Psychodynamic Perspective and Cognitive Perspective

Psychology is characterised by a variety of different approaches, each emphasising different factors in their explanations of mind and behaviour. This essay is going to outline two of the five approaches which are psychodynamic and cognitive approaches.

The psychodynamic approach was mainly initiated by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and he explained behaviour in terms of unconscious drives and the dynamics of the id, ego and superego. Freud said "I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden within them. The task of making conscious the most hidden recesses of the mind is one which it is quite possible to accomplish. {Hill 1998 Page 16}. However the cognitive approach was developed by Piaget in the (1950's) and this was because of a growing dissatisfaction with the behaviourist approach. In the psychodynamic approach, focus is more on what takes place in human heads, in other words it is a natural process which humans are born with and it determines behaviour patterns concerning relationships, experience and surroundings. However the cognitive approach focuses on how humans process information (stimuli/input) and how we respond to what we have processed in (output) which is also a natural process as humans are born with this function. The main areas of study in cognitive psychology are perception, attention, memory and language.

Freud assumed that the mind is divided into three parts; conscious, unconscious and preconscious and that sex was the central motivating force, although psychoanalysts' preferred to emphasise the importance of social factors, they did highlight the importance of childhood experience. The three components id, ego, and superego influence the mind or human behaviour in four different categories. The first one is the unconscious process, which humans have no direct awareness of psychodynamic conflict, the second one is where by different parts of the mind are in constant struggle with each other. Freud believed that behaviour is motivated by sexual and aggressive drives, that is the third component and the fourth is development, which brings out personality in humans through relationships particularly during child hood.

Cognitive psychologists assume that the study of internal mental process is important in understanding behaviour. Their focus is upon the role of mental process in activities such as learning and visual perception. E. Loftus said "cognition refers to all those processes by which sensory input is transformed, reduced elaborated, stored, recovered and used. Cognition is involved in everything a human being might possibly do. {Hill 1998 Page 18}. Compared with computers, cognitive processes actively organise and manipulate the information we receive. Because analogies and metaphors are used in cognitive psychology to help us understand how the brain operates, there is no unifying theory, and cognitive psychology faces opposition from other psychologists. This is due to the fact that the human brain is, not like other organs of the body, its structure does not reveal anything about how it functions because it is a large mass of cells and fibres.

The main method Freud used in his investigations when treating his clients was the case study method, he also used clinical interview methods to probe their past and question to their behaviour. This is similar to the cognitive approach, where evidence of case studying has been used to study brain damaged patients which is crucial in memory research.

The psychodynamic approach attempted to explain mental illness in psychological terms; it had an enormous influence in comprehending the nature of meaning and treatment of mental disorders. Freud believed that dreams showed our hidden thoughts and wishes and he illustrated this in an example of Psychoanalysis and Dream Therapy which aims to make the unconscious material conscious so it is easier to deal with. It was supported and carried out by Sandell (1999) who studied the symptoms of 756 patients in a period of three years or state-funded psychoanalysis and the results showed that patients had significantly fewer symptoms after the therapy.

Cognitive approach on the other hand, investigates using rigorous scientific methods and has provided explanations of many aspects of human behaviour. Cognitive psychologists make use of experimental research, to study brain damaged patients, and use computer stimulations and advanced techniques. The other approaches have also confirmed the distinction between short term memory and long term memory. Both approaches claim that children are qualitatively different from adults. Freud's theory, concentrated largely, on emotional and social development. Piaget's concern was with intellectual growth, which he saw as arising from an interaction between biological growth and environmental stimulation. "Piaget's theory emphasises the fundamentally rational nature of human beings and also sees immature reasoning and intellectual functioning in children as being profoundly different from that of mature adults. {Taylor 1999 Page 14.}

Research methods such as free association and dream analysis in psychodynamic approach have been widely used but experimentations have been used in the cognitive approach. Both approaches agree and believe about the function of memory. Freud explained theoretically that forgetting is caused by repression, and cognitive psychologists gave an example of Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) multi-store model which suggested that memory is made up of a series of stores. Abnormality is another similarity in which both approaches have identified the cause of trauma and depression found in individuals. Psychologists in both approaches have introduced therapies that can be of good use in the treatment of depression and mental disorders.

Other contributions made to psychology in both approaches have had effective explanations in a vast number of topics; such as personality development, moral gender development and aggression in the psychodynamic approach. On the other hand cognitive approach has contributed to a broad range of applications such as education, and health promotion.

Both approaches have had a large impact on psychology. For example a hundred years on Freud's ideas and psychiatry are still discussed and used in both theoretical and practical manner. Cognitive approach has also influenced and integrated with all the other approaches in the areas of study to produce social learning theory, social cognition, cognitive neuropsychology and artificial intelligence.

Major weaknesses have been identified in both approaches, due to the type of methods used in their research programmes. The unscientific approach adopted by Freud, makes it very hard to test most of his theories. He never carried out any experiments to test his ideas and he relied on the observation methods. The fact that he used very small numbers of people in his experiments, convincing evidence was hugely lacked and findings couldn't be generalized to all cultural back grounds.

Cognitive models have been accused of refusing to notice the major made up parts of human functioning, unrealistic and deliberately disregarding the biological effects and positioning of mental processes. They have also been accused of being too cold therefore ignoring the emotional life of humans and their conscious experience and possible use of free will. Genetic factors like hereditary correlations of mental disorders are not taken into account. Cognitive approach depends largely on controlled experiments to observe human behaviour so it lacks ecological validity.

Despite some weaknesses in both psychodynamic and cognitive approaches, humans today have achieved treatment to various disorders of the mind and brain through theories and practical treatments such as psychoanalysis therapy which is an effective form of treatment. Cognitive behavioural therapy is also a popular and successful form of treatment for issues such as obsessive disorders.

Psychology has introduced different methods of understanding the human mind and behaviour; this explains what it is to be human and should be embraced with passion as it is for the benefits of all human beings.


  • Eysenck M.W 2000 Psychology A Students Hand Book Psychology Press Ltd
  • Gross R 2001 Psychology the Science of Mind and Behaviour Fourth Edition Green Gate Publishers
  • Hill G 1998 Oxford Revision Guides AS & A Level Psychology Oxford University Press
  • Taylor I 1999 Active psychology Pearson publishers

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