Freud and Bandura: A Critical Evaluation of Two Human Behaviour Theories

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This essay will briefly outline and critically evaluate Freud’s theory of Psychoanalysis and Bandura’s Social cognitive learning theory to determine which provides a better account of human behaviour. Instincts are inborn, driving forces that are unconsciously embedded and largely govern our behaviour (Freud 1925b; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Freud’s theory of human behaviour is comprised of a blend of competing instinctual drives that include hunger, thirst and sexuality (Hall 1999; Ryckman, 2004).

Freud identifies these drives deterministically, not in terms of their object but their source (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Instinctual drives become activated when physical needs prompt humans to seek out gratification in the external world with the aim to return to a former more balanced state of mind (Hall, 1999; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Freud (1961) referred to drives that wanted to be satisfied instantaneously as being part of the pleasure principle.

The plan of the pleasure principal is to relieve the individual of tension and to bring satisfaction (Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004). Instinctual drives are lead by cognitive processes such as perception, as humans hunt for and source out information in the external environment about pleasure (Ryckman, 2004). Freud’s alternate principal, the reality principal, exists in a support role to the pleasure principal and occasionally needs to defer the pleasure principal in order to satisfy the needs of the Id within the scope of reality (Burger, 2008; Freud, 1961; Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004).

A clash between instinctual drives and social expectations contributes to internal conflict and defence mechanisms such as repression in the development of personality (Ryckman, 2004). Freud (1923) categorized personality into three parts called the id, ego and superego respectively. These parts become intergraded during his stages of psychosexual development that supposed that in the period of childhood, sexual drives change their focus from oral, to anal then to genital regions in the body (Freud, 1923).

Further to this, Freud postulated that during each of these important stages parents would need to develop a suitable balance of permitting gratification in order for their children to develop into well adjusted adults (Hall, 1999; Ryckman, 2004). The Id is an egocentric personality structure that is apparent from birth (Jones, 1963). The function of the Id is to satisfy instinctual drives in harmony with the pleasure principal (Burger, 2008; Hall, 1999). There is a lively interaction between the pleasure component of the Id and the reality component of the Ego (Hall, 1999).

The Superego represents a group of learned ideals and its primary role is to prevent the urges of the id and persuade the ego towards morality rather than reality (Ryckman, 2004). Internal conflict is said to be a result of the id, ego and super ego competing for the limited amount of psychic energy available and an undying state of tension resulting from longing for pleasure, having anxiety for reality, and an obligation to moral conduct (Burger, 2008 ; Ryckman, 2004).

Compromise formations serve to balance the tension of the conscious with the pleasurable gratification of the unconscious (Monte & Sollod, 2003; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2). Repression is the most basic defence mechanism that attempts to keep socially unwanted Id impulses from reaching consciousness (Burger, 2008; Feist & Feist, 2006; Hall 1999; Ryckman, 2004). Through the analyses of dreams, Freud discovered that certain thoughts were reserved from consciousness on the basis of being too painful to admit (Ryckman, 2004)

Bandura’s theory of human behaviour consists of biological, social and cognitive classes of motivation (Newbery, 2009, Week 6 Forum). The majority of human behavioural patterns are retained in neural codes as opposed to innate programming which gives humans the capability to learn an assortment of behaviours (Bandura, 1997; Friedman ; Schustack 2001). Regarding social learning, Bandura (1977) classified vicarious learning into four components.

Firstly, the attention process where the learner must have their senses directed on the situation; secondly, the retention process where coding and storing information takes place, thirdly, motor reproduction where mental representations are rehearsed and finally, motivation, the positive or negative outcome of the behaviour that has been observed (Bandura, 1977). With regards to motivation, Bandura (1971) noted that the distinction between learning a new behaviour and using it depends on reinforcement.

Bandura stressed the role of the cognition as a behavioural motivator and viewed cognitive events as being able to determine which environmental events are perceived, the manner of interpretation and the behavioural outcome (Bandura, 1986). Bandura (1971) recognised that higher order cognitive processes can enable humans to participate in such internal functions as foresight and value expectations.

The concept of ‘reciprocal determinism’ depicts a system of influences that makes up the internal functions mentioned and external factor such as reward and punishment that are part of a structure of intermingled influences that affect not just behaviour but each other (Bandura, 1971; Burger, 2008; Friedman ; Schustack, 2001). After much research, Bandura (1971) concluded personality as an interaction of three components being the environment, behavior, and psychological processes. A distinct part of Bandura’s theory is his understanding of the outcomes of self-efficacy.

Self efficacy is a person’s belief in their ability to be successful at a particular task and he described this in terms of how people think, feel and behave, for example, if someone expects that they will not succeed in accomplishing an outcome, they will not make a respectable attempt at it (Bandura 1995; 1997). Such expectancies arise from a range of grounds such as vicarious learning or their own past performance outcomes (Burger, 2008). Self efficacy evolves throughout life as the individual develops new skills and growth with experience and understanding (Bandura, 1997).

On comparing Freud and Bandura’s accounts of the origin and nature of human behaviour, it is important to recognise that sometimes irrelevant criteria are introduced, via the literature that may affect the integrity of any real attempt for appraising the usefulness of either theory. Perhaps, this may apply more so to Freud; especially in the areas of ad hominem arguments, restricted samples, and value laden labels relating to pessimism and optimism. It should be remembered that we are not looking at these theories as treatment modalities for therapeutic intervention.

Rather, we are more interested in determining which explanatory models more comprehensively explains human behaviour, holistically, expansively, and more adequately approaches a plausible and fully integrated model. On the basis of this comparison, it is more likely that Freud’s model provides a more detailed account. It is difficult to appraise Freud’s theory of human behaviour as his work in this area was not so much a singular theory, but more of a collection of theories.

Freud’s account of human behaviour has its share of identifiable weaknesses and his ‘theory’ has received a great deal of criticism regarding its logical testability and empirical support. Freud’s ‘theory’ has been rejected by many for not meeting the purported requirements of the testability criterion and for its supposed overuse of metaphors (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2; Ryckman, 2004). Criticisms have also been levelled at the relative vagueness and ambiguity of Freud’s concepts and the difficulties they generate for drawing comprehensible and testable hypotheses (Ryckman, 2004).

Further condemnation comes with Freud’s ‘theory’ being generally difficult, some would say impossible, to test empirically and the fact that much of his observational support is anecdotal (Newbery, 2009, Week 6 Forum; Friedman & Schustack, 2009). It is recognised that the test conditions for Freud’s work were not based in a laboratory but in a clinic where conditions could not have been controlled and, whilst he conducted psychoanalysis in his clinic, he did not record the patient’s observations at the time in which he heard them; thus giving room for error as his recall of this information may be been distorted (Ryckman, 2004).

Stanovich (1998) commented that psychoanalysis showed limited ability to forecast behaviour and that the therapy process worked best in reverse by explaining an individuals previous behaviour subsequent to being aware of the facts. Hence, its strength may lie in its ‘ability’ to more broadly explain human behaviour given a more complex constellation of contributing factors. Although we may concede there are a number of valid criticisms of Freud’s ‘theory’, there is also quite an array of recognised positives.

Freud stressed that the consequences of personality patterns were developed early on for the individual; which is consistent with more elaborate recent theories of personality (Friedman ; Schustack, 2009). Freud’s ‘theory’ also recognised that not all psychological phenomena were of a conscious nature and that unconscious cognitive processing was a likely contributor to human experience and behaviour (Friedman & Schustack, 2009).

It provides information about the likely influences and effects of unconscious processes, including instinctual drives, and not just those phenomena normally associated with consciousness experience (Monte & Sollod, 2003). Freud assumed multiple levels of operation in the brain, not unlike more modern theories of parallel cognitive processing (Friedman & Schustack, 2009). More complex aspects of human personality were also catered for by Freud’s ‘theory’; especially in the area of psychological defences and the rationale put forward for less attributable behavioural responses (Friedman ; Schustack, 2009).

Freud’s account of human behaviour could be described as one based on pure associationism and, on closer examination, remains consistent with any observed phenomena identified via more mainstream conditioning and social learning theories. According to Ryckman (2004), Freud’s ‘theory’ actually explored a range of diverse behaviour types with incredible interpretation and it created a theoretical organization that overtly tried to account for all human behaviour (Ryckman, 2004).

Some would say that Freud’s ‘theory’ demonstrates a widespread understanding of behaviour and personality, and has great explanatory power that crosses a range of behaviours (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 2). It seems that Bandura’s theoretical stance fills the void in traditional behaviourism by providing a more cognitive approach to explaining human behaviour (Ryckman, 2004). Bandura’s work was more suited to creating a body of knowledge based on ‘scientific’ research.

It is true to say that Bandura’s theoretical work was mostly carried out via experimental research on larger sample groups, but the actual quality of the research may be challenged for its broader psychological integrity. Whilst demonstrating logical testability, being clear and simple to understand and upholding a scientific model, the criticism here is that social cognitive theory conducts a high number of experiments that merely state the obvious and do not delve into explaining causes and this is simply inadequate for a good quality theory of human behaviour (Burger, 2008; Mitchell ; Jolley 1988; Newbery, 2009 Lecture 7).

It is apparent that Bandura’s theory contains a preponderance of descriptions and constellation of observable tendencies attributable to human behaviour (Newbury, 2009, Lecture 7). Although, the question remains as, is that simply enough? Hence, further criticisms of Bandura’s theory come from it being too narrow in description of personality and limited in its approach to thinking, emotion and conscious levels are limited (Burger, 2008). Compared to Freud, Bandura’s theory is restricted in its interdisciplinary impact and the variety of factors it touches on appears to be simply a learned collection of behavioural repertoire.

Bandura tends to limit human behaviour to the type of thoughts and behaviours that are learned and stored in neural codes and there is no allowance for the range of behaviours and tendencies that are associated with instinctive biological functions. Compared to Freud’s theory, Bandura lacks explanatory power by overlooking the biological basis of behaviour and the unconscious motivations and conflicts that Freud addressed and by leaving out these components it appears to have no account for cognition (Monte ; Sollod, 2003; Newbery, 2009, Lecture 7).

According to Newbery (2009, Lecture 7, p. 5) cognition can be termed as being ‘policy-neutral’ that is, it cannot prompt behaviour by itself. Newbery (2009, Lecture 7) goes further to say that Bandura fails to specify an account of why specific outcomes are wanted, but instead just provides a general explanation of behaviour. Contrary to Freud, Bandura rejects internal, bodily sources of motivation and appears to offer nothing more than a concept that the self chooses to act or not – detaching self from bodily source of motivation (Newbery, 2009, Lecture 7).

Although Bandura may be credited with having conducted a large volume of meritorious work, his explanatory model of human behaviour deals with a fairly restrictive constellation of observable behaviour types; via isolated research studies that account for why each of these may exist. However, Freud’s is an explanatory model that takes into account biological determinants of behaviour – including instinctual drives, neural plasticity and genetics – whilst remaining consistent with all the more simpler and specific theories on behaviour and conditioning; including social learning theories.

Where it demonstrates superiority is in the area of integrating how a ‘society of competing impulses’ can form a complex neural architecture that gives rise to the formation and experiential effects of ‘mind’ and its recognition of heuristics in the form of meaningful experience and its influential effects this has on determining human thought and behaviour.

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