Brief review of the main currents of Psychology

David Holt
Brief review of the main currents of Psychology


  • Psychoanalysis
  • Behaviorism
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Humanistic Psychology


Psychoanalysis tries to explain human behavior and its disorders from an experiential and communicative perspective. Relationships with our parents in our childhood would be tremendously important. Reliving certain traumatic experiences from our past can be the way to cure certain neurotic behaviors. It would be about reviving and reorganizing with the help of the therapist certain traumatic experiences, repressed in our unconscious but no less active for that reason. Within his approaches to the structure of the personality, it would be a question of the ego gaining ground to the id and the super-ego.

places great emphasis on the two forces that, according to him, fundamentally govern human behavior, Eros and Thanatos, sexuality and aggressiveness.

Psychoanalysis has been criticized and continues to be criticized for its departure from scientific methodology. Testable hypotheses are scarce, experiments are not considered necessary ...

Epistemologically psychoanalysis has many problems, however from the cultural point of view no one can deny its extraordinary importance throughout the 20th century..


Behaviorism as such was founded by Watson in 1913 ("The Behaviorist Manifesto"). However, the best known and most representative psychologist of this current has been Skinner (1904-1990).

This current is emphatically committed to experimentation and manifest behavior: stimuli and responses. It is about looking for scientific laws that establish prediction relationships between an independent variable (stimulus) and a dependent variable (response). Predicting and controlling behavior will be your preferred goals.

By putting the bioneuronal and cognitive processes in parentheses (perhaps because he considered that both the brain and cognitive processes were excessively complex) he leaves out fundamental aspects of the human being.

Behaviorism had its splendor in the mid-twentieth century but it is no longer the proper paradigm of psychology: you cannot put in parentheses (black box) all the neurological and cognitive reality that characterizes the human being.

However, many of his discoveries remain valid and are still being used effectively in psychotherapy..

Skinner is often considered the most important investigator of reinforcement learning (instrumental conditioning). Of the behaviors that we do throughout the day, those behaviors that are reinforced to us are fixed. If a child is frequently told by teachers and parents that he draws very well, this child may become a great painter in the future, he will learn the behavior of painting and it will become his habitual behavior. The reinforcements can be multiple: affection, approval, affection, sex, food, money ...

Cognitive Psychology

Flowchart, widely used by computer scientists and cognitive psychologists

It arose, with very different approaches from behaviorist approaches, in the 50s and 60s of the last century. Cognitive Psychology accepts the use of the scientific method and rejects introspection as a valid research method and wants to recover the study of the mind in a rigorous way. For this, attention is paid to the operation of computers and servomechanisms with an extraordinary development in the second half of the 20th century. Our mind would work in a similar way to computers. Psychologists should ask computer scientists for help. In this mind-computer pairing, new approaches have subsequently emerged, connectionism, which challenges computer scientists to study how the brain works to imitate it. Let's say this current gives more importance to the neurological, with which we would be approaching more biological approaches and, therefore, more plausible and common in psychology

In this controversial computers versus mind-brain I believe that the philosopher John R. Searle makes some very accurate reflections. In the magazine “Investigación y Ciencia” of March 1990, he published an article with the following title: “Is the mind a computer program? And he responds in the first line: “No. Programs are limited to manipulating symbols; the human mind, on the other hand, attributes meaning to them ”. At the end of the article, he synthesizes his argument: “In this debate, both sides miss the distinction between simulation and duplication. As far as simulation is concerned, there is no difficulty in programming a computer to print "I love you, Loli", "Ha ha ha!" or "I am suffering the anguish of post-industrial society under late capitalism." What matters is that simulation is not the same as duplication, and that fact is just as important, whether you are thinking arithmetic or feeling distress. The key is not that the computer barely reaches midfield and not the opposite gate. It is because the computer does not even serve: it is not playing this game ".

Thought is a function product of evolution and does not have strictly logical and sequential approaches like computer programs. It is a biological function and sometimes it acts with shortcuts, in a devious way and with errors ...

Within "cognitivism" there is a current oriented to psychotherapy that emphasizes the importance of ideas in healthy or sick behavior. Not only would drugs cure. It is the set of approaches called "cognitive therapy". These approaches are quite far from the much more technical approaches referred to the similarity of the mind with the computer. Howard Gardner may have been one of the psychologists who has raised in a clearer and more intelligible way the approaches of the "cognitive revolution" in his book "The new science of the mind".

Humanistic Psychology

In the 1960s a new psychological trend emerged, opposed to psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches and closely related to humanism, phenomenology and existentialism. The main thing will be the ethical values ​​related to the human being and a fundamental assessment of the intuitive, of the satisfactory interpersonal relationship, especially in the therapist-client relationship.

Its most important representatives are Abraham Maslow (his famous pyramid of needs is attached to the side), Carl Rogers, Rollo May.

This current has been criticized for its departure from scientific methodology. An empathic relationship between therapist and client is not enough, the intuitions that one can obtain from that relationship are not enough. Cause-effect protocols need to be established if we want to cure. In the case of a medical problem, for example, it is very convenient to establish an empathic relationship with the patient - no one denies it - but it is not enough. If you want to cure the pneumonia that a specific patient has, it is necessary that this disease has been previously investigated, that the causes of this disease be known experimentally (bacteria, viruses and fungi can cause it) and the most effective treatment to reverse the process . The same would happen if we addressed a psychological problem.

Maslow's pyramid

The field of ethics, so beloved of humanistic psychologists, is of fundamental importance but belongs to the field of human wisdom, not science..

Jose Luis Garcia Franco

Yet No Comments