Here is an essay on ‘Experimental Psychology’ for class 11 and 12. Find paragraphs, long and short essays on ‘Experimental Psychology’ especially written for school and college students.
Essay on Experimental Psychology
- Essay on the Introduction to Experimental Psychology
- Essay on the Applications of Experimental Psychology
- Essay on the Recent Trends in the Application of Experimental Psychology
- Essay on the Current Status of Experimental Psychology
Essay # 1. Introduction to Experimental Psychology:
The year 1979 was observed as the centenary year of the establishment of the first psychology laboratory by Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig. In a way the Experimental Psychology as a formal discipline may be said to be more than a hundred years old. But even the establishment of Wundt’s laboratory was the culmination of a series of earlier efforts.
In fact, some people may even dispute whether Wundt’s laboratory can be really said to be the first laboratory. Today, Experimental Psychology has grown, expanded and advanced to such an extent that if Wundt were to be suddenly woken up from his grave and taken into one of the advanced psychology laboratories, he would barely recognise anything of what he visualised would constitute Experimental Psychology.
Over the past hundred years, Experimental Psychology has grown into a vigorous and also a rigorous field of experimentation. Though very much younger to other experimental sciences like physics and chemistry, psychologists have developed such precise methods, techniques and procedures of observations and analysis that would place Experimental Psychology almost on par with any of the exact sciences.
True, even today there are many lay people and even psychologists who hold the view that there cannot be an exact analogy between a physicists or chemist’s experimenting with inanimate objects, and a psychologist’s experimenting with living human beings. But this opinion is not taken very seriously, for the growth of science has always tended to move towards an integral and generalised set of explanations of all natural phenomena.
Behaviour of human beings is as much a natural phenomenon as the reactions of animals or plants, and as such to question the possibility of science of human behaviour amounts to doubting the very claims of science to study and understand all natural phenomena. It is this trend in scientific thinking which has inspired Experimental Psychology to move towards the idea of an exact science of human behaviour.
This movement has shown the following characteristics:
(a) Psychologists have demonstrated that it is possible to experimentally investigate even complex behaviour of living organisms, both human and animal.
(b) They have also shown that the findings of their investigations could be used to predict the behaviour of living organisms with a good deal of accuracy.
(c) They have demonstrated that based on the findings of their experiments it is possible to change the behaviour of living organisms according to predetermined plans.
(d) Experimental Psychology has shown a remarkable capacity to learn from other sciences and profit from this learning in designing gadgets and instruments as well as techniques of analysis of data.
(e) More than all these, Experimental Psychology has developed into an applied field and today one can speak of behavioural technology almost like chemical technology. This means that the experimental psychologists are able to make valuable contributions to analyse, understand and improve behaviour in real-life situations. This is borne out by the extensive application of the findings of psychological experiments in industries, hospitals, classrooms, warfare, space travel, etc.
All this clearly indicates that Experimental Psychology as a discipline of study and investigation has definitely matured into an adult science and is vigorously striving to break newer grounds. This growth and maturation has, however, not been a very smooth journey. It was possible because of important developments at different points in time, both within the field of Experimental Psychology and outside.
Along with the contributions made by the psychologists themselves, it was also because of their ability to assimilate and adapt the findings of other sciences like physiology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, sociology, anthropology, etc., that enabled this growth. In a way this is a unique achievement of Experimental Psychology.
It will perhaps be more helpful to the young student if a brief account of some of these developments is given here. This will provide him/her with useful clues to appreciate the growth and development of Experimental Psychology. This discipline, like any other, had its roots in philosophy and subsequently emerged as an independent discipline.
The writings of the ancient Greek, Indian and Chinese philosophers explored human behaviour. Some of the insights of these ancient thinkers are found to be relevant even today. However, it is only towards the eighteenth century, that philosophers were found to take a deeper interest in the subject matter of psychology.
Among the philosophical writings which gave a prominent place for matters of psychological interest were those of Descartes, Leibnitz and the British Associationists.
These writers devoted a good deal of their attention to issues like acquisition and growth of knowledge, memory, and other problems which were of ‘direct’ relevance to an understanding of human behaviour. The credit goes to the associationistic philosophers like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, Brown, and others for enunciating some of the earliest scientific principles in psychology.
These are known as the laws of association. These laws were derived through intellectual analysis and not through experimentation. They were more in the nature of generalisations based on experience and observation. Nevertheless, they provided psychology with the first set of hypotheses to be experimented upon. The laws of association gave impetus to transform philosophical psychology into a rudimentary science.
The mid-nineteenth century witnessed significant developments in other sciences, particularly biology and physics. The most outstanding of these was the theory of organic evolution put forward by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s theory of evolution, stressing on the continuity of nature from the inorganic to the organic, opened up the possibilities for a unified science.
Psychologists hitherto, as a result of their association with philosophy, religion and theology, had believed that the human organism was distinct from other organisms and elements, and laboured under the notion that the human being is not subject to natural laws. Darwin’s theory helped to shake them out of this belief and the result was that there emerged a group of individuals who saw both the need and the possibility for establishing psychology as an independent experimental science.
This new outlook made them look for useful developments in other fields of knowledge which would be helpful in explaining human behaviour. Developments in physiology, neurology, physics, and medicine, all came in handy. Experimental Psychology began to realize that it should adopt the models of other sciences.
The most important point here was the realization that philosophical speculation as a method should give way to the experimental method. Increasing attempts were made to design and carry out experiments on human behaviour. This was a far cry from the arm-chair analysis of philosophers.
A result of this was the attempt to design and carry out experiment to study the laws of association. In the meantime, the famous physicist- physiologist Helm Holtz had made a bold attempt to study the speed of reaction in frogs. Through an ingenious experiment Helm Holtz demonstrated that the speed of nerve conduction in a frog could be measured.
This experiment provided an inspiration for others to study the speed of reactions in human beings. Important work in this direction was done by Donders, a Dutch physiologist. This was the beginning of the now famous ‘reaction time’ experiments. Thus, following the laws of association, reaction time emerged as another major area of human behaviour to be studied experimentally.
The next important development was the outcome of the work of E.H. Weber, a German physiologist who broke new grounds through his experiments on sensation. Weber attempted to study the quantitative relationship between changes in physical conditions and accompanying psychological changes.
In simple terms, the problem studied by him was as follows- If an object which has some weight is placed on the palm of a human being, this is followed by a sensation of weight. If the weight is increased or decreased the sensation also increases or decreases. But the relationship is not exactly parallel.
If a very small weight is added there is no change in sensation. It is found that a change in sensation is felt only if a certain minimum weight is added or reduced. If the additional weight is less than this minimum, there is no change in the sensation.
In brief, Weber found that change in the sensation (psychological changes) were slower than changes in the stimulus (physical changes). Weber was trying to study the relationship between physical changes in the stimulus on the one hand and psychological changes in sensations on the other. Weber called this area of experimentation, psychophysics. His work in this area was further developed by GT. Fechner, a German physicist, and many others like Muller.
The work of weber and Fechner resulted is the formulation of the Weber-Fechner law, the first quantitative law in psychology. The student will have an occasion to learn more about this at a later stage. Here, it is enough to point out that the work of Weber and Fechner opened up other important areas of experimentation in psychology, namely sensory experience or sensations and psychophysics.
It may be useful to indicate one or two more important developments in the history of experimentation in psychology. It may be seen that the three fields so far indicated, association, reaction time and sensation, mainly generated experimentation to arrive at general laws and principles about human behaviour. But, while human behaviour shows certain general characteristics it should not be forgotten that human beings also differ from each other.
As already indicated, Experimental Psychology hitherto was influenced mostly by developments in physics and physiology. Neither of these two disciplines was confronted with the problems of individual differences. But this was not the case with psychology. Unlike the other disciplines, psychology while explaining generalities is also faced with the problems of explaining and dealing with individual differences. The credit goes to another influential figure, Francis Galton to have focussed attention on this problem.
Galton was mainly interested in studying and analysing differences among individual behaviours. His work paved the way for the emergence of differential psychology as complementary to general psychology. Through his work on individual differences, he also contributed to the growth of general psychology.
Galton was very much interested in studying differences among individuals in different aspects of behaviour. The most important aspect of individual behaviour that he studied was imagery. Galton devised a test to study the differences among people in imagery.
For example, some people are good at recognising faces while others are good at recalling voices. Galton was interested in studying precisely this problem. Incidentally, the study of images and imagery emerged as another major area of experimentation.
Thus, around the latter half of the nineteenth century, Experimental Psychology had developed in a definite direction, though in an unstructured manner. All these developments had taken place in Europe, and the lime was ripe for the establishment of the first psychology laboratory by William Wundt and others in 1879 at Leipzig. This was followed by the establishment of other laboratories at places like Wurzburg, Berlin, Vienna and other places.
These laboratories were mostly carrying out experiments in the areas of association, reaction time, sensation and imagery. Within a decade, however, a new area of experimentation was added through the work of Herman Ebbinghaus on memory. Through his brilliant experiments, Ebbinghaus was able to arrive at important findings regarding the process of remembering, forgetting, etc. The curve of forgetting arrived at by Ebbinghaus holds good even today. Ebbinghaus’ work provided a very meaningful supplement to the area of association.
While the laws of association attempted to explain the acquisition of knowledge (learning), his work tried to explain the retention of knowledge (memory) and loss of knowledge (forgetting). These developments brought even the ‘higher mental processes’ within the domain of Experimental Psychology. Thus, by the end of the nineteenth century, experimentation in psychology in Europe had developed into a vigorous and active discipline with considerably extensive and varied areas of enquiry.
While the above developments were taking place in the continent, attempts were also being made elsewhere to develop the science of Experimental Psychology. Important among these was the effort of EL. Thorndike in the United States. Psychology here, unlike in Europe, derived its roots from the philosophical foundations of pragmatism on the one hand and the scientific foundations of evolutionary biology. The consequence of this was the emergence of functional psychology.
Whereas experimental studies in the European laboratories were primarily concerned with general processes and fundamental principles, American psychology from the beginning was concerned with the question of relating activities of organisms to purpose function. Behaviour was looked upon as an attempt on the part of an organism to meet some need or purpose- functional act or an adaptive behaviour.
In fact even before Wundt established his laboratory, Thorndike had come out with his experiments on the learning process. The unique feature is his experiments was the use of animal subjects. Basing his arguments on the theory of evolution, Thorndike expressed a view that animal behaviour would provide very useful clues for understanding human behaviour. His experiments on trial and error learning , with cats as subjects and the ‘puzzle box’ as the apparatus, were epoch-making and provided the model and foundation for modern Experimental Psychology.
The use of an artificial learning situation had two implications. First it represented an attempt to reproduce lifelike situations in the laboratory, however poor the attempt might have been. Second, it permitted more controlled and objective observation and quantification. Thorndike’s work resulted in the first set of empirically derived quantitative laws in the area of learning.
The impact of Thorndike’s work was astounding. Animal experimentation with specially designed apparatus became an integral part of psychology, and in later years almost became the main feature of American psychology. Yet another implication was more significant. Whereas European Experimental Psychology concentrated on very narrow and almost meaningless areas like imagery, association, etc., the credit goes to Thorndike for initiating the study of total meaningful acts into the laboratory.
The introduction of animals into the psychology laboratory provided a very strong catalyst for the growth of Experimental Psychology, both in terms of quantity and variety. It was much easier to deal with animal subject than human ones. Animal experiments permitted more accurate observation as well as greater manipulation of experimental conditions to ensure better control. In addition, Thorndike’s experiments added two more areas of experimentation- the first was that of animal learning and the second, need or motivation, the dominant areas of experimentation in American psychology.
Yet another major development was the work of the Russian physiologists V.H. Bechterev and I.P. Pavlov. The work of these two gave a new direction to Experimental Psychology of learning. The work of Bechterev on the ‘objective reflex’ and of Pavlov on the ‘conditioned reflex’ threw significant light on the origins of behaviour, whereas hitherto experiments on learning were mainly concerned with the modification of existing behaviour.
In the later years, Pavlov’s work on conditioned response came to have almost a strangle-hold on American Experimental Psychology, of course with definite modifications both in the theoretical formulations and techniques of experimentation. The major contributions in this direction came through the contributions of C.L. Hull, B.F. Skinner, E.C. Tolman, O.H. Mowrer, J. DolIard and N.E. Miller, etal. A common thread underlying the works of all these psychologists was an attempt to integrate Thorndike’s work on the role of need satisfaction with Pavlov’s work on the conditioned reflex.
It may be seen that almost all the experimentation in psychology so far, European, American or Russian in spite of their differences, shared one common feature- all of them were concerned with the behaviour of individual organisms. They were concerned with different aspects of the behaviour of organisms in isolation from their natural and social environments, under laboratory conditions.
This fact undoubtedly made the findings of these experiments rather abstract and perhaps even sterile, especially in relation to understanding human behaviour in real life. This is because, in the case of human being much of behaviour occurs in social situations. A major part of man’s activities relate to other human beings and perhaps this is true of even animals. The realisation of this fact led to the development of social psychology.
At the human level, the social factor and the influence of other human beings has to be taken into account for a meaningful understanding and application of the findings of experiments. Experimental Psychology was quick to realise this fact. The result was the development of experimental social psychology.
Significant experiments were designed and carried out to study behaviour in social situation. Early contributions in this regard came from F. Allport, T.M. Newcomb, G. Murphy, K. Lewin, R. Lippitt, Asch, L.E. Sheriff and a number of others. Today, experimental social psychology has almost become an independent branch of study and enquiry. Social psychologists have planned and carried out many experiments which have helped us to understand the behaviour of human beings in different kinds of social situations.
Essay # 2. Applications of Experimental Psychology:
i. Applications of Experimental Psychology in Education:
The early experiments on the learning process, carried out initially on animal subjects and later on human beings, particularly with verbal material, have had a noticeable impact on teaching methods curriculum development, etc. The basic principles of learning have been extensively used to promote effective teaching. The human teaching machines and textbooks which are prepared on the principle of self- learning have become popular among the fast learners as well as the slow learners as they can learn at their own pace.
Furthermore, skinner’s basic principles and techniques of operant conditioning gave an impetus to the emergence of a number of behaviour modification techniques. These can be used by the teachers to reinforce the functional behaviour of students and also to mend dysfunctional behaviours. Similarly, experiments in the area of cognitive development have been very important from the point of view of curriculum development for school children and also method of teaching.
Besides, head-start programmes, enrichment programmes and remedial teaching technology for the deprived, backward and special programmes for creative children have also been developed. The results of the experiments on mnemonics, study habits etc. have suggested strategies which could help the under achievers to improve their performance.
The more interesting development in the field of social psychology of education has been the application of principles of management, human relations group dynamics to the classroom settings.
Principles of group dynamics which were arrived at by Lewin and his associates are now finding increasing application in what may be called “classroom management” These developments have had their impact on teaching techniques, creating a learning climate within the organisations, motivating pupils to learn better and also in creating a stimulating atmosphere.
ii. Applications of Experimental Psychology in Organisations:
The awareness that the human factor is the essential component in organisational effectiveness can be traced back to the results of the famous Hawthorne Experiments of Elton Mayo et al and the Time and Motion Studies of Taylor et al among other studies such as the influence of work environment on output and productivity of employees.
Greater insistence on proper selection and placement of employees as well as the necessity for induction and in-service training programmes which aim at development and management of human resources are all offshoots of experiments carried out for enhancing the human potential for economic development.
In addition, experimental studies are also carried out on different aspects pertaining to organisational behaviour, such as communication networks, leadership styles, job stress factors, decision-making strategies, effectiveness of different incentives in promoting productivity, human engineering, etc.
iii. Applications of Experimental Psychology in a Clinical Setting:
For a long time, it was thought that the experimental method was not applicable to the study of abnormal behaviour. But clinical psychologists have used this method in studying, diagnosing and treating even complex abnormal behaviours. Over the past few decades, experimental clinical psychology has emerged as an active field of enquiry and application. Psychologists have succeeded in recreating abnormal behaviour processes in the laboratory.
A beginning was made in this direction by Pavlov, through his experimental clinical psychology. Important contributions in this direction came from leading psychologists like Dollard, Miller, Sears, Mowrer, Eysenck and others. Besides, the experiments of Skinner have led to behaviour therapy techniques, which are used in a wide variety of situations to change the behaviour of people.
Seyle’s experiments on stress have also contributed a lot to understanding the factors which contribute to the development of psychosomatic and neurotic disorders and also in devising techniques useful in reducing the impact of stress on individuals. Today experimental clinical psychology has become an independent branch of psychology in its own right.
iv. Applications of Experimental Psychology in Research on Motivation:
One aspect of human behaviour which for a long time was considered beyond the reach of the experimental method was motivation and its relation to other aspects such as learning, perception etc. Though investigators studied the relationship between need, drive, and other similar processes earlier it was only later during the 1930s such studies on human subjects were initiated.
A bold attempt was made by a number of psychologists to study the effect of need on behavioural processes like perception. These experiments came to be known as the new-look experiments since this approach was completely different from the traditional laboratory experiments under controlled condition. One may say with some justification that even Kohler’s experiments on the chimpanzee was a departure from the traditional laboratory experiments.
The new-look experiments not only made for a difference in the method of experimentation but also went beyond that to study the relationship between motivation and the cognitive processes at the human level. The experiment conducted by Bruner and his associates was a pioneering one in this area. Important contributions were also made by Murphy, Schaffer, Lewin et al.
These experiments went a long way in bringing not only the process of motivation but also the total human personality into the realm of Experimental Psychology. They showed how our perception is influenced by subjective factors, particularly motivational factors.
v. Applications of Experimental Psychology in the Study of Parapsychological Phenomena:
In recent years, experimentation in psychology has penetrated into phenomena which were once upon a time thought to be not open to the experimental method of investigation. One may remember that when modern psychology emerged as an independent discipline, the subject matter was defined by Titchener and his associates as a study of consciousness.
In fact, the earlier experiments using the method of introspection were primarily concerned with the study of consciousness. Subsequently, however, the study of consciousness was discarded, as it was felt that psychology was a science and hence should concentrate on observable and measurable aspects of behaviour rather than on abstract phenomenon such as consciousness.
In recent years, however, sophisticated instruments and experimental strategies have been developed to study the phenomena of consciousness. A large number of experiments are being conducted on altered states of consciousness. Psychologists have even succeeded in inducing dreams and studying them.
Besides, a number of psychologists are busy experimenting on what are known as parapsychological phenomena. These include extrasensory perception, psychokinesis, etc. These development reveal that Experimental Psychology has grown into a full-fledged and rigorous discipline, capable of investigating almost any kind of human behaviour or activity.
Today’s world is one of change. There are changes taking place around us in every aspect of life, technological, social, educational and economic. Even methods of war and revolution are changing fast. In all these instances it is obvious that human behaviour plays a central role. In view of this, experimental psychologists have also oriented themselves to undertake experimental investigations on a number of current problems.
A very important area of experimentation in psychology which has recently emerged is that of information processing. Research in information processing has necessitated going back to the study of memory, which remained stagnant for a long time.
A number of psychologists have been taking interest in studying the different stages of information processing like information acquisition, information storage and information retrieval. This trend of experimentation has proved helpful to organisations dealing with problems of information management.
Experimental psychologists have also been studying the impact of stress on human beings. Contemporary society by its very nature generates lot of stress and pressure on the individual and this results in loss of efficiency and sometimes even emotional breakdown. Experimental psychologists have designed ingenious experiments to study the process and generation of stress and tried to work out different procedures and methods of coping with stress.
One of the major characteristics of contemporary society is that it is constantly changing. Such change requires readjustment and relearning on the part of the people, not only in terms of work requirements but also with regard to other environments.
Experimental psychologists have carried out a number of experiments on how to bring about change in people in their behaviour, attitudes, values etc., by employing a wide variety of techniques, including simulations. Thus it may be seen that Experimental Psychology has been keeping pace with social change and the problems which it throws up.
Essay # 4. Current Status of Experimental Psychology – A Few Observations:
(a) Less Dependence on the Use of Sophisticated Gadgets:
Experimental Psychology in its early stages tended to model itself after other sciences like physics, physiology etc. As a result, greater attention was paid to developing instruments and gadgets which would help in accurate observation and measurement of human behaviour.
At one stage, Experimental Psychology was so obsessed with instruments and gadgets that there was a danger of overlooking the complex nature of human behaviour. Very soon, however, the danger of this folly was realised, with the result that the emphasis gradually shifted from a total dependence on the use of instruments and gadgets to simulation of natural situations.
The experimental psychologist soon realized that what is more important is an attitude of objectivity rather than dependence on gadgets. Further, experiments conducted under strict laboratory conditions with sophisticated instruments often resulted in conclusions which were not found to be very meaningful and useful in explaining or changing behaviour in real-life situations.
(b) From Laboratory to Field Experiments:
Many psychologists, of late, have come to depend more and more on experiments in real-life situations. Such experiments are called field experiments. This development is particularly due to the efforts of those psychologists who are primarily interested in social behaviour.
Today, a good experiment need not necessarily be conducted in a sophisticated laboratory. The soundness of an experiment is judged by the degree of correspondence between its findings and behaviour in real-life situations, or the possibility of its findings being confirmed in subsequent attempts and replications, in view of this, Experimental Psychology has also found a place in the family of social sciences.
Yet another development has been the gradual loss of interest in experimentation with animals. It may be recalled that beginning with the work of Thorndike, there was a heavy dependence on animal subjects for experimentation. Over the years, with a growing understanding of the complexity of human behaviour, especially its social, cultural and motivational characteristics, psychologists have tended to depend less and less on experiments with animals.
While such experiments may help us to understand the foundations of human behaviour in a rudimentary form, they contribute very little to our understanding of complex and unique patterns of behaviour exhibited by human subjects. They are of very little use in explaining differences between individuals, and between different groups of people.
Modern Experimental Psychology, therefore has realized the need to depend more and more on experiments with human subjects. This has become necessary because there is an expectation that the findings will be helpful in improving human behaviour, making man more productive and useful to society and at the same time happier.
(d) From the Inductive to the Deductive Approach:
Science, in its early stage of development depended very much on what may be called the inductive method. Scientists of the earlier ages never started with a theory or explanation. The first step was to make a series of observations and then arrive at a generalisation. Theory usually followed observation. This, in a sense, is the spirit of the inductive method. But over the years there has been a reversal of this trend.
In most sciences today, experimental observation follows theory. The scientist, on the basis of earlier research, formulates a tentative or provisional theory. On the basis of this theory, he arrives at certain expectations. For example, let us say that a psychologist is interested in explaining the changes of behaviour in relation to increase in age. He starts with the general theory that with increase in age there is an increase in the individual’s abilities.
Now s/he wants to test this theory with respect to different types of abilities. S/he starts thinking and concludes that if her/his general assumption was correct, then the older human beings should do much better in certain tasks than young children. As a next step, s/he proceeds to test this experimentally. Having chosen certain tasks, s/he gets a handful of both young and old to perform the tasks. S/he now has data on the performance of both groups of subjects. By comparing them, s/he is able to find out whether the original supposition was correct, i.e., whether older people really perform better than young children. If the supposition is proved to be correct, then the general theory or assumption is supported.
Thus, from a general assumption, s/he derives specific expectations and proceeds to test them. The specific expectations drawn from general assumptions are called hypotheses. Modern Experimental Psychology thus, by and large, proceeds from general theory to hypotheses and then to actual experimentation and observation followed by formulation of theory. This has been a very crucial change.
Today, most of the experiments in psychology are carried out against some theoretical background, and are specifically directed to test some hypotheses. Experimental psychologists are, therefore, found to work in groups or clusters brought together by allegiance to some particular theory and in opposition to other theories. The exact nature of the experiments are also influenced by the theoretical frame of the concerned psychologists.