What is Psychology and How Did it Develop?
What is Psychology?
Psychology is the scientific study of behaviors and mental processes. Behaviors are those actions and movements that can be directly observed; while mental processes are those private experiences that cannot be directly observed, such as thoughts, feelings and motivations. However, both behaviors and mental processes can be measured. As a science, Psychology follows systematic methods of observing, describing, predicting and explaining its subject matter. It is rigorous and does not take evidence at face value. It strives to be precise.
Contribution of Philosophy and the Natural Sciences
Interest in Psychology can be traced way back in the ancient times. Mythical and legendary literature about how people think and act abounds. Common themes include transformation, possession of supernatural powers and conflicts between what is good and what is bad. Gradually, psychological speculations evolved from the supernatural to the rational. Behaviors and mental processes began to be examined under the lenses of Philosophy and the Natural Sciences. In India, the Buddha surmised that thoughts are the products of what we sense and perceive from the environment. In China, Confucius preached that thoughts come from the inside and not from the external world. In the West, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle debated about the nature of the mind. Modern philosopher Rene Descartes, on the other hand, claimed that the body and the mind are separate and distinct from each other.Meanwhile, in the field of the Natural Sciences, renowned British naturalist Charles Darwin published his monumental work, "On the Origin of Species." In it, the ancient themes of transformation and metamorphosis were discussed in the context of natural selection. It spearheaded the development of the evolutionary perspective in Psychology. Additionally, 19th-century German physiologist Johannes Muller proposed that the brain coordinates the body's response to various sensory stimuli found in the environment.
Early Scientific Approaches to Psychology
Rational investigation from Philosophy and the Natural Sciences paved the way for concrete scientific approach towards the study of Psychology. Wilhelm Wundt, considered as the father of modern psychology, was the first who attempted to measure mental processes. In December 1879, at the University of Leipzig, Wundt conducted an experiment measuring the time lag between the instant an auditory stimulus is presented, and the moment the research participant presses the telegraph key to confirm "hearing." At the core of this experiment is the idea that mental processes can be quantified by measuring the time it took for the mind to translate information presented to the body. From this experiment, Wilhelm Wundt and his students proceeded to study the basic elements of mental processes. He was able to enumerate, for example, the different dimensions of feelings - pleasure/displeasure, tension/relaxation and excitement/depression. One of his students, E. B. Titchener, labeled his approach "Structuralism," in reference to the introspective nature of his method of uncovering the fundamental structures and elements of the psyche.
On the other hand, the American psychologist William James refuted Wundt's structural concepts by stating that mental processes are constantly changing in response to the constant flow of information from the environment. He calls this the stream of consciousness. He reasoned that attempts of identify elemental structures of the mind is futile to describing the true nature of the psyche. For him, the psyche cannot be broken down into rigid parts; it can only be described in terms of how it adapts to the environment. His approach is therefore known as "Functionalism."
The debate between Structuralism and Functionalism was never resolved. Instead, succeeding psychologists began to discover other factors that significantly influence human behavior and mental processes. With the surge of new discoveries and the rise of technology, more variables affecting behavior and mental processes were uncovered, shaping the field of Psychology as we know it today.
Introduction to Psychology
- What Is Psychology and How Did It Develop?
- How Do Contemporary Psychologists Approach the Study of Behavior and Mental Processes?
- What Are the Positive Movements in Psychology?
- What Types of Careers are Available to Psychology Majors?
- What Study Habits and Skills are Useful for Majoring in Psychology?