind of approach when explaining, say, aggression, whereas they might favour another approach when offering an account of why some individuals develop mental disorders.

Ask yourself

  • What concepts do biologists use when describing behaviour?

  • Why are some behaviours naturally selected?

  • What is a “radical behaviourist”?

  • How do neo-behaviourists differ from behaviourists?

  • What experiences in early life motivate adult behaviour?

  • How do biological drives interact with early experience?

  • In what way does “social cognition” use the cognitive approach?

  • What are some of the limitations of the cognitive approach?


No single explanation is “right” and no one explanation is right for every behaviour. Each of them is appropriate in different contexts. They form part of the psychologist’s “toolkit”. You must choose the psychological explanations that make best sense to you. However, it is important to note that it is not necessary to favour one approach over all others when trying to explain behaviour, because they often all have something to contribute. For example, there is no single cause of mental disorders such as schizophrenia or depression; instead, several biological and psychological factors all play a role.

All of the approaches in this chapter have been discussed elsewhere in this book, so here we will present an overview of the major approaches.

You will need to develop a major understanding of the key approaches in psychology through studying the topics in psychology (see Chapters 2–16 of A2 Level Psychology). In order to assist you, we have structured the text for each approach in the following way:

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