Foundations of Psychology: Schools of Thoughts

There is no other field that has attracted attention than psychology. Psychology seems to explain almost every aspect of human behaviors. Psychology offers various fascinating explanations for events and experiences in life. In addition, psychologists give explanations to some behaviors that seem obvious such as smiling. The validity of these explanations makes psychology one of the most powerful areas of study. Application of psychology health, criminology, management and other areas has drawn attention to psychology. Although psychology has a shorter history in comparison with the other fields of study, nonetheless, it has developed quite fast to become a major area of study.

Psychology is a commonly used term and for this reason, its actual meaning may be lost. Psychology can be viewed as an academic area or an applied practice. The scientific study of mental processes as well s behaviors borrows heavily from the field of psychology. Psychology is often used to provide explanations to various mysteries in life. In history, psychology has been used to offer explanations to human behaviors especially when the behaviors were not in agreement with other common behaviors. Previously, psychology was viewed as a reserve for academicians. Today, psychology is viewed more as an applied science (Horhersall, 2003, p. 209). This is because of the wide application that the discipline has found in various areas such as management and health. Psychology has been widely used not only to explain the causes of mental diseases but also to offer helpful therapies. Unlike neurologists who use the physiological approach to explain mental processes, psychologists try to explain the processes in context of real life.

Psychology is usually viewed as a development from physiology and philosophy. Before the 1980s, little was known about this discipline. Psychology has been an important study hidden in various fields of study. It borrows much of its foundation in the field of philosophy. Over the years, philosophy has raised various questions concerning human behavior and body and mind (Grunbaum, 1998, p. 547). Although philosophy could try to explain some of the issues, nonetheless, several issues call for experimental explanations. Some of the questions raised in philosophy call for deeper explanations. For example, the concept of duality raised by Descartes drew attention to the study of the human mind (Train, 2006, p. 67). For a long time it has been difficult to differentiate psychology and philosophy. Physiology also contributed highly to development of psychology. Physiological study of human brain drew attention to other aspects of the mind helping to development of psychology. Wilhelm Wundt is quoted as the person that led in the separation of psychology from other fields.

The development of psychology has led to various schools of thought. Different schools of thought developed as various individuals tried to explain mental processes and human behavior from different perspectives. Notable among these include behaviorism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, functionalism and humanism (Train, 2006, p. 34). Structuralism is named the first school of thought in psychology. This school of thought focuses on separating the various components in a mental process. An individual belonging to this school of thought would try to explain human behavior by studying discreet components that make up the behavior. Psychologists belonging to this school of thought include Edward Titchener and Wilhelm Wundt (Train, 2006, p. 51). The second school of thought to develop was functionalism. This school of thought developed as a reaction to structuralism. Individuals in this school of thought were interested in how human behavior help in day-to-day lives. This school of thought emphasized consciousness and used such methods as observation. William James was the single individual that contributed to development of this school of thought. Functionalism also gained much from the works of Charles Darwin. This school of thought has high contribution to education where individual characteristics of a learner in respected.

Behaviorism and psychoanalysis are the most popular schools of thought. Behaviorism became popular in the mid-twentieth century. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian physiologist, was the main contributor to this school of thought. The works of John Watson and B. Skinner also contributed highly to behaviorism. Behaviorist psychologists insisted on the influence of the environment on human behaviors (Horhersall, 2003, p. 217). These psychologists assert that all human behaviors can be explained by environmental elements. This school of thought was a great departure from the previous schools by rejecting the role of conscious mind (Train, 2006, p. 97). Psychoanalysis school of thought was a development of the work of Sigmund Freud. Freud was very much interested in the role of unconscious mind in human behavior. Psychoanalysis school of thought focuses on the influence of the subconscious mind rather than observable environmental influence (Grunbaum, 1998, p. 537). Humanism on the other hand developed as a reaction to psychoanalysis and Behaviorism. Unlike the other schools of the thought, humanism focuses on personal growth, individual free will and self-actualization.

Psychology also has a biological foundation. Studies in physiology and biology have contributed highly to development of psychology (Horhersall, 2003, p. 79). Patients having suffered such head trauma were studies to establish the relationship between brain and physical recovery. In such studies, it was established that other aspects such as emotions influence the patients. The correlation between biological systems and behavior has led to further investigations that have shown more relationships between the two. Psychology is a developing field and much is expected in the future.


Grunbaum, A. (1998). The foundations of psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 78(2): 521- 528.

Horhersall, D. (2003). History of Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Train, B. (2006). Introduction to psychology. New York: Pearson Publishers.