Read this essay to learn about the history and origin of science of psychology!
Psychology did not emerge directly as a science. It started as a branch of philosophy and continued for about 2000 years before emerging as a science.
Psychology began as a result of curiosity of cosmologists to understand about the mystic experiences and activities of people and events.
These include their experiences in life, dreams, materialistic life, the urges they have and peculiarities in behaviours of people in different situations.
The term psychology was first encountered in philosophical books of the 16th century. It was formed from two Greek words ‘Psyche’ (soul) and ‘logos’ (doctrine). By soul, was meant the principle underlying all the phenomena of mental and spiritual life.
The modern ideas about mind and its functioning were derived from Greek philosophy. One of the first stones in the foundation of psychology as a science was laid by the ancient Greek physician Alcmaeon in 6th century BC, who proposed that, ‘mental life is a function of the brain’. This idea provides a basis to understand human psyche even today. The other notable Greek philosophers are Hippocrates (460-370 BC), Socrates (469-399 BC), Plato (428/ 7-348 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC).
Hippocrates known as the father of medicine classifies people, into 4 types on the basis of body humors, viz., Sanguine (blood), Melancholic (black bile), Choleric (yellow bile) and Phlegmatic (phlegm). Socrates recognised mind also in addition to soul.
He had analysed the activities of mind in the form of thinking, imagination, memory and dreams. Further, his pupils Plato and Aristotle strengthened and continued the idea of Socrates. However, they did not have much belief in the existence of soul. So they stressed reasoning ability of man and called human being as a rational animal.
Plato was more interested to know the role of mind in controlling human behaviour. He was the progenitor of dualism in psychology.
He regarded material and spiritual substances, the body and mind as two independent and antagonistic principles, but he could not clarify his doubt satisfactorily. Plato’s dualism was largely overcome by his pupil Aristotle who reunited psychological thought with natural studies and restored its close links with biology and medicine. He forwarded the idea of the inseparability of soul and the living body.
He hypothesized that mind is the result of psychological activities and said it is necessary to understand psychological processes including the activities of sense organs which help the individual to experience his environment.
This assumption was accessible for verification because of its scientific base. It is true that the brain controls our conscious experiences and behaviour. Then came a French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650), who postulated the existence of soul as a separate entity which is independent of body.
He said our body is like an automobile engine which will carry on its work without the supervision of soul and hence the body and soul are separate. He declared that man has a dual nature viz., mental and physical. By this way clarified the doubt raised by Plato.
He asserted that the process of doubting is the proof for existence of soul. (Cogito ergo sum -1 think, therefore I am). In other words the soul must exist in me, because I can think, and thinking is the main function of soul.
Gradually as the scientific outlook was developed, philosophy started losing its prominence, so also soul. Then psychology was defined as the ‘the study of mind’. The word mind was less mysterious and vague than soul and hence this definition was continued for some time.
Psychology came into being as a scientific discipline by the establishment of first Institute of Psychology in 1879 at Leipzig in Germany by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). It is here the first professional psychologists acquired the skills of experimental work to study the mind. Wundt focussed his experiments as conscious experiences and he replaced the concept of mind with consciousness. He adopted the method of ‘Introspection’.
As the time elapsed, the development of Psychology as an independent science got impetus. Psychologists started discarding the different methods and approaches based on speculation and attempted to provide scientific base to the subject.
These efforts resulted in the emergence of different schools of thought like Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviorism, Gestaltism, Psychoanalysis, Humanistic school, etc. The formulation of these schools has led to various approaches to understand behaviour in their own ways.
A brief analysis of these approaches is as follows:
This school focused its attention to study the conscious experiences and structure of brain and nervous system which are responsible for such experiences.
The prominent among the Structuralists was EB Titchener (1867-1927) a British Psychologist who regarded psychology as a science of Consciousness. Structuralism attempted to analyse the three basic elements of consciousness viz., sensations, feelings and images and in this way provided a systematic study of mind by analysing its structure and hence named as structuralism.
Functionalism was initiated by William James (1842-1910) the father of American psychology. The other important psychologists belonged to this school were John Dewey, James Angell, etc. Functionalists advocated the functioning of mind as an important aspect.
According to them the mind will always help the person to adjust to his environment. They were influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and biology.
This school of thought was started by JB Watson (1878-1958). The other notable psychologists include Thorndike, Pavlov, Skinner, Tolman, Hull, etc. Watson defined psychology as a science of behaviour of the organism.
He focused his attention on the study of observable behaviour and rejected the invisible inner forces of mind. Watson rejected the method of Introspection as unreliable and unscientific and advocated the method of observation and checking. Behaviorism emphasised the conditioned reflexes as elements of behaviour.
According to Watson conditioned reflexes are learned responses to stimuli. He emphasised the need for objective observation to study human and animal behaviour. Until the emergence of this school, psychologists concentrated only on study of human behaviour and there was no room for study of animal behaviour. Watson stressed the role of environment and stimuli in shaping behaviour. He made a statement that he can make anything out of an infant—a beggar, lawyer, scientist or criminal.
This school of thought was established in the year 1912 by three German psychologists Max Wertheimer (1880-1941) and his colleagues Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) and Wolfgang Kohler (1887- 1967).
The term Gestalt means ‘Form’ or ‘Configuration’. These psychologists opposed the atomistic or molecular approach to study behaviour. They said the mind is not made up of elements and hence it can be understood better only if we study it as a whole.
The main principle of Gestalt school is “whole is better than sum total of its parts”. According to it, the individual perceives a thing as a whole and not as a mere collection of elements. In the same way the sensation or perception will be experienced as a whole. For example, when we look at a wooden table, we do not look it as a bundle of different pieces, but as a whole, only then we perceive it as a meaningful object.
As a result, human behaviour is characterized as an intelligent behaviour, rather than a simple stimulus-response mechanism. In this way Gestalt psychology strongly opposed the points of view of other schools.
Psychology was mainly concentrating on the normal human psyche, until the arrival of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) who founded the school of Psychoanalysis. This theory emerged from the clinical background of mental patients.
Freud developed his theory based on unconscious motivation. It includes different concepts like conscious, sub-conscious, unconscious behaviour, structure of psyche, repression, catharsis, psycho-sexual development of child, libido, dream analysis, etc. which help to analyse the total human behaviour, particularly from the point of view of understanding abnormal behaviour.
With the opinion that, Freud has given excessive importance to sex, two of his followers got separated and established their own school of thought. Alfred Adler (1870-1937) started ‘Individual psychology’ in which he placed power motive in place of Freud’s sex and, Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) started ‘Analytical Psychology’, which emphasises the development of individual personality from the “Collective Unconscious”.
Some other psychologists influenced by Freud who were known as Neo Freudians, also have contributed a lot to modern psychology. Some of the notable figures are Anna Freud (the daughter of Freud), Karen Horney, Sullivan, Eric Fromm, Erik Erickson, etc.
This school of thought was developed by psychologists like Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May, Gorden Allport, etc. Humanistic psychology gives more value to the human being. Humanists believed that behaviour is controlled by our own free will and not by the unconscious or by the environment.
They were more interested in solving human problem than in laboratory experiments. Humanists expect each person to reach his full potential and attain self-actualisation.
As stated in the beginning, the history of psychology is very short. But within this short duration of about 150 years, many psychologists have contributed their knowledge to make psychology a science. It is very difficult to present all the names and their contributions.