History and Systems of Psychology


Psychology is a field of study that traces its roots to philosophy and biology before it was made a science when it was structured to define the human mind, as well as the actions of individuals. This resulted to the emergency of different views and perspectives, as scholars tried to offer a comprehensive perspective and theory that would explain the behaviour of human beings and the functionality of the brain.

The first perspective in psychology was structuralism, which was supported by a number of scholars, including Wilhelm Wundt, who is termed as the founding father of psychology. Other theories emerged to challenge, supplement, support, or offer an alternative view to structuralism, as had been discussed by its founders (Vidal, 2011). Ancient psychologists identified themselves with a single school of thought, unlike the contemporary ones who tend to subscribe to the principles of a number of theories.

It can perhaps be concluded in this section that psychologists have an eclectic viewpoint on field of study meaning that they tend to incorporate the views of many other scholars in explaining human behaviour and the mind. This paper evaluates the historical context of the field by looking at the major developments of ideas, as well as the major differences between chronological precision and narrative truth.

Development of Psychology

As mentioned in the introduction section, modern psychologists do not base their analysis on a single theory or perspective, but instead they employ the major principles of various theories and viewpoints. Structuralism was the first school of thought to emerge and it focused mainly on separating the mental process into various components for easier understanding. Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener were some of the first scholars to propose that the understanding of human behaviour and the functioning of the brain demand the breaking down of the mental processes into a number of units.

Based on this, the use of introspection in the analysis of the internal human processes was highly encouraged since it could facilitate the understanding of the human brain. Before structuralism gained dominance, a different theory referred to as functionalism was developed, with thinkers such as William James supporting it (Hark, 2004). The functionalists were not so different from structural theorists, as their major concern was analyzing the role of mental processes in influencing the behaviour of individuals.

Philosophers, such as John Dewey and Harvey Carr, supported functionalism in the late 19th century, making it one of the powerful schools of thought in the field psychology. Such scholars were of the view that the mental processes have a great role to play, which is controlling the behaviour of an individual. Based on this, there would be no need of studying a subject that does not look at the functions of the mental process. This gave functionalists an advantage over structural scholars, who were simply concerned with breaking down the mental processes into a number of elements.

In the 1950s, a new school of thought emerged to challenge both structuralism and functionalism, with scholars, such as John Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and Skinner supporting it. The new perspective suggested that human behaviour could only be understood through the study of the social environment, but not the internal processes. In other words, scholars holding this view believe that behaviour is understood through observation, which takes some time. With time, two theories including classical conditioning and operant conditioning emerged because of the extensive research that behavioural scholars conducted. The two theories influenced the psychology of education and learning.

The scholars supporting the view noted that learning is a social process that takes place when the environment interacts with the stimuli. Therefore, the understanding of the environment is very important, as it is directly to the human behaviour. Internal processes, such as feelings, emotions, and thoughts, have nothing to do with human behaviour hence studying them is a waste of time. Classical conditioning is an extensive process that entails placing a neutral sign before an expected impulse. Pavlov conducted a study using dogs whereby he used the sound as a natural sign while salivating was a reaction to food (Schwartz, & Begley, 2002).

It was noted in the study that the dog could react to the sound by salivating knowing that food was ready. In the same way, an individual tends to work hard to change his or her behaviour if an external stimulus is employed. At the place of work for instance, employees tend to work hard to achieve organizational goals and objectives knowing that they can either be promoted or fired. Promotion and firing are the examples of external stimuli that influence individuals to do their best to achieve the desired goal. With time, behaviourism overruled the previous theories because it offered a practical solution to the various problems that individuals faced as far as their behaviour was concerned.

Shortly after the development of behaviourism, psychoanalysis emerged as a school of thought to compete with other existing views. Sigmund Freud first presented the theory. It placed much emphasis on the unconscious mind. Based on this, Freud suggested that human behaviour could only be analyzed through the understanding of the unconscious mind, which included three major components. These elements of the unconscious mind are the id, the ego, and the superego.

The scholar noted that the id simply consist of the primal urges meaning that it cannot postpone gratification while the ego makes up the personality implying that its major role is cope with the reality. A different theory emerged just after the development of psychoanalysis theory, which was referred to as the humanistic psychology (Rieber, & Robinson, 2001). The new assumption focused particularly on the free will and individual development meaning that its emphasis was on self-realization. The previous premises aimed at elucidating some of the irregular human actions, but humanistic hypothesis presented a solution to individuals with an aim of helping them achieve their dreams.

Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers were the two major theorists who supported the theory. In the late 19th century, gestalt premise surfaced in Austria and Germany with the main aim of redefining the ideas of structuralism. Unlike structural theory, scholars in support of gestalt perspective advised that the understanding of mental processes does not need breaking them down to smaller units, as the whole experience ought to be examined. Based on the analysis of such scholars, the sum total is always greater than the units.

Cognitive psychology is a new subfield that engages in defining human actions through learning process, perception, and remembrance. The theory developed root in the late 1950s when it was noted that behaviourism could not be relied in understanding the functionality of the brain and reasons for human behaviour. Behaviourist approach failed to analyze the effects of internal processes on the behaviour of individuals and instead focused strictly on the environment. With the emergence of cognitive psychology, a number of studies were launched to establish the real reasons that influence the actions of individuals. This stage is commonly referred to as the cognitive revolution, as scholars were engaged in extensive research on issues touching on the memory, perception, verbal communication, and information dispensation.

Even though psychology has an extended pre-scientific history, the field is can be said to trace its origin to the 1870s scholarly findings and thoughts, particularly when laboratory meant to treat patients suffering from psychological problems was set up (Jarzombek, 2000). The period is always termed as disciplinization and Wundt is always attributed to the major developments that took place at around this time. The following table summarizes the developments of the discipline over the last two centuries.

Episodes and Epochs of Psychological discourse

Pre-scientific period of psychological thinking 6th century B.C. -1870s
age of disciplinization 1870s-1921
Schools and Systems era 1922-1940
Middle of the Road “universal” Psychology (operationism) 1941- early-1972s
Period of Fractionation and catastrophe (diverse psychology) Late 1970s- early-1990s
Post-positivist age of modernization, assimilation, and reformulation 1991 onward

From the table, it is true that psychology has gone through a long process to be what it is today. It is clear that the current stage is post-positivism, which is characterized by reconstruction of the subject matter, unification of facts, and reformulation of new theories and perspectives. This means that the main aim of any researcher in the field of psychology is to employ several theories in explaining the functionality of the mind and the reasons for human behaviour. In other words, scholars are currently concerned with shedding light on some of the most controversial actions through research, but not competing on which theory is the best (Kroker, 2003).

It is known that social science, such as psychology, is value-laden activity meaning that human principles, feelings, professional prejudice, and political interests influence it Researchers engage in scientific research because they value their practical and professional activities hence research can never be value free. In the current era, which is popularly referred to as the post-positivist age, objectivity is no longer classified as value neutral, but instead it should be a responsible affirmation. In other words, objectivity means the degree of association between the methodical statements and the subject under study (Mandler, 2007).

Therefore, modern psychologists are encouraged to adopt the standard view in trying to explain human behaviour and the mind, instead of applying a narrow theory that might end up not offering an adequate explanation.

Difference between Historical Truth and Narrative truth

There are several differences between a narrative truth and the historical truth. For historical truth, the researcher has the opportunity to support the claim by checking historical facts, the names of the persons concerned, the exact date of the incident, and the real place where the incident could have take place. People forget these things easily and they might give inaccurate details in case they are urged to narrate (Halverson, & Goodall, 2011).

Moreover, people can easily get confused and end up giving wrong answers when asked to give a story owing to the fact that, episodes of various incidents could have piled up for years. For example, it could be challenging for an individual over forty years to locate exactly his or her first childhood house. In this case, the person might end up giving inaccurate details leading to distortion in the process of data collection. When an individual gives a narrate, he or she believes it is accurate, but there are no means of verifying such claims meaning that the information given could as well be inaccurate.

As one researcher indicated, human memory is malleable meaning that they decay or they can easily merge with other memories. If an individual goes through a horrifying incident in his or her life, the memory will tend to associate any event with the bazaar incident, which interferes with the accuracy of data. An event is never stored in the human brain, but instead it is constructed and experienced in a subjective way and it is upon the individual to remember the occurrence of the incident (Washington, 2009). Based in this, the information given can be inaccurate, as people vary in terms of interpreting an event.

The brain tends to summon up neutral events that could have happened on different instances. The rate at which an individual recollects the happenings of incident is influenced by interest, beliefs, and feelings. A certain event could be having a cultural importance hence an individual will remember every piece of information. The case is different if n individual does not have any interest, as the information recollected would be scarce and would not serve any purpose. The use of narratives in data collection is insufficient, as the authenticity of the data obtained is questionable. Historical data is accurate, as they are written in books and other materials. It is the role of the researcher to analyze the materials carefully.


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