Defining psychology has greatly depended upon what particular psychologists or schools of psychology have said it was. One outmoded school, known as “faculty psychology”, focused on what it conceived of as a separate and autonomous powers, or faculties, of the mind, such as perceiving, willing, remembering, reasoning, attending, and imagining. Psychology, then, was the investigation of these neatly compartmentalized faculties.
In the late 19th century, while the American philosopher William James was defining psychology as the science that studies thoughts, perceptions, and feeling, which he called the “streams of consciousness”, the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt was defining psychology as the study of “immediate experience, or sensation. Beginning in the early 20th century, American psychologists were defining psychology as the study of behavior, denying the accessibility of so-called mental events to science, and even their very existence.
Only in the middle-20th century was the definition of psychology broadened to include cognitive processes, such as learning and memory, and the physiological states and structures that seem to be the physical correlates of these processes (“neuro-psychology”). Obviously, the various ways in which psychology has been defined have determined what particular psychologists and schools of psychology have looked for and “discovered”.
This circularity has now been largely broken not because there still aren’t particular viewpoints that self-fulfill their ‘prophecies” but because so many of them co-exist in a richly eclectic field broad enough to tolerate the diversity. Modern-day psychology is a sprawling intellectual domain that stretches from the borders of medicine and the biological sciences to those of the social sciences, and on into the realm of philosophy. No psychologist can be an expert on all aspects of behavior, just as no physician can be an expert in all areas of medicine (R. Smith, et al. “The Scope of Psychology”).
It is no longer defined according to the theory of this or that school or system but rather in terms of specialized fields, such as experimental or physiological psychology, social psychology, clinical or abnormal psychology, learning, perception, motivation, emotion, personality, comparative psychology, applied psychology, and developmental psychology. Within each field there are divergent viewpoints and philosophies, but together they comprise a sufficiently broad range of theory and methodology so that psychology cannot be said to close off any of the possible approaches to the investigation of human nature and activity. Today, psychology is roughly summed up as a scientific study with a scope which encompasses the study of such matters concerning behavior and mental processes, such as personality, cognition, or interpersonal relationships.
A comprehensive view of the development of psychology must surely begin with conceptions of man advanced by the great classical scholars such as Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle. An adequate account would also be obligated to deal with the contribution of dozens of thoughtful individuals, for example, Aquinas, Bentham, Comte, Hobbes, Kierkegaard, Locke, Nietzsche, and Machiavelli who lived in the intervening centuries and whose ideas are still detected in contemporary formulation.
Psychology then, did not immediately present itself as an autonomous systematic, scientific discipline. It was hardly distinguishable from the unverifiable, purely abstract speculations of philosophy — until the 19th century. Before then what is now referred to as psychology was really part of philosophy. Certain concepts and issues that have important application in psychology – the relative importance of native endowment vs. environmental influences; the various dynamics vs. stabilizing aspects of human personality; the relation of emotion to reason; the nature of motivation; the potential powers vs. the limitations of the will; the meaning and value of self-realization; the relationship between mind and body; the nature of consciousness and perception; the significance of dreams — all were discussed by various philosophers beginning with the said ancient thinkers.
But it was only in the 19th century that speculations and verbal arguments about abstract concepts gave way to hypotheses tested by experimentation and accepted on grounds of evidence only. Psychology as a field in science owed much of its origin from medical profession and to the conditions of medical practice. In fact, the early giants in this area (Freud, Jung, and McDougall) were not only trained in medicine but practiced as psychotherapists. This historical link has remained evident throughout the development of psychology and provides an important distinction between this brand of theory and certain other types of psychological theory.
The necessary groundwork for making psychology scientific was laid by the emphasis of the British empirical philosophers — Locke, Hume, and Berkeley, on individual sensory experience. Sensory experience (“impressions”) produces “ideas”, whose “association” is the basis of “reasoning”. Since sensory experience is the first essential step in the development of human awareness, knowledge of the external world and how the individual “receives” it became the central concern for a new experimental psychology. What had to be determined were the conditions of sensory stimulation (“stimuli”) under which ideas arise, and then what the mechanisms were for the association of those ideas with each other, accounting for learning and memory (C Hall, G Lindzey. “Personality Theory and the History of Psychology”).
III. Evolution of Major Themes and Their Main Contributors
Several major themes evolved into schools of psychology which originated in the first half of the 20th century. Oftentimes, those who begin to look upon the different theories proposed by each school are confused by the diversity of viewpoints about the nature of man’s personality. This diversity, which reflects the complexity of human behavior, led Kluckholm and Murray to observe that every person is in certain respects are the same with all other people, the same with some people, yet like no other (C. Kluckhohn, H. Murray. “Personality Formation: The determinants”). However, each diverse viewpoint helped lay the foundation of what psychology is today. As it emerged, each purported to explain all psychological phenomena in terms of a single comprehensive system:
The most well-known and controversial school of psychology, psychoanalysis, was born when the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud and his associate, Josef Breuer, cured “Ana O”. of a neurosis. By getting the subject to talk about her problems, to vent her feelings and thus experience a catharsis, Freud and Breuer cured her of her paralysis. Freud had learned from posthypnotic suggestion that human motivation was unconscious. Examples include slips of the tongue (“Freudian slips”), “purposive” accidents, and similar “psychopathologies of everyday life”, as Freud termed them. Freud depended heavily on dream interpretation to fathom the unconscious.
Fears and desires repressed in ordinary waking consciousness surfaced in dreams. But even her emotions assumed a disguised, “manifest” form which, like a rebus, had to be deciphered so that the “latent” meaning could be revealed. Thus, dreams themselves were seen as having an “unconscious” substructure. Freud viewed mental illness along a continuum from normal to neurotic to psychotic. But “normality” was only an abstract ideal. No one was free from mental conflict and thus from repression and unconscious motivation. Consequently, no one was truly rational. This pessimistic view of man contradicted the assumptions of more than two thousand years of Western thought.
Freud’s most famous disciple, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, extended the concept of the unconscious to include a second level. In addition to a personal unconscious, the product of one’s history, Jung postulated a collective unconscious, one that was shared by the entire human race. In the collective or social unconscious were certain “archetypes”, or motivational forces. One, for example, is the anima, accounted for a man being attracted to a certain type of woman. Jung probed the unconscious not only through dream interpretation but through verbal association, a device now commonly used in the form of a test comprised of a hundred simple words. The subject had to give a rapid response to each word. The subject had to give a rapid response to each word. A delayed response, inability to respond, or reception of the word indicated a “complex”, an emotionally charged group of ideas in the unconscious.
Another Freudian, Alfred Adler, also developed his own system. Adler rejected both Freud’s and Jung’s emphasis on the unconscious, and traced neurosis to an inferiority complex. Man’s primary motivation was a drive for superiority. Rather than to dreams, Adler looked to early memories as the key to behavior, motivation, and personality. Personality problems are caused form a feeling of social uselessness. Social feeling or interest was the essential ingredient in a wholesome mental life.
Founded in the 1940’s by the German psychologist Victor Frankl, logotherapy emphasized the “will to meaning” as man’s principal motivation. The infusion of meaning into life was therapeutic. The loss of it produced existential neurosis, a boredom characterized by a feeling of meaninglessness. Neurotics had to be made aware that there was meaning in everything, especially in suffering. If personal misfortune could not be changed, the victim’s attitude toward it could be.
C. Humanistic Psychology
The Adlerian accent on social context moved psychoanalysis away from Freud’s emphasis on strictly personal factors, especially those of early childhood, toward cultural and interpersonal explanation of personality. The American psychiatrist Karen Horney insisted that it was culture that was responsible for neurosis. Another American psychiatrist, Harry Stack Sullivan, asserted that not only neurosis but psychosis was social in origin. The German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, disenchanted with Freud’s animal model of the human being, at the mercy of primal instincts and urges, developed a humanistic psychology. Fromm insisted that human beings had special needs not found in animals, which must be fulfilled to achieve mental health.
Humanistic psychology was a natural outgrowth of the cultural, interpersonal emphasis of Adler, Horney, and Sullivan. By the 1960’s its ranks included such influential adherents as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, and Gordon Allport. A major tenet of this school was the importance of self-fulfillment, the need to actualize the human elements of personality. Another emphasis was on the personality as a whole (“holism”) rather than as segmented. Humanistic psychologists rejected reductionism, the translation of human qualities into more “basic” elements. An example was the reduction of love to sexual chemistry or to biological instinct. Carl Rogers, perhaps one of the most influential among them, stressed that behavior is not only a mere reaction to external stimuli but as a response to the individual’s perceptions of those stimuli (C. Rogers. Client Centered Therapy).
D. Gestalt Psychology
The gestalt psychologists had taken a holistic approach many decades before humanistic psychology became a movement. Gestaltist traced their history back to 1912 in Germany, when Max Wertheimer discovered the “phi phenomenon”, the illusion of motion that results when objects are shown in a rapid succession of different positions but aren’t actually moving form one position to another. Examples of the phi phenomenon are the on-off flashing of neon signs or electric light bulbs and the still frames that make up old movies. Such phenomenon demonstrates that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts because there is a quality found in the whole that is not found in the parts.
Movement is found in the total phenomenon, but when the parts are examined the element of movement is not among them. Wertheimer was soon joined by Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka, and gestalt infiltrated every area of psychology. Kurt Goldstein applied it to psychopathology, Fritz Perls to psychotherapy, and Abraham Maslow to personality theory. Kurt Lewin explained a variety of psychological phenomena in terms of gestalt, or “field theory”. Other Gestaltists applied the theory to psychology of learning, perception, and social psychology. Other contributions include the doctrine of “psychophysical isomorphism” (each psychic element has its physical correspondence); “insightful learning” (learning is not gradual but occurs with a sudden situation); “relational theory” of meaning (not absolute or individual stimuli are grasped but relations connecting stimuli); “productive thinking” (creative thinking in contrast to rote memory); and “Pragnanz” (good form is motivating).
E. Functionalism and Behaviorism
From its beginning in the 1880’s, psychology in the United States was mostly functional and behavioral. Whereas German psychology was largely structural, with emphasis on the mental content of experience (sensations, for example), functionalism was concerned less with the structure of the mind than with its operations, not with what the mind was but with what it did and how it behaved. Strict behaviorism went further than functionalism in eliminating all reference to “mind”, even to mental operations. In 1913 the leading exponent of behaviorism, John Watson, claimed that he could take any person at random and using only conditioning make that individual a doctor, lawyer, artist, beggar, or thief, regardless of his talents, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. Subsequent behaviorists, such as C.L. Hull, B.F. Skinner, and Neal Miller, saw no essential difference between how rats and humans learned: both were subject to the all-powerful influence of operant conditioning, the reinforcement of behavior by reward and punishment (J. Watson. “Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It”).
The greatest challenge to behaviorism came from the cognitivists. Although it has made important breakthroughs in the field, it is found lacking as a firm guide towards understanding human behavior (G. Miller. “The Cognitive Revolution: A Historical Perspective”).
By 1930 psychologists in the cognitive tradition of E.C. Tolman had successfully demonstrated that minds existed even in animals. One experiment showed that rats in a maze operate by “cognitive maps”, a perceptual representation of the layout of a maze, rather than by motor conditioning. Similar experiments indicated that Watsonian behaviorism had oversimplified matters and that considerable activity was transpiring within the organism. Neobehaviorists spoke of “intervening variables” to describe these internal phenomena. Hull and others found that animals as well as humans respond more eagerly and perform better because of their incentives, their emotional needs and “drives”.
A major contribution of the cognitivists was the selective preparedness hypothesis. An organism must have the necessary psychological predisposition and mental equipment in order to make appropriate behavioral responses. In other words, there must be “species-specific” characteristics. This principle holds that Watson was wrong in claiming so much for behaviorism because experimenters can try as they may but they will never succeed, for example, in training raccoons to drop coins in a piggy bank because the natural; behavior of these animals is to store rather than to give up what they have collected.
G. Information Processing: Computer Simulation Theory
An important consequence of cognitive psychology was the use of computers to simulate human learning memory, judgments, and even neuroses. Calling their systems “information processing”, Allen Newell, J.C. Shaw, and Herbert A. Simon constructed digital computers to simulate human information processing and problem solving. Of course human reasoning had first to be programmed into the computer. But then the computer was able to work out problems in chess and checkers comparable to the way the human mind operates – by “memory”, “judgment”, and “trial and error”. Having the computer simulate human mental processes aids the psychologist in learning about how the human mind functions.
At the same time the very use of the word “simulate” is a warning that although component produce certain results comparable to what persons achieve through processes of learning, memory, and judgment, there is a crucial distinction to be made. A person is, or can be made, aware – he can feel – that he is applying certain faculties, or capacities, of learning, memory, and judgment. As far as we know, no machine has any awareness of itself as a unitary, experiencing subject. The machine’s automated process of “remembering” is not the same as a person’s experience of remembering, which is precisely why “remembers” and other cognitive denoting words must be put into quotes when applied to machines.
Contemporary psychology however, has now amassed voluminous data that is has created specialties or other field of specialization. Psychologists refer to themselves as social psychologists, psychotherapists, psycholinguists, physiological psychologists, developmental psychologists, or specialists in learning, personality, emotion, perception, motivation, and abnormal psychology. Although these are not absolute distinctions, they are nevertheless serviceable boundaries that may be employed in exploring the many fields of psychology.
IV. Criticisms as a Science
Psychology today is generally accepted as a science; however it has received numerous criticisms and controversies. Such criticisms had been raised – some based on ethical and philosophical issues. Those who had taken such a stand question the acceptability of psychology’s method of subjecting humans to experimentation, which they perceive as dehumanizing. These criticisms are not limited to those who do not practice the field but among psychologists themselves.