The primary application of the humanistic approach has been through therapeutic treatment for anybody suffering ‘problems with living’. Other humanistic therapies include client centred therapy and gestalt therapy, which was developed by Fritz Perls. These applications can be used to explain areas such as personality/self identity, motivation, and abnormality. The humanistic approach has contributed greatly to psychology by re-emphasising the need to study consciousness and human experience for a complete study of the subject.
It emphasis on the importance of self-actualisation, responsibility, freedom of choice, and social context in therapy, serving as a valuable agent of criticism against the extremes of earlier major approaches. It also highlights the value of more individualistic and idiographic methods of study, particularly in the areas of personality and abnormality. Humanistic psychology has not, however, had the significant impact on mainstream academic psychology that the other approaches have.
This is probably because humanists deliberately take a less scientific approach to studying humans, since their belief in free will is in opposition to the deterministic laws of science, due to their idiographic approach, rather than producing generalised laws that apply to everyone. The issues they investigate, such as consciousness and emotion, are amongst the most difficult to objectively study. When psychologists carry out any research with humans or animals, they must justify their need for experimentation and refer to appropriate ethical guidelines. Research with animals can be used to benefit the animals themselves, e.
g. to provide better zoo conditions or for the breeding of endangered species. It can also be used for protecting people and crops. For example, the medfly can be attracted away from devastating orchards by use of a pheromone usually used between medfly to attract mates. When it is not possible to study humans, animals can indicate possibilities and discover innate aspects of human behaviour. The transfer of findings from animal species to humans is plausible if we accept the principle of evolutionary continuity – differences between species are thought to be differences of quantity, not quality.
Behavioural continuity is an idea borrowed from the theory of evolution from Charles Darwin (1809-1882), and psychologists have extended Darwin’s idea of evolutionary continuity to include behaviour. They argue that by looking at species which are related to humans but less highly evolved, we can see human behaviour patterns in a simpler form. Much of the rigorously controlled experiments carried out on animals would not be permitted on humans due to ethical or legal reasons. These include interbreeding studies, deprivation, and brain and tissue research.
Hubel and Wiesel (1962) used a cat to study how individual cells of the visual cortex responded to the input from the retina. Psychologists can also study the relative effects of heredity and environment on behaviour by selectively breeding animals and then rearing them in different environments. Arguably, scientists and psychologists are more able to remain detached and impartial when studying animals because it is easier to treat animals as ‘objects’ than it is humans. When studying humans, psychologists enter into a relationship with them which may bias and distort the interpretation of their findings.
But objectively this may be easier to achieve with some species such as others, e. g. puppies over snakes. Humans mature and reproduce much slower than animals. So animals make it easier to assess the effects of early experiences on behaviour, to compare generations, or to draw conclusions from selective breeding experiments. Lorenz (1953) used greylag goslings and other young birds to discover the main factor in determining the figure that a young animal imprints on. Animal research can be used to discover cause and effect relationships (such as social deprivation) where evidence from human studies is only circumstantial.
This, in turn, can suggest clearer hypotheses for testing on humans. The experiment of Harlow’s monkeys (1959) was carried out to test theories of developmental psychology and attachment theories. The problems with using animals in experiments involve the fact that animals can’t report what they are thinking or experiencing, such as pain or emotions, which makes assessment difficult and can cause problems regarding ethics. The problem of extrapolation is also an issue, that simply because the structures of animals are the same as humans, it doesn’t mean that they perform the same functions as humans.
Some psychologists object to the use of animals on the grounds of anthromorphism. Indeed, humanists argue that humans are qualitatively different from animals, and that certain features of humans e. g. consciousness and language, means it might never be appropriate to generalise from animals. The effects of learning cancel out inherited behaviour so that the same rules do not apply to animals and humans. Koestler (1970) commented that to extrapolate from rats to humans was to commit the sin of ratomorphism.
Some animal studies use the experimental method, and objections to this centre on the rigorous controls which may be used. This is particularly true of lab experiments which may lack ecological validity. Although there are other methods of studying animal behaviour, the less control the researcher has over events the less confidence we can have in the conclusions. Selectively bred laboratory animals make very convenient subjects but their behaviour may bear little resemblance to that of their wild cousins and even less on humans.
Ethical guidelines must be adhered to when studying either humans or animals and are issued in the UK by the British Psychological Society (BPS). Ethics are agreed social rules and moral responsibilities and obligations, and can change between generations and cultures. When studying humans the BPS give ten guidelines, which begin as follows. Investigators must consider the general ethical implications and psychological consequences for the participants in their research. This should be done for all participants, taking into account age, sex, personality and ethnic differences.
Often the best judges of whether a piece of research is ethically acceptable are the population from which the participants are selected. This can pose a problem however when investigators want to study children or those who are intellectually impaired. Baron-Cohen (1985) carried out a study of autistic children which illustrates this problem clearly. Participants must have the right to give informed consent, that is they must know as much about the experiment as possible (without invalidating the results) before agreeing to participate.
Informed consent is a legally binding contract between the experimenter and the participant. In addition to the basic overview of the experiment itself, any potential harm to the participant, and any potential benefits for the participation, the informed consent must also contain the primary investigator’s name(s) and contact information should the participant wish to use it later. Piliavin, Rodin and Piliavin (1969) carried out research into bystander intervention on participants travelling on the New York subway.
It was an opportunity sample and participants would not have given their informed consent to participate. Deception of participants should be avoided at much as possible, but if (in any form) it is to be used in an experiment, it must be justified in terms of the knowledge that is to be gained compared against the harm done to the participant. One example where deception is often used is to control for participant reactivity. Some alternatives to the use of deception include using role-playing in an experiment (Zimbardo, 1973) or naturalistic experiments, among many others.
After the experiment is over, whether deception was used or not, the participant is entitled to a debriefing. During a debriefing, the experimenter reviews the experiment and answers any questions that the participant might have. If there was any deception used in the experiment, the experimenter is obliged to explain it, and the rationale for using it, during the debriefing. After Milgram’s experiment, he went to great lengths to debrief the participants, by reuniting them with the ‘learner’ and reassuring participants that their reactions were not unusual.
He also held follow-up interviews to check for no long term damage. Participants have the freedom to withdraw from an experiment with no negative consequences. Under no circumstances should participants be obligated, forced or coerced into being in an experiment. A participant is free to leave an experiment at any time, even after it has started. Milgram used misleading verbal prompts which greatly pressurised participants to continue, and ignored their desire to withdraw from the experiment. The right to confidentiality is also applicable to participants. An individual’s data must be kept private.
In fact, many experiments are designed in ways to prevent even the primary investigator from associating specific individuals with specific data. In some rare cases, the needs of the community at large must be weighed against the rights of the individual to privacy. Participants in experiments are not entitled to learn their individual results, but are entitled to the overall results from a study, and these must be provided if they are requested. Some participants in Zimbardo’s prison simulation later sold their stories to a magazine, but this was their choice, and not Zimbardo’s.
Participants must also have the right of protection from harm. Investigators should always be aware of potential harmful consequences and should try to remove or minimize them when they occur. If harmful effects are required by the experiment, they must be removed in so much as it is possible after the experiment is over (remove harmful consequences). If for example pain was inflicted as a requirement of the procedure, analgesics must be supplied afterwards if the participant requests them.
There has to be a way to contact the experimenter after the experiment is over in case long term damage from the experiment arises. Zimbardo’s study became unethical because the subjects began to suffer psychological problems, though it could be argued that the result was totally unexpected and that ethical guidelines of the time were less stringent. When investigators carry out observational research, it must only take place where those being observed could normally be expected to be observed by strangers, unless the participants give their consent to being observed.
Humphrey’s (1970) study of homosexual behaviour did not contain the consent of his participants and his observations were not likely to have been observed by strangers. He also broke a number ethics concerning privacy. On occasion, in the course of research, the investigator may become aware that the participant has a significant psychological or physical problem, of which the participant is not aware of. In such cases, the researcher is obliged to tell the participant and to provide help and information on obtaining appropriate professional advice.
However, if a participant solicits advice about a personal problem, as sometimes happens, it is only appropriate for the investigator to give it if it were agreed beforehand as part of the research design. For example, in research involving reading and writing, the psychologist may become aware that the participant is dyslexic, who is unaware of this. The psychologist has an obligation to (sensitively) inform the participant of this, and suggest where and how they can receive appropriate treatment, should the participant wish to do so.