CHAPTER 18. A NEW PSYCHOLOGY

The preceding chapters have shown that all of nature, including humans, exists in a chemical, biological, and ecological context. Whereas most of the social sciences have not fully realized the import of the new findings concerning evolution and the mind, these new insights have gained some acceptance in psychology. A new field, that of neuropsychology, has been created. Unfortunately, Fredianism still hangs on in moralist America.

This chapter briefly reviews Freudian and behaviorist approaches to psychology. These theories lack an understanding of the biological nature of the brain. The social sciences need more research and theorizing about how the innate portions of the mind affect a person's life. Piaget's theories of personality development are found to be more in-line with the new findings concerning brain physiology.

Traditional Psychological Models

Traditional psychology has been fairly ignorant of the workings of the human mind. Nevertheless, this did not stop psychologists and others from originating theories about how the mind works and how personality forms. These theorists formed their psychological theories by observing the behavior of developing humans, as opposed to being based on knowledge of what happens within the brain itself. The brain was the black box and theorists drew inferences about it largely from observations of inputs and outputs, that is, from human activities.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a Viennese physician specializing in neurology, became the founder of psychoanalysis. As his career developed, he treated many patients, especially women, diagnosed as hysterics. Hysteria is a disorder in which patients often present symptoms that imitate physical disorders, and yet have no actual physical damage. To account for this, Freud developed theories based not on the scientific pursuit of physical medicine, but on the development of the personality (which became subject to an entirely different set of phenomena than chemical ones). Freud performed a disservice by deemphasizing the biological aspects of personality at the expense of more nebulous ideas, such as guilt feelings. In Europe, psychiatry stayed within the field of medicine. Only in the United States, with its puritanical traditions, did Freudianism become supreme. Obviously, this way of looking at humans fit with the "moralistic" interpretations of free will that form the basis of the American racist moral code.

Freud theorized that the personality developed through the interaction of three levels. The first level is the animal level, called the id. (It is interesting to note that Freud, unlike the sociologists, at least allowed some role for the animal nature of man). The id operated on the pleasure seeking principal. The second level is the logical and rational level of the ego. The ego grows out of the id, but constrains and limits it in accordance with the reality principle. And, finally, there is the moral level of the superego or conscience. The superego develops from the ego and helps the individual deal with moral issues.

Freud thought that human development took place in a series of psychosexual stages. The term psychosexual refers to any bodily pleasure. He believed that severe frustration at any one stage would produce a fixation, or a desire for the missed stimulation, in later life. (It is now more appropriate to see fixation as a disturbance in neurotransmitter systems, either arising via heredity or emotional trauma.)

Another theory that developed with little reference to the workings of the biological mind was that of behaviorism. In fact, its founder, John B. Watson of Columbia University, believed that students of psychology did not have to pay any attention to what was happening in the brain. Watson believed that the only thing observable was behavior, not the mind, and that psychology had placed too much emphasis on such inner forces as thoughts, feelings, and willpower as important determinants of behavior. In contrast, Watson emphasized the strict application of stimulus and response ideas. Indeed, he saw the personality as the sum of the entire history of a person's stimulus and response patterns.

Behaviorism had an enormous appeal for many liberals. In part, this resulted from its harmony with democratic and liberal sentiments. The theory holds that human beings are only a collection of conditioned responses and, hence, humans can be molded into the liberal's vision of the good person. (This theory is much like that of the sociologists', who maintain that man is a collection of socially conditioned responses.)

Regardless if the theory is Freudian or behaviorist, non- physiological psychology is a very primitive way of approaching human behavior. Henceforth, all personality theories will have to take into consideration the structure and neurohormonal nature of the brain.

Piaget's Psycho-biological Approach

Fortunately, there are a number of promising approaches that do combine psychology and biology. One such theory is that of cognitive development. Jean Piaget developed this theory, which organizes human development according to a biological framework. One of the most attractive features of Piaget's theory is that its stages of personality development are coordinated with neural development. Contrary to behaviorist assumptions, maturational processes are built-in rather than developed through the learning process of stimulus and response. For instance, breathing is hard for the young infant. Regardless of the amount of breath training parents might administer to their child, they cannot ease this biological task. Over time, the baby's nervous and respiratory o3O/ system matures to the point that breathing becomes natural. Nor can children cannot perform specific tasks until the appropriate nervous system abilities have developed. Parents should not, indeed cannot, rush certain skills before the nervous system has developed enough for the human brain to learn the appropriate skills. Since maturation sets an upper limit on what can be learned at any given age, it is important to standardize tasks at different age levels. To a considerable extent, Piaget has done this.

According to Piaget, the first stage in human development is the sensorimotor stage that lasts from birth to about two years of age. In this stage, the main object of concern for the child is its own bodily movements and contact with nearby objects. Anthony Smith (1984:44-50) has an extended chart dealing with the developmental stages of baby and child. When the child is born, its behavior is largely reflective of animalist reflexes. Some of these reflexes are the grasp reflex, the rooting reflex (i.e., touch a cheek and the face turns in that direction), the blink reflex, and sneezing. Still another reflex is the tonic neck reflex. If the baby is prone, its face lies sideways. When the head is forcibly moved to face the other way, the leg and arm that were straight become flexed and vice versa. This reflex disappears after three to six months.

At five weeks the baby smiles. Three weeks later its sense of taste starts to become acute. At ten weeks, the baby can vocalize; at twenty weeks, control its hands; and at twenty-five, roll over.

The average baby can localize sounds and differentiate between voices at six months (26 weeks), and can sit at thirty weeks. Around eight months (35 weeks), the baby can grasp objects. With five additional weeks, it can pull its own body up, and at forty- five weeks can walk if held. At the end of the first year, a baby should be able to stand without assistance. Some can even walk alone at times.

Piaget's second stage, the preoperational stage, lasts from the age of two years to about seven. In this stage, the child begins to use symbols, engages in imaginative play, and begins to understand that words can refer to objects that are not actually physically present. By the second year, the child should definitely be walking and running. Also at this time it should have developed bladder and bowel control. Moreover, the toddler uses phrases with a vocabulary of about 200 words. By the third year, the child is using sentences with a vocabulary of about 1,000 words, and begins to obey rules with an understanding of their meaning. In the fourth year, the child asks an endless stream of questions, and also begins to play with words. By the fifth year, the child can tell long stories and can hop and skip.

One characteristic of children in Piaget's preoperational stage is egocentrism, an inability to understand things from any viewpoint other than their own. Egocentrism limits a child's opportunity to learn things from other people and often leads to fights and conflicts with other children and adults. To move beyond egocentrism, social interaction is important. Until children reach the end of the preoperational stage, they do not become aware of complex games like baseball or checkers. In this sense, the preoperational child lacks a "social map."

Examples of Innate Portions of the Personality

With more research into the brain's physiology, even more sophisticated psychological theories should be forthcoming. These theories will take into account those characteristics of the person that are apparent at birth or soon after. These characteristics are primarily innate; and are only modified by social experiences, not created by them.

More and more research has shown that many of the characteristics that once were thought to be social in nature are actually innate. Shyness is only one of the more prominent inherited traits. Children have many other personality traits with which they are born. For instance, some children are "lucky" in a social sense, because they are born with greater intelligence or body strength than others.

An important characteristic of people that is innately determined is their biological clock. Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) is the anterior pituitary hormone that controls the adrenal glands. ACTH also regulates metabolism. Like many other hormones, this chemical is secreted in patterns of time approximating twenty-four hours. Each person has his or her own internal rhythm. This hormone then determines how much sleep a person needs, and whether the person is a "morning" or "night " person. There are more morning people than night people because ACTH is usually at its highest blood level in the early morning, giving the person a boost of energy with which to start the day.

Another area in which we can benefit from studies of innate characteristics is that of the impact of innate personality on such crucial life decisions as job choice. For instance, it is no accident that many presidents of the United States (such as Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Nixon, and Wilson, among others) felt comfortable speaking before large groups of people, but felt ill at ease speaking informally and privately with only one or two individuals.

 

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