History of Psychology

As boring as some of us find history, reading it to make better-informed decisions for the present and future by looking towards the past is quintessential. History is always a rocky road filled with struggles and debates that have been elucidated.

Brief Overview of History of Psychology

In terms of the disciplines, psychology is a very young field—it has only been around for roughly 138 years. Before that time, however, philosophers, medical professionals, and physiologists did consider why humans and other animals behave in the ways they do, especially concerning people. Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes were some philosophers who attempted to comprehend or define the human psyche and its relationship to the physical body.

Physiologists and medical professionals questioned whether the mind and the body are physically connected. With his analyses of perception, for instance, Gustav Fechner is frequently credited with carrying out a few of the initial scientific tests that would serve as the foundation for testing in psychology. Similarly, Hermann von Helmholtz conducted ground-breaking studies in visual and aural perception.

In Leipzig, Germany, a laboratory was where it all began coming together in 1879. Wilhelm Wundt, a physiologist, tried to use scientific principles to investigate the human mind at this point. Students worldwide were instructed to investigate the architecture of the human mind at his lab. According to Wundt, consciousness—the act of becoming cognizant of outside events—can be divided into thoughts, circumstances, emotions, and other fundamental components. Since they could scarcely read the minds of others, pupils had to have the ability to evaluate their thoughts to examine these nonphysical components critically.

Objective introspection, or the practice of evaluating and assessing one's ideas and intellectual pursuits, is what Wundt named this operation. For instance, Wundt may put an object, like a rock, in a student's hand and ask the student to describe all the sensations the rock caused him to experience. This was the first time anyone tried to measure and apply objectivity to psychology. Wundt is renowned for his focus on objectivity and for creating the first real experimental laboratory in psychology and hence regarded as the father of psychology.

Titchener and Structuralism

Edward Titchener, an Englishman who later brought Wundt's theories to Cornell University in New York, was one of Wundt's students. Wundt's original concepts were built upon by Titchener, who gave his new point of view the name structuralism because the structure of the mind was the subject of research. He believed each experience could be dissected into its components, emotions, and feelings. Titchener concurred with Wundt that consciousness could be dissected into its constituent parts, but he also considered that thoughts and bodily sensations might be subject to objective introspection.

Instead of giving his students a blue product and having them respond to it, Titchener might have encouraged them to reflect on blue things. In the formative years of psychology, structuralism dominated, but it soon lost ground as structuralists engaged in heated debates about which fundamental aspects of experience are most crucial.

James and Functionalism

In the late 1870s, Harvard University became the first college in America to introduce psychology courses. William James, one of Harvard's most renowned professors, led these classes. Principles of Psychology, his thorough handbook on the matter, is so masterfully crafted that volumes remain in publication. James was more concerned with the significance of consciousness in daily life than merely analyzing it, and he thought it was still impossible to examine consciousness fundamentally and scientifically.

Conscious thoughts always flow in a rapidly moving torrent, and as soon as we begin pondering the things we were recently wondering, what we were originally contemplating has changed. Instead, James concentrated on how the mind enables individuals to engage in pleasure and adjust to their circumstances in the real world—a perspective he called functionalism.

Gestalt Psychology

Max Wertheimer disagreed with the structuralist viewpoint because he thought that psychological processes like sensing and experiencing could not be reduced to any simple fragments yet be comprehended. Perception will only be comprehended as a complete, total event, just like a melody is composed of separate elements that are only comprehended if the notes have the right relationship. The saying "Entirety is larger than the combination of its components" came about as a result. According to Wertheimer and others, people inherently seek out trends (or "wholes") in the sensory input they are presented with.

Within this new sector of Gestalt psychology, Wertheimer and others concentrated on exploring sensation and perception. The German word gestalt, which means "a structured whole" or "configuration," is a better match with the emphasis on examining complete patterns instead of discrete parts. The essential Gestalt tenets of perception are still emphasized within this more recent subject, cognitive psychology.

Psychodynamic Approach

While the structuralists were debating, the functionalists were specializing, and the Gestalts were taking a broad view, Sigmund Freud had established himself as a renowned physician in Austria. Freud was a physician who spent much time comprehending the patients who came to him for assistance.

Freud and other doctors could not determine a physical cause for the nervous problems Freud's patients had. As a result, it was assumed that the source had to be mental, and Freud started there. He suggested that we repress or drive our troubling feelings and impulses into an unconscious mind. He thought his patients' nervous illnesses resulted from these suppressed desires trying to come to light. Freud strongly emphasized the value of formative experiences since he thought personality development took place in the first six years of life. Therefore any important issues must have started then.

Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, Karen Horney, and his daughter, Anna Freud, were a few of his well-known adherents. Though albeit in altered form, Freud's theories continue to have an impact on society today. In supplement to the individuals already mentioned, he had many adherents. Many of them rose to fame by adapting Freud's theory to suit their beliefs, but his core principles continue to be studied and contested today.


Ivan Pavlov was a Russian physiologist who demonstrated how a reflex might happen in reaction to a previously unconnected stimulus. Pavlov discovered when dealing with dogs that a novel cue, in this context, the rhythm of a beating metronome, could trigger the salivation reflex, typically triggered by having food in one's mouth.

When Pavlov began his experiment, he would start the metronome, feed the dogs, and watch as they began to salivate. In a learned (or "conditioned") reflexive response, the dogs would salivate to the metronome beat even before the food was delivered after several repetitions. The procedure was referred to as conditioning. Watson sought to demonstrate that all behavior was the outcome of a stimulus-response relationship similar to that which Pavlov had outlined. Watson recognized the urge to demonstrate to society that a more straightforward answer could be established since Freud and his theories about unconscious motivation were starting to exert a strong influence.

Scaring a baby may seem cruel, but he believed that the development of the study of behavior was worth the baby's momentary distress. Through the 1900s, John B. Watson had become weary of the arguments among structuralists and had developed his own "science of behavior," or behaviorism, to counter the functionalist perspective and psychoanalysis. Watson believed that ignoring the whole awareness issue and concentrating just on observable behavior—something that was observed and measured—was the only way to return psychology to a reliance on scientific investigation. He had read about Pavlov's work and believed that conditioning might be the foundation for his new behaviorist viewpoint.


While history may be traced and some fundamentals may be missed, it is noteworthy to remember the cardinal points of time that gave rise to the present structure. The field of psychology has a rich and vivid history, making it difficult to sum it up in just one timeline.

Updated on: 05-Apr-2023


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