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History and Figures of Psychology

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History and Figures of Psychology

Amanda Morris

University of Phoenix

History and Figures of Psychology

Psychology did not become a separate discipline until the late 1800s, however, its roots can be traced back hundreds of years. Greek philosophers like Socrates and Plato and French philosopher Rene Descartes established the basis of reflection that great thinkers have used for centuries to grow and foster their own ideas (Cherry, n.d).
Socrates’ most important contribution to the discipline to Western thought was his dialectic inquiry method, known now as the Socratic Method. He applied this method of searching for answers to examining broad moral concepts like Goodness, Justice, and Evilness. Plato used Socrates beliefs about divinity and the divine nature of the soul to contrast his own ideas about how reality cannot be denied if one wants to remain objective and maintain a clear perspective. Plato also spent a great deal of time examining the role of the father and how he can make his son a better man by building up the boy’s character. On the contrary, Socrates believed that character and moral fiber were divine gifts and could not be built or modified by parents or teachers. Conflicts like this are still often discussed and are most evident in discussions about nature versus nurture (Cherry, n.d).
In the seventeenth century, French philosopher Rene Descartes introduced the theory of dualism, which stated that the mind and body were distinct and separate entities that act together to create the human experience. Descartes is famous for his quote, “Cogito ergo sum”, or, “I think, therefore I am”. This sentiment is highly relevant to the field of psychology and aptly summarizes what it means to be human (Cherry, n.d).
Physiology also contributed greatly to psychology’s emergence as a separate scientific discipline. Early biological research about the brain and its functions has had a pronounced impact on psychological studies. Ultimately, physiological studies contributed to having scientific methodologies applied to the study of the human brain, thoughts, and behaviors (Cherry, n.d).
During the mid-1800s, German physiologist Wilhelm Wundt was investigating reaction times and published his findings in 1874 in his book Principles of Physiological Psychology. In it, he discussed many connections between his physiological findings and the study of human thoughts and behaviors. Later, in 1879 at the University of Leipzig, he founded the world’s first psychology lab. This lab is generally considered the official starting point of psychology as an independent scientific discipline (Bantwal, 2011).
Edward B. Titchener, one of Wundt’s most famous students went on to found the first major school of thought in psychology, structuralism. According to this theory, human consciousness was broken down into much smaller parts. This theory was based on introspection and using this process, trained individuals would break down their responses and reactions to the very core of sensation and perception. Even though structuralism heavily emphasized scientific research, it was considered unreliable and very subjective. Structuralism basically ceased when Titchner died in 1927 (Bantwal, 2011).
In the mid- to late-1800s, psychology really thrived in America. William James became a major cornerstone for American psychology during this period. He published a classic textbook called The Principles of Psychology and essentially established himself as the father of American psychology. His book became the standard text used in psychology and functioned as the basis for functionalism, a new school of thought (Cherry, n.d).
Functionalism focused on how behavior works to assist individuals within their environment. While both structuralism and functionalism both emphasize the human consciousness, their notions about it differed greatly. While structuralists broke down the mental processes into parts, functionalists understood human consciousness to be a fluid, dynamic process. Functionalism is no longer considered an independent school of thought, but it provided a foundation for many theories (Bantwal, 2011).
The last theorist to develop his ideas in this time period is Sigmund Freud. Freud essentially bridged the gap between late-19th century and early-20th century psychologists.
Until Freud’s Psychoanalysis theories, psychology had emphasized the conscious human experience. However, the famous Austrian physician and his theories soon changed the face of psychology in a very important way. In his studies, he emphasized the unconscious processes of the human mind. This was unchartered territory at the time, and remains controversial to this day. He worked with patients that suffered mental illnesses, and gathered information that led him to believe that our very early childhood experiences in combination with our unconscious impulses basically establish the development of our behavior and personalities as adults (Mitchell, n.d.).
According to this theory, mental illness or psychological disorders result from unconscious conflicts that occur within our subconscious. This theory ultimately changed the way psychology was practiced and broadened the perspectives of psychologists around the world. His ideas greatly influenced psychology as it headed into the 20th century (Mitchell, n.d.).

Resources
Bantwal, N. (2011). Brief History of Psychology. Buzzle. Retrieved July 16, 2012, from http://www.buzzle.com/articles/brief-history-of-psychology.html
Cherry, K. (n.d.). Origins of Psychology. Psychology - Complete Guide to Psychology for Students, Educators & Enthusiasts. Retrieved July 16, 2012, from http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsy Mitchell, G. (n.d.). Sigmund Freud & Freudian Psychoanalysis. Personal Development Resources at Trans4mind. Retrieved July 16, 2012, from http://www.trans4mind.com/mind-development/freud.html

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