I am being asked to write a short paper comparing Skinner’s theoretical perspective to that of Freud and Rogers. What points are most important about each?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator


Skinner, a radical behaviorist, attributed all behavior to reward and punishment. He accepted no understanding of humanity as having innate characteristics. For him, all characteristics of personality and psychology come from operant conditioning learning. Skinner asserted that satisfying and unsatisfying responses to stimuli differed in that satisfying ones are rewarded, thus operantly conditioned, while unsatisfying responses are punished, thus operantly not conditioned. He applied this theory to chosen behavior as well as to random acts. For Skinner, behavior and its consequent punishment or reward, is the basis of personality, psychology and cognitive development.


Freud was a psychoanalyst, using free association, dreams, subconscious urges and defense reactions as the foundation of his theories and therapies. The most important points about Freud's theoretical perspective has to do with his discovery of the subconscious and with the ramifications of the subconscious for understanding behaviors driven by the joining of emotional and cognitive forces in ways that individuals are not aware of. In his early work, Freud and Joseph Breuer (his mentor) posited that all hysteria came as the after-effect of a traumatic event and that such an event cannot be processed as an acceptable part of a person's understanding of the world: the events of the world are incongruous with the perception of the world. When this dissonance between experience and world perception occurs, universal defense mechanisms are triggered to implement a means of adjusting to the anxiety produced, according to Freud's theory.

His beginning with Breuer led to his theories about a tri-part psychological structure that Freud understood as reflecting normal relationship experience: Id, Ego, Superego. The Id governed sexual urges underlying all pleasure; the Ego governed appropriate behavior and controlled the impulses of the Id; wthe Superego took the role of authoritarian imposing government of the Id's and Ego's behavior to accord with social, religious and parental rules, norms and guidelines. Since the Id expressed the deepest expressions of self, Freud saw sexuality as the unseen motivator of all choices, behaviors and emotional or psychological inabilities in successful coping. Much of Freud's theory has fallen from favor though the power of the unconscious and the power of traumatic events to distort reality remain central to psychology.


Rogers was a humanist who rejected the idea that human behavior mirrors animal behavior. Humanists were the first to define psychology as action plus cognition: both behavior and mental processes (including emotional responses) compose humans' psychological responses and lie at the root of humans' psychological maladaptive psychology. Rogers posited that the environment surrounding an individual was critical to their development and to their continued psychological (mental and behavioral) stability.

A self-actualizationist (like Maslow), he posited that it is possible for individuals to realize their goals, wishes and desires and, in doing so, reach self-actualization. The three pillars required in a psychologically enhancing environment in Rogers' theory are: genuineness, the ability to be open and to be self-disclosing; acceptance, the need to be perceived by important others with unconditional positive regard; and empathy, the need to be listened to and understood.