Despite the important contributions of Gestalt psychology and psychoanalysis, psychology was dominated by behaviorism until World War II, particularly in the United States. With the end of the war interest in psychology increased and many people were attracted to careers in the field. Sophisticated instruments and electronic equipment became available, and a wider range of problems could be examined. This expanded program of research made it evident that earlier theoretical approaches were too restrictive.
This viewpoint was strengthened by the development of computers in the 1950s. Properly programmed computers were able to perform tasks such as playing chess and proving mathematical theorems that previously could be done only by human beings. It became apparent that the computer offered psychologists a powerful tool with which to theorize about psychological processes. A series of brilliant papers, published in the late 1950s by Herbert Simon and his colleagues indicated how psychological phenomena could be simulated using the computer (French & Colman, 1995). Many old psychological issues were recast in terms of information processing systems. The human being could now be viewed as a processor of information. The sense provide an input channel for information; mental operations are applied to the input; the transformed input creates a mental structure that is stored in memory; that structure interacts with others in memory to generate a response (French & Colman, 1995). The power of the computer permitted psychologists to theorize about complex mental processes and investigate the implications of the theory by simulating it on a computer. If the response stage of the computer simulation agreed with the observed behavior of actual people, the psychologists could have some confidence in the theory.
The information processing approach provided a richer and more dynamic approach to psychology than S-R theory with its intervening variables. Similarly, the information processing approach permitted some of the speculations of Gestalt psychology and psychoanalysis to be formulated in a precise fashion as programs in a computer; in this way, earlier ideas about the nature of the mind could be made concrete and checked against actual data.
Another factor that led to a changing viewpoint in psychology in the 1950s was the development of modern linguistics. Prior to that time, linguists were primarily concerned with a description of a language; now they began to theorize about the mental structures required to comprehend and to speak a language. Work in this area was pioneered by Noam Chomsky, whose book Syntactic Structures (1957) provided the basis for an active collaboration between psychologists and linguists. A rapid development of the field of psycholinguistics followed, providing the first significant psychological analyses of language.
At the same time, important advances were occurring in neuropsychology. A number of discoveries about the brain and the nervous system established clear relationships between neurobiological events and mental processes. It became increasingly difficult to assert as some of the early behaviorists had that a science of psychology could be established without links to neurophysiology. In the last decade, advances in biomedical technology have contributed to an explosion of research on neuropsychological correlates of normal and abnormal thought and behavior. In 1981, Roger Sperry demonstrated the interconnections of the brain and the links between certain regions of the brain and the basic thought and behavioral processes (French & Colman, 1995).
The development of information processing models, psycholinguistics and neuropsychology has produced a psychology that is highly cognitive in orientation. There is no agreed –on definition of cognitive psychology but its principal concern is the scientific analysis of mental processes and mental structures. Cognitive psychology is not exclusively concerned with thought and knowledge. Its early concerns with the representation of knowledge and human thought led to the label cognitive psychology but the approach has been expanded to all areas of psychology including motivation, perception, psychopathology and social psychology. It gained from behaviorism the emphasis on objectivity and reproducibility of findings; it seemed that psychologists are once again theorizing about the mind but this time with new and more powerful tools. Understanding how the mind works is a challenge that deserves the best intellectual effort we can put forth.
The modern cognitive psychology is in part a return to the cognitive roots of psychology and in part a reaction to the narrowness of behaviorism and the S-R view. Like the nineteenth century version the modern study of cognition is concerned with mental processes such as perceiving, remembering, reasoning, deciding and problem solving. Unlike the nineteenth century version however, modern cognitivism is not based on introspection. Thus the modern study of cognition is based of the assumptions that only by studying mental processes can we fully understand what organisms do and we can study mental processes in an objective fashion by focusing on specific behaviors but interpreting them in terms of underlying mental processes (French & Colman, 1995).
Positive psychology emerged in 2000 through the prodding of Dr. Martin Seligman, he argued that psychology has been half-baked, this means that psychology have exhausted everything about psychological problems and have discovered the most effective treatments for this problems, however the discipline has left out the study of happiness, courage, wisdom and all the positive attributes of human personality and functioning. Positive psychology is therefore the scientific study of optimal human functioning and the building of a field that focuses on human strength and virtue (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). This recent perspective argues that if we have build knowledge on the what, why and how of mental illness, is it not more sensible to develop a scientific discipline that studies the what, why and how of happiness, freedom, courage, resilience, friendship etc. which prevents mental illness from afflicting the individual (Schmuck & Sheldon, 2001). Positive psychology differs from the previous perspectives for it is specifically concerned with goodness. Previous theories have tried to understand mental processes and human behavior, positive psychology on the other hand does not concern itself with the debate of what psychology should be; mind or behavior, but rather seek to discover and understand positive emotions, behaviors and mental processes (Keyes & Haidt, 2003). It is an applied psychology for it attempts to discover the emotions, thoughts and behavior that prevent people from becoming mentally ill.
I would identify myself as a scholar practitioner who adheres to the cognitive, behaviorist and positive perspectives. It has always been my belief that human behavior is the most obvious manifestation of what a person feels and thinks. Sometimes, people do not share what it is they are going through but one can always observe it in their behavior. For example, an effective worker who always finishes her tasks before the deadline and works extra hours wholeheartedly has been coming to the office late several times a week, in this case one would notice that her being late is not congruent with her job attitude, thus another factor must be causing her tardiness. Thus, in order to find out what her problems are, one has to look for more clues in her behavior and mental processes. Cognitivism states that behavior is brought about by mental processes, thus the incongruence of her tardiness and work output must be based on some internal difficulty, such as cognitive dissonance, wherein she enjoys her job but has issues with the management, being tardy was an attempt to diffuse her internal conflict, an attempt to appease her mind on being able to express her displeasure with the management (Mathews & MacLeod, 1994). Positive psychology therefore would tell us that resiliency would have prevented this worker from being emotionally affected by the way management is treating her as well as the presence of a support group would help her deal with her difficulties. Thus, for me, in order to completely understand man, an integration of the three perspectives is necessary.
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