History of Psychology

Psychology is an exciting field because we have explored deep beneath the oceans, above the skies but we haven’t explored ourselves. Since every person is unique therefore this branch of science is challenging than any other. And knowing the history of the field helps to make sense from where it has grown and developed. History is very crucial for understanding something. Whether you are meeting someone for the first time seeing a physician, talking to a counselor, or applying for a job, everything starts with history. the history of psychology has no definite answer, some say it started with ancient Greece, some trace it back to the 19th century when psychology was formally proposed and instituted. Precursors to psychology could be found in philosophy and physiology. In the early 1800s, these principles were taught as courses on mental and moral philosophy that taught mind based on the faculties of intellect, wills, and senses. Philosophical questions about the nature of mind and knowledge were matched in the 19th century by physiological investigations of the sensory systems of the human observer. German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894) measured the speed of the neural impulse and explored the physiology of hearing and vision which indicated that our senses can deceive us and are not a mirror of the external world. This showed that even though the human senses are fallible, the mind could be measured using the methods of science. An important implication of his work was that physical reality and psychological reality are distinctive. The question of the relationship between mental and material was investigated by several German Researchers called psychophysics, which would serve as the basis for the new science of psychology. But the formal development of modern psychology was credited to a German physician, psychologist, and philosopher Wilhem Wuhnt. The researches conducted by Wilhelm attracted students from across the globe to study experimental psychology. On such student, Edward Bradford Titchener brought this idea to America and named it “structuralism”. Structuralists were interested in the contents of the mind. While structuralists were expanding in America, others like William James inspired by Darwin’s evolutionary theory formed “functionalists” who were interested in activities of the mind. Opposed to the idea of Titchener, James believed consciousness is continuous and cannot be reduced to elements. Consciousness helps us to adapt to the environment, make decisions, and have personal responsibility for the choices.  Throughout the first half of the 20th century, psychology continued to grow and flourish, one good example was Gestalt psychology whose perspective is “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Most of the practitioners of Gestalt psychology were Jewish and were forced to flee Germany during the Nazi Regime. They came to America where they demonstrated their new audience how Gestalt could be used to perception and learning and thus could be said as the precursor to the rise of cognitive psychology. Behaviorism emerged early in the 20th century Championed by psychologists such as John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, it rejected any reference to mind and viewed overt and observable behavior as the proper subject matter of psychology. For decades behaviorism dominated American psychology. Modern intelligence tests were developed by the French psychologist Alfred Binet whose goal was to develop a test that would identify schoolchildren in need of educational support. His test, included tasks of reasoning and problem solving, was introduced in the United States by Henry Goddard and later standardized by Lewis Terman at Stanford University.  Clinical psychology was also an early application of experimental psychology in America. Lightner Whitmer, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology believed that because psychology dealt with the study of sensation and perception, it should be of value in treating children with learning and behavioral problems. He is credited as the founder of both clinical and school psychology.  Given that psychology deals with the human condition, it wouldn’t be surprising that psychologists would involve themselves in social issues  Helen Thompson Woolley and Leta S. Hollingworth were pioneers in research on the psychology of sex differences who proved that emotions didn’t influence women’s more than men nor menstruation. Among the first generation of African American psychologists, Mamie Phipps Clark and her husband Kenneth Clark studied the psychology of race and demonstrated how school segregation negatively impacted the self-esteem of African American children. 

It wouldn’t be possible to mention the rich history of psychology in such a short space, thus omissions and errors are plausible. This brief history provides some glimpse of the history of psychology, hoping for you to see connections and have an appreciation for both unity and diversity of the field of psychology.

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