Looking at psychology through different lenses   no comments

Posted at 5:15 pm in Psychology

After having described the basic definition and research strategies of psychology last week, I want to focus on the different approaches of the discipline this week. To do this in a proper manner, I loaned two books from the library: ‘Approaches to Psychology’ by Glassman and Hadad, and ‘Contemporary Approaches to Psychology’ by Helson and Bevan. After having looked at both books I found that, despite of the title, the latter is outdated, because it was firstly published in 1967. The Glassman and Hadad book, being published first in 2004, gives a more contemporary, clear and concise image of the different approaches that can be used to study the field of psychology. Because of this, it will be more useful for the eventual assignment.

Glassman and Hadad explain that there is a necessity to use different approaches, because of the complexity of behaviour. They argue that there is no single theory that can grasp every aspect of it (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 5). They identify five main approaches that over time have tried to understand psychology at its fullest:

  • The biological approach
  • The behaviourist approach
  • The cognitive approach
  • The psychodynamic approach
  • The humanistic approach

After describing these approaches, the two authors use them to show how one can look at development, social and abnormal psychology.

Glassman and Hadad start with the biological approach, a perspective wherein humans are seen as a biological organism. “What we do, and even what we think, is seen as having its basis in our physical structure”, they argue. Herewith, many biological researchers see behaviour as something that can be fully explained through the physics of the human body (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 44-45). In some ways, the second approach that they look at, is the opposite of the biological approach. Glassman and Hadad namely state that the behaviourist approach sees environmental stimuli as determinative for the way in which humans act. They argue herewith that “human experience can be understood through the interrelations between stimuli and responses.” Everything that cannot be studied empirically, like feelings and thoughts, is not relevant for the behaviourist approach (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 100-104). Only observable events are thus relevant.

The third approach, might be seen as a middle ground between the first two approaches. “The cognitive approach is concerned with understanding the thinking processes that underlie our actions”, Glassman and Hadad explain. According to them, it also “sees events within the person as being at least as important as environmental stimuli in the understanding of behaviour” (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 150, 151). The fourth approach is pioneered by Sigmund Freud. The so-called psychodynamic approach looks at inner processes, which include notions of self and awareness. Herewith, Glassman and Hadad describe it as a “both a theory of motivation and a theory of personality”. The authors contrast it to the cognitive approach, because the psychodynamic approach looks at behaviour within the context of personality and herewith at the whole person, not just at discrete mental processes (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 205). In the words of the authors: “The psychodynamic approach attempts to understand behaviour by analyzing how personality is shaped by past experience and the workings of the mind” (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 247).

The final approach, the humanistic approach, is arguably the most subjective way of looking at behaviour. Glassman and Hadad identify two assumptions: the belief that behaviour can only be understood through the subjective experience of an individual, and that behaviour is not constrained by current circumstances or past experience (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 255).

If one would look at the changing behaviour of individuals because of online surveillance, probably all of the approaches could be used and make an interesting study. The biological approach seems the hardest approach to associate with the subject of online surveillance. Still, when looking at examples that Glassman and Hadad give on social psychology, one could for example look at the innate characteristic of a human being to act differently when being ‘the victim’ of online surveillance (Glassman and Hadad, 2004: p. 339). Is this explainable by heredity? Can the changed behaviour be explained by the characteristic of humans? Does the gender of an individual have an influence on the way online surveillance is affecting him or her? These questions are just some examples of how one can look at the subject. Therefore, I may conclude that the varying approaches in psychology are able to offer many ways of studying the subject of online surveillance.


Glassman, William E. and Marilyn Hadad. Approaches to Psychology. Fourth edition. Berkshire: Open University Press, 2004.

Helson, Harry and William Bevan.  Contemporary Approaches To Psychology. D.Van Nostrand Company Inc., 1967.

Written by Gert Van Hardeveld on October 27th, 2013

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