Monday, December 7, 2009

Gender Identity and Hormones: Cause and Effects

Written by Kelly L. Hunter

Gender Identity has long been debated on a societal level; in part because of the stigmatic fears and lack of understanding associated with such taboo subject matter. Gender development and other issues associated with hormonal imbalances have more than likely been around for as long as humans have inhabited Earth. However, a lack of education may be one of the many reasons that gender issues have been an “off-limits” topic at the dinner table and in the media for decades. Suicide rates among individuals who have experienced gender identity disorders used to be relatively high. Thankfully, as humankind has evolved so has the universal thought process, leading to a quest for knowledge and truth and a better understanding of human development and behaviors. Psychologists have determined that hormones have a significant affect on an individual’s mental and physical development, thus affecting his or her behaviors.
Research suggests that individuals who experience gender identity issues are born with an extra X or Y chromosome. For years this has been an obvious issue amongst the male population and is said to occur less often in females (WebMD, LLC, 2009). However, more women are coming forward with their own stories and experiences. Technology and education has allowed experts the ability to not only treat and council these men and women but also has allowed numerous individuals to switch his or her gender completely through surgical procedures and hormone therapies. The rate of suicide amongst these individuals has also dropped substantially over the years because there is now a better understanding as to why hormonal imbalances occur; along with treatment options that are now available to the public. Possibly the overwhelming growth of the Entertainment Industry has opened the eyes, ears, and hearts of the world. MTV, for example, has “reality” shows that follow the lives of different individuals as they struggle with their gender and undergo the process of hormonal therapies and in some cases, gender re-assignment surgery. Whatever the case may be, gender identity issues are no longer on the back-burner of the societal mind and progress is being made by medical experts. In order to fully comprehend what gender identity disorder is one must first understand hormones and how they affect human behavior.
Hormones are chemical substances that are generated from specific components of the blood stream and act as messenger molecules inside the body. These molecules are made by various glands like the Pineal and Pituitary glands and distributed throughout the body to various targeted areas where they regulate and control how cells and organs perform. Hormones have been determined to have a significant affect on an individual’s development and behavior. For example, during ovulation periods, women tend to eat less and oftentimes become irritable with sporadic shifts in mood. “Emotional and behavioral changes may include anxiety, depression, irritability, panic attacks, tension, lack of co-ordination, decreased work or social performance and altered libido” (Lichten, 2009, ¶ 2). Insulin is also a hormone which is produced by the B cells located in the Pancreas. Insulin is released into the blood stream where it helps to regulate glucose production for energy purposes. When the B cells produce too much or too little insulin an individual can become lethargic and dizzy and can often result in a diabetic coma. Hormones also affect the way an individual feels about themselves and how they view their sexual identity.
When hormonal imbalances occur, in regard to gender identity disorders, a person may experience an enormous sense of discomfort and disconnect from his or her anatomic gender. “Gender identity disorder is a condition in which a male or female feels a strong identification with the opposite sex” (WebMD, LLC, 2009, ¶ 1). The imbalance of hormones can cause a person to dress and act like an opposing member of their sex. In some cases, a woman who feels as though she is actually a man will bind her breasts with a bandage in order to conceal her physical appearance. Some men will dress as women and even inject female hormones in order to change their physical appearance and their voices. “The disorder affects an individuals self-image, and can impact the person's mannerisms, behavior, and dress” (WebMD, LLC, 2009, ¶ 2). This rare disorder can be detected as early as childhood and has no known cause; however, experts speculate that there is a genetic connection and that chromosomal abnormalities may be a direct cause. Children and adults with this disorder may experience or display specific characteristics of fear including withdrawal from social settings, anxiety, depression, and a desire to rid themselves of their existing genitalia.
With tremendous controversy still surrounding gender identity disorder, debate continues to be a major factor in opposing viewpoints. While some experts believe that biology is the main root of this disorder, others believe that environmental factors like parents can play a large role in the influences of sexual differentiation and gender identity amongst individuals. There is no proof that a person’s environment will sway him or her one way or the other when it comes to gender identity. There is also not enough solid evidence for the American Medical Association to fully conclude that biological factors are the one and only cause of hormonal imbalances; however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is a possibility. Regardless of the cause, there is an issue and there are enough individuals who have experienced the symptoms associated with gender identity disorder to conclude that something isn’t right. “For psychologists, understanding the effects of social and environmental stereotype cues can augment more internal biological and psychological explanations of behavior. What's more, their research on such cues can lead to insights into how to reduce their negative impact (Kersting, 2003, ¶ 14).
In conclusion, gender identity disorder is a real and serious issue that affects many Americans and people around the world. Although there is no known cause for this rare disorder, strides are being made in order to better understand and help treat the individuals who are experiencing its troublesome physical and emotional affects. Whether the nature of this disorder is caused from biological and psychological affects or from environmental factors has yet to be completely determined. However, research has concluded that there is an overwhelming possibility that an imbalance of hormones may very well be the leading cause and reason why so many individuals are born one sex and grow up feeling as if they belong to another. As time progresses and humans continue to evolve, hopefully enough knowledge will be gained to more adequately diagnose and treat these men and women early on in their lives. Thus, allowing more individuals to grow up feeling as if they truly belong to themselves and to society.


Kersting, K. (2003, October). Countering insidious stereotypes . Monitor on Psychology, 34(9).
Retrieved December 5, 2009 from

Lichten, E.M. (2009). US Doctor. The State of Michigan. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from

WebMD, LLC. (2009). WebMD. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Life and Works of Karen Horney

Written by Kelly L. Hunter

Many intellectual women have contributed to the development of Psychology throughout the years; Karen Horney is among these women. Born in 1885 to parents who could not have been more opposite, Horney’s childhood had its ups and downs. These experiences shaped Horney into a woman of mental unbalance, amazing intellect, and fueled her desire to find answers to human behaviors through her own self analysis. Horney’s theory of neurosis is said to be the best explanation of this disorder to ever be written then and now. “She looked at neurosis in a different light, saying that it was much more continuous with normal life than other theorists believed. Furthermore, she saw neurosis as an attempt to make life bearable, as an interpersonal controlling and coping technique” (Boeree, 2006).
Karen Horney battled with depression throughout the majority of her lifetime. Her first experience with this disorder was around the age of nine. Karen had a crush on her brother and when her overwhelming attention began to trouble him, he pushed her away. This rejection had a substantial affect on young Karen’s emotional wellbeing which led to her becoming deeply depressed. A couple of years later, Horney’s mother divorced her father and left her and her brother in their father’s care. Karen soon after enrolled in medical school against her parent’s wishes and societies for-that-matter. Three years later, she met the man she would marry; his name was Oscar Horney. One year after her marriage to Oscar, Karen gave birth to their first child, the first of three girls (Boeree, 2006). During 1911, the year after Karen gave birth to their fist daughter, her mother passed away; it was during this time that Karen began her study of psychoanalysis. According to some reports, Karen’s husband was much like her father in that he was a strong disciplinarian. In the beginning, Karen did not dispute her husband’s authoritarian ways and thought his discipline was good for their children. However, in later years, Karen’s views changed along with her perspective on childrearing.
1923 also proved to be yet another rough year for Horney. With the death of her brother and her husband’s failed business ventures, not to mention his meningitis, Karen began to develop an even darker state of emotional turmoil. “Karen became very depressed, to the point of swimming out to a sea piling during a vacation with thoughts of committing suicide” (Boeree, 2006). Three years later, Karen left Oscar and took her daughters to the U.S. Karen and her children decided to call Brooklyn, New York home which forever changed their lives. 1930’s Brooklyn has been notarized as being the intellectual capital of the world and it was here that Horney became associated with scholarly minds like those of Harry S. Sullivan and Erich Fromm. With the profound exposure to such intellect and her experience with psychotherapy, Karen began the development of her theories on neurosis. “Horney believed neurosis to be a continuous process — with neuroses commonly occurring sporadically in one’s lifetime” (“Karen Horney,” 2008).
Horney believed in order to understand an individual’s neurosis, one needed to be able to understand how that individual as a child perceived the events and experiences in his or her life. For example, Horney believed that parental indifference toward a child could have harmful affects on his or her mental stability, thus causing emotional damage to the child. Horney developed 10 patterns to explain her theories on neurotic behaviors: the need for affection and approval, the need for a partner, the need for power, the need to exploit others, the need for social recognition, the need for personal admiration, the need for personal achievement, the need for self sufficiency and independence, the need for perfection, and the need for restriction (“Karen Horney,” 2008). After careful examination of these patterns and reevaluation of her theories, Horney divided the patterns into three distinct categories of behavior: compliance (Moving Toward People), aggression (Moving Against People), and detachment (Moving Away From People).
Horney was a published author during her lifetime and two years before her death she summarized her theories of neurosis; putting this summarization into what is said to be the most accomplished work of her career. The book is titled, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Toward Self-Realization. “In this book she summarizes her ideas regarding neurosis, clarifying her three neurotic “solutions” to the stresses of life” (“Karen Horney, 2008). Helping Alfred Adler develop “Neo-Freudian” discipline was another milestone and achievement in the life and career of Karen Horney. “Perhaps the most important contribution Karen Horney made to psychodynamic thought was her disagreements with Freud's view of women” (“Psychodynamic,” 2003). During her career, Horney taught in Berlin and New York at the Psychoanalytic Institute where her Neo-Freudian views were not appreciated nor were they accepted. Horney left the institute on her own accord to embark on an altogether new journey in which she co-founded her own school known as the American Institute for Psychoanalysis.
Horney disagreed with Freud’s theories on virtually every level and made no apologies for her contempt of his work. In regard to Freud’s theory of penis envy, Horney developed her own theory of how men suffered from womb envy causing them to strive harder to achieve success in other areas because they were unable to bear children. Horney believed the inability to give birth to a child caused men to feel somewhat inferior to women, hence the reason that women had few rights during this era. Horney also disagreed with Freud’s theories of gender personality indifference stating that biology had nothing to do with these indifferences and in fact, culture and society were more likely the cause. She believed societal and cultural standpoints placed heavy restrictions on women and viewed men and women as being equal otherwise. “These views, while not well accepted at the time, were used years after her death to help promote gender equality” (“Psychodynamic,” 2003). Although Karen Horney died long before the feminist movement went into full swing, she has been credited with being the one who helped start this movement by offering up her theories on gender diversity; thus allowing psychologists a different perspective from Freud’s theories on gender inequality.
Horney was not afraid to challenge popular Freudian theories privately or publicly and believed that environmental factors were more substantial to an individual’s mental state than biological factors presented by Freud himself. She was the first woman to present a paper on feminine psychology during an international meeting; an achievement not common during a time when women were not taken seriously. Horney wrote many papers and books ranging in topics from but not limited to feminine value, marriage, childhood, and parenting. Her theory on self-actualization opened up doors for her and other women that had been closed to them in the past. The Karen Horney Clinic which opened their doors five years after her death is a research, training, and affordable treatment facility dedicated to her life’s work. Horney’s struggles through depression and a non-accepting world have blessed men and women alike in more ways than one can describe.
In conclusion, Karen Horney may have been well ahead of her time and although her theories were not always accepted by society, she never gave up. Coming from a seemingly dysfunctional and neurotic family gave Horney the drive she needed to explore neurosis through self-analysis and eventually challenge the theories and mind’s of her doubters. She was a theorist, a teacher, a leader, a mother, and survivor. A true pioneer to the field and study of psychology, Horney had a firsthand account of what it means to be neurotic and mentally unstable. Her bouts of depression did not stop her from achieving success and although she may not have had the support of society, Horney defied the odds of not only being a women of her generation but being an intellectual mind who managed to leave an ever lasting impression on psychology and the world. If Horney were alive today, she may or may not be surprised at how much her hard work and dedication truly paid off in the end. Either way, she should be proud of her accomplishments and achievements because she is a true role model for young women growing up in today’s society.


Boeree, Dr. G.C. (2006). Karen Horney. C. George Boeree. Retrieved July 27, 2008.

“Karen Horney: Theory of Neurosis.” (2008). Psychotherapy Resources, Inc. Retrieved July 30, 2009.

“Personality Synopsis: Psychodynamic and Neo-Freudian Theories.” (2003). AllPsych and Heffner Media Group, Inc. Retrieved August 1, 2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mind and Body: A Philosophical Dilemma

Written by: Kelly L. Hunter

Throughout the centuries, the philosophical theories concerning mind and body have brought about serious debate. Early philosophers believed that human bodies were simply Earth suits that housed one’s soul and humans were much more than just a physical form or body. The human brain is probably the most complex to understand; how it functions, how it communicates with the body, and how it can ultimately help the body heal or destroy itself. The mind (soul) has been said to be eternal; it has also been said to be comprised of energies beyond human comprehension. Olivia Sabuco de Nantes believed that the connection between the body and soul are linked by way of one’s brain (Moore & Bruder, 2005). However, some early philosophers did not believe that there was a connection between the mind and the physical body. Descartes was not among those philosophers and believed that the mind and body although separate entities, capable of survival without the other, are united in the form of human beings.
“The real distinction of mind and body based on their completely diverse natures is the root of the famous mind-body problem: how can these two substances with completely different natures causally interact so as to give rise to a human being capable of having voluntary bodily motions and sensations?” (Skirry, 2006). In other words, if these two entities are truly separate then it would be intelligibly impossible to explain voluntary bodily function and movement. Another issue with mind-body theories concern “body to mind causation” or sensations. For example, the visualization of a sunset is a production of the mind. This visual sensation could be explained by the motion of indiscernible bodies that cause the eye to move which leads to movement in the optic nerve, in turn various “animal spirits” would then move about in the brain causing the sensory perception of the sunset. “Therefore, the completely different natures of mind and body seem to render their causal interaction impossible” (Skirry, 2006).
The realm of mind and consciousness is classified as “New Psychology,” the study of the mind in a scientific form but linking the study of human behavior. According to some philosophical theories, the realm of the mind is limited to time and space; however, the realm of consciousness (awareness) is eternal and infinite. The mind was once thought to be a product of the brain. This theory according to Rheault (2008) is no longer the case and in fact, has brought about further exploration of what is mind and consciousness. Take for example, Alzheimer’s disease, over time, the brain loses partial of total function; however, consciousness is never altered. “The physical mind functions provide the opportunity for that non-physical entity to learn and survive in the physical world” (Morose, 2004). If consciousness is separate from the mind (brain) and is said to be infinite, then quite possibly consciousness is much like the soul in that it lives on after death.
Moore and Bruder (2005) state that “It is worth mentioning that Sabuco also believed that the intimate connection between soul and brain means there is a close relationship between psychological and physical health and between mortality and medicine” (p. 107). I agree with this theory because it is evident that the mind can heal or destroy one’s physical form simply by the thoughts they produce. Gary Zukav (1989) suggests that “In order to develop and nurture your mind and your body, it is necessary to realize that you have a mind and a body” (p. 194). In other words, one must make a conscious effort to acknowledge the fact they have a mind and physical body. Some philosophers believe that the happier one’s thoughts are, the healthier they will be and the longer they will live. Quite possibly, negative thoughts can lead to many different types of illnesses including death. With this being said one’s thoughts are very powerful and are capable of doing things that humans cannot begin to imagine. Without thought, the brain becomes lifeless and begins to deteriorate just as the body does when the brain dies.
There has been tremendous speculation over the years regarding whether or not there is such a thing as an independent mind that transcends the physical functions of one’s body through the central nervous system. This theory has yet to be proven or disproven and the only example of this phenomenon would be meditation. Meditation has been practiced by Tibetan and Buddhist Monks for centuries and over the ages has migrated throughout the world. “Buddhist feel the reality we live in is not the ultimate one” (Cromie, 2002). Through meditation, one can lower his or her metabolism, heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Few are capable of reaching the level of enlightenment experienced by Buddhist Monks; however, this is not impossible and can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and immense focus.
In conclusion, I believe humans are much more than just a physical body or shell that protects the soul. Humans are more than a mind controlling the body’s functions; they are a soul, a force greater than the body and mind alone. I believe souls live many lifetimes and one’s Karma from each life determines where his or her soul will travel after each death. In my opinion, the mind’s thoughts are signals from the universe that direct the brain and ultimately the body in the many directions that one’s soul journeys. As stated before, I believe that the mind and the body rely and depend on the other for survival; however, I do not believe that the soul depends on either of the two. In fact, I believe that the soul can survive anything on its own because the soul is an incarnate of god (the universe and nature) and is made of natural energies that flow through the cosmos eternally.


Cromie, W.J. (2002). Meditation Changes Temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved July 26, 2009.

Moore and Bruder. (2005). Philosophy: The Power of Ideas. (6th ed.) McGraw-Hill. Retrieved July 25, 2009.

Morose, R. (2004). The Separation of Mind and Consciousness. Presence. Retrieved July 23, 2009.

Rheault, R. R. (2008). What is the Realm of Mind and Consciousness?. Retrieved July 26, 2009.

Skirry, J. (2006). Descartes: The Mind-Body Distinction. Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved July 24, 2009.

Zukav, G. (1989). The Seat of the Soul. Simon and Schuster, Inc. Retrieved July 26, 2009.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Social Influences on Human Behavior

Written by: Kelly L. Hunter

Human interaction and behaviors can be affected by many social influences but are not limited to parent/child interaction, culture, peer relationships, or society in general. Human development and interaction begin at birth and continue throughout and individual’s lifetime helping to shape his or her personality and behavioral expressions. Human being’s are continuously evolving in which case they are constantly changing, growing, and developing. This process is known as social development which is the continual change of interpersonal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during an individual’s lifetime (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). Each phase of a person’s development is essential in their overall growth from child to adult. Through social cognition people form schemas in order to organize interpretations of how they feel in regards to other people, situations, and individual behaviors. Oftentimes individual’s will display abnormal behaviors that are not consistent or typical of their everyday personality depending on various social influences.
Attachment is the first phase of a child’s social development and is crucial in their developmental stages. During this phase, a child begins to bond with his or her caregiver creating a sense of affection towards them. “In the middle of the twentieth century, psychoanalysts observed that children reared in large institutional homes, with minimal stimulation and no consistent contact with a loving caretaker, often became emotionally unstable, lacking in conscience, or mentally retarded” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). When a child has little or no human interaction they may be deficient in areas of sociability, language, and physical development. Children gain a sense of security from the presence of their caregiver and usually experience some form of distress when that person is absent. Separation anxiety seems to be relatively the same amongst cultures in which similar behaviors like tantrums and crying occur. Neglected or abused children on the other hand, tend to form a detachment and exhibit indifference to the absence of their attachment figure.
Psychologists have discovered that children’s responses to separation can vary and in most cases a child is either secure or insecure in their relationship with their attachment figure. Mary Ainsworth developed three styles of attachment to explain her theory regarding children’s responses to their mother’s absence and return: secure attachment, avoidant attachment, ambivalent attachment, and disorganized attachment (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). A child who exhibits welcoming behaviors is displaying secure attachment style. A child who ignores their mother upon her return is displaying avoidant attachment style. Children who are angry or rejecting of their mother while expressing a desire to be close to her are displaying ambivalent attachment style. However, children who have been mistreated are usually disoriented, engaging in unpredictable behaviors while exhibiting a desire to be close to their mother; they display what is known as disorganized attachment style. “Whereas the other attachment patterns seem organized and predictable, the disorganized child’s behavior is difficult to understand and typically comes in the context of parenting that is itself unpredictable, and hence difficult to understand from the infant’s point of view” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005).
Although secure attachment is the most common style observed worldwide, there are substantial differences of attachment styles experienced within certain cultures. Culture plays a large role in a person’s social development. “For example, infants reared on Israeli kibbutzim (collective living arrangements) are much more likely to have ambivalent attachments to their mothers than infants in the West” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). In the Israeli culture, children spend most of their days with caregivers that are not their parents. This exposure to non-parental caregivers aids in the child’s social development which results in their ability to adjust to socialization as they age. A child who spends most of their time with their mother or a caregiver that provides them with a sense of security will develop a different internal working model than a child who is neglected. In which case the neglected child may exhibit unusual behaviors and have difficulty adjusting to social situations throughout their lifetime. Parenting styles also vary amongst cultures and in some instances; independence for the purpose of socialization is unheard of. “One of the most important ways parents vary across and within cultures is the extent to which they are accepting or rejecting of their children” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005).
Peer relationships are equally important in a child’s social development. For children who have experienced abuse or neglect, friends often have a positive influence in their lives and provide a sense of support. Although the level of friendship changes throughout each phase of a child’s life, these friendships help boost a child’s self-esteem, self-worth, and self-image. Children who are accepted by their peers tend to be more successful in school and in life than do children who are not accepted. Society in general is also a factor to consider in social development. If the majority of a society considers certain behaviors to be abnormal, some children may be alienated and made to feel inadequate. The way a society views social class or monetary ranking can single out children from low-income families causing them to question whether or not they are “good enough” which may also hinder their social development.
“Although human behavior is almost always a function of the interaction of person and situation, social psychologists have called attention to the attributional biases in much of psychology and among the general public that overestimates the importance of dispositional factors while underestimating situational factors” (APA, 2009). For example, a teenager who is an A student and does not use/abuse drugs or alcohol may be pressured by his or her friends at a party to do so. This behavior would not be typical of this individual; however, the social influence brought forth by their peers may outweigh good judgment causing them to behave in a way that they normally would not. If the teen decided to participate in such activities, they could find themselves in jail or worse yet, dead. In this particular case, I would not suggest therapeutic intervention unless the individual continued to engage in drug or alcohol use/abuse.
Another example of social influence on human behavior would be bullying. If a child enjoys participating in the mistreatment or abuse of other children while his or her friends are present, this could be considered a form of social facilitation. Social facilitation occurs when the presence of other people either help or hurt the individual performance of a person. In the case of bullying, I would recommend that some form of therapeutic intervention be put into place in order to deviate from this kind of negative behavior. Childhood bullying can oftentimes lead to other forms of criminal activity including by not limited to domestic violence and murder. Importantly, if warning signs are present, it is beneficial to the bullying child and possible future victims to receive treatment in order to break a possible reoccurring cycle that could land the child in a detention facility or prison.
In conclusion, human behavior is heavily influenced by our social surroundings. Parents, caregivers, culture, peers, and society are only some of the social influences that affect an individual’s behaviors. When a child’s social development is hindered by neglect or abuse, they will oftentimes have difficulty throughout their lives adapting to social settings and viewing them selves as being worthy of love. Some human behaviors may be considered abnormal to some societies and under certain circumstances; an individual may need some form of therapeutic intervention. Being able to understand why some individuals behave in the manners that they do can be beneficial in knowing whether or not that person may need medical attention. Depending on the social situation, a person’s personality and behaviors may stray from their everyday normal approach to life. In some cases, a person may have a psychological disorder and not be aware of it. Passing judgment and not having all the facts can be harmful to an individual’s wellbeing.

“Demonstrating the Power of Social Situations via a Simulated Prison Experiment.” (2009). American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 16, 2009.

Kowalski, R. and Westen, D. (2005) “Psychology.” (4th ed.). John Wise and Sons, Inc. Retrieved July 15, 2009.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Foundations of Psychology

Written by: Kelly L. Hunter

Psychology may have been made popular by sophisticated minds like that of Sigmund Freud, however; this science has been around for as long as animals and humans have walked this Earth. Psychology is said to be the scientific investigation of mental processes and behavior (Kowalski & Weston, 2005). This study of the mind and its behaviors has been an ever evolving process and one that is still developing today. In the early years of psychology, there were only two major schools of thought: Structuralism (structure of consciousness) and Functionalism (the function of adapting to one’s environment). Psychology in today’s modern world has evolved into many schools of thought including but not limited to: Behavioral, Psychoanalytic, Cognitive, Sociocultural, and Physiological to name a few. Kowalski and Weston (2005) state that, “Psychological processes reflect the influence of biological processes of the cells within the nervous system and the context of cultural beliefs and values.” Some experts believe that biology and psychology are so closely linked they came up with a study known as Biopsychology. This study seeks to understand how the mind operates by better understanding the biological activity that is present in the brain.
Behavioral Psychology is the study of how behavior is shaped by the environment in which an individual lives or is exposed. The American Psychological Association (APA) (2009) states that, “The specialty of Behavioral Psychology emphasizes an experimental-clinical approach to the application of behavioral and cognitive sciences to understanding human behavior and developing interventions to enhance the human condition” (¶ 1). B.F. Skinner was a renowned psychologist who studied the behavior of animals to better understand how environment and conditioning affects human behavior. Skinner’s theories became known as Operant Conditioning: conditioned behavior by way of positive or negative reinforcement. “The knowledge base of Behavioral Psychology is derived from a wide range of areas, including experimental, cognitive, developmental, physiological, and social psychology” (APA, 2009).
Psychoanalysis was founded by Freud who believed that behavior is determined by an individuals’ unconscious mind and that the repository of repressed impulses and desires determine the way a person thinks, feels, and acts (Kazlev, 2004). This clinical approach to psychology focuses on the implementation of long-term, intensive, psychotherapeutic activity, which can consist of dream interpretation, analysis of the therapist-patient relationship, and other distinctive focal points to assist in achieving effective character transformation. This kind of treatment began more than 100 year ago to aid in the rehabilitation of individuals with dissociative disorders (APA, 2009). Psychoanalytic studies have since expanded to include a vast amount of psychopathology displayed individually amongst children, adults, families, couples and even groups. This kind of treatment is used on individuals with borderline personality disorders that have been insusceptible to other forms of treatment in the past. “Use of empathy, play therapy, free association, dream analysis, attention to the patient/psychologist relationship and its disturbances, and investigation of significant present and past relationships, as well as classical psychoanalysis and its variants, are some of the intervention techniques employed” (APA, 2009).
Cognitive psychology became popular during the rise of introspective psychology; however, when behaviorism became a main focal point for psychologist, cognitive studies faded into the distance. Cognitive psychology dates back to the early 19th century and was a significant part of philosophical psychology (Cognitive, 1999). By definition, cognitive psychology refers to the way individuals perceive, process, and retrieve information that is provided by their environment. Psychologists that study cognition, describe the brain as being much like a computer that stores information in its database for future examination and use; consider thinking as being the processing of information. An individual’s environment provides input that is transformed, stored, and later retrieved by using the brain’s various mental “programs” which in turn outputs specific responses. Cognitive approach has deep philosophical roots that date back to ancient Grecian philosophy. “Cognitive psychologists, in contrast, are interested in many of the questions raised by Descartes and other rationalist philosophers, who emphasized the role of reason in creating knowledge” (Cognitive, 1999).
Culture is believed to play a significant role in an individual’s behaviors and is said to be where individuals acquire their moral, ethical, and spiritual beliefs. Durkheim believed that society influenced human behavior in a magnificent way and was the first person to introduce psychology into sociology. “Psychologically sophisticated anthropologists like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, who were interested in the relationship between culture and personality argued that individual psychology is fundamentally shaped by cultural values, ideals, and ways of thinking” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). Some experts believe that the economic strains felt within certain cultures have had tremendous effects on “child-rearing practices” which in turn has had either a positive or negative affect on a child’s developing personality. It seems that sociocultural psychology may help us to better understand how environment and personality connect and the effects both have on human behaviors. If a child grows up in a gang infested neighborhood, will the chances of that child joining a gain increase? Quite possibly, the answer to this question would be “yes.”
In conclusion, the study of Physiological Psychology (aka: Biopsychology): the science that studies the biological basis of human behavior has contributed significantly to modern psychology. “This means that the physiological psychologist studies the biological factors (as opposed to economic, social, or cultural factors) that cause or constitute behavior” (Refinetti, 1992). This study of behavioral neuroscience uses auditory and visual experiences that are stimulated by sending electrical currents to specific portions of the brain. Scientists compare the behaviors of different species in order to determine how evolution has shaped the brain and effected behavior. In order to understand how psychology works, an individual must first understand the biological factors that make up this science. “The nervous system is the interacting network of nerve cells that underlies all psychological activity” (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). Understanding how our environment plays a role in shaping our individual personalities is also important. Lastly, appreciating that society is made up of unique individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds will ultimately help us to better understand human behaviors.


American Psychological Association. (2009). Retrieved June 20, 2009.

“Archival Description of Behavioral Psychology”. (2003). American Psychological Association. Retrieved June 19, 2009.

“Cognitive psychology sees a return to power”. (1999). American Psychological Association. Vol. 30. Num. 11. Retrieved June 21, 2009.

Kazlev, M.A. (2004). “Psychoanalytical Psychology”. Kheper. Retrieved June 19, 2009.

Kowalski, R. & Westen, D. (2005). “Psychology”. (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved June 21, 2009.

Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror

It was a sad day, June 25, 2009, when I heard the news that Michael Jackson had died...
There are no words to acurrately describe who MJ was as a person and as an entertainer...
I recently had the privilage of writing a short essay on the Psychological Development of Michael essay that I am going to continue adding to...

Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror
written by: Kelly L. Hunter

Psychological development is essential in shaping the personalities, behaviors, and morals of human’s. Many factors influence the development of an individual’s psychological makeup; including heredity and environment. Michael Jackson is quite possibly the most famous person to live during the 21st Century. Born August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana to struggling middle-class parents, Michael learned all too quickly the reality and price of being famous. Although the world adored him from the moment he was a small child as a member of the Jackson Five and throughout the rest of his life, it was difficult to ignore the obvious changes to his physical appearance and peculiar behaviors. In order to understand who Michael Jackson was as a person and as an entertainer, one must acknowledge and understand what his life was like from childhood on. The many negative forces surrounding him had an enormous impact on his psychological development both morally and emotionally.
Michael Jackson’s childhood was not like the average American child’s. He began performing with his older brothers by the age of five and by eight they were famous, especially Michael. Childhood proved to be nonexistent in young Michael’s life and being managed by an overbearing father did not help. Joe Jackson is a man who raised his children the way his father had raised him. Jackson’s father is said to have stood with a belt in his hand ready to punish the boys if they missed a beat or step during rehearsals. Michael once stated during a documentary “he would tear you up if you missed—not only were we practicing, we were nervous rehearsing” (Bashir, 2003). During this conversation, his sadness is apparent as his voice changes pitch while he covers his face and begins to cry. “We were terrified of him—terrified” (Bashir, 2003). He went on to discuss how he would “regurgitate” and oftentimes faint when his father would walk into the room. Physical abuse was not the only form of abuse Michael endured as a child, he also experienced emotional abuse.
According to Jackson, his father would tease him about his skin and say that he must get it from his mother’s side. Diagnosed with a rare hereditary skin disorder (from his father’s side) known as Vitiligo, Michael’s life changed forever. Vitiligo is a condition in which the skin loses melanin, the pigment that determines the color of the skin, hair, and eyes (Mayo Clinic, 2009). Jackson claims this is the reason that he is not the same skin tone he was as a child. Puberty proved to be a difficult time for Jackson and his father’s cruel remarks about his “fat” nose and skin weighed heavily on his self-esteem and self-image. “I would never look at myself in the mirror, I’d turn off all the lights ‘cause I had pimples very badly and it was just difficult to face the public” (Bashir, 2009). Michael discussed how he would have been much happier wearing a mask (referring to going on stage). Jackson claims to have had two operations to reduce the size of his nose. He denies claims made by tabloids that he has had multiple reconstructive surgeries to change his appearance.
Michael has also stated in past interviews that he was exposed to sex early on in life when his father would book shows at gentlemen’s clubs and when his brothers would bring girls back to their room. Never having a traditional childhood proved to be one of the reasons behind his unusual childlike persona. From the beginning, he was unable to participate in normal childhood activities not only because of his grueling rehearsal schedule but because it was unsafe. Where ever he went, paparazzi and fans would swarm him. Having to stay behind guarded walls caused Michael to withdraw and become introverted. “I remember precisely--going to Motown studios to record and right across the street from the studio was a park and I could hear the roar of the little league team, kids playing soccer, football, and volleyball, and they were playing baseball and I remember a lot of the times looking back and really hiding my face--crying…I wanted to play sometimes and I couldn’t..” (Bahir, 2003).
Because he was unable to go into public places, Michael purchased a vast amount of land. He created a place where he could enjoy the things he was unable to as a child. “I can’t go to the park—so I created my own park at Neverland, my own water space, my music theater, theme park—that’s all for me to enjoy” (Walters, 2007). Occasionally, Jackson would invite underprivileged and ill children to his property to play and have fun. In his eyes he was being kind to those who inspired him most; however, the tabloids took it even further. During an interview with Barbra Walters, Michael discusses the death of Princess Diana and how he too had been running for his life from the paparazzi for as long as he could remember. Jackson states that “You feel like you are in prison…people deserve their privacy” (Walters, 2007).
Jackson discussed how the paparazzi would stop at nothing to get a picture of him, even planting cameras in bathroom stalls. When asked how the tabloids made him feel over the years, Michael states “Wacko-Jacko—where does that come from? An English tabloid…I have a heart and I have feelings and I feel that when you do that to me. It’s not nice. Don’t do it! I’m not a wacko” (Walters, 2007). Jackson once said, “People don’t stop and think about what they are saying sometimes and the affect it can have on a person” (Bashir, 2003). The media scrutiny had serious affects on Michael’s mental and emotional state and his every move became front page news causing him to become even more isolated than he had been in the past.
Jackson is a self proclaimed “fantasy fanatic” who enjoys the “escapism” of being on stage. “I’m not so crazy about the reality of everything—I like a lot of fantasy” (Walters, 2007). In everyday life, Michael Jackson was a shy individual; however, on stage, he was anything but. Typically introverted in his personal/public life, Michael Jackson’s personality can be described by the Five Factor Model (FFM). Possibly, Michael had more than two sides to his personality. FFM theory lists common personality traits for Neuroticism, Extroversion/Introversion, Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness. Jackson displayed most if not all the traits for each personality type depending on his environment and comfort level.
Object Relations theory could also be used to describe Jackson’s personality and psychological development. This theory focuses on the interpersonal disturbances and the mental processes that underlie the capacity for relatedness to others (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). This theory best describes Jackson’s psychological development. I chose this theory because of Michael’s inability to relate to others off the stage and his questionable behaviors throughout the years. He was awkward in front of cameras during interviews and had difficulty sustaining eye contact with individuals he did not know well. He would go from being childlike and animated to quiet and withdrawn within moments during conversations.
In conclusion, Michael Jackson was an iconic figure like no other who from early childhood experienced internal and external forces unimaginable to the average person. The physical and emotional abuse endured by Jackson played a large role in his psychological development. The constant media attention and negative claims published in tabloids across the world also hindered his chance at leading a normal life. Being unable to experience childhood and the lack of peers outside of the entertainment industry may also explain his obsession with fantasy and childlike activities. Only a celebrity could know and understand the damaging effects of this lifestyle. Michael Jackson died leaving many unanswered questions and speculation as to whom he truly was. What is known is this, despite his abusive upbringing; he managed to inspire millions through his music and humanitarian efforts. Although he seemed strange to the average person, his friends and family describe him as loving, caring, passionate, and above all giving. A wealth of knowledge is to be learned from the life and behaviors of Michael Jackson. Perhaps psychologists will be able to better understand how heredity and environment can affect an individual’s psychological development through studying Michael Jackson’s own experiences.


Bashir, M. (2003). “Living With Michael Jackson.” Granada Television. Retrieved July 11, 2009.

Kowalski, R. and Westen, D. (2005) “Psychology.” (4th ed.). Retrieved July 12, 2009.

“Vitiligo.” (2009). Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Retrieved July 12, 2009.

Walters, B. (2007). “Interview with Michael Jackson.” NBC. Retrieved July 11, 2009.

B.F. Skinner: A Pioneer of Psychology

Written by: Kelly L. Hunter

Ever wonder why animals and humans behave in the ways that they do? You are not alone; B.F. Skinner asked himself these same questions which inspired him to find an answer. Skinner, has been said to be one of psychology’s most influential contributors; a kind of pioneer of operant conditioning. You may be asking yourself “what is operant conditioning?”
Operant conditioning is a process of learning where a person and/or animal emit certain behaviors in order to avoid different forms of punishment or to earn and receive rewards for good behaviors. Skinner focused greatly in this particular area of study and many psychologists who came after him utilize his tools and theories as a guide while conducting their own research today.
Such devices as the Skinner box (named after Skinner himself) are still being used for modern day research with animals. This is a device used to “reduce or eliminate the opportunities for making irrelevant responses, thereby boosting the chances that the correct response will occur” (Morris & Maistro, 2005, p 202).
Punishment in theory is when undesired behavior is corrected by-way-of reinforcement. Skinner believed that positive reinforcement will increase the chances of reoccurring behavior whereas negative reinforcement decreases the chances of repetition in behavior. It should be noted that Skinner believed that punishment is only a temporary solution to a problem and that it does not teach new behaviors (Morris & Maistro, 2005).
Humans and animals both display varieties of diverse behaviors and many times this can depend on one’s environmental surroundings. Skinner found that superstitious behavior can also be found in both species and proved this theory to be true. Morris and Maistro (2005) state that, “Whenever something we do is followed closely by a reinforcer, we will tend to repeat the action—even if the reinforcement is not produced directly by what we have done” (p 198).
B.F. Skinner’s theories opened up doors of opportunity for psychologists around the world and provided them with the necessary stepping stones to further explore human and animal behaviors alike. Without Skinner’s tremendous contribution, modern psychology would not be what it is today. It is possible that B.F. Skinner was the most influential man of all time, at least where psychology is concerned.


Morris, C.G. and Maistro, A.A. “Psychology: An Introduction” Prentice-Hall (2005) 12th (ed).