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Define Reductionism

Reductionism is the belief that human behaviour can be explained by breaking it down into smaller component parts. Reductionists say that the best way to understand why we behave as we do is to look closely at the very simplest parts that make up our systems, and use the simplest explanations to understand how they work.


Define Holism

Holism refers to any approach that emphasizes the whole rather than their constituent parts. In other words ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Qualitative methods of the humanistic approach reflect a holistic position. Social psychology also takes a holistic view. A holistic approach therefore suggests that there are different levels of explanation and that at each level there are “emergent properties” that cannot be reduced to the one below.


Approaches that are Holistic?



Humanistic Psychology Say on Holism

Humanistic psychology investigates all aspects of the individual as well as the interactions between people.


Social Psychology Say on Holism

Social Psychology looks at the behaviour of individuals in a social context. Group behaviour (e.g. conformity, de-individualization) may show characteristics that are greater than the sum of the individuals, which comprise it.


Psychoanalysis Psychology Say on Holism

Psychoanalysis – Freud adopted an interactionist approach, in that he considered that behaviour was the results of dynamic interaction between id, ego and superego.


Biological Explanations of Reductionism

The reductionist approach suggests that there are different levels of explanation. The lowest level considers physiological (biological) explanations, where behaviour is explained in terms of neurochemicals, genes and brain structure; the middle level considers psychological explanations (e.g. cognitive and behavioural) and the highest level considers social and cultural explanations, where behaviour is explained in terms of the influence of social groups.


Behavioural Approach to Reductionism

The behaviourist approach uses a very reductionist vocabulary: stimulus, response, reinforcement, and punishment. These concepts alone are used to explain all behaviour. This is called environmental reductionism because it explains behaviour in terms of simple environmental factors. Behaviourists reduce the concept of the mind to behavioural components, i.e., stimulus-response links


Biopsychology Explanations for Reductionism

Biopsychology - Explanations for the cause of mental illnesses are often reductionist. Genetics, and neurochemical imbalances are frequently highlighted, as being the main cause of these disorders. In the case of schizophrenia, for example excess production of the neurotransmitter dopamine is seen as a possible cause. This view clearly has implications for treatment. Gender can also be reduced to biological factors (e.g. hormones). Also, language can be reduced to structures in the brain, e.g. Broca’s area, Wernicke’s area (but holism could state: influence of family, education, social class on language). Another example of biological reductionism is aggression – e.g. testosterone levels