Psychological Science Essay
1. Stage model of cognitive development
The stage model of cognitive development was created by Jean Piaget. Piaget was a Swiss psychologist born in August 1896. The clinical psychologist died in September 1980 in Geneva, Switzerland. He developed his theory in the 1920s after conducting several intelligence tests in children. He conducted the tests in a bid to determine the types of logical thinking that children were capable of undertaking. He discovered that children got some answers wrong because of specific cognitive behaviors that were unique to the individual child’s developmental stage.
According to the theory, children gain cognitive ability in a developmental order. The premise behind the theory is that children think differently at different ages. Increase in age results in an increase in cognitive ability. Piaget argued that children actively engage with their environment at different stages. At every age, a child is actively trying to make sense of his environment and thus the differences in thinking capability with age.
He further argued that as children mature they develop schemas that aid them in memory, organization, and response to information and other stimuli. Additionally, when children experience new stimuli, they attempt to reconcile the new experience with their existing schemas to make sense of the new knowledge.
From this argument, Piaget reasoned that children use two methods of learning their environment, assimilation, and accommodation. Assimilation is the use of already existing schemas to understand new information from their experience with the environment. On the other hand, accommodation is the development of entirely new schemas to understand or categorize new information.
His greatest contribution was that cognitive development occurs in specific stages at specific times in a sequential manner. Criticisms to his theory include the fact that object permanence develops gradually rather than more immediately as he had earlier anticipated (Baillargeon 2004). Other critics opine that Piaget’s theory significantly underestimates the contribution of environmental factors to social development (Courage & Howe, 2002).
2. Treating Depression with New Medication
There are instances whereby psychological disorders are treated biologically. Biomedical therapies can be defined as the treatment of psychological disorder by influencing actions of the central nervous systems by using drugs and brain intervention methods. Drug therapies influence the production and re-uptake of neurotransmitters in the CNS.
When designing a new medication to treat depression, it is important to come up with a hypothesis, an independent variable, a dependent variable, random assignment of participants, and ethical guidelines. A hypothesis is a supposition made with limited evidence that requires additional investigation. The supposition here is that a new SSRI, Deftrech, is safe for teenage use.
The research is meant to uncover whether usage of the new SSRI can lead to suicidal tendencies in teenagers. The independent variable is a one that can stand on its own. It is not changed by the other variables. In this instance, the independence variable is the new drug. The dependent variable is what is affected when the experiment is carried out. The variable responds to the independent variable. The dependent variable in this scenario is the depression levels in teenagers. The experiment is to determine the dosage of the drug that is needed to reduce depression in the teenagers without inducing suicidal tendencies. There is also a control sample, which is a group of depressed teenagers who are on other SSRIs. The experiment will compare results from the control group and the group using the new SSRI to determine which drug is more likely to aid in combating suicide in teenagers without invoking suicidal tendencies in the teenagers.
3. Essence of Studying Psychology
There are many times, that laymen will claim that psychology is merely common sense and there is no need to further study the science. These people believe that psychology is simply a re-invention of folk knowledge dressed in sophisticated science language. However, nothing can be further from the truth. Psychology and psychological research helps us better understand the intricacies of what we think we already know.
The most essential difference between psychology and common sense is the use of scientific process in the former and a lack of this process in the latter. Psychology utilizes objective and subjective methods to study observable and non-observable human behavior. On the other hand, common sense is usually framed in short and often contradictory statements such as ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and ‘out of mind out of sight’ to explain long distance relationships. Common sense usually implies a set of common beliefs shared by a society often without any specialist education (Benjamin & Baker, 2004).
There have also been many instances where psychological research has produced different results from what society may have predicted by using common sense. Psychological studies have revealed that common sense is often inaccurate and subject to bias and individual life-experiences. One major issue with common sense is hindsight bias. People tend to be wiser after an event and in hindsight see that they were missing common sense. Psychology can be used to predict behavior and the resultant actions or consequences of such behavior.
Common sense is often biased and dangerous to use in observing causal behavior. Psychology, on the other hand, is non-biased as it uses scientific methods to establish causal relations between variables in human behavior. In essence, psychology is more logical and viable as compared to common sense. Common sense simply ignores the complex intricacies of human behavior and generalizes expectations (Benjamin & Baker, 2004).
4. Problems of eye-witness accounts
Eyewitness accounts refer to testimonies given by people who witnessed an event. In legal cases, the eyewitness account is a testimony given by an individual who was present when the crime was being committed. Juries tend to take eyewitness accounts as definite proof of the guilt of the defendant (Wells & Olson, 2003).
However, psychologists have found that many eyewitness accounts are full of errors because of faults in human memory and cognition abilities. Hundreds of people have been set free after eyewitness accounts proved faulty. Majority of the cases are thrown out of court when DNA evidence conclusively shows that the defendant could not have possibly committed the crime. Unfortunately, many guilty defendants have suffered years of prison sentences because of these faulty eyewitness testimonies. In fact, more than 70% wrongful convictions can be attributed to eyewitness misidentification (Wells, & Olson, 2003; Arkowitz & Lilienfield, 2010).
Psychology believes that eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to a number of factors. They have found that the memories of the eyewitnesses are usually affected by a myriad of psychological factors including anxiety, stress, leading questions, and a focus on other details other than the crime itself. They have also found that memory recall is subject to personal interpretation based on cultural bias, values and the way the individual makes sense of the world. To put it in another way, people store information in a way that makes the most sense to them. All these factors can lead the eyewitness to remember events erroneously and even to remember things that did not actually happen (Arkowitz & Lilienfield, 2010).
5. Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error is the over-emphasis on an individual’s characteristics or personality to explain someone else’s behavior rather than examining the external factors surrounding the situation. An example of the fundamental attribution error is the 1974 Milgram experiment. The experiment was used to observe how people complied with the rules set by the authority especially when the rules involved inflicting harm to other people. As the experiment went, the people were asked to shock innocent partners, which they did when they were ordered by the experimenter (Lerner & Miller, 1977).
Milgram’s experiment and the fundamental attribution error prove that some people commit acts of torture and murder because they were ordered to. For instance, many people believe that the Germans must have been a cruel society because they indiscriminately killed Jews and other ‘lesser’ people.
However, these people are over-emphasizing on the character of the Germans rather than looking at some of the extraneous circumstances that led them to commit the mass murders. The experiment and the attribution error demonstrate that the Germans were indeed acting according to Hitler’s wishes. They had no other choice to a point that they committed the atrocities as a form of self-defense to avoid punishment from their superiors.
At the time of the Jewish annihilation, Germany was a very weak country still reeling from the economic devastation of World War I. The citizens were poor to a point of near starvation. Their industrial prowess had diminished and the people had lost confidence in their government and in their nation. The environment was perfect breeding ground for a narcissistic leader to emerge and promise them a better tomorrow.
He made them believe that all their woes were because of the Jews. Cleansing the land of the Jews would ensure that they would rise again to become a superpower. He gave them hope and a point to turn their consternation against. Thus, when he ordered for their mass murder, the people had to oblige as they were simply following orders from their leader. It reached a point that Germans who did not follow the Nazi orders were considered traitors, and they too suffered the same fate as the Jews. Therefore, fear and obedience led to the Germans killing the Jews in mass numbers.
6. Operant Conditioning
Operant conditioning is the belief that someone’s behavior can change by giving him or her rewards or by punishing them. Operant behavior is based on the premise that human beings make a conscious link between their behaviors and rewards and punishments. In operant conditioning, the learner is often an active participant unlike in classical conditioning where the learner is passive (Miltenberger, 2012).
Take for instance I want to make my younger brother read more so that he can pass his exams. Through operant conditioning, I can reinforce a reading culture in him that he will utilize even when I am not there. To achieve this through operant conditioning, I will need a positive reinforcement and a negative reinforcement.
A positive reinforcement is the addition of a pleasant stimulus to encourage behavior (Miltenberger, 2012). In this instance, I can give my brother a bar of chocolate so that he can study more. Negative reinforcement is the removal of something unpleasant to increase the behavior desired. In this case, if my brother has a headache, I can remove the unpleasant stimuli by giving him a painkiller.
Operant conditioning can also be achieved through punishment, which is the use of unpleasant consequences to stop an undesired behavior. Positive punishment is the addition of something unpleasant to decrease behavior (Miltenberger, 2012). I can flick my brother on the head every time he focuses on the TV instead of reading. Negative punishment is the removal of something pleasant to stop a behavior. For instance, I can bar my brother from watching his favorite cartoon every time he focuses on something else rather than reading.
Each successive action I take in reinforcing the reading culture in my brother is called shaping. When I no longer need to provide reinforcement because the behavior has been established, extinction. Extinction occurs when the trained behavior is no longer being reinforced.
Arkowitz, H., & Lilienfield, S. (2010, Jan 1). Why science tells us not to rely on eyewitness accounts. Scientific American. Retrieved on 2/3/2016 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-the-eyes-have-it/
Baillargeon, R. (2004). Infants’ physical world. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13 (3), 89–94
Benjamin, L. T., Jr., & Baker, D. B. (2004). From seance to science: A history of the profession of psychology in America. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson
Courage, M. L., & Howe, M. L. (2002). From infant to child: The dynamics of cognitive change in the second year of Life. Psychological Bulletin, 128 (2), 250 –276.
Lerner, M.J., & Miller, D.T. (1977). Just-world research and the attribution process: Looking back and ahead. Psychological Bulletin 85: 1030-1051.
Miltenberger, R. (2012). Behavior modification, principles, and procedures. (5th ed., pp. 87-99). Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Wells, G. L., & Olson, E. A. (2003). Eyewitness testimony. Annual Review of Psychology, 277 -295