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The 10 main psychological theories

The 10 main psychological theories

May 6, 2021

Psychology has been built on decades of research on behavior and mental processes, with which it is easy to get lost among so many approaches and concepts that can not be understood without understanding the theories in which they are framed.

The main theories in Psychology

The different psychological theories try to describe different important aspects about our personality, our behavior, our cognitive development and our motivations, among many other issues. Then You can see some brushstrokes on the main psychological theories that have been carving what we know about the human mind.

Cartesian dualistic theory

The René Descartes' dualistic theory It establishes that the mind and the body are two entities of different nature, that the first has the power to control the second and that they interact with each other somewhere in the brain.


It is, basically, the transformation in theory of a kind of philosophical position of dualism, one of whose major representatives is Plato. Although the theory of Cartesian dualism has been formally discarded for decades, it continues to adopt new forms and remains implicit in the way in which many investigations in psychology and neuroscience are focused. In some way, it "infiltrates" the thinking of many research teams without their realizing it, which is why it is still relevant, even though it is not valid.

Theory of Gestalt

The psychological theory of Gestalt It deals with the way in which we perceive the external world through our senses. Through the laws of Gestalt, developed basically by German psychologists in the first half of the 20th century, it reflects the way in which perception is realized while giving meaning to what is perceived, and not a thing after the other. You can read more about this theory in this article.


Behavioral theory of stimulus-response

Researchers in behavioral psychology who relied on operant conditioning of B. F. Skinner defended the idea that the learning we do depends on the way in which certain behaviors are more or less reinforced by pleasant or unpleasant stimuli just after this behavior has been performed.

This theory was questioned by Edward Tolman, who in the mid-twentieth century showed that learning could be done even if certain behaviors were not immediately rewarded, opening the way to the cognitive psychology that was to come in the 60s.

Theory of learning by Jean Piaget

One of the most important psychological theories about learning is part of the Jean Piaget's constructivist approach . This Swiss researcher believed that the way in which we are learning consists of a self-construction of our own experiences, that is, that what we experience is seen in the light of what we have experienced previously.


But learning does not depend only on our past experiences, but also on biological factors marked, among other things, by the life stage in which we find ourselves. That is why he established a model of stages of cognitive development, about which you can read more here.

Sociocultural theory of Lev Vygotsky

While at the beginning of the 20th century many psychologists studied learning focusing on the way in which individuals interact with the environment, the Soviet researcher Lev Vygotsky It gave a social focus to the same object of study.

For him, society as a whole (although especially through parents and guardians) is a means and at the same time a learning tool thanks to which we can develop intellectually. You can know more about this psychological theory in this article.

Bandura's social learning theory

Throughout their investigations, Albert Bandura It showed to what extent learning is not something that occurs from facing challenges alone, but also takes place by being immersed in a medium in which we can see what others do and the results that others have when they follow certain strategies. To learn more about this psychological theory, click here.

Theory of cognitive dissonance

One of the most relevant psychological theories regarding the formation of identities and ideologies. The concept of cognitive dissonance , formulated by the psychologist Leon Festinger , serves to explain the state of stress and discomfort that occurs when two or more beliefs that are perceived as contradictory to each other are sustained at the same time. To know more about the subject, you can see these two articles:

  • Cognitive dissonance: the theory that explains self-deception
  • How do sects react when prophecies are not fulfilled?

Theory of information processing

This theory starts from the idea that the mind works as a set of mechanisms that process sensory information (input data) to store a part of it in "memory deposits" and, at the same time, transform the combination between this information about the present and information about the past into chains of actions, just as a robot would.

In this way, our perceptions go through a series of filters until the most relevant data become involved in complex mental operations and, therefore, have an impact on the behavior that occurs in response to these stimuli. It is one of the most relevant psychological theories within cognitive psychology.

Theory of embodied cognition

The idea of embodied cognition , initially proposed by the psychologist George Lakoff , can be classified as both a psychological theory and a philosophical approach that affects the neurosciences. This theory breaks with the idea that cognition is based on brain activity and extends the matrix of thought to the whole body as a whole. You can read more of her here.

Theory of rational choice

It is part of both the field of economics and cognitive psychology , so it can be considered an important representative of psychological theories. According to this idea, each individual makes decisions according to their own interests and chooses the options that they perceive as more advantageous (or less harmful) for oneself from a rational criterion.

The rational choice theory It has had a tremendous relevance in the social sciences, but it is increasingly questioned by new paradigms from which it is shown how often the behavior classically considered "irrational" is in us.


Top 10 Psychology Theories That Defy Common Sense (May 2021).


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