Proximate And Ultimate Explanations

The terms proximate and ultimate explanations in psychology refer to short range and long range explanations for human behavior. Sometimes this looks like an easy answer as opposed to a more considered position.

For example, from the world of boating: a boat sinks and you conclude (proximate solution) that the hull was leaking and it capsized due to flooding. This is true, but if you look harder you will find a reason for why the boat was leaking. It may turn out that the boat hit a rock that caused the hole in the hull (ultimate solution).

In psychology, you might meet a client that suffers from depression. In talking to them you learn that some bad things have happened in their life (proximate cause). In learning more about the client and in consultation with a psychiatrist you might learn that they have a significant deficit in neurotransmitters that creates the physical depression that contributes to the emotional depression (ultimate cause).

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