Psychology Class Notes > History of Psychology

History of Psychology & Overview of the Field - So you are taking your first Psychology are about to enter into a new and interesting world. You will be exposed to information that can alter the way you view yourself, others, and the world around you. It is a world in which you learn about topics such as how people can behave violently towards others, why and how people fall in love, how to people with devastating illnesses can be helped, why people conform, how people can fall into cults like Heaven's Gate, how memory works and is influenced by others, and much, much, more. So, Let's jump right in.

I. What is psychology?

A. There is so much diversity in the topics studied, theoretical perspectives, and disciplines involved, that answering this question is difficult. This may seem like I am just being evasive, but that is not so. Take these non-scientific examples:

1. Try to define basketball. What is basketball?
Is it: a game, a sport, a hobby, an art form? Is it a game of skill, technique, luck? Is it a sport in which the object is to score as many points as possible, prevent others from scoring as many points as possible, defeat another team? And so on...

As you can see, there are many perspectives. Which is correct? All show different ideas and perspectives of the same concept.Try another, similar one:

2. What do basketball players do (yes, I know that they "play basketball")?

B. Some Aspects/Themes of Psychology

Psychology is:

1) scientific/empirical
Psychology demands that we ask questions in a precise manner and find answers through SYSTEMATIC OBSERVATION (not simply watching people and events in some haphazard, undisciplined, manner)

As a science, psychology focuses on specific issues and seeks CAUSE & EFFECT. This is the "holy grail" (cause and effect are going to become vital components to your Psychological education, so get comfortable with them now).

2) practical -What do Psychologists Do?
There are MANY different types of psychologists, and they are much more than mad scientists locked in a laboratory running rats in a maze, or old men with beards and pipes listening to clients' problems. For example, Psychologists are involved in such daily events as why people feel depressed, and how they cope with those feelings; what factors influence people to fall in love; why people behave differently in a group than they do when they are alone, and much, much, more (did I mention that they study much more than just these few things?) Here are some more examples that you may be familiar with:

a. O.J. Simpson Trial - prosecution attempted to incorporate previous records of physical abuse as evidence - show a pattern that if he can beat his wife, he can kill his wife. Is that So??? Forensic Psychology addresses these types of issues.

b. McVeigh - Elizabeth Loftus was asked to testify at the Oklahoma City bombing trial about eye-witness testimony and the problems associated with it. There is a tremendous body of literature about eye-witness testimony be trusted? Do we accurately remember and recall what we see? Are our memories truth or fiction? Cognitive Psychology addresses these types of issues.

3) theoretical - A wise man once said, There is nothing so practical as a good theory. Psychologists collect data in an effort to understand the world around them. Once they have some information (data) they attempt to link the pieces together into a meaningful whole (theory - this too is a fundamental component of Psychology and will be covered much more throughout the semester).

4) continually evolving - psychology is very much done by people, for people. As a result, the discipline of psychology exists and changes according to society. As societies vary and evolve, so too do our perspectives on behavior and thinking, and thus, Psychology.

C. Definition of Psychology:

Psychology is the study of behavior and cognition.

Thus there are two major aspects of psychology:

1) Behavior - any observable activity.

EXAMPLE - During a lecture, an instructor speaks to the class --- You (and all the other excellent students) pay attention. How does the instructor know that you are paying attention during a lecture? The instructor OBSERVES YOUR BEHAVIOR - your eyes are open and directed toward the instructor, you look alert, sitting upright, not sleeping, etc. These observable behaviors are indications that you are paying attention to the instructor.

Here are a couple of questions for you to think about (the answers will come later as you become versed in Psychology): Is your behavior predictable? Why do students come into a classroom, sit down, and face the front of the room? What is it that causes behavior - personality (they sit and are quiet because they are good people) or environmental forces (they sit and are quiet because it is a class room and that is how you behave in a classroom)?

2) Cognition - any mental process.
EXAMPLE - As an instructor speaks his/her mind is doing many things very quickly...what should be said next, how should it be said, what order to say it in, etc. As you listen to the instructor, the information is carried to your brain which then decides to process that information, store it, label it, OR that it is unimportant and gets rid of it. All of these are cognitive processes.

Can you name some other types of cognitive processes?

Here are a few - problem solving, learning, forgetting, etc.

  II. History  of Psychology

The literal definition of Psychology is - the study of the soul or mind.

Although it seems as though psychology has been around (and should have been around) for a long time, psychology as a science really began just over 100 years ago.

Why did it take until so recently for psychology to become a science?

Until recently people did not believe that the mind could be studied objectively.

The technology was not there. We had no way to take the next step from speculation to science.

A. Psychology as a science grew out of two other existing sciences:

1) philosophy - philosophers were grappling with psychological questions hundreds of years ago, such as:

how do sensations become mental thoughts? Example - how does the feel of a hand stroking your face become a thought? And then if I ask you to imagine that feeling, can you do so?

Is the world that we perceive truly reality? Example - does color exist?

Do we actually chose our actions or are they predetermined?

To address these issues, philosophers used RATIONALISM - true knowledge comes from proper reasoning and logic to find truth. Is this a sound (or VALID) path to scientific truth?

2) physiology - while philosophy is based on rationalism, physiologists based their science on observation. They used the SCIENTIFIC METHOD (don't worry, this will be cover in detail soon), which came from EMPIRICISM.

Early physiologists studied such questions as nerve signals and receptors in the eyes. It should be easy to see how this discipline led to the field of psychology. Once Psychology became a science, several schools of thought emerged, each with its own perspectives and important people.
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B. Schools of Thought

1) Structuralism

Wilhelm Wundt - set up the first psychological laboratory in 1879. He was studying an area that became known as Structuralism.

school of thought that sought to identify the components (structure) of the mind.

They believed that the way to learn about the brain and its functions was to break the mind down into it's most basic elements. Their Basic Premise was:

the whole is = to the sum of the parts

The field was popularized by Edward Titchener (student of Wundt) who was interested in the conscious mind and used a technique called INTROSPECTION.

Conscious - feelings, thoughts and sensations that you are aware of at that moment. These things make up the conscious.

Introspection - To look within and examine your own thoughts or feelings.

BUT, introspection relies on subjective or self-report data which is a week methodological form of data collection. Example. - If you become angry and then begin to examine your anger through introspection you alter your current state (most likely stopping to examine your current state will reduce your anger and hostility) and thus the experience of anger.

2) Functionalism - Moved away from focusing on the structure of the mind to a concern with how the conscious is related to behavior... How does the mind affect what people do?

One of the major proponent of Functionalism was Thorndike (created the ever-popular puzzle box).

He studied the primary issue of functionalism...WHAT FUNCTION DOES A BEHAVIOR HAVE

The puzzle box showed that the function of the animal's behavior was to get out of the box.

However, some Functionalists still used introspection and/or examined "unobservable" concepts.

WILLIAM JAMES - in his pursuit of the meaning of life, James was active in art, medicine, physiology, psychology, parapsychology, philosophy and religion.

He viewed the mind as a stream which can not be meaningfully broken down into distinct components.

...It is nothing jointed; it flows. A river or stream are metaphors by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let us call it the stream of thought, of consciousness, or of subjective life.

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3) Behaviorism

Founded by John B. Watson, this school of thought that rejected the study of mental processes in favor of the study of overt behavior and external factors - OBSERVABLE EVENTS.

Another behaviorist, Ivan Pavlov, threatened to fire anyone in his laboratory who dared to use mental terminology.

Along with one of the mostly active leaders in the field, B. F. Skinner, the Behaviorists concluded that in order to understand and study psychology, we must study what we can see and record. Although Watson did not deny the existence of the human mind and mental experiences, he rejected the notion that the mental experience of, for example, thirst, causes drinking. Instead, he indicated that psychology should examine the bodily explanation of the cause of drinking (such as dehydration of muscle tissue) or the environmental explanation (such as the sight of a frosty beer when you have been working in the hot sun for many hours - not that many of you college student is familiar with beer) over the mental explanations (such as the feeling of needing a drink).

Skinner, however, was an extremist: ...I am a radical Behaviorist simply in the sense that I find no place in the formulation for anything which is mental...

4) Gestalt

"form or shape"- focused on perception & problem solving.

The school of thought (founded by Max Wertheimer) that claimed we perceive and think about wholes rather than simply about combinations of separate elements.

In other words...the whole is NOT = to the sum of the parts

Example: look at geese flying south for the winter in a "V" formation. If you look at individual geese, you do not see the "V" shape, only a couple of birds flying - but, if you look at the entire flock, you see the form and structure.

5) Psychoanalysis

school of thought that focused on the importance of the UNCONSCIOUS mind (not consciousness). In other words, psychoanalytic perspective dictates that behavior is determined by your past experiences.

SIGMUND FREUD founded this field and has become synonymous with psychology. Freud's psychoanalytic perspective began in his attempts to cure patients of physical symptoms (such as leg paralysis) that had not apparent cause. He was introduced to hypnosis - he tried this on one of his patients who, after undergoing hypnosis, was cured of all physical ailments.

He later concluded that such disorders were the result of unconscious psychological conflicts about sex cause by "cultural prohibitions against sexual enjoyment." These conflicts were then converted into physical symptoms that provided the patient with an excuse not to engage in the "taboo" behaviors.

NOTE: please read you text carefully and pay special attention to those aspects not covered in your lecture or these notes. For example, the themes related to psychology's subject matter and the different perspectives and disciplines within psychology.

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