Behavioral Development Theories of Freud and Skinner

Why do we behave the way we do? How much does our environment play a role in shaping our personalities? Do we really suppress unwanted memories? These are all questions that everyone often wonders about. There are many experts that share and dispute the answers to these questions, but there are two in particular that have contributed greatly in finding explanations.

Sigmund Freud’s ideas today are still strongly contested and cause plenty of controversy. Freud believes that people act out certain behaviors that originate from the unconscious mind. He took the unconscious to be an element of human life that was inaccessible and important as a source of thoughts and actions. He was committed to the concept that apparently meaningless behaviors actually expressed unconscious conflict. With that he developed techniques for determining what the behaviors might mean.

Freud determined that dreams, “slips of the tongue”, and jokes were signs of concealed, conflicting desires. Most of these desires are aggressive or sexual in nature. His conclusion was that our society does not accept this behavior, so it is discouraged and those unruly desires are repressed. Our repressed desires, according to psychoanalysis, only appear to us disguised as dreams, symptoms, and other seemingly incoherent, uncontrolled actions. Freud thought it to be necessary to speculate the existence of an unconscious that interacts with conscious life. Freud’s concept of repression is “desires are repressed (bringing distress) because satisfying them would bring even greater distress. But the repressed desires remain active within us, seeking some expression or gratification, even as they are denied.” So the unconscious finds some outlet in even the most familiar aspects of our lives. Strong desires will always find some way of expressing themselves.

The more Freud studied and supported his ideas, the more controversy arose. Most people did not want to accept that they had uncontrollable thoughts and desires. Many did not want to believe that we have an unconscious mind. How could the unconscious be measured? How could it be studied? How do we know these “repressed” memories are real? With those questions many experts wanted to persist with the things that could be measured, seen, and undoubtedly be correct.

One of those psychologists was B. F Skinner. Skinner was a behaviorist, whom believed that he should only take the time to study things that could be distinguished by the senses. It had to be physical and it had to be seen, heard, and touched. He believed that people could be programmed to learn certain behaviors if the behavior is reinforced or rewarded. This type of learning is called operant conditioning. He believed that the final goal of behaviorism, and ultimately psychology was “the prediction and control of behavior…” Skinner’s theory is based upon the idea that learning is a function of change in overt behavior. Changes in behavior are the result of an individual’s response to events that occur in the environment. Skinner greatly deals with free will and social control.

The different schools of psychology express various ideas on how the human mind functions. Freud and Skinner’s views can be summed as having connections with each other in the sense that society expects us to behave a particular way. We are taught things that aren’t necessarily told to us, but are taught by imitation. When we are in elevators we look at the floor numbers or we look straight ahead, not at the person beside us. When we dine out, we use our utensils, not necessarily true if we are not in public. If these behaviors are not conducted they are considered uncivilized or “bad”. Most things that are considered bad, are the things we like to do. We don’t like for people to think we are bad, so we hold back those desires and ultimately they are repressed. This is when those desires are expressed in a different form. Although the two psychologists think they have very different views they are closely connected in their thoughts.

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