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Psychology officially started 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt who founded the first laboratory which specialised in psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Here Wundt used controlled experiments to investigate ‘the mind’ using a method called ‘introspection’ which is an examination of one’s own mental state to gain insight into how our mind works. This approach became known as Structuralism and Wundt is highly regarded as the founding father of Psychology. Structuralism deals with the study of elements of the conscious mind, with the idea that the conscious mind can be broken down into basic elements hat combined to formed to the structure of the human mind. Although this was major breakthrough in applied psychology and research methods critics argued that structuralism is too concerned with internal behaviour, which is not directly observable and cannot be accurately measured. Introspection, while valuable as an attempt to apply a scientific method to studies of the mind, some of its results suffered from our inability to accurately report out thoughts and feelings. The second influential approach to psychology came in 1890, Functionalism. Although there was no specific founder of this approach, William James is considered the early speaker of it. Functionalism is influenced by Darwin’s views on natural selection and sought to explain the mental processes in a more systematic and accurate manner. Instead of concentrating on the elements of consciousness, functionalists focused on the idea of consciousness and behaviour. Functionalism also accentuated individual differences, which had a profound effect on education. Darwin answered questions about physical features whilst William James answered questions about behavioural features for example why humans experience jealousy. James’ book “The principles of Psychology” was a breakthrough for psychological literature and shaped the educational system we know today, particularly with regards to John Dewey’s (1902) idea that children should learn at the level of which they are developed. Wundt said of functionalism “It is literature, it is beautiful, but it is not psychology” (Wilhelm Wundt, as in Fancher, R.E., 1996).
A major breakthrough in psychology’s history was the Psychodynamic approach founded in 1900, in which Sigmund Freud formed through his range of theories. Freud was majorly influenced by the works of Charles Darwin and his ideas of biological continuity amongst species. Freud argued that we should concentrate on the ‘unconscious’ mind rather than the conscious as our behaviour is determined by processes of which we are not aware. Freud believed our personality is made up of three elements, these are: ID, Superego and ego. Freud believed that to sustain a healthy personality you have to keep these elements balanced. He also believed that our behaviour is a result of early childhood experiences and personal motivation. Although this approach is still relevant today there a many criticisms of its methods, because psychodynamic psychologists need to interpret the material they have gathered, there are usually accusations of researcher bias. The fact that two different researchers can reach completely different conclusions in an experiment indicates that the methods lack objectivity. Other critics state that that the psychodynamic approach relies heavily on theories that are difficult to prove (for example the unconscious mind). This approach led to the next approach which is completely opposite.
A pivotal moment that developed after the psychodynamic approach was Behaviourism. Behaviourism is a theory based on the idea that our environment and surroundings determine our behaviour. Behaviourists such as John Watson (1930) believed that the theory of learning can be applied through two types of conditioning: classical and operant. Classical conditions is a technique used in behavioural training in which a naturally occurring stimulus is paired with a response, for example Pavlov (1927) studied the way laboratory dogs would be conditioned to salivate without food. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that arises through rewards and punishment, an association is made between behaviour and a consequence for that behaviour. For example Skinner (1948) put rats in a special cage (called a ‘Skinner box’) that had a lever that when pushed would release a food pellet, the rats would learn and associate that the lever released food and therefore would keep releasing the pellets. Behaviourists only wanted to investigate observable behaviour unlike the psychodynamic approach. They also believe that people can learn to do things “Give me a dozen healthy infantsâ€¦ and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist. I might select – doctor, lawyer, artistâ€¦ yes even beggar man or thief, regardless of his talentsâ€¦ vocations and of his ancestor’s race” (John Watson, Page 82, 1998) Although psychology today concentrates more on the inner thoughts and feelings of its subjects, behaviourism has had a massive impact on everything from animal testing to parenting methods.
During the 1950s in the USA, psychologists had a very different view on psychology. Humanism or the ‘Third force’ adopted a less scientific view on the human mind arguing that we should be focusing on a person’s uniqueness and ‘self’. The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology is that every individual can achieve mental health, simply by getting in touch with and actualising his real self. Humanists believed that there were three core conditions for a truly healthy self: Congruence, empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard. Humanists are very much concerned with the present, as it is more beneficial to make choices in the here and now rather than dwelling on past events or trying to guess what may happen in the future. Humanism brought about a very positive view of the human mind which was met was many critics that said the theories were untestable. And although was widely accepted, was over shadowed by the invention of computer technology and the next approach.
The cognitive approach focuses on the way humans’ process information, but it was the arrival of the computer during the 1950s and early 1960s that gave cognitive psychology the terminology and metaphor it needed to investigate the human mind. It assumes that the mind operates like a computer: storing and receiving data. Another assumption made is that our behaviour is generated by a sequence of stimuli and responses. Cognitive theories are usually carried out in a controlled environment as it helps the reliability and validity of the results. Many experiments have shaped this approach including psychologist Piaget (1950) who conducted experiments into child development. Piaget concluded that cognitive development can be divided into four phases. This way of looking at the mind has been a major influential approach and is what inspired cognitive behavioural therapy which is still widely used today.
To conclude there were many reasons for the development of psychology; the USA took a more scientific approach to psychology concentrating more on behaviour as they consider the ‘mind’ unobservable and untestable and Europe took a more philosophical approach concentrating more on the human mind. All the approaches I have identified have had some influence on the psychology we teach and practise today. In my opinion I feel that the turning point for psychological research was the psychodynamic approach and Behaviourism. Freud’s theories on the unconscious mind today are still so relevant and I feel that because of his ideas we are so knowledgeable about mental health issues and childhood development. Without Freud’s theories on the unconscious mind or Pavlov’s ideas of conditioning we would not be so advanced in our understanding of the amazing human mind.
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