The History of Psychology

Topics: Psychology, Mind, Behaviorism Pages: 8 (2703 words) Published: December 13, 2007
Introduction: The History of Psychology
Philosophical Background
Psychology has no definite, absolute beginning, but there is speculation that early humans were curious about human nature. Serious study of the human psyche began in ancient times, with ancient philosophers began to record their findings and thoughts about behavior and the nature of the human mind. The name ‘psychology' is from the two Greek roots, psyche and logos, which mean "mind" and "study," respectively. Psychological thought was most influenced by three very well known ancient philosophers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates' maxim was "know thyself," which was an idea that accentuated the importance of personal reflection and self-examination. "He believed the unexamined life is not worth living" (Nevid 4). This idea of self-assessment is one of the most enduring in the history of psychology. Plato, one of Socrates' students, had learned that we should not rely purely on our senses to perceive the world around us, since our perception is often skewed. He believed that we should rely on thought and reason to acquire knowledge. (Nevid 4)

Plato's student Aristotle thought contrarily to his teacher, and believed that knowledge could, in fact, be gained through our senses through careful observation. He believed that the pursuit of information and knowledge should be "based on experience with the world around us" (Nevid 4). Aristotle believed in an association of thoughts, and also conjured the notion that people are principally motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain. (Nevid 4-5)

Eastern Philosophy
Along with the Greek Philosophers, Confucius, a Chinese philosopher and essayist, was simultaneously thinking about human nature and how the human psyche works. Confucius believed that all humans were capacitated to do good, and that evil was a result of a bad environment or lack of education. This idea has been the basis of thought for modern schools of psychology. Although psychology was a great interest to philosophers and theologians for thousands of years, it did not emerge as a scientific study until the late nineteenth century when German physiologist Gustav Theodor Fechner started to study psychological processes and psychophysics, which is abstracted as "the ways in which the intensity and other physical characteristics of stimuli, such as light and sound, give rise to our psychological experience of them" (Nevid 5). Early Approaches

Impact of Darwin's Theories
Charles Darwin was a nineteenth century scientist who believed that all life forms had evolved from earlier life forms by meeting the demands of their natural environments and adapting. He formed the idea of natural selection, which is the process by which members of a species that are best adapted to the environment are the ones most likely to survive. This idea was furthered into the field of psychology by a man named William James. James stated that the most adaptive behaviors in an individual are the ones most likely to strengthen and become habitual, while less adaptive or useful behaviors will most likely disappear. Structuralism

One of the earliest approaches, which was a great factor in linking ancient ideas with modern ones, was an idea known as structuralism. According to this approach, the structure of the mind could be defined by breaking down mental experiences into their elemental parts. Two psychologists who believed in and advocated the idea of structuralism were German scientist Wilhelm Wundt and Englishman Edward Titchener. Wundt used a method called introspection, which was a careful self-evaluation and reporting of one's conscious experience. He experimented with this idea by exposing people to a visual or auditory stimulus and asking them to report on their conscious reactions to the stimulus. The idea behind this experiment and others like it was to develop a model of conscious experience by breaking it down into its component parts or, more...
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