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PSYC 495 – Senior Seminar Psychology
Discussion 1First, read the resource on the History of Psychology. Next select one individual
mentioned in the article and write an essay reflecting upon that person’s life and
contributions to the field of psychology. Describe what that person did, the
approximate time that this person lived, what makes their contribution important,
and criticisms of their work or theoretical position. Be sure to include appropriate
references and citations in your response.
History of psychology.
Authors: Delahanty, Everett J., Jr.
Source: Salem Press Encyclopedia of Health, 2018. 8p.
Document Type: Article
Subject Terms:
History of psychology
Clinical psychology
Cognitive psychology
Psychology can be assessed from points of view that regard it as a folk, cultural, or religious
process; as a philosophical approach; as a scientific method; as an academic discipline; or as a
set of postmodern assumptions.
Full Text Word Count: 5177
Accession Number:
Research Starters
History of psychology
Type of psychology: Origin and definition of psychology
Psychological inquiry and psychology as a field have a varied history going back thousands of years.
Psychology can be assessed from points of view that regard it as a folk, cultural, or religious process; as
a philosophical approach; as a scientific method; as an academic discipline; or as a set of postmodern
From the folk process point of view, peoples have formed their own cultures and religions from the
beginning of human history. These different cultures and religions have unique values and norms within
which the person is considered and evaluated. Out of these norms come the everyday beliefs and
expectations that members of the group will hold about themselves, other people, and the world. Thus, in
every culture there is an implicit theory of psychology. Since this process is always operative, it has
always been a factor in how specific thinkers such as philosophers, scientists, and psychologists, as well
as laypeople, have been able to think about the human person. The folk process remains an especially
important factor in some areas of psychology, such as humanistic psychology and clinical psychology.
Philosophy began to emerge about the year 600 BCE. At that time, Thales, a Greek thinker, began to
consider systematically the nature of the world. His view that the world’s basic element is water
demanded that the philosopher give up the folk process, or “common sense,” and argue for a conclusion
based on rational premises. This new way of thinking led to a much broader set of possibilities in the
understanding of the world and the human being. In terms of psychology, philosophers would concentrate
on topics such as the relationship between the mind and the body and the process of acquiring
knowledge, especially about what is outside the body. This influence has gone in and out of fashion
throughout the history of psychology. In the last decade of the twentieth century, cognitive psychology
was strongly influenced by philosophic thinking, for example.
By the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance, another way of thinking and solving
problems began to emerge. As a result of dissatisfaction with both religious and philosophic answers to
understanding the world and its place in the cosmos, as well as knowledge about the nature of the human
being, a process of systematic and repeated observation and rigorous thinking began to emerge. This
new process, which has been labeled a part of modern thinking, has become the scientific method,
requiring another separation from the folk process. For instance, when the Polish astronomer Nicolaus
Copernicus and the Italian mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei argued from their observations
that the earth revolved around the sun rather than the opposite, “common-sense” view, they offended
both religious authorities and philosophers, but they opened the door to a new way of solving problems
and understanding the world and human beings. This new way was named science.
Thanks to both philosophy and science, by the middle to end of the nineteenth century various scholarly
areas had emerged, each with a unique use of methodology and subject matter. One of these disciplines
was psychology. In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt, a German philosopher and physiologist, set up what is
generally considered the first laboratory in experimental psychology. From that point, psychology began
to be recognized as a discipline by scholars in the Western world.
Through an interaction with disciplines such as anthropology and linguistics, which were thriving on
relativistic assumptions, and a philosophy of language that limited meaning to the particular and
situational case, a psychological point of view developed in the mid- to late twentieth century called social
constructionism. Although promoted by those who identify with the discipline of psychology, social
constructionism is at odds with the assumptions of the modern period, including many of those that go
with science, and is, therefore, labeled postmodern. Such an approach seeks only to describe and
interpret rather than to explain, as is the aim in science. Parallel developments such as deconstruction in
the field of literary criticism were taking place at the same time.
The Philosophers
Over the years, philosophers asked questions about the world and how humans come to have knowledge
of it, provided assumptions that would limit or promote certain kinds of explanations, and attempted to
summarize the knowledge that was available to an educated person.
Those thinkers who considered the nature of reality and the world between the years ca. 624 to 370 BCE
were called pre-Socratics. One of them, Heraclitus, opposed Thales’s idea of water as the basic element
with his idea that fire was the basic element, and therefore the world and everything in it was in a state of
flux and constant change. Empedocles went a step further to propose that there were four basic
elements: earth, air, fire, and water. This scheme, when applied by physicians such as the
Greek Hippocrates and the Greco-Roman Galen led to the notion of the four humors and a prototheory of
personality that has been influential for almost two thousand years.
From his understanding of the thinking of Socrates and Pythagoras, Plato constructed a systematic view
of the human as a dualistic creature having a body that is material and a soul that is spiritual. This
doctrine had significant consequences for religion, for philosophy, and for psychology. Plato also saw
knowledge as acquired by the soul through the process of recollection of the form, which exists in an ideal
and abstract state. Plato’s student Aristotle systematized the study of logic, promoted the use of
observation as a means of acquiring knowledge, and presented a different view of the human as one
whose senses were reliable sources of information and whose soul, while capable of reasoning, was the
form that kept the body (and the person) in existence.
The philosophers who came during the medieval period generally split into two camps: those who
followed Plato and those who followed Aristotle. Just prior to the medieval period, Saint Augustine, bishop
of Hippo (now part of Algeria), had combined Neoplatonism, Christianity, and Stoicism (to the extent of
believing that following the natural law was virtuous). The Neoaristotelian tradition was typified
by Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Dominican priest, who integrated Aristotelian thought with Christianity and
who promoted the use of reason in the obtaining of knowledge. Although not anticipated by Aquinas, this
point of view would ease the way for what would become scientific thinking.
René Descartes, a French Renaissance philosopher, created a dualistic system called interactionism,
where the soul, which was spiritual, interacted with the body, which was material. Both the notion of
interaction and its proposed site, the pineal gland, were so open to debate that the theory led to two
different traditions: a rationalist tradition and an empiricist tradition. The rationalist tradition was led by
German thinkers such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who was also an inventor of the calculus; Immanuel
Kant, who taught that the mind had an innate categorizing ability; and Johann Friedrich Herbart, who held
that, if expressed in mathematical terms, psychology could become a science. All the rationalists opted
for the notion of “an active mind,” and Herbart’s thinking was very influential for those, such as Wundt,
who would view psychology as a scientific discipline. The empiricist tradition was stronger in France and
England. Several decisive representatives of empiricism were Englishmen John Locke, David Hume,
and John Stuart Mill. Empiricism postulated that all knowledge came through the senses and that the
ideas that made up the mind were structured on the percepts of the senses. Eventually, in Mill’s thinking,
the ideas of the mind were held together through the laws of association.
Another tradition developed past the midpoint of this period was positivism. Positivism, as developed by
Frenchman August Compte, argued that the only knowledge that one can be sure of is information that is
publicly observable. This would strongly influence both the subject matter and the methodology of science
in general and psychology in particular.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Englishman Bertrand Russell introduced symbolic logic, and his
student Ludwig Wittgenstein created a philosophy of language. Both of these developments were
necessary precursors of the late twentieth century interest in the nature of mind, in which many
disciplines came together to form cognitive science. Wittgenstein’s work would open the door for social
The Scientists
The development of the scientific method was only one of the factors that was associated with the change
from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. Developments in anatomy, physiology, astronomy, and other
fields from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century have had a major
impact on the understanding of science and have paved the way for psychology as a science. The work
of Copernicus and Galileo, in freeing astronomy from folk and religious belief, was a start. In the field of
anatomy Flemish scientist Andreas Vesalius published in 1543 the first accurate woodcuts showing the
anatomy of the human body. This was a decisive break with the tradition of Galen. By 1628, Englishman
William Harvey had described accurately the circulation of blood.
In the meantime, Englishman Francis Bacon, a contemporary of Galileo, offered a view of science that
favored inductive reasoning on the basis of a series of observations. This was another break with the
tradition of relying on the classical authorities. In 1687, the Principia was published by Englishman Isaac
Newton, who laid the foundation for the calculus, enhanced the understanding of color and light, grasped
the notion of universal gravitation, and produced laws (natural law) of planetary motion.
Soon Swiss mathematicians, members of the Bernoulli family and Leonhard Euler, were refining the
differential and integral calculus that was invented independently of Newton by the philosopher Leibniz.
In 1751, a Scot, Robert Whytt, working on frogs, noted the importance of the spinal cord for reflex action.
Localization of function in the nervous system was beginning.
By 1754, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus had produced a system of classification for plants, animals,
and minerals that made observation and discussion in science simpler.
German anatomist Franz Gall maintained that “faculties” of the brain were discernible by observing the
contours of the skull: Phrenology was another step in localization but a false one that violated scientific
axioms. It spread rapidly, especially in the United States, as a form of folk psychology and diagnosis.
In 1795, an assistant at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, was found to be recording times of
stellar transit consistently later than his supervisor. German astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm
Bessel recognized that this was involuntary and might be calibrated as a personal equation. This
recognition of reaction time foreshadowed many studies in the laboratories of psychology.
Italian physician and physicist Luigi Galvani in 1791 stimulated movement in a frog’s leg with electricity,
demonstrating that electrical stimulation had a role in neural research. Englishman Charles Bell, in 1811,
and Frenchman François Magendi, in 1822, demonstrated differential functions of the dorsal (sensory)
and ventral (motor) roots of the spinal cord. Again, localization of function was promoted. In 1824–1825,
Pierre Flourens introduced the technique of ablation studies for brain tissue.
The field of physiology came together in the Handbuch der Physiologie des Menschen für
Vorlesungen(1833–1840; manual of physiology), published by German Johannes Müller. Müller’s law of
specific nerve energies, which claimed that there was a specific pathway and type of signal for each kind
of sensation, was a significant contribution.
German Ernst Weber expanded the study of touch and kinesthesis and created the Weber fraction and
the two-point threshold. Gustav Theodor Fechner expanded Weber’s work into Weber’s Law and
provided a rationale and methodology for early psychology with his development of psychophysical
Frenchman Paul Broca made use of the clinical method of studying brain lesions. With this methodology,
the language area was localized in the third frontal convolution of the cortex.
German Hermann von Helmholtz, a student of Müller who argued against his teacher’s support for
vitalism, applied the law of conservation of energy to living creatures, measured rate of nerve conduction,
and wrote esteemed handbooks on the physics and physiology of vision and audition. An opposing
theorist, German Ewald Hering, a nativist, created the opponent process theory of color vision.
In 1870, Germans Gustav Fritsch and Eduard Hitzig introduced electrical stimulation of the brain, which
demonstrated the motor areas of the brain.
From the middle to the latter part of the nineteenth century, Englishman Francis Galton, a cousin of
Charles Darwin who was also interested in evolution, promoted mental testing and the study of individual
differences. He also stimulated the work of Englishman mathematician Karl Pearson, who invented the
statistics to support such studies and much of psychology.
By 1902, an American, Shepard Ivory Franz, combined the ablation technique with training procedures to
investigate the function of the frontal lobes in cats. His work led to the work of the great American
neuropsychologist Karl Lashley, who led the quest to find the neural basis for memory in his 1950 work In
Search of the Engram. Two of Lashley’s students, Canadian Donald O. Hebb, with his work on cell
assemblies and phase sequences, and American Roger Sperry, with his work on split-brain preparations
in the 1960s, would do much to promote neuropsychology and prepare for cognitive science.
Beginning of Psychology as a Discipline
In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt, a student of Helmholtz, brought together his two disciplines of physiology and
philosophy by creating a laboratory for experimental psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany.
His laboratory attracted many of the individuals who would become leaders in the new science of
psychology. Among these were German Oswald Külpe, Englishman Edward Titchener, and American
James McKeen Cattell.
Meanwhile, in the United States, William James, a scientist and philosopher who was familiar with
European scholarly trends, published the defining American work on psychology, The Principles of
Psychology (1890). This became the dominant text in the English-speaking world and attracted many
more Americans to the study of psychology. Both Wundt and James were instrumental in separating
psychology from other disciplines both in methodology and in subject matter. Both saw psychology as an
introspective science that was to study adult human consciousness. Introspection required that the
investigator focus on her or his own experience or awareness, that is, what the individual is thinking and
feeling at any one moment.
The Schools of Psychology
There were very quickly a number of individuals who either agreed partly or disagreed wholly with Wundt
and James. Some of these individuals argued their points persuasively and a number of schools or points
of view coalesced around them during the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first several
decades of the twentieth century.
Coming from the German rationalist tradition of philosophy, Wundt took as his goal the understanding of
consciousness using the method of introspection. Wundt’s point of view has become known as
voluntarism. Wundt stressed the role of will, choice, and purpose, all of which he saw present in attention
and volition.
Wundt’s student Titchener created a somewhat similar school of thought when, in 1892, he came to
Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Titchener also wanted to study consciousness using the
introspective method. He differed from Wundt in that his preferred philosophy was English empiricism,
and this led him to a different understanding of consciousness. His approach was to discover the
elements of consciousness, and this approach was called structuralism. His successful program led to a
strong interest in experimentation, especially on sensation and perception, in American psychology. He
trained a large number of Americans in the almost four decades that he taught at Cornell.
American psychologists were not wholly devoted to either Wundt’s or Titchener’s approach to psychology
even if they had received their PhDs with them. Instead, they often were motivated by their appreciation
for the work of Charles Darwin, who had published his theory of evolution in his famous On the Origin of
Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859). Darwin’s writing had been popularized in the Englishspeaking world by the English writer and speaker Herbert Spencer, who promoted the idea of social
Darwinism, that is, that processes of competition among groups of humans would weed out the unfit and
thus help to perfect the human race. Following Spencer, many psychologists in the United States saw
adaptation as a fundamental concern for their academic field. Among these was philosopher and
psychologist John Dewey, whose 1896 article, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” was seen as the
formal beginning of the school of functionalism.
One student of both Wundt and James who was very influential in early functionalism was American G.
Stanley Hall, who founded the American Journal of Psychology in 1887 and who founded Clark University
and its psychology department in 1888. He was a leading proponent for developmental psychology, the
founder of the American Psychological Association (in 1892), and an untiring organizer.
Very influential in the promotion of applied psychology was a Prussian student of Wundt who had
followed James in the laboratories of Harvard University, Hugo Münsterberg, who arrived at Harvard
University in 1892.
Two major branches of the school of functionalism were associated with the University of Chicago and
Columbia University. There were three leaders at the University of Chicago. Dewey served from 1894 to
1904, when he moved to Teacher’s College at Columbia University. He was succeeded by James
Rowland Angell, who served for twenty-five years and who was followed by his student, Harvey Carr, who
specialized in the adaptive acts of learning and perception.
At Columbia University, the first significant leader was James McKeen Cattell, who …
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