The beginnings of psychology

beginnings of psychology

Psychology is the study of the human mind and how it functions. The study is done in a scientific manner with an aim of understanding how it affects the behavior of people in a given context. To quote Duane and Sidney Schultz, “Only by exploring psychology’s origins and studying its development can we see clearly the nature of psychology today.”

The earliest psychological studies were done by ancient Greeks, Indians, Persians and the Chinese. There is evidence of thought relating to psychology in ancient Egypt too. Psychology was first studied as a branch of broad philosophy until as recently as the late 19th century. From the 1870s, psychology developed independently as a discipline of its own in the United States and Germany. Psychology is closely related to other fields of study including neuroscience, anthropology, artificial intelligence, physiology and sociology. Philosophy is related too as well as other humanities components.

The conscious experimental study of psychology began in 1879 in Leipzig when Wilhelm Wundt founded a laboratory that was dedicated to the exclusive study of psychology and psychological research. Wundt referred to himself as a psychologist, the earliest known reference. He also wrote a textbook about psychology called Principles of Psychological psychology.

Wilhelm was with several students, most notably James McKeen Cattell, Emil Kraeplin and G. Stanley Hall. Other early psychologists and important contributors to psychology are Ivan Pavlov, William James and Hermann Ebbinghaus. Pavlov developed the theories and procedures that are associated with classical conditioning. William James is the American father of pragmatism, and Hermann was an early pioneer in the area of study of memory.

In 1883, G.Stanley Hall established the first US experimental laboratory for psychology at the John Hopkins University.

In 1896, an early school of psychology called functionalism arose. Instead of focusing on the internal contents of the mind, it focused on its actions and functions. The most prominent advocates were the Americans; John Dewey and William James. They wrote an article, The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology. The year also saw the rise of Psychoanalysis. It was founded by Sigmund Freud who used a psychoanalytic approach to assert that powerful unconscious conflicts and drives are what motivate people. Based on this assertion, Sigmund developed an influential therapy using dream analysis and free association. Other developments in psychology in 1896 were the rise of Structuralism and the setting up the first psychological clinic in Pennsylvania by Lighter Witmer.

The main developments in chronological order were;

  • 1901. Edward Bradford publishes the Manual of Experimental Psychology. He also introduced Structuralism to the United States. It however faded after the death of Edward.
  • 1929. Invention of the Electroencephalogram by Hans Berger who was a psychiatrist. It is an important tool to record brain activity using electrodes that are attached to the head.
  • 1936. Performance of the first lobotomy. This happened in the United States at the George Washington University. By the year 1951, more than 17,000 lobotomy operations had been performed. Although the procedure was developed to help in relieving severe and debilitating psychosis, it remained quite controversial.
  • 1946. The passing of the National Mental Act that was signed into law by US President Harry Truman. Generous funding was provided for Psychiatric research and education through the Act. It also led to the eventual creation of the National Institute of Mental Health in 1949.
  • 1951. There was the development of the first drug that could be used to treat depression. It was later approved for use after eight years.

Other developments followed these, each expanding and adding to the human knowledge of psychological issues. Various scientists and researchers contributed to these developments including legislation that was put in place and the development of drugs to treat psychological problems. The most recent was the sequencing of the human genome in the year 2000.

Through the study of the development of psychology from its inception stages to psychology as we know it today, we are able to get a mental and moral compass on where psychology is headed and how it can be applied to improve the human mind by understanding how it works.

The author is a professional psychologist. She is an accomplished writer for in mental health and has published numerous articles in medical journals.