What are important theories in psychology

Psychological theories in practice

For almost every topic there are a number of theories in psychology, which are often unconnected and seem to contradict each other. However, the diversity of theories is often a strength if one knows how to use it.

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Use of psychological theories through practice

Almost 20 years ago, Andreas Knapp published an article in the journal for pedagogy that deals with the psychology of learning motivation and the use of psychological theories in educational practice. The use of psychological theories in practice and the problems that arise are also highly relevant for organizational contexts.

As a practitioner, how can you find psychological theories that provide assistance in solving a practical problem (e.g. promoting learning motivation), or what problems arise in the process?

Diversity of theories

When dealing with psychological theories on a subject, one often finds several different approaches to the subject, most of which are apparently contradicting one another. There are different theories with just as different recommendations for action on motivation to learn:

But which of them is right - or appropriate?

Theoretical perspectives on motivation to learn

  • A) Property theory perspective
    Selection of the "right" people, as properties are difficult to change
  • B) Learning theory perspective
    Reward and punishment.
  • C) Cognitive perspective
    Facilitate rational decision-making: must want it, be achievable and be better than the alternatives
  • D) Self-determination theory
    Autonomy, competence and social integration are central
  • E) Subject-related interest
    Increase situational interest

Source: Krapp (1993)

Paradigm shift vs. different research perspective

Of course there are outdated theories that could not represent all phenomena (error-free) and have been replaced by new, (temporarily) better fitting theories (cf. paradigm shift according to Kuhn). Science is a self-correcting process, which is one of its great strengths.

Often, however, only the research perspective is changed. Especially with complex objects of investigation such as human behavior, one can never look at the phenomenon as a whole. A large number of conditions and processes must be taken into account for the motivation to learn (see figure).

Different theoretical approaches have different foci and depending on the perspective taken, some points are ignored or underrepresented (see figure). According to Krapp, new approaches mostly address the aspects that were excluded or neglected in the previous approach. For example, if the focus was on observable behavior, the next perspective focuses on cognitions, i.e. mental processes that are not observable.

In their entirety, these different perspectives allow a differentiated view of complex issues.

Conclusion: Critical selection from the available theories

In order to find the “best” theory for a current problem, however, one has to know the corpus of theories for a fact. According to Krapp, the “newest” theory is not necessarily the best theory for the current problem. It is more important to find the theory that starts at the point that is the crux of the problem.

In addition to sifting through the theories, there is also a detailed analysis of the problem necessary. Here, too, it helps to examine the theories available consider the facts in their entirety to be able to and that To be able to specify the problem more precisely.

With its multitude of theories, psychology offers an extensive toolbox from which a targeted selection must be made.


References: Krapp, A. (1993). The psychology of motivation to learn. Journal of Education, 39, 187-206.

Quote as: Wessel, D. (2011). Psychological theories in practice. knowledge.blitz (28). https://wissensdialoge.de/psychologische-theorien-praxis