Structuralism emphasized that the objective of psychology is to study the elements of consciousness and to learn how it operates and how it influences behavior (Eysenck, 1998). Structuralism focused more on the structure of consciousness and tried to identify the different experiences that each sensation and perception elicited. They believed that by breaking down the elements of each sensation, they would be able to gain a better understanding of human behavior.
For example they tried to identify the different tastes that a person could experience, like salty, sour, sweet and bitter. By identifying the structure of the experience and of how a person perceives it, psychologists can identify the different behaviors that the individual may exhibit based on that experience, like when someone who eats something salty may make a grimace and then look for a drink. The method used by structuralists’ was introspection or the systematic observation of one’s experience.
Structuralism was an attempt by psychology to become scientific; experiments were conducted to define the different elements of consciousness. Psychologists were trained to explore behavior by analyzing their own experience, introspectionism as a method was heavily criticized because it was a vague concept that did not lend itself to scientific replication. Moreover, it was difficult to learn and was subjective.
Structuralism however provided a limited view of psychology and there arose a different perspective called behaviorism. Behaviorism posits that the goal of psychology is to examine behavior. Overt behavior as seen by behaviorists as the only human facet that can be objectively analyzed, how a person reacts or behaves towards a stimuli explains behavior (Zimbardo, Gerrig & Richard, 1999). Behaviorists believed that a person can be trained to exhibit a certain behaviory providing him/her with the right environment and learning. Although behaviorism gained popularity in the field of psychology, many criticized it as being too mechanistic and take the humanness out of the person. One of the appeal of behaviorism however was that it was very objective and treated mental processes as kind of a black box that should not be given due importance because it was not overtly possible. Behaviorists think that a person’s behavior is a reaction to the presenting stimuli.
Behaviorism used the scientific method to study behavior; one of its most important contributions is the concept of classical and operant conditioning. It has been applied to a wide range of psychological fields like education, training and psychotherapy. Psychoanalysis was developed by Freud in the period when Behaviorism was at its height. Psychoanalysis as a psychological perspective says that man’s behavior is influenced by his experiences during childhood (Conlan, 1994).
Psychoanalysis also believes that human behavior is greatly influenced by the unconscious part of the human mind. He likened the human mind to an iceberg wherein the tip was the part that was conscious. Psychoanalytic theory argues that an individual’s internal conflict is brought about by the repressed desires of the person. The method used by psychoanalysis is free association, wherein the person is asked to relate to the therapist what comes to mind, aside from free association, psychoanalysis also delved into dream analysis and hypnosis.
The theory was criticized for giving too much importance to the unconscious and at that time, Freud offered a controversial perspective of human behavior which many did not understand, however it has become one of the most important theories in psychology and many theorists within this orientation developed. Psychoanalytic theory however lacked scientific credence as it was focused on personal thoughts, memories and interpretations of which differed from one theorist to another.
The one constant throughout the entire AP Psychology exam (and throughout the field of psychology as a whole) is that there are several different viewpoints, or perspectives, about how to think about and interpret human behavior. Whether you are talking about Sigmund Freud or Abraham Maslow, there has been a multitude of varying opinions on why humans act the way they do.
At this point in modern psychology, the varying viewpoints on human behavior have been split into eight different perspectives: biological, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, psychodynamic, sociocultural, evolutionary, and biopsychosocial. Having an understanding of each of these perspectives is a great way to increase your understanding of the various psychologists, theories, and disorders that you need to know for the AP Psychology exam. And the best way to do well on the AP Psychology exam is through understanding rather than straight memorization. That is why we are giving you a brief overview of each psychological perspective!
For most of the perspectives listed we have a more in-depth explanation available, but whether you are crunched for time, or you just need a quick review, this list of Psychological Perspectives for AP Psychology will give you what you need.
To understand what the biological perspective (also known as the neuroscience perspective) is all about, you simply have to look at the name. Bio-psychologists base their explanations of human behavior solely regarding an individual’s biological processes. The three main causes of our thoughts and behaviors in a biological perspective are our genetics, hormones, and neurotransmitters. This means that our behaviors are not so much our choice, but a result of our genetic background, nervous system, and immune system.
A psychologist looking through the biological perspective would explain an individual’s extroverted behavior as a result of their genetic makeup from their parents, and the subsequent effect of those genes on certain neurotransmitters in their brain.
Our crash course review on the biological perspective offers a more detailed explanation.
Behaviorists and the behavioral perspective, in general, is heavily based on observable behaviors and actions; unlike some of the other perspectives, the behavioral perspective does not pay attention to cognitive processes because they are not observable. The behavioral perspective explains behavior through conditioning (such as classical conditioning or operant conditioning). Essentially, a behavioral psychologist will say that all behavior is learned.
A behavioral psychologist would explain an individual’s introverted behavior through what they have rewarded or punished for in the past. Maybe the individual has been punished in the past for attempting to extend their social circle, or they were rewarded in some way for withdrawing from social interaction. Find out more about the behavioral perspective with our crash course review.
Unlike the behavioral perspective, the cognitive perspective (as you would guess) is all about our cognitive processes. A cognitive psychologist looks at an individual’s behavior as a result of the way the individual interprets, perceives, and remembers the events and occurrences around them. Essentially, in order to understand an individual’s behavior and actions, you have to understand how they are processing the world around them and also why they are processing it in the way they are. This theory is heavily based on memory and perception as well.
For an individual with introverted behavior, a cognitive psychologist would look at it as how the individual interprets the social situations they are placed in; maybe the individual interprets people asking questions about their life as that they are judgemental, so they withdraw from social interaction.
You can find a more detailed look into the cognitive perspective with the crash course review on our blog.
The humanistic perspective was inspired mostly by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, who both emphasized their psychological viewpoint on free will and individual choice. The general humanistic perspective is also heavily based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (tip: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a very important theory in psychology, always expect a question on it for the AP Psychology exam). This theory essentially states that for a person to reach their full potential, they need to gain each of the five steps or needs. They are (in order) physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. In general, the humanistic perspective looks at human behavior as a whole, and that we are in control and chose the majority of our behaviors.
An example of how a humanistic psychologist would approach something is that they may say an introverted person may be choosing to limit their social circle because they find their needs are better met with a smaller group of friends. A critique of this perspective is that it is difficult to test with experiments and through the scientific method.
A more detailed look into the humanistic perspective is also available in our crash course review.
The psychodynamic (or psychoanalytic) perspective relies heavily on how the past has affected an individual’s psychological states. Psychologists who use this perspective believe that our unconscious mind (similar to Freud) is what controls the majority of our cognition and behavior.
Another way of explaining this perspective is that psychodynamic psychologists believe that the reason for anything that an individual does has to do with something in their past. To overcome something in the present, the individual simply has to understand what has happened to them in the past. This is one of the simplest perspectives, however, it is one of the most controversial. In using the same example, a psychodynamic psychologist would explain that an introverted person limiting their social interactions is due to childhood embarrassment or anxiety with social interactions.
Find a more detailed explanation of the psychodynamic perspective with our crash course review.
For the sociocultural perspective, psychologists look at an individual’s behavior based on the influence of the individual’s culture. Essentially, this perspective looks at how individuals interact with their social and cultural groups, as well as how these groups influence an individual’s behavior. A social-cultural psychologist would look at an individual’s introverted or extroverted behavior as a result of the cultural rules of social interaction. A person may seem introverted, but in reality, they are following the social norms they have learned from their culture.
For a more detailed look at the sociocultural perspective, check out our crash course review.
The evolutionary perspective is based on Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. So, an individual’s thoughts and behaviors are based on what would give them the best chance of survival; subsequently, the behaviors that give the best chance of survival are passed on to further generations. An evolutionary psychologist would explain an extroverted behavioral trait as an evolutionarily advantage. If someone is outgoing and extroverted, they could make friends and allies who could protect them and increase their chance for survival.
You can find a more in-depth look into the evolutionary perspective with our crash course review.
The biopsychosocial perspective is exactly what it sounds like; it is an integrated approach that uses the biological, psychological, and socio-cultural perspective in order to determine causes of behavior and cognitive processes. This perspective is a much more holistic approach to understanding behavior and attributes it to multiple causes rather than a specific approach like the other perspectives.
A psychologist who follows this perspective would look at introverted behavior as a result of genetics and biological processes, or past unrealized experiences, or social-cultural norms, or a combination of all three.
Psychological Perspectives on the AP Psychology Exam
Understanding the various psychological perspectives is very important for success on the AP Psychology exam. How any psychological concept, theory, or disorder is looked at comes through the lens of any of the psychological perspectives.
While a question on the psychological perspectives hasn’t come up in recent FRQ’s, it is still likely that you could have to use one of the perspectives as a way to relate to a given scenario. While the history and approaches portion of AP Psychology only counts for 2-4% of the exam, it is still likely that you will get a multiple choice question relating to one of the perspectives. A multiple choice question may look like one of these examples (found in the Barron’s AP Psychology review):
1. Behaviorists explain human thought and behavior as a result of
- past conditioning
- unconscious behavioral impulses
- natural selections
- biological processes
- individual choice.
2. In what way might a behaviorist disagree with a cognitive psychologist about the cause of aggression?
- A behaviorist might state that aggression is caused by memories or ways we think about aggressive behavior, while a cognitive psychologist might say aggression is caused by a past repressed experience.
- A behaviorist might state that aggression is a behavior encouraged by our genetic code, while a cognitive psychologist might state that aggression is caused by memories or ways we think about aggressive behavior.
- A behaviorist might state that aggression is caused by past rewards for aggressive behavior, while a cognitive psychologist might believe aggression is caused by an expressed desire to fulfill certain life needs.
- A behaviorist might state that aggression is caused by past rewards for aggressive behavior, while a cognitive psychologist might believe aggression is caused by memories or ways we think about aggressive behavior.
- A behaviorist would not disagree with a cognitive psychologist about aggression because they both believe that aggressive behavior is caused by the way we cognitively process certain behaviors.
The correct answer to question 1 is A, past conditioning. Behaviorists explain actions as learned behavior due to past conditioning (operant or classical).
The correct answer to question 2 is D, a behaviorist might state that aggression is caused by past rewards for aggressive behavior, while a cognitive psychologist might believe aggression is caused by memories or ways we think about aggressive behavior. This is because a behavioral psychologist is going to look at what we have been rewarded or punished for, while a cognitive psychologist wants to explain actions in terms of the way we interpret our environment.
The psychological perspectives are a great way to tie together everything you’ve learned in psychology. For each perspective, you should understand the basis of the viewpoint, as well as the application to a psychological situation.
So that’s it for this review on Psychological Perspectives for AP Psychology! If you want to look into any of the perspectives further, click on the links in each section of this article. Are you struggling with any other topics for AP Psychology? We have a supply of crash course reviews that are made to help you break down specific concepts before the exam (like this crash course review on Mood Disorders!).
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