Foundations of Psychology

Foundations of Psychology

January 13, 2014

The thought process, in conjunction with feelings and emotions, are the makeup of human mental processes.  The investigation of these mental processes in conjunction with behavior and culture is called Psychology (Kowalski, 2011).  According to Kowalski and Westen in their textbook Psychology 6th edition, “Understanding a person requires attention to the individual’s biology, psychological experience, and cultural context.” (Kowalski, 2011, p.3)  Originally, the behavior of humans was studied by Philosophers, however, in the 1900’s scientists developed theories and began to study the mind and behavior scientifically, thus, the beginning of psychology took place in 1879 with Wilhelm Wundt, the “Father of Psychology,” establishing the first psychological laboratory (Kowalski, 2011).  The major schools of thought, Structuralism, Functionalism and Gestalt theories began the “new” scientific study.  These schools of thought soon developed into the four perspectives referred to as the primary biological foundations of psychology linked to behavior (Kowalski, 2011).  This paper will define the ideas of early psychology and many approaches that have evolved.

Psychology began with several major schools of thought.  In 1879, with the establishment of a psychological laboratory, Wundt defined the first major thought of psychology as structuralism (Kowalski, 2011).  This idea was to break down consciousness into smaller parts and then researching those smaller parts through introspection, meaning participants would tell researchers every thought, idea or pattern that came to mind when presented with a stimulus giving him the conclusion “the basic elements of consciousness are sensations and feelings” (Kowalski, 2011).  Wundt had a student, Edward Titchener, who expanded on Wundt’s idea focusing on the capabilities of the mind rather than the structure and contents thus coming to the second major school of thought known as functionalism (functionalism, 2014).  William James was another founder of functionalism desired to explain all the contents of the mind and how they work in order to assist individuals in personal adaption (Kowalski, 2011).  The theories of these three psychologists eventually all linked together and developed the study of behavior (Britannica, 20014).

A third major school of thought for psychology is the Gestalt theory founded by Max Wertheimer in 1912 (Gestalt, 2014).  This theory studied perception emphasizing “the whole of anything is greater than its parts” (Gestalt, 2014).  Through the use of phenomena, the goal was to describe psychological experiences giving it a humanistic attribute (Gestalt, 2014).  It formulated in order to find a way to explain the phenomenon of illusion, but evolved into other areas such as perception, social psychology and ethical problems (Gestalt, 2014).  These three theories eventually evolved into several different perspectives of psychology.  The major perspectives include the psychodynamic, behaviorist, cognitive and evolutionary perspectives.

The curiosity of Wundt, Titchener, James, and Wertheimer broke new waves of science bringing to life the study of the mind, its contents and how it functions giving theories of incite on human behavior.  The theories developed by these psychologists, later led psychologists to further break down these theories into perspectives that dive deeper into the study of human behavior.   In the late nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis which is a form of treatment for psychological disorders (Kowalski, 2011).  This led to his development of the psychodynamic perspective.   This perspectives theory is that people are not aware of all the psychological events that occur leading to their feelings, thoughts, and desires (Kowalski, 2014). The theory originated from patients who underwent a tragedy and developed severe side effects like extreme fright from the incident.  He came to the conclusion that patients’ bodies were not causing the behavior nor were their minds it had to evolve from the subconscious level (Kowalski, 2014).  The issues found with this theory as that Freud did not produce solid scientific evidence in support of his thoughts since he studied phenomenon’s that cannot be proven (Kowaski 2014).

The behaviorist perspective began with John Watson.  He considered mental events were unscientific, but the perspective became about when B. F. Skinner stated, “There is no place in a scientific analysis of behavior for a mind or self” (Kowalski, 2014, p. 15).  Behaviorists focuses on the relationship between events and behavior trying to prove that behavior is a learned process (Kowalski, 2014).   Through research, Skinner was able to prove that negative consequences for undesired behavior can deter negative behavior.  This perspective also proved that certain stimuli can cause a permanent behavior in humans.

The cognitive perspective studies the ways in which people “perceive, process, and retrieve information (Kowalski, 2015, p.  17)”.  Studies strive to learn how memory works, how people solve problems and how they make decisions.  Within this perspective came the popular words, ‘The mind is like a computer.”  This means the takes in information from an outside source, decodes it in terms to be understood stores it until needed later, and then when needed the information is triggered and sent back out.  This perspective came about due to the experiments conducted by Wundt, but the most notable psychologist is Jean Piaget who made great lengths with this perspective in her studies on child development (Kowalski, 2014).

The evolutionary perspective “was built on Darwin’s principle of natural selection” (Kowalski, 2014, p. 20) and argues that human behavior is based on the behavior of their ancestors.  It argues that in order to gain an understanding of human mental processes and behavior, we must first understand the ancestors.  As of late, this perspective has been used in studies trying to prove behavior is a genetic adaptation received from parents and ancestors. (Kowalski, 2014).

The study of the mind has come a long way over time.  With roots beginning in philosophy, a curious mind decided it wanted to know the science behind how the mind works.  Beginning as a science of strictly theory, more minds came along and had their own curiosities and more probing began.  From philosophy to theories, to perspectives and scientifically proven facts psychology continues to evolve.  Each of the theories discussed is used to understand the mind which in turn developed into perspectives that are used to explain human behavior.


EBOOK COLLECTION: Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2011). Psychology (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

functionalism. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/222123/functionalism

Gestalt psychology. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/232098/Gestalt-psychology


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