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Core Assumptions Essay Sample

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Core Assumptions Essay Sample

What are the core assumptions and key features of the biological and psychoanalytic perspectives in psychology? In what ways are they similar and how do they differ? When comparing the biological and psychoanalytic approach to psychology, you are able to see that they are different from one another. For example, the biological approach assumes that the mind and behaviour originate from the functioning of the body and that behaviour is driven by biological instincts. Whereas the psychoanalytic approach claims behaviour is driven by instincts such as the unconscious processes as well as the conflict between unconscious desires (pleasure and reality principle).

Additionally, both approaches have a common feature of being reductionist, deterministic and materialistic. This essay will look at the biological and psychoanalytic perspective and identify the core assumptions and key features, as well as comparing them both. One of the main core assumptions in the biological perspective is that all behaviour can be explained through biological functions and it has a physical root. (materialism). It has a structuralist view point since behaviour is studied in terms of the underlying structure.

Three of the major features in the biological perspective include evolutionary adaption, brain function and biochemistry. In terms of evolutionary adaptation, it is claimed that a lot of behaviour patterns are based on genetics due to humans evolving over a long period of time in order to adapt to their environment. It also suggests that genes are hereditary as they are passed down from one generation to the other through natural selection. This feature can be seen as deterministic as it claims that certain psychological traits are inherited or pre-determined leaving no space for the environmental influence, cognition and experiences a person may encounter.

This also makes free will not important to this approach as it claims that genes are hereditary which means we have no control over them. According to the brain function theory, activity of the brain determines behaviour. It is specific areas in the brain that are held responsible in enabling specific behaviours. Therefore we are able to assume that abnormalities in individuals are due to abnormalities that lie within the brain structure. Leborgne, a patient of Paul Broca, is an example that supports this as he was unable to produce words or phrases (expressive aphasia). An autopsy of the brain was carried out after the death of Lesborgne and they found a large left-frontal lobe lesion.

After conducting similar research on speech disorder patients, Broca found consistency in the location on the brain and came to the conclusion that the speech production was localised in this area, naming it the Broca’s Area. (Fancher, Raymond E, 1990) When looking at biochemistry, it is suggested that behaviour is a result of chemical imbalances. Neurotransmitters are chemical substances that transmit messages along neurones. Differences in the concentration of neurotransmitters can have an opposing effect on mental psychological wellbeing. Depression is an example of this. Teuting, rosen and Hirschfield (1981) carried out a study where they tested the levels of noradrenaline and serotonin related compounds in depressed and non-depressed patient’s urine.

They found out that the urine of depressed patients contained smaller amounts of compounds related to serotonin and noradrenaline, which in turn suggests that depressed patients have lower levels of serotonin and noradrenaline. A strength of this approach is that once some of the physiological basis of behavior is known, then we are able to treat the problem using drugs. This could solve the problem is there was a simple chemical imbalance. But also when using advanced technology such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans we are able to diagnose brain damage which is highly useful. The psychoanalytic perspective derives from the work of Sigmund Freud who believed that human behaviour was determined by unconscious thoughts.

He assumed that there were three parts to the mind. Firstly, the id which is related to the primitive instincts of the body and has a pleasure – pain principle that emphasises immediate gratification. Secondly, the superego which is the ethical component of a person’s personality and is partly conscious and partly unconscious. It reflects society’s moral standards and forms during the Oedipus complex. Lastly, the ego which has a reality principle and is a moderator of conflict between the id and superego that sometimes causes anxiety. To prevent these conflicts within an individual, defence mechanisms are often used, for example, repression which helps the conscious mind to deal with the unresolved conflicts (cited in Ian Fairholm, 2012).

Furthermore, Freud also believed that there were three levels to the mind which are known as the conscious, preconscious and unconscious. Apart from the features mentioned above, the core assumption of the psychoanalytic perspective is that a person’s personality depends on childhood experiences. In this psychosexual development theory, Freud assumed that all children go through five stages. These are the oral stage, anal stage, phallic stage, latency stage and genital stage. He believed that a fixation would occur if a child experienced extreme problems or pleasure. (Eysenck, 1994) One of the great issues with the psychoanalytic approach is falsifiability.

Popper (1969, 1972) claimed, there should be at least some evidence that can contradict the claims being made (cited in Eysenck, 2000). However, as it is an unscientific approach, it is very hard to test some of the theories that have been proposed by Freud such as the mind being divided into three parts called the id, ego and superego. Furthermore, there is also the problem of lack of information. Some of the main evidence that support this theory involves correlations amongst childhood experiences and adult personality.

Conversely, the correlations do not prove the causes and therefore are unable to show that childhood experiences are the cause of certain types of adult personality (Eysenck, 2000). Both perspectives try to explain behaviour and therefore have some similarities and differences. A similarity between the two perspectives is determinism. An example of this in the biological perspective is the claim that individuals with low serotonin levels develop depression when actually many develop no symptoms of depression at all. Just like the biological perspective, the psychoanalytic proposes that traumatic experiences in early childhood will lead to problems in later life when this is also not the case as some individuals may have experiences traumatic events but didn’t develop any problems such as phobias

Another similarity it that both approaches sit on the fence in terms of the nature versus nurture debate. The biological approach claims that certain traits and behaviours are determined by an individual’s genetic make-up and is governed by biology but also that the environment is needed in order to trigger of things that need to be used such as certain neurotransmitters. Similarly, the psychoanalytic approach looks at internal factors such as the id, ego and superego which are innate and hard wired into the brain at birth and have suggested that the environment can also affect an individual such as childhood experiences that affect an adult in later life. One of the first differences in the perspective is that the biological perspective is more empirical than the psychoanalytic perspective.

The biological approach uses scientific methodology which ensures that the results obtained are more reliable (Jarvis, 200). On the other hand, the cause and effect cannot always be determined for example, are there higher levels of a neurotransmitter when a person has a disorder or are the high levels of neurotransmitter the cause of having a disorder. However, the psychoanalytic approach is less empirical as it is based on subjective observations that were made by Freud and most of this work was not a good representation sample of the population (Eysenck, 2000). The second difference is the treatment that is used.

The biological perspective treats mental illnesses in the same way that physical illnesses are, therefore, medical treatment such as medicine is used. Moreover, the psychoanalytic perspective uses free association, hypnosis and dream analysis which try to eliminate problems in the unconscious mind. Another difference is what each perspective considers as the causes of behaviour. The biological approach claims that all behaviour is a result of biological functions, taking a nature based approach.

For example, depression occurs due to imbalances in levels of neurotransmitters. The psychoanalytic perspective on the other hand, takes a nurturing approach and believes that behaviour is the result of contact with the environment. To conclude, both the biological and psychoanalytic perspective are well known explanations of behaviour.

The biological perspective focuses on the influence of physiology on the mind which in turn produced great medical treatment and the psychoanalytic perspective has highlighted the importance of early childhood experiences that have an effect on adult personality allowing therapy such as free association, hypnosis. However, in today’s society the biological approach is widely used in comparison to the psychoanalytic approach as not all of its claims are taken seriously.


Eysenck, W. M, (1994). Perspectives on Psychology. 1st ed. Sussex: LEA. Eysenck, W. M, (2000). Psychology. A Student’s Handbook. 1st ed. sussex: Psychology press. Fairholm, I.F, (2012). A Students Guide to Studing Psychology. 3rd ed. Sussex: Psychology Press. Fancher, Raymond E. (1990) Pioneers of Psychology. 2nd ed. New York: W.W.Norton & Co. Hayes, N., (1995). Psychology in Perspective. 1st ed. London: Macmillian Press. Jarvis, M. J, (2000). Theoretical Approaches in Psychology. 1st ed. London: Routledge

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