Explanation of Free Will:Humanistic/Existential Approach

What does the humanistic/existential approach say about free will? How does this conflict with what a behaviorist might say? Provide an example that supports each side. Solution Preview
According to Henriques (2003), ‘free will’ refers to the ability to voluntarily choose or decide at an individual’s discretion, where the person is not constrained by external circumstances.

Behaviorism, developed with the help of Pavlov, Skinner, Thorndike, and Watson, is a theoretical approach which focuses on the observable behaviors and discounts mental activities. According to the behaviorist, individuals do not have ‘free will’ for their environment determines their behavior, and all behavior is learned from the environment. Thinking, feeling, and acting are all regarded and understood as behaviors. As such, determining a relationship of cause and effect between stimuli is thought to determine and often predict the outcome of human behavior (Schultz and Schultz, 2008).

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Behaviorism has impacted the psychology profession in more of a scientific research manner due to the professional studies conducted by Pavlov and Skinner who introduced the world to classical and operant conditioning of behavior. Behaviorism aimed at establishing psychology as a science with standards including measuring and reporting objective data (Schultz and Schultz, 2008). This school of thought impacted the psychology profession by linking learning to behaviors (Roazen, 2004). In particular, the behaviorist theory concentrates upon the elements of observation and repeatable and predictable behaviors; which disproves the notion of free will amongst individuals.

Elements of behaviorism which do not take free will into account within the psychological profession can be found when conducting a functional behavioral analysis, taking data and writing progress reports, and developing treatment plans which target replacement behaviors. For example, in psychological practice a clinician must understand, be aware of, and follow the behaviors in which the client displays and withholds, including events that happen prior to a behavior or absence of a behavior (antecedent), in a variety of settings in order to gain an understanding if the functioning of their behavior and what is maintaining that behavior (consequence). Behaviorism however, does not explain some choices individuals make for which there is no reinforcement and does not account for all kinds of learning, thereby supporting the possibility of existing free will (Baltes, Staudinger, & Lindenberger, 1999).

On the other hand, Humanistic/Existential psychology stresses the importance that individuals possess ‘free will’ to choose their own paths in life and make decisions (Flashman, 1999). In particular, Humanism impacted the discipline …

Solution Summary
This solution is comprised of a detailed explanation of free will from both the humanist/existential approach and behaviorist approach as it pertains to personality theory within the social and developmental psychology fields. Supplemented with concrete examples (e.g., Pavlov, Skinner, Maslow, and Rogers) and more than 500+ words of text, this description of this debatable topic provides students with a clear understanding of the varying view points of free will and personality theory within our society.

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