Essay On Psychology History

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.

Gestalt Psychology:

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.

Humanistic Psychology:

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.

The Historical Development Of Psychology Essay

The Historical Development of Psychology
I am going to be looking at the history of psychology, and by using a
few examples try to explain some of the theories that leading
psychologists and scientist have concluded in their experiments and
scientific studies. Psychology is in fact the study of the mind, how
it works and what effect it has upon an individuals thoughts and
general functions, the processes of the mind will never be fully
understood but there has been a great breakthrough over many years,
although the mind has many parts in which we will never truly

The first example I am going to look at is behaviourism,
Wittgenstein(1889-1951) believes what is in the mind as “over and
above behaviour” He believes that if everyone were to have a box which
held a beetle and only they were allowed to look in their own box,
people will talk about their boxes and perceive them to stand for a
beetle as that is how they associate their boxes, he believes the
boxes are like the mind, everyone has one, they are alike but no one
actually knows what either persons looks like as you cannot compare
them just like the mind no one knows what exactly is in them.

The most famous experiment looking into behaviourism is by the Russian
scientist I.P Pavlov (1849-1946) in which he found that by ringing a
bell every time he fed the dogs in his lab, he realised that the dogs
learned to associate the bell with food so therefore salivated,
eventually the dogs would salivate without the need for food as the
simple ringing of the bell was enough for them to assume that the bell
meant food therefore salivation would occur. Not only does this form
of behaviourism work with animals it has the same effect on humans,
therefore it proves that a behaviour can be learned without an action
being taken if you already associate that behaviour with something
that you unconsciously learned before.

There is also psychoanalytic perspective in which Freuds(1856-1938)
theory on the unconscious mind is a typical example, he believes that
you must reach three elements, which are ID, EGO, and Superego which
briefly explained are, ID stage, he believes this is our unconscious
impulse to seek instant gratification, in a way our selfishness and
need for attention from others, this is also known as the Pleasure
Principle, there is then the Ego Freud’s reality principle, which is
the mediator between the Id and reality what we want and what we have,
then the Super ego which suppresses the Id and the Ego, its known as
the Guilt principle which is part of our mind that makes us feel
guilty for selfish acts. Freud concludes it as the conflict theory:
ID= I...

Loading: Checking Spelling


Read more

A Brief Comparison of Historical Paths for the Clinical and Counselling Streams of Psychology

2288 words - 9 pages A Brief Comparison of Historical Paths for the Clinical and Counselling Streams of Psychology The current practices of the clinical and counselling psychological streams are not entirely dissimilar as both are concerned with the application of psychotherapy, education, research, and instruction (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 2000; Norcross, 2000). Clinical psychology is primarily concerned with the assessment, treatment, and study of...

Piaget and Vygotsky: The Psychology of Cognitive Development

1886 words - 8 pages This essay concerns the psychology of cognitive development. Cognitive development can be explained in terms of the acquisition, construction and progressive change in thought processes such as memory, problem-solving and decision-making that occurs from childhood to adulthood (in Smith, P.K., Cowie, H & Blades, M. 2003). Major pioneers in this area and whose work has been the foundation of much research in cognitive psychology are among Jean...

Gender Development and Differences from the Perspectives of Psychology

1708 words - 7 pages Outline the views of evolutionary psychologists, social constructionists and Freudiansregarding gender development and/or gender differences, and examine whether suchviews are complementary or competing.IntroductionWhat is to be a man or a woman? How do...

Human Development with the relationship of life experience,culture impacts and psychology development

3030 words - 12 pages Wei WangStudent ID: 11530781Human development is a complex synthesis of physiological, cognitive, psychological, moral, and spiritual expansion. Different theories explain one or more aspects of an individual's development. The primary goal of this paper is to analyse three aspects: how early life experiences...

The Historical and Cultural Factors that Contribute to the Development of the Learning Perspective

2970 words - 12 pages The Historical and Cultural Factors that Contribute to the Development of the Learning Perspective The study of how humans learn is a dominant component of the learning perspective. The study of behaviour in this perspective and is also commonly known as the Behaviouristic Approach, as they believe that behaviour is the only valid data in psychology. Behaviourism developed simultaneously in the United States and Russia in...

Development Psychology: Child in the Preoperational Stage

2270 words - 9 pages A study was carried out by two third year psychology students to investigate Piaget's stage theory. A 4 years old female child was tested in task of comprehension of more and less, followed standard and modified versions of conservation and class inclusion tasks. Results indicated that child exhibited difficulties in both modified conservation and class inclusion tasks despite the removal of some confounds in standard tasks. This infers that...

Describe and discuss TWO contributions of either Freud or Rogers to the development of Psychology.

1330 words - 5 pages Describe and discuss TWO contributions of eitherFreud or Rogers to the development of Psychology.Freud's work is described as psychoanalysis; it is the theory of personality, personality development including child development, moral development, defence mechanisms and theory of dreams. In this essay we will look at the psychosexual...

LifeSpan Development -Psychology side. 'Discuss some of the Psychological Changes that Occur During Old Age.'

2242 words - 9 pages In order to discuss some of the psychological changes that occur during old age, we must first define what we mean by 'Psychological Change' and then look at what is meant by 'Old Age', how do we define it? Then I will go on to look at these changes and view them froma positive and negative viewpoint.'Psychology is formally defined as the scientific study of the behaviour of individuals and their mental processes....'(ZIMBARDO,1992). So...

The History of Psychology

1970 words - 8 pages The History of Psychology In order to discuss Psychology's history, it is important to understand that psychology still does not have one unifying approach unlike the natural sciences; even the definition of Psychology and what it truly means is still undecided. However I shall attempt to review chronologically its philosophical origins, include...

The Psychology of Religion

1469 words - 6 pages The Psychology of Religion is composed of a variety of different perspectives, which in certain cases proves difficult in determining both the clinical and pastoral implications of a theory. Modern-day psychology has demonstrated possible beneficial results in religious spiritual individuals, however, much of the current research has avoided questioning the “real” presence of the Divine or a Higher Being. Although a century has passed since his...

The Nature of Psychology

1477 words - 6 pages The Nature of Psychology      Psychology is the scientific study and practical application of observable behavior and mental processes of organisms. Psychology differs from other social sciences such as: Sociology, History, or Economics, because psychology specifically deals with the study of an individual. The other social sciences will study groups, or history. Psychology is less a science of reported findings, it...

One thought on “Essay On Psychology History

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *