by Melissa Fichter
The birth of modern psychology
The timeline of modern psychology is split into three forces. Due to its profound effect on experimental psychology, behaviorism is known as the first force. The second force includes the Freudian school, which uses subjective psychoanalysis to explore unconscious mind. The third force places more importance on the conscious mind, and attempts to objectively explain human behavior (Shaffer, 1978). Humanistic, cognitive, and positive psychology share these ideals; however, the flux of technological advances supports that cognitive psychology will have a lasting effect in psychology well into the twenty-first century. Key ideas
At the core of humanism is phenomenology, which embraces subjective rather than objective reality (Bugental, 1964). As explained by Rogers (1951), the subjective realities form one’s phenomenal field. Rarely does the subjective reality match the objective reality; for example, two people often experience conflicts in communication because of differences in each of their subjective reality. The goal of the humanist is to bring those individual realities into one complete objective reality (Schneider & Krug, 2010). The humanists revived the personalists’ principle of teleology, embracing free will and self-fulfillment. According to Abraham Maslow (1943), to reach the ideal potential of the self, all physiological, esteem, love, and safety needs must be fulfilled. Self-actualizers show empathy for all human nature, challenge the status quo, and avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms. They make intelligent choices that satisfy their basic needs, and they become the manifestation of their full potential (p. 373).
The key idea in cognitive psychology is that human process information much like a computer (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). In information processing, the environment is the input, transformed by the senses into stored or retrieved data. In turn, this data dictates a behavioral output (McLeod, 2007). Researchers study how memory, attention, and perception act as processors of brain activity. The human mind can focus attention on a minimal amount of tasks; if over-stimulated, each additional stimulus becomes a distraction to the original task (Miller, 1956). Cognitive psychologists prefer reductionism to rather than holism to explain human behavior. Reductionism follows the scientific principle of Occam’s razor: the simplest explanation is often the best when describing complex ideas (Sternberg. 2008). Breaking down complex ideas yield simple behaviors that can be scientifically tested. These tests, including neurochemical and neuroimaging techniques identify mental illness through recognizing chemical imbalances and lapses in brain function (Sternberg. 2008).
Positive psychology was designed to help people live a more fulfilling life by using the scientific method to identify sources of happiness and self-worth. Laboratory experiments studied the factors that contribute to happiness, such as: age, intelligence, wealth, social ties, and weather (Snyder & Lopez, 2001). Based on the findings, researchers concluded that happiness is dictated by three types of lifestyles. The pleasant life examines how positive feelings counter the physical effects of stress; for example, physical exercise fights a compromised immune system. When experiencing the good life, personal accomplishments decrease depression. Finally, the meaningful life provides a sense of belonging through involvement in social groups; in addition, people experience happiness when adhering to their moral code (Snyder & Lopez, 2001).
Humanism emerged after World War II, as economic and political hardship drove people to seek freedom. Humanism supported the provision of basic needs, which was attractive in the wake of destruction (Schneider & Krug, 2010). After lying dormant in the Cold War, humanism re-emerged during the Vietnam War. These protests laid the foundation for the fight against oppressive entities that disregarded basic human rights (Schneider & Krug, 2010). However, humanism died out in a zeitgeist that promoted applying experimental psychology to the study of the conscious mind; therefore, cognitive psychology had an opportunity to flourish as a dominant school.
Cognitive psychology developed concurrently with humanistic psychology, but continued to evolve after the decline of humanism (Bugental, 1964). In World War II, a need for fast calculations and innovative means of communication influenced the design of the first computer in 1943. This invention created a multiple ways of measuring perception, memory, and attention. Cognitive psychology was already an important force; however, it was not until Ulric Neisser’s Cognitive Psychology in 1967 that the discipline was labeled as such (Schultz & Schultz, 2012).
In 1998, the spirit of humanism was reborn into a psychology that scientifically studied the positive factors that contribute to a happy life. Positive psychology complimented, rather than replaced, existing schools of thought. Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology, intended to further the work of humanists by bringing the drive for self-actualization into the laboratory (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). The International Conference of Positive Psychology held its first meeting in 2002; since then, positive psychology has influenced journals, television shows, and self-help books (Snyder & Lopez, 2001).
Cause or effect on zeitgeist
The humanist conviction of the self-actualized individual catalyzed a political movement to protect civil liberties. UNESCO, the UN organization that promotes social progress, was founded by some of the most well-known contemporary humanists (Moss, 2001). The historical list of notable humanists includes Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called for peace during the Vietnam War and pioneered the black civil rights movement (Moss, 2001). The number of humanists who alter the artistic and scientific communities keeps growing, because humanists protect the basic needs that lead to self-actualization.
The zeitgeist of America after World War II promoted industry and technology, and the mechanistic philosophy emerged once again. After the invention of the first computer in 1943, researchers reduced cognitive activity into processors that dictated memory, perception, and attention (Sternberg, 2008). The computer became an analogy for the input, output, and processing of the human mind. Modern cognitive psychology blended neuroscience, computer technology, and other natural sciences formed sub-disciplines that study both physiology and information processing.
Because positive psychology may supplement any other school, the focus remains on living a fulfilling life rather than assessing mental illness. In its short existence, positive psychology has been implemented in schools and the workplace. Managers use positive psychology to maintain high spirits during rapid managerial changes. Studies show that using praise is more effective than constructive criticism in improving academic performance (Snyder & Lopez, 2001).
Critics of humanistic psychology believe the methods used by humanists lack scientific validity, as the case studies are difficult to replicate. Research methods in humanistic psychology provide a subjective view of the client that may lead to bias; thus, discrediting the information obtained during the study (Moss, 2001). Since there is no concrete research to support the findings of the clinician, scientific research does not support the claims made by humanists. In addition, the sample sizes of the studies are too small to make assumptions based on results (Moss, 2001). Because of this, humanism has waned in popularity; however, the ebb and flow of zeitgeist may cause a necessity for humanism in the future.
Studies are performed in a laboratory environment, which provides reliable results that can be replicated by others under similar conditions. This is because all the variables are tested in a controlled setting (Sternberg, 2008). Qualitative results, often presented statistically, are easy to objectively interpret. The return of experimental psychology also pairs cognitive function with physiology. Cognitive neuroscience uses imaging technology to test how parts of the brain process any type of input. The scientifically viable cognitive approach has influenced everything from child development to technological advancements for the disabled (Schultz & Schultz, 2012).
The advancement of research methods since the founding of positive psychology in 1998 has given this approach scientific credulity. Brain scans can identify both happiness and depression by correlating nerve activity to the corresponding emotion (Snyder & Lopez, 2001). The evolution of technology has provided machines to identify the sources of emotional responses, researchers still use self-reports to view emotions from the participant’s perspective. Although the results cannot be proven by experimental research, self-reporting provides a holistic view of the participant (Snyder & Lopez, 2001). Overall all, positive psychology succeeds in applying scientific research to explain contributing factors to happiness.
The survival of an approach in the 21st century
When examining the lasting power of a psychological approach, it is important to note if the zeitgeist is changing or will likely change sometime in the near future. The current zeitgeist is one of technological advancement and accurate research. Researchers use imaging and introspection to explain attention, memory, and perception. For example, experiments have proven that people cannot effectively multi-task or the brain will be more susceptible to distractions (Sternberg, 2008). This discovery disproves the myth of effective multi-tasking used in many workplace environments to encourage productivity. The technological advancements in psychology challenged researchers to build machines as smart as or smarter than the average person. In the most rigorous of experimental conditions, participants could still tell the difference between human and computer responses. Since computers are merely a set of instructions, artificial intelligence merely produces an output using a set of rules. It is the programmer that is ultimately responsible for the behavior of the computer (Schultz & Schultz, 2012). In essence, researchers use computers that process information like humans in order to provide alternative answers for a research question. By using experimental research to solve real world problems, cognitive psychology has secured its value in the future of modern psychology.
The third force in modern psychology emphasized the importance of study the conscious rather than the unconscious. Humanistic, cognitive, and positive psychology all seek to measure happiness and positive affect; however, humanism lack scientific credibility due to its inability to produce sound research. Both cognitive and positive psychology uses the scientific method to explain the correlation between cognition and behavior. Since positive psychology could pair with any other approaches, cognitive psychology has survived without contention for almost four decades (Sternberg, 2008). In the 21st century, technology and progress go hand-in-hand; therefore, the creation of artificial intelligence will likely result in new theories regarding cognition.
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