Before hand I would like to apologise for the late blog entry as I thought our blog is in for Sunday instead of Friday. But here comes my blog 🙂
Reductionism is an approach to see the subject of Psychology in a more simplified way, by reducing the focus on other factors which would influence the outcome. An example can be found in the researching on Depression. There are many factors would lead to the development of Depression, such as Genetic Deposition and Childhood Deprivation. However Neuropsychologists would only focus investigating on the influences by neurotransmitters, such as Norepinephrine and Serotonin.
We study Psychology with a Reductionism approach because it would allow us to investigate the subject matter easier. By focusing on only one area of the matter, we can be more objective in our research, which increases the validity of the data collected due to being more relevant. Concentrating in one area not only makes it easier for us to understand, but also makes it simpler for us to replicate the investigation through Scientific Methods.
An example of research being Reductionist would be the famous case study of Phineas Gage.
Phineas Gage is from America and was a Railroad construction foreman. He experienced an accident of which a large iron rod projected into his skull, and that caused brain damage, especially to his left frontal lobe.‘Phineas Gage, a foreman on the railroad in Cavendish, was yesterday engaged in tamping for a blast, the powder exploded, carrying an instrument through his head an inch and a fourth in [diameter], and three feet and [seven] inches in length, which he was using at the time. The iron entered on the side of his face, shattering the upper jaw, passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.’ (Boston Post, 1848)
Despite the accident, Gage managed to survive, and made sound recovery being able to go back to an almost normal state and not to die. However, despite his full physical recovery, it was found that the accident had actually caused personality change, away from being how he was; a responsible and hardworking man.“His physical health is good, and I am inclined to say that he has recovered….The equilibrium or balance, so to speak, between his intellectual faculty and animal propensities, seems to have been destroyed. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. A child in his intellectual capacity and manifestations, he has the animal passions of a strong man. Previous to his injury, though untrained in the schools, he possessed a well-balanced mind, and was looked upon by those who knew him as a shrewd, smart business man, very energetic and persistent in executing all his plans of operation. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said that he was “no longer Gage.” (Harlow (1868))
Human brain is still a mystery for mankind and the case study brings an interesting insight on how the damage of frontal lobe would cause personality change. Without being reductionistic and only focus on the area of the brain which was damaged, it is hard to investigate the account of the individual scientifically. Now it is agreed that the frontal lobe is associated with personality.
Some argue that Phineas Gage’s personality change has nothing to do with the head injury he received by the accident, but by the attention and focus he had by other people with the miracle. This shows the disadvantage of being reductionism, as it ignores other possible reason for the cause.
The opposite of Reductionism is Holism, which try to improve our understanding by looking the whole picture and not just focusing on one specific area. It helps investigating how different factors which would contribute to the cause, however it is difficult to be objective and investigate scientifically in an easier manner.
Despite the disadvantages, I would say Reductionism is useful in Psychology as it helps us focus on certain reasons for the cause and not get distracted by other factors. Furthermore the approach makes it easier for us to investigate scientifically, and improve our understanding of matters.
The Boston Post (September 21, 1848)
Harlow, J. M. (1868)Eugene Kwun Kit Fung 16/10/2011