The perspectives used in psychology offer varying ways to focus on their subject and therefore have different ‘objects of knowledge’. Various perspectives will be discussed in this essay and their relation to each other in studying the topics of language, meaning sex and gender. The debate whether language is a unique human attribution with qualitative differences rather than quantitative differences in comparison to other animals has led to the differing perspectives.
Whether being an evolutionary advantage and an adaption through time as a divergence from other species leaning more towards the evolutionary and cognitive approaches, or due to social interaction and team building and a communication system which lends to the social constructionist perspective. The evolutionary perspective look at the origin of language whilst the cognitive perspective focuses on the processes of how meaning is transmitted between individuals, with social consrtuctionism concentrates on the meaning of language through interaction and whether this meaning is transmitted or conveyed after the spoken word.
Cognitive psychologist’s perspective use metaphorical similarities in the theorizing of the internal workings of the brain and this is demonstrated by McClelland and Rumelhart’s (1981) ‘connectionist model’, The Interactive Activation with Competition (IAC) model, demonstrating how the brain recognises words. Theories of how language is processed by the individual uses lexical (a mental dictionary), semantic (definition), syntactic (role in the sentence) and script sequences information, and how meaning is formed.
Language is seen as reflecting internal thinking. The methods used are based within a scientific framework, focusing on behavioural and material data, and using bottom- up and top-down processing analogies. The social constructionist perspective conflicts with this theory in that meaning comes after not before, with goals and purposes that conversation is intended to portray by the choice of language used. As it is an on-going interaction between two people, the course of the communication can change.
This is shown in a study by Wieder (as cited in Potter and Wetherell, 1987, Cooper et al Ch 2 pp 104), and the effect of the ‘code’ on the behaviour of the residents by the wider implications of the meaning of certain terms, and the desired effect that the conversation should convey in future actions between the communicators. Discursive psychology looks at how we as humans create meaning of our external world and creating a setting that best serves our interests within it.
The object of knowledge for the evolutionary perspective is how the development and process of language has evolved, and our similarities and differences to non-human animals through scientific methods. Whether this has evolved as Pinker (as cited in Cooper et al, Ch 2 pp 81) suggests and is a unique human ability allowing humans to transmit communication and thus helping within their physical environment, which offers adaptional advantage such as our throat anatomy being unique among mammals; or is a by-products of other cognitive processes as Sperber puts forward in our apacity for metarepresentation , … ’creating a favourable environement for the evolution of a new adaption, a linguistic ability’ (as cited by Sperber in Cooper et al, Ch 2, pp 87) and the theory of mind. As these three perspectives all research language they can be seen as broadly complementary, but their objects of knowledge vary in how they approach this topic.
The evolutionary perspective compares us to other non-humans at the species level and our ability to create meaning, but this is difficult to gain evidence through observation of primates as in whether primates lack the ability to communicate further than ‘here and now’, and therefore is language a distinct human ability. The latter two perspectives can be seen in some ways as complementary as they both look for meaning, but conflict due to when the meaning takes place, before and after the spoken word, but social constructionism has no particular stance in the relationship of language to thought as the cognitive perspective does.
Within the complicated area of sex and gender, psychological perspectives are used to understand the differences between men and women, what makes us uniquely human and the issue of gender and how it is linked to human’s identity. Biological psychology, asking what effects the biological processes have on behavioural differences using scientific processes such as cellular and biochemical data collection. Evolutionary psychology asks how evolution might have shaped humans thinking and behaviour, and selection of sexual behaviour, testing with evolutionary reasoning.
Social constructionist psychology examines how the construction of sex and gender has been defined within historical and social contexts, using evidence mostly taken from what people say and write as in Mac an Ghallil’s study of four masculine identities ( as cited in Cooper et al, Ch 3, pp155). Finally psychoanalytic psychology asks how girls and boys gain a sense of what gender the child acquires for themselves from birth, and the psychic development and therefore ongoing sexual differences and their meanings are the object of knowledge.
The methods used are mostly clinical observation and the analysis of interpretations between analyst and patient. The evolutionary perspective theorises that sexual behaviour and partner choice have been determined by human behaviours and encoded in our genes to serve an evolutionary function, that of survival such as sexual and partner choice with greater parental investment (as cited by Trivers in Cooper et al, Ch 3, pp 143). The biological perspective at the level of physicality looks for answers to sex and gender by studying levels of hormones, genetic inheritance and differences in the brains of men and women.
As these two scientific based perspectives both view the differences in gender arising from biological features evolved through time they can be seen as complementary. The hermeneutic methods of the social constructionist perspective conflict with the former two perspectives arguing they do not explain the meaning of what is ‘to be’ a man or a woman, and how gender is defined by social interaction through historical and social contexts. Social identification is seen as being created through discourses, resulting in gender-appropriate behaviours and being continually dynamic.
The psychodynamic perspective combines both biological and cultural explanations of gender, with a strong influence on following the development of humans, with its focus on early relationships, psychosexual stages and our consequent sexual behaviour. Concentrating on the meaning of biological differences and how these are internalized in a child’s mind. Freuds’s theory that anatomical differences were enough to explain the psychological differences between girls and boys (as cited in Cooper et al.
Ch 3 ,pp162), have been disputed by theorists such as Karen Horney and Melanie Klein (as cited in Cooper et al Ch 3, pp 163) and led to critical developments in the defining of sex and gender. That of the symbolism of the penis to men’s privilege and the woman’s creative capacity to give birth, and the envy this causes whilst affecting gender. This perspective contradicts the former perspectives in that family dynamics and anatomical differences are studied, and look for how the internal conceptualisation of gender is formed.
The latter two perspectives can be seen as complementary in their hermeneutic methods in understanding the meanings and experiences of gender. The strengths and weaknesses of each perspective are that in the two scientific approaches, evolutionary and biological evolutionary data uses varied methods including experimentation and question-based studies to provide evidence of genetic variation over long periods of time to promote reproductive success.
Due to their models being theoretical, and their evidence being empirical there is controversy about whether this perspective conforms to scientific procedures, also that no evidence is provided at the genetic level to prove behavioural patterns. The use of material data in the biological view is a strength, but it is difficult to provide the evidence of change due to the constant influences of physical and cultural environments. It provides the genetic make-up, hormones and brain imagery of sexual differences but does not provide a psychology of sex and gender.
The strength of the methods based on the hermeneutic principles are that social constructionist’s view of the meaning-making activities of humans, and the historical and cultural influences, their values and meaning and intention through discourse. Culltural lenses through which men and women establish their own sexual behavious such as Clark and Hatfield’s findings (as cited in Cooper et al, Ch 3, pp 146). The weakness here is the failure of this perspective to explain the origins of gender differences, and that gender cannot be due to social influences entirely, and does not explain resistance and change through time.
The psychoanalytical perspective by combining social and biological forces examines both nature and nurture, starting with the anatomical differences leading to different psychic paths, and the meaning of this difference shaped by unconscious forces and desires. Critically this perspective cannot demonstrate the validity of its claims, and raises questions about its evidence. These perspectives cal also lead to political conflict between them as in the interpretation of behavioural differences such as Hyde (as cited in Cooper et al, Ch3, pp 133).