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Issues and Debates – Historical Debates

2. Free Will Versus Determinism: A Modern Review

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In this lecture, we think about some modern views on the free will versus determinism debate: (i) the contradictory preference for a view that there is a ‘free’ element of the mind that also pursues rationality; (ii) Pavlov and Skinner as key figures in early behaviourism; (iii) the nature of early behaviourism being a hard deterministic view; (iv) the development of behaviourism, from Pavlov’s classical conditioning to Skinner’s operant conditioning; (v) cognitive psychology, popularised in the 1950s and 1960s, which uses computers as a model for how the brain works; (vi) the automated nature of processes in cognitive psychology, without conscious input, which gives a deterministic perspective; (vii) the distinction between cognitive psychology determinism and behaviourist determinism, the former seeing the mind as subdivided into interconnected systems and feedback loops, which introduce randomness and variability; (viii) differentiating bottom-up and top-down processing.


In this course, Dr Metodi Siromahov (University College London) explores some historic debates in psychology. In the first lecture, we think about the history of the free will versus determinism debate and the origins of psychological theory. In the second lecture, we think about some modern viewpoints on this debate, including drawing similarities between behaviourism with cognitive psychology. In the third lecture, we think about social constructivism and the impact of culture and environment on our thought processes. Next, we think about reductionism versus holism, including a contrast between Freudian theory and humanistic psychology. In the fifth lecture, we think about religion as an example for which holistic and reductionist theories can be applied. In the sixth lecture, we think about the definitions and impacts of nomothetic and idiographic approaches to research. In the seventh lecture, we think further about these research approaches, including some key criticisms and examples. In the eighth and final lecture, we review two studies which approach the topic of nationalism from a nomothetic and idiographic view respectively.


Dr Metodi Siromahov is a lecturer in the Division of Psychology and Language Sciences at University College London. Dr Siromahov’s research interests are in historical controversies and debates within social psychology, and the application of these to understanding political ideologies. Dr Siromahov’s recent publications include 'Beliefs in national continuity are related to essentialist thinking and to perceptions of the nation as a family' (2020) and 'Mapping visual spatial prototypes: Multiple reference frames shape visual memory' (2020).

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APA style

Siromahov, M. (2022, June 09). Issues and Debates – Historical Debates - Free Will Versus Determinism: A Modern Review [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Siromahov, M. "Issues and Debates – Historical Debates – Free Will Versus Determinism: A Modern Review." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jun 2022,

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