Psychology is the scientific study of the behavior of living organisms and the psychological processes that underlie it. Psychology has been described as “the science of mental life” and “the science of human behavior”.
Psychology is a multifaceted discipline and includes many sub-fields of study such areas as human development, sports, health, clinical, social psychology and industrial-organizational psychology.
The history of Psychology can be traced back to the time of the Ancient Greeks. The word psychology comes from the Greek word psyche which means “soul” or “mind”. Psychology was formally considered a branch of philosophy until late in the 19th century when it began to develop as an independent scientific discipline.
During the 20th century Psychology was increasingly recognized as a science and began to be applied in many different ways. Psychology is now an established discipline with many different sub-fields and applications.
Psychology is one of the oldest academic disciplines, dating back to ancient Greek mythology and continuing for centuries. Many researchers, physiologists, and psychologists are mentioned throughout the debates, theories, and findings that we have come upon today’s psychology.
Psychology is the study of behavior and the mind. Some of the most famous contributions to psychology came from early Greek philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who were interested in understanding human nature. In the late 1800s, Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt is often considered the father of Psychology. Around the same time, another important figure in psychology, William James, was developing his theories at Harvard University in the United States.
In 1879, Mary Whiton Calkins became the first woman to be appointed to a full professorship at Harvard University and also became President of the American Psychological Association (APA). She made important contributions to memory research and was the first woman to complete a doctoral program in Psychology.
Other important early psychological thinkers include Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung, and B.F. Skinner. Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis were revolutionary and have had a lasting impact on our understanding of human behavior. Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is also widely used and studied today.
Psychology has come a long way since its early beginnings. Today, there are many different subfields of psychology with researchers working on a variety of topics. Psychology is an important field that helps us to understand human behavior and can be applied in many different ways.
German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus stated at the beginning of the twentieth century that psychology has a long history rooted in Greek theories, but the scientific field of psychology is younger and rapidly growing.
Psychology actually has a much longer history than what Ebbinghaus claimed. The word “psychology” comes from the Greek root “psyche,” meaning soul or spirit. Psychology wasn’t always considered a science though. For many years it was more like a branch of philosophy. Early psychological theories were developed by great thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. But it wasn’t until the late 19th century that psychology began to develop as its own scientific discipline.
Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) is credited as the father of psychology. He was a German physiologist who established the first psychology lab in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. In this lab, Wundt used introspection, a method of self-observation, to study the basic elements of consciousness. Wundt’s work laid the foundations for future psychological theories and research.
Psychology continued to grow as a science throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1920s, behaviorism became the dominant school of thought in psychology. Behaviorists such as John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B. F. Skinner (1904-1990) focused on observable behavior, rather than mental states, to explain human behavior.
They believed that all behaviors are learned through conditioning: linking desired behaviors with pleasurable outcomes (positive reinforcement) or reducing the occurrence of undesired behaviors by using punishment or removal of reinforcement (negative reinforcement).
In the mid-20th century, cognitive psychology emerged as a reaction to behaviorism. Cognitivists such as Jean Piaget (1896-1980) and Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) argued that internal mental states, such as thoughts and emotions, play a key role in influencing behavior. They believed that humans are active processors of information who constantly interpret and make sense of their experiences.
Psychology has continued to evolve since the mid-20th century. Today, there are many different specialized fields within psychology, each with its own unique focus. But all psychological theories and research share the common goal of understanding and explaining human behavior.
In the United States, college students were becoming aware of what has become known as “the new” psychology in the early 1870s. This was followed by Harvard University philosopher William James. James established his theories on how the mind adapts to its surroundings, including empirical research demonstrations. In 1890, William James published and finished Principles of Psychology, which he had been working on for decades (see Figure 1).
Psychology was still mainly a philosophy at this time and was not yet considered its own science. It wouldn’t be until 1879 that Psychology would be established as its own scientific discipline. This is when German scientist Wilhelm Wundt created the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt is known as the “father of Psychology”.
The first psychology lab in America was set up by G. Stanley Hall at Johns Hopkins University in 1883. Psychology began to rapidly grow after this in America. By 1892 there were already 15 different colleges and universities offering courses in psychology, and by 1899 there were 22. The American Psychological Association (APA) was also formed in 1892 with only 34 members. The APA is now the largest psychological association in the world with over 118,000 members.
Psychology as we know it today began to take shape in the early 1900s. Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, published his book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. This would be followed by many other books and theories regarding psychoanalysis, all of which are still studied and used today. In 1913, John B. Watson, an American psychologist, proposed his theory on behaviorism.
This theory would greatly influence Psychology for years to come. Psychology continued to grow and evolve throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. New theories and ideas are continuously being brought forth even now, making Psychology an ever-changing and exciting field to study.