Foundations of Pscyhology

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Foundations of Psychology
The study of human behavior has interested philosophers and medical doctors for centuries. It was not until late in the 19th century that a decision was made to study the behavior and emotions of the human being in a scientific setting. In 1879 the first formal psychological laboratory was created by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, Germany, recognized as the "Father of Psychology." (Kowalski & Western, 2005, 8) He developed the concept of introspection allowing his subjects to look inside themselves and report conscious thoughts. His studies hallmarked the beginning of psychology as a scientific study. Psychology is a constantly evolving study with historical influences, controversial disciplines and biological foundations.
According to Kowalski and Western, the term psychology is "the scientific investigation of mental processes (thinking, remembering, feeling, etc.) and behavior."(2005, p. 3) As the study of psychology has evolved, well-defined perceptions or "schools of thought" (Kowalski & Western, p.10) have been created to explain the multiple disciplines and define the major beliefs of that discipline. The seven major approaches that have had a long-lasting impact on the foundations of psychology are Structuralism, Functionalism, Gestalt, Behaviorism, Psychodynamics, Humanistic, and Cognitive. These approaches and their impact on the science of psychology are imperative in understanding the approaches that are used in today's society. (Kowalski & Western)
Structuralism was a direct following of Wilhelm Wundt's teaching and was developed by one of his students. Edward Titcher focused on perception and held a strong belief in using experimentation to develop the structure of consciousness. He used a detailed log of a subject's thoughts as well as biological responses to stimuli. This process, referred to as objective introspection, allowed Titcher to break down the human consciousness into three elements, what is seen, heard and remembered images. (Morris & Maisto, 1999)
The first American psychologist took his studies further than perception and developed a discipline referred to as Functionalism. William James is honored with holding the first psychology class and writing the first textbook. While he duly recognized Wundt and Titcher's work, he believed that their concepts were not useful in a real life setting. He studied the concept that perception, sensations, conditions and images cannot be separated and that they must be seen in a pattern that flows in one's consciousness. He could not decide whether he was more interested in philosophy or physiology and found an interest in the crossroad of the two, psychology. His exploration of patterns and habits are instrumental in the current science.
The Gestalt approach to psychology directly attacked structuralism in Germany in the 1960s. This approach studied perception from the aspect of how the "mind plays tricks on itself." (Morris & Maisto, 1999, p.15) For instance, the mind can see still images as a moving picture if the images are flashed quickly enough. Additionally, patterns were explored and the studies completed have greatly influenced the study of perception.
Behaviorism was first approached in the 1920s by a psychologist named James Watson. He challenged all the past schools of thought in that he did not believe that consciousness could not be defined and in fact, could not be scientifically studied. As a result, he focused on behaviors that could be physically studied. The work of Pavlov and his dog, the commonly discussed behavior of a dog when hearing the sound of a bell before his food was presented, was the basis for Watson's theories and he believed that the same concept was viable in humans. In the 1960s behaviorism was revived by B.F. Skinner and he added the concept of applying a positive or negative reinforcement to allow predictable behavior. (Morris & Maisto, 1999)
By far the most commonly know application of psychology was introduced by Sigmund Freud at the turn of century. Freud was a neurologist by degree and maintained a private practice throughout his life but was very interested in why certain patients exhibited symptoms that were not explained by medical science. His studies were very controversial particularly due to his focus on unconscious sexual desires. He began the process of psychoanalysis that is pictured in classic movies in a doctor's office with a patient lying on a couch. Freud used a process of free thought during these sessions to uncover the unconscious desires of his patients. His studies remain very influential in personality and psychological disorders. (Kowalski & Western, 2005)
The concept of humanistic psychology was not widely accepted in American culture but deserves discussing. The humanistic approach emphasized the use of altered states of consciousness and nonverbal experiences to fulfill human potential. While controversial this concept rose questions that are considered when explaining personality and psychological treatment. (Morris & Maisto, 1999)
The most recent concept to enter the psychological field of study is cognitive psychology. This discipline studies the mental processes that define perception, interpretation, and information recall. Mental processes and behavior can be documented in a scientific environment and hypotheses of cognitive processes can be formed from the data. Cognitive psychology has made such an impact on the field that the way that psychologists define behaviors and perceptions has changed. (Morris & Maisto, 1999)
Much discussion has taken place in the media concerning the responsibility of mentally ill people who commit crimes. Is a psychological illness biological or is it entirely a misguided perception or behavior? The preceding question would take many hours and pages of writing to decide and quite possibly may never be fully understood. However, the biological foundations of psychological disorders are a viable discussion. At the moment of conception a human life is encoded with genetic codes and chemicals that create an individual. These genetic codes play some part in the personality and behaviors of a person. The exact part that is played is still being researched by scientists around the globe. A few breakthroughs have proven that a portion of psychological responses are biological. In order to understand this concept a discussion concerning the nervous system of the human body must take place.

The nervous system of the human body is a complex and detailed series of chemical reactions. "The fundamental unit of the nervous system is the neuron." (Kowalski & Western, 2005, p.62) Two types of neurons transfer messages throughout the nervous system. The sensory neurons send and receive messages to and from the brain that cause sensations and perceptions. The motor neurons send and receive messages that allow for movement throughout the body. In order for these messages to be handled by the human body a series of chemical reactions take place. The sensitive balance of the chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, determines the accuracy of messages sent from and received in the brain. Much study has transpired to determine which neurotransmitters serve what role in behavior, personality and perception.

It has been determined via detailed scientific studies that many mental illnesses can be linked to an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Information of this kind has led to the use of medication in the treatment of psychological disorders. The separation of the brain from the mind and its biological implications is nearly impossible in the study of psychological disorders. (Kowalski & Western, 2005)
Centuries of research, study and conflict have created the science known as psychology. The effects of this rich history provide the stepping stone for current studies and scientific strides. Sir Isaac Newton quoted in his letter to Robert Hooke in 1675, "If I have seen further, it's by standing on the shoulders of giants." (Cited by Reiss, 2000, p. 185 Para 1) This quote is well used today when considering the leaps of understanding that are occurring in current studies of the human psyche. Only by the historical perceptions, ridicule and archaic scientific procedures can professionals in today's society provide accurate treatment to patients. May the giants of psychology, Wundt, Titcher, Freud, Skinner, Watson, James and the many unmentioned be given the recognition that is deserved for a lifetime of perseverance in understanding the concept of human behavior, emotions and perceptions. The historical influences, controversial disciplines and biological implications have created the psychology of the 21st century and those shoulders stand strong providing a foundation for a clear view of the future.

Kowalski, R., & Western, D. (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey 07030: John Wiley & Sons, Inc..
Morris, C. G., & Maisto, A. A. (1999). Psychology An Introduction (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458: Prentice Hall.
Reiss, H. (2000, March). On the shoulders of giants. Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 20, 185-187. Retrieved May 4, 2008, from

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