Psychology Theories

(Last Updated On: December 2, 2021)

A number of different psychology theories have emerged to explain various aspects of human thought and behavior. Some of these theories are more historical in nature and not supported by current research. In other cases, these theories still play an important role in our understanding of different aspects of psychology. In either case, learning more about these theories can help you better understand both psychology history as well as current perspectives on psychology.

Behavioral Theories

Behaviorism is a theory of learning that suggests that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner were among the prominent psychologists who advocated this approach.

For the first half of the 20th-century, behaviorism became the dominant school of thought. While other theories eventually took precedence, techniques rooted in behavioral therapy are still used today to treat mental health conditions such as substance use, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Cognitive Theories

Cognitive theories of psychology focus on explaining mental processes that influence behavior. These theories often center on topics such as memory, language, problem-solving, motivation, decision-making, thinking, and attention.

Developmental Theories

Developmental theories seek to explain the course of development throughout life. Such theories offer a way to think about how human growth and change take place. Such theories allow us to better understand some of the important influences that can shape development at different points in life. 

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Humanist Theories

During the 1950s, another approach called humanistic psychology emerged and became known as the “third force” in psychology. While psychoanalysis and behaviorism focused primarily on problems, humanism took a more positive approach to explain and understand human behavior.

Humanists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow focused on individual strengths and the innate goodness of people. Many of the psychology theories that emerged from the humanist perspective continue to have an impact today, particularly in the field of positive psychology.

Personality Theories

Personality theories focus on understanding the patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that make each person unique. Such theories strive to explain how personality develops and how it may change over the course of life.