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Historical Background of Psychology

Schools of Thought in Psychology

There are many schools of thought that developed during the early years of
the twentieth century but we shall take up only the ones that greatly influenced the
present-day psychology.

Edward Bradford Titchener developed structuralism based on the concepts
of his mentor Wilhelm Wundt. The followers of Titchener were
called structuralists because they analyzed conscious experiences into its elements,
namely: sensation, images, andaffective states. These elements they called
the structures of conscious experience. The method of study used was
called introspection, a process of self-observation. In introspection, the researcher
reports his own observation of himself. Many people questioned the validity and
accuracy of the findings because the process is very subjective. It then paved the
way for a new school of thought to emerge.

Functionalism emerges toward the middle of 1850s through the effort of a
group of American Psychologists. Most prominent of whom were William
James and John Dewey. They redefined psychology as the study of the mind as it
functions in adapting the organism to its environment. They studied consciousness
as an ongoing process or stream instead of reducing it into elements. William
James also argued that the proper subject mater of psychology was the study of the
organism functioning as a whole in his environment. The method used by
functionalists was objective observation and little of introspection.

While Functionalism was developing and structuralism was on its height, a
revolution against the two was already in the mind ofJohn Broadus Watson. He
expressed dissatisfaction in the methods used. He instead advocated the use of
objective experimental observation. He said the behavior and the behavioral acts
are to be described objectively in terms of stimulus response, habit formation, and
habit integration. Watson took the position that all behavior represents learned
responses to particular environmental stimuli.

Other educators who influenced behaviorism were Edward Lee

Thomdike who used trial-error learning and B.F. Skinner who used rewards and
punishments in shaping a behavior. The behaviorist technique has proven useful in
the treatment of psychological disorders.

Gestalt Psychology
While behaviorism was talking its roots in America, another school of
thought emerged in Germany. This new school questioned the analysis of
consciousness or behavior in the way the structuralists and behaviorists did. Gestalt
psychology was developed by Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Kohler, and Kurt
Koffka. Gestalt is a German word which means form, shape, or configuration. The
greatest contributions of Gestalt are in perception and learning. They emphasized
learning by whole rather than by parts. The method used is
calledphenomenology. Gestalt psychology became useful in teaching-learning

Psychoanalysis is not really a school of psychology because it did not
concern itself with learning, sensation, attention, perception, and the other areas
that preoccupied the previous schools of thought. It developed from the study and
treatment of mental patients suffering from psychological disorders. The methods
used were free association, dream analysis, and projective techniques. This
movement started in Vienna under the leadership of Sigmund Freud, an Austrian
physician specializing in diseases of the nervous system. Psychoanalysis is
responsible for the attention given to unconscious motivation and child

In the 1930s and 1940s, a group of psychologists, led by Abraham Maslow and Carl
Rogers, largely influenced by the philosophical approach known as phenomenology,
began a new concept in human beings. Phenomenology studies how people
subjectively experience phenomena. This new group believed that in order to
understand why people act in particular ways, their subjective experiences must be
taken into consideration. To phenomenologist, people have the power to shape their
own fates, to be whatever they wish to be.

School of thought

When psychology was first established as a science separate from biology and
philosophy, the debate over how to describe and explain the human mind and
behavior began. The different schools of psychology represent the major theories
within psychology.
The first school of thought, structuralism, was advocated by the founder of the first
psychology lab, Wilhelm Wundt. Almost immediately, other theories began to
emerge and vie for dominance in psychology.
In the past, psychologists often identified themselves exclusively with one single
school of thought. Today, most psychologists have an eclectic outlook on
psychology. They often draw on ideas and theories from different schools rather
than holding to any singular outlook.
The following are some of the major schools of thought that have influenced our
knowledge and understanding of psychology:
Structuralism and Functionalism
Structuralism was the first school of psychology, and focused on breaking down
mental processes into the most basic components. Major structuralist thinkers
include Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener. The focus of structuralism was on
reducing mental processes down into their most basic elements. Structuralists used
techniques such as introspection to analyze the inner processes of the human mind.
Functionalism formed as a reaction to the theories of the structuralist school of
thought and was heavily influenced by the work of William James. Major
functionalist thinkers included John Dewey and Harvey Carr. Instead of focusing on
the mental processes themselves, functionalist thinkers were instead interested in
the role that these processes play.
Behaviorism became a dominant school of thought during the 1950s. It was based
upon the work of thinkers such as:
John B. Watson
Ivan Pavlov
B. F. Skinner

Behaviorism suggests that all behavior can be explained by environmental causes

rather than by internal forces. Behaviorism is focused on observable behavior.
Theories of learning includingclassical conditioning and operant conditioning were
the focus of a great deal of research.
Psychoanalysis is a school of psychology founded by Sigmund Freud. This school of
thought emphasizes the influence of the unconscious mind on behavior.
Freud believed that the human mind was composed of three elements: the id, the
ego and the superego. The id is composed of primal urges, while the ego is the
component of personality charged with dealing with reality. The superego is the part
of personality that holds all of the ideals and values we internalize from our parents
and culture. Freud believed that the interaction of these three elements was what
led to all of the complex human behaviors.
Freud's school of thought was enormously influential, but also generated a great
deal of controversy. This controversy existed not only in his time, but also in modern
discussions of Freud's theories. Other major psychoanalytic thinkers include:
Anna Freud
Carl Jung
Erik Erikson.
Humanistic Psychology
Humanistic psychology developed as a response to psychoanalysis and
behaviorism. Humanistic psychology instead focused on individual free will,
personal growth and the concept of self-actualization. While early schools of thought
were largely centered on abnormal human behavior, humanistic psychology differed
considerably in its emphasis on helping people achieve and fulfill their potential.
Major humanist thinkers include:
Abraham Maslow
Carl Rogers.
Humanistic psychology remains quite popular today and has had a major influence
on other areas of psychology including positive psychology. This particular branch
of psychology is centered on helping people living happier, more fulfilling lives.
Gestalt Psychology
Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology based upon the idea that we
experience things as unified wholes. This approach to psychology began in Germany

and Austria during the late 19th century in response to the molecular approach of
structuralism. Instead of breaking down thoughts and behavior to their smallest
elements, the gestalt psychologists believed that you must look at the whole of
experience. According to the gestalt thinkers, the whole is greater than the sum of
its parts.
Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive psychology is the school of psychology that studies mental processes
including how people think, perceive, remember and learn. As part of the larger field
of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines
including neuroscience, philosophy and linguistics.
Cognitive psychology began to emerge during the 1950s, partly as a response to
behaviorism. Critics of behaviorism noted that it failed to account for how internal
processes impacted behavior. This period of time is sometimes referred to as the
"cognitive revolution" as a wealth of research on topics such as information
processing, language, memory and perception began to emerge.
One of the most influential theories from this school of thought was the stages of
cognitive development theory proposed by Jean Piaget.