THEORY | PSYCHOLOGY
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY ?
A brief history of Psychology
In a philosophical context psychology was around thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, Egypt, India, Persia and China. Medieval Muslim psychologists and doctors had a more clinical and experimental approach to psychology - they were the first to have psychiatric hospitals.
Pierre Cabanis (France) created biological psychology in 1802. A physiologist, Cabanis wrote a well known essay called "Relations between the physical and moral aspects of man" ("Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme"). He interpreted the mind according to his previous studies of biology. He believed that sensibility and soul were parts of the nervous system.
1879, the birthdate of psychology - In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt, Germany, founded psychology as a truly independent experimental field of study. He set up the first laboratory that carried out psychological research exclusively at Leipzig University. Wundt is known today as the father of psychology.
Principles of Psychology, published by William James, an American philosopher in 1980, was discussed by psychologists worldwide for many decades.
Hermann Abbingaus (1850-1909), University of Berlin, was the first psychologist to study memory extensively. Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936), famous today even among lay people for the term Pavlov's dog, researched the learning process called "classical conditioning."
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), Austria, developed psychoanalysis - a method of psychotherapy ("What is psychotherapy?"). His understanding of the mind was mainly based on interpretive methods, introspection and clinical observations. He focused on resolving unconscious conflict, mental distress and psychopathology. Freud's theories on sexuality and the unconscious mind became famous; probably because sexuality was a taboo subject at the time. The main principle of Freud's theory was that the unconscious is responsible for most thought and behavior in everybody and the disorders of the mentally ill. Freud had a considerable influence in psychiatrist Carl Jung (Switzerland).
Structuralism vs. Functionalism
E. B Titchener (USA), a student of Wundt, strongly believed in structuralism. William James and John Dewey were strong believers in functionalism. Structuralism is interested in "what is consciousness?" while functionalism is interested in "what is consciousness for? What are the purposes or functions of consciousness and basic mental processes?"
Structuralists and functionalists disagreed with each other passionately. Most agree there was never a clear winner in the debate - but their discussion did lead to a rapid spread of psychology in the USA, as well as some other parts of the world. Stanley Hall set up the first psychology lab in the United States at Johns Hopkins University.
In 1913 an American psychologist, John B. Watson, founded a new movement that altered the focus of psychology. Watson believed that structuralists and functionalists deviated too much from objective science. Put simply, Watson said that psychology should focus on the study of behavior because he believed that behavior was not the result of internal mental processes, but rather the result of how we respond to stimuli from the environment. Behaviorism focused on how people learn new behavior from the environment. Behaviorism became very popular in the USA. B. F Skinner followed in Watson's footsteps.
Some psychologists viewed behaviorism and psychoanalytic theory as too dehumanizing. Rather than being victims of the environment or the unconscious, humanists said that humans are innately good and that our own mental processes played an active role in our behavior. The humanist movement valued highly our emotions, free will, and a subjective view of experience.
This started in the 1970s and is seen as the most recent school of thought in psychology. Cognitive perspective is much more objective and calculating than humanism. However, it differs from behaviorism in that it focuses on mental processes extensively.
Cognitive theorists believe that we take in information from our environment through our senses and then process the data mentally by organizing it, manipulating it, remembering it, and relating it to information we had stored previously. Cognitive theory is applied to language, memory, learning, perceptual systems, mental disorders and dreams.
Dominant movements do not really exist today in the way they used to. Behaviorism, psychoanalytic theory, humanism, and cognitive perspective are all studied currently by psychologists. Psychology has become much more eclectic (selecting what appears to be best from every doctrine, movement or school of thought).