Free «The theories of Freud and Skinner» Essay Sample

Many questions arise on the topic dealing with personality and behavior. Why do people behave the way they do? How does the environment influence the personality of an individual? There are theories that explain the human behavior. Psychoanalytic theories are the ones that attempt to explain human behaviour in regards to the interaction of different components of personality. This school was founded by Sigmund Freud (Engler 2006). He drew on the physics of thermodynamics so as to coin the term psychodynamics. Freud proposed psychic energy could be converted into behavior. This, He based on the notion of converting heat into mechanical energy. The theory puts emphasis on unconscious psychological conflicts which are dynamic in nature.

Freud categorizes human personality into; the id, the ego, and the super-ego (Hjelle 1992). The id acts in accordance with the pleasure principle, which demands immediate gratification of its needs without regard to the external environment. The ego must then emerge so as to realistically meet the demands and wishes of the id according to the outside world, this adhering to the reality principle. The super-ego inculcates the rules in the society and moral judgment upon the ego, hence forcing the demands of the id to be met realistically as well as morally. The super-ego is the last function of the personality that develops. It is the embodiment of ideals in the society that have been established during childhood. Freud believes that personality is derived from the dynamic interactions of the three components.



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There are major components of this theory. The channeling and release of sexual as well as aggressive energies, which result from the Eros, in addition to Thanatos drives respectively. Freud did propose five psychosexual stages of personality development. He believed that adult personality depends on early childhood experiences. It is mostly determined by five years of age. Fixations, which develop during the infantile stage, add up to adult behavior and personality.

Alfred Adler, an associate of Sigmund Freud agreed that early childhood experiences are fundamental to development. Adler believed that birth order may impact on personality development. He also believed that the oldest was the one responsible for setting high goals to achieve. This is because they want to get the attention they lost while the younger siblings were born. Adler also believed that the middle children were ambitious and competitive. They can surpass the achievements of the first-born but were not concerned about the fame or glory. The last born would be more sociable and dependent but still be the baby. He believed that an only child matures quickly and loves attention, but fails to be independent.

Karen Horney, an important figure in personality theory is credited with the development of the ideal self as well as the real self. Horney believes that all people have these two views of themselves. The real self is concerned with how you really are regarding personality, morals and values. On the other hand, the ideal self is what one applies to own self so as to conform to social and personal norms, as well as goals.

On the other hand, behaviorist theories explain personality in terms of what effects do external stimuli have on behavior. This is a school of thought developed by B.F. Skinner (Engler 2006). He came up with a model that emphasized the mutual interaction of the organism with its environment. B.F. Skinner, for example, believed that children do behave badly because the behavior receives attention, which as reinforcement. So, a child will cry since the crying in the past brought attention. These are termed as the response and consequences. The child crying is the response while the attention the child gets is the reinforcing consequence. In accordance with this theory, behavior in individuals is formed by processes like operant conditioning. Skinner brought up a three term contingency model that aided in promoting the analysis of behavior basing on the Stimulus - Response - Consequence Model. In this model, the question being asked is, under what circumstances does the organism behave in a particular manner, which in the end produces a particular consequence (Hjelle 1992).

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There are others like Richard Herrnstein and Ivan Pavlov who extended this theory by accounting for attitudes and traits. Herrnstein believed that an attitude develops when the tendency to respond in the presences of a group of stimuli stabilizes. Instead of describing conditionable traits in non-behavioral language, the tendency to respond in a given situation accounts for the environmental portion. He also saw traits as having a huge biological or genetic component as do most modern behaviorists. Ivan Pavlov is remembered with his classical conditioning experiments which involved dogs. They led him in to discovering the foundation of classical condition, as well as behaviorism.

The arguments raised by Freud are still controversial as well as strongly contested to date. Freud believes that individuals' behaviors originate from the unconscious mind. He saw the unconscious as an element of human life, which was not accessible as well as important as a source of actions and thoughts. Freud also thought it to be important to speculate that, there exists the unconscious that interacts with conscious life. However, Freud increasingly became controversial. Most people did not want to agree with the idea that they had desires and thoughts which were uncontrollable. They did not want to believe that people have an unconscious mind. Many questions being raised include; could the unconscious be measured? How could it be measured and studied? Many wanted to deal with things that could be seen, measured, and be correct with no doubt.

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The psychoanalytic theory by Freud with its model of the mind and its central concepts gives a better understanding of one's behavior. It accounts for behavior widely than does the behaviorist theory of B. F. Skinner. Skinner explains the human behavior in terms of operant conditioning as well as reinforcing agents. He emphasizes the importance of the external environment and directly observable behavior. However, he does not account for behavior completely. Freud is successful in interpreting the origins of behavior and motivation. This makes psychoanalytic theory more adequate as a theory of personality. On the other hand, in spite of the flaws in the views by B.F. Skinner, the principles of operant conditioning are still fundamental in the approach to learning and behavior modification to date.

In conclusion, these two schools of psychology express different ideas on the functions of the human mind. However, both are connected with each other in the view that the society expects individuals to behave in a particular manner. People are taught by imitation. Most of the behaviors that are considered bad are what people would want to do, but hold back in fear of being seen as bad. These desires will end up being suppressed.


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