History of Psychology

People are constantly questioning who they are and where they have come from, these questions can easily be classified as the most common psychological, and at the same time, philosophical ideas that people face each and every day. Psychology and philosophy have much in common, including the fact that they both study human mind that is influenced by historical and cultural forces. Psychology can assist all people to organize their thoughts and gain perspective on possible mental disorders.

During the mid 19th century, Wilhelm Wundt, a German physiologist started using scientific research methods to look into reaction times. This is the time when it is said that psychology actually began since this is when Wundt created the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig. In the time since psychology has cut itself off from philosophy. The exploration of psychology was begun with structuralism; this was the idea that the object of psychological investigation should be the conscious mind. This approach had its challenges and for this reason was soon replaced by functionalism. William James was the creator of this new school of thought and eventually led him to become the leading American Psychologist of his time and his principals of psychology made him the father of American Psychology. Functionalism focused on how the human behavior works towards helping people exist comfortably in their respective environments. Functionalists like to use methods such as direct observation.

Next came Sigmund Freud, Freud took the Psychology field by storm with his ideas of the unconscious human mind being responsible for the majority of psychological disorders. Freud’s work with patients who suffered from ailments such as hysteria led him to believe that our early childhood experiences (Goodwin, C.J.) and our unconscious impulses are what lead us into becoming the individuals that we are as adults. Freud’s thoughts and ideas had such an impact on the 20th century psychology field that he actually influenced the mental well being as well as in many other fields such as art and literature.

Behaviorism also emerged during the 20th century and psychology began a dramatic evolution. Behaviorism focused more on the observable behaviors and rejected the previous ideas of the conscious as well as the unconscious mind. Behaviorism became such a dominant force in the field of psychology that this school of thought reigned supreme for almost fifty years. Even though, over time, this school of thought did loose some of its steam the basic principals of behaviorism are still used today. Many therapeutic methods such as behavioral modification are often used to help children overcome maladaptive behaviors and also assist in them learning new skills. Conditioning is another type that is still used in most situations ranging from education to parenting.

As we have seen, behaviorism and psychoanalysis dominated the first half of the 20th century but a new school of thought, known to us as humanistic psychology emerged during the latter half of this century. This school of thought was most frequently referred to as the “third force” in psychology and this theoretical concept lays emphasis on conscious experiences.

Throughout time there have been enormous changes throughout the psychology field and there has also been an enormous amount of growth since the days of Wundt. Psychology continues to grow and change as we learn more and more about whom we are and why we are here. Recent psychological research centers mostly on the many aspects of the human behavior and experience, starting at the impact of cultural and social factors and continuing through the biological influences on human behavior.

Those who practice in the field of psychology today tend not to classify themselves under one particular school of thought but rather focus on certain specialty perspectives or areas. These individuals usually draw their conclusions from a wide range of theoretical backgrounds. Due to these recent changes we must conclude that the field of psychology will continue to evolve and change throughout time and that we can still add our input to assist in the shaping of the future of this quizzical field.


Goodwin, C.J. (2008). A History of Modern Psychology (3rd ed.) Hoboken, NJ: Wiley