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Study Notes

Issues & Debates: Holism


Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Holism comes from the Greek word ‘holos’, which means ‘all’, ‘whole’ or ‘entire’ and is the idea that human behaviour should be viewed as a whole integrated experience, and not as separate parts.

Gestalt psychology adopts a holistic approach to perception: when we perceive something in the real world, we do so as a whole rather than as a collection of bits and pieces. What we see only makes sense when we consider the whole image, rather than the individual elements that make up our vision.

Consequently, some cognitive psychologists also take a holistic approach. For example, within the area of perception, visual illusions demonstrate that humans perceive more than the sum of the sensations on the retina.

Humanistic psychology also advocates a holistic approach, as it argues that humans react to stimuli as an organised whole, rather than a set of stimulus-response links. As an approach, it uses qualitative methods to investigate all aspects of the individual, as well as the interactions between people.

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