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Issues and Debates – Historical Debates

4. Reductionism Versus Holism

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In this lecture, we think about reductionism versus holism, focusing in particular on: (i) defining reductionism as the tendency to reduce complex concepts to their basic components; (ii) evolutionary psychology (or biopsychology) as a theory framework which can be considered reductionist; (iii) Freudian theory, based around coping with unpalatable or unbearable traumas or attractions, which is a reductionist view of human nature; (iv) defining a holistic view as either taking the whole human being, including needs, wants and desires, or taking in the whole context around that human being, including society, culture and the economy; (v) Abraham Maslow’s holistic approach to the hierarchy of needs, which borrowed some concepts from Freudian theory; (vi) Erich Fromm’s holistic theory contrasting consumer capitalism with Victorian views on prioritising saving money, as an example explanation for the development of different personality types; (vii) the importance of recognising holism and reductionism as features of a theory, rather than theories or attitudes in themselves; (viii) criticisms of positive psychology as being rooted in the motivations of governments and businesses to continue economic growth by pursuing positive mental health.


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).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Siromahov, M. (2022, June 09). Issues and Debates – Historical Debates - Reductionism Versus Holism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Siromahov, M. "Issues and Debates – Historical Debates – Reductionism Versus Holism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jun 2022,

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