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Reductionism

Reductionism

Reductionism is the argument that we can explain behaviour and experiences by reference to only one factor, such as physiology or learning.

There are many different types of reductionism.

Physiological reductionism, for example, argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained (or reduced to) by biological factors such as hormones or the nervous system

Whereas genetic reductionism reduces all causes of behaviour to genetic inheritance.

Social reductionism argues that all behaviour and experiences can be explained simply by the affect of groups on the individual.

The criticism of reductionist arguments is that they are too simplistic because they ignore the complexities of human behaviour and experience. Behaviour often has a number of different causes and to reduce the possible explanations to one level can only provide a limited understanding.

However, an advantage of the reductionist views is that by breaking down a phenomenon to its constituent parts it may be possible to understand the whole.

This type of single mindedness has lead to some great discoveries in psychology as it has in the 'natural' sciences.

Holism refers to any approach that emphasises the whole rather than their constituent parts. In other words ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Such approaches are quite rare in psychology.