Thursday, July 30, 2009

History of Psychology Essay

Psychology on the whole deals with the nature of the mind and mental processes. Questions concerning these factors first came about from ancient Greek philosophers, the most famous being Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, during the forth and fifth centuries B.C. Hippocrates, was a Greek physician, frequently called the “father of medicine.” He was especially interested in the study of the living organism and its parts. He observed how the brain controlled various parts of the body. This gave rise to the biological perspective of psychology. Today, all new physicians reflect upon Hippocrates’s medical ethics for their study.

Following the Greek philosophers, around the 17th century, one of the discussions of human psychology was whether or not human beings are born with knowledge and understanding of reality, or are they acquired through experiences and interactions with the world. The view that we are born with existing knowledge is called the nativist view. The view that knowledge is gained through experiences is called the empiricist view. An English philosopher called John Locke, put forward a theory that at birth, the mind is at a blank slate, or tabula rasa, onto which experiences of what he/she sees, hears, smells, tastes and feels are written. In other words, there is no store of knowledge, but through our senses, our knowledge comes. Today it is still questionable and it is referred to as the nature versus nurture debate in psychology. It centres around the fact that biological processes affect our emotions and behaviour, but also acknowledges that experiences can also affect our behaviour.

In 1879, a man called Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) was considered by some to be the founder of modern psychology. Wundt was the leader of the school of structuralism, which contended that psychology is human experiences studied from the point of view of the person doing the experiencing. In other words, it was Wundt’s belief that the mind and behaviour can be subject to scientific analysis. Introspection and self-exploration are stressed. Introspection is referred to as the observations and recording of the nature of one’s own perceptions, thoughts and feelings. Structuralists in general, believed in the separation of mind and body, without interaction, but conceived of in such a way that a parallel structure is formed. For each conscious experience of the mind, a corresponding reaction occurs in the body. It must be remembered that the mind does not cause physical reactions any more than the body alters states of consciousness.

William James (1842-1910) brought about a new approach to psychology called functionalism. This refers to studying how the mind works so that an organism can adapt to and function in its environment. James established the first psychology laboratory in America. In the field of psychology, he is best known for his work, Principles of Psychology (1890), and his “stream-of-consciousness” belief that mentality must be seen as an ongoing process and not fragmented into bits of consciousness. James held that an emotion is evidenced by the internal conflict that arises from a person’s reaction to a particular emotional situation. Out of this theory grew his legendary argument that a man meeting a bear in the woods does not run because he is afraid, but rather is afraid because he runs. It is running itself that initiates the reaction of fear, which produces the emotion.

Watson John Broadus (1878-1958) was an American psychologist in favour of militant behaviourism. He says psychology is the ‘science of behaviour’. He believed human responses could be predicted by
• Observation
• Conditioned reflexes
• Verbal methods
• Testing

His studies of children and animals were innovative because structuralism and functionalists had virtually neglected these two groups. He worked on the conditioning of childhood fears and his advances with animals opened the way to the development of comparative psychology.

Around 1912, while behaviourism was appearing in the United States, Gestalt psychology was appearing in Germany. Gestalt being German for ‘form’ or ‘configuration.’ This approach was favoured by Max Wertheimer and basically contends that the psychological make-up of an individual is based on the unity and wholeness of behaviour, combined with experiences. In other words, Gestalt psychology is based on the concepts of unity and wholeness.

At the turn of the 20th century, psychoanalysis emerged. It originated from Sigmund Freud (1956-1939). His approach was based mainly on the unconscious, that is, the thoughts, attitudes, impulses, wishes, motivations and emotions which we are unaware of. Freud believed that these thoughts and feelings which we are forbidden of, leave our conscious state and enter the unconscious, but still continue to influence our thoughts and feelings. He says that these unconscious impulses are expressed in our dreams and physical mannerisms. Psychoanalysis is a psychological method that seeks the basis for human behaviour and motivation in the unconscious mind.

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