From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Psychology (from Greek: ψυχή, psukhē, "spirit, soul"; and λόγος, logos, "knowledge") is an academic discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. Psychologists study such phenomena as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including problems of individuals' daily lives and the treatment of mental health problems.
Psychology differs from the other social sciences (e.g., anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology) due to its focus on experimentation at the scale of the individual, as opposed to groups or institutions.
The term psychology in the modern behavorial sense was coined in the 1890s.
The word psychology literally means, "study of the soul" (ψυχή, psukhē, meaning "breath", "spirit", or "soul"; and -λογος -logos, translated as "study of" or "research" The Latin word psychologia was first used by the Croatian humanist Marko Marulić in his book, Psichiologia de ratione animae humanae in the late 15th century or early 16th century. The earliest known reference to the word psychology in English was by Steven Blankaart in 1694 in The Physical Dictionary which refers to "Anatomy, which treats of the Body, and Psychology, which treats of the Soul."
The study of psychology in a philosophical context dates back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China, India, and Persia. Historians point to the writings of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Thales, Plato, and Aristotle (especially in his De Anima treatise), as the first significant body of work in the West to be rich in psychological thought. As early as the 4th century BC, Greek physician Hippocrates theorized that mental disorders were of a physical, rather than divine, nature.
German physician Wilhelm Wundt is credited with introducing psychological discovery into a laboratory setting. Known as the "father of experimental psychology", he founded the first psychological laboratory, at Leipzig University, in 1879. Wundt focused on breaking down mental processes into the most basic components, motivated in part by an analogy to recent advances in chemistry, and its successful investigation of the elements and structure of material. Although Wundt, himself, was not a structuralist, his student Edward Titchener, a major figure in early American psychology, was a structuralist thinker opposed to functionalist approaches.
Functionalism formed as a reaction to the theories of the structuralist school of thought and was heavily influenced by the work of the American philosopher, scientist, and psychologist William James. James felt that psychology should have practical value, and that psychologists should find out how the mind can function to a person's benefit. In his book, Principles of Psychology, published in 1890, he laid the foundations for many of the questions that psychologists would explore for years to come. Other major functionalist thinkers included John Dewey.
Other 19th-century contributors to the field include the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, a pioneer in the experimental study of memory, who developed quantitative models of learning and forgetting at the University of Berlin, and the Russian-Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered in dogs a learning process that was later termed "classical conditioning" and applied to human beings.
Starting in the 1950s, the experimental techniques developed by Wundt, James, Ebbinghaus, and others re-emerged as experimental psychology became increasingly cognitivist—concerned with information and its processing—and, eventually, constituted a part of the wider cognitive science. In its early years, this development was seen as a "revolution," as cognitive science both responded to and reacted against then-popular theories, including psychoanalytic and behaviorist theories.
From the 1890s until his death in 1939, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis, which comprised a method of investigating the mind and interpreting experience; a systematized set of theories about human behavior; and a form of psychotherapy to treat psychological or emotional distress, especially unconscious conflict. Freud's psychoanalytic theory was largely based on interpretive methods, introspection and clinical observations. It became very well known, largely because it tackled subjects such as sexuality, repression, and the unconscious mind as general aspects of psychological development. These were largely considered taboo subjects at the time, and Freud provided a catalyst for them to be openly discussed in polite society. Clinically, Freud helped to pioneer the method of free association and a therapeutic interest in dream interpretation.
Freud had a significant influence on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology became an alternative form of depth psychology. Other well-known psychoanalytic scholars of the mid-20th century included psychoanalysts, psychologists, psychiatrists, and philosophers. Among these thinkers were Erik Erikson, Melanie Klein, D.W. Winnicott, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Sigmund Freud's daughter, Anna Freud. Throughout the 20th century, psychoanalysis evolved into diverse schools of thought, most of which may be classed as Neo-Freudian.
Psychoanalytic theory and therapy were criticized by psychologists such as Hans Eysenck, and by philosophers including Karl Popper. Popper, a philosopher of science, argued that psychoanalysis had been misrepresented as a scientific discipline, whereas Eysenck said that psychoanalytic tenets had been contradicted by experimental data. By the end of 20th century, psychology departments in American universities had become scientifically oriented, marginalizing Freudian theory and dismissing it as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact. Meanwhile, however, researchers in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis defended some of Freud's ideas on scientific grounds, while scholars of the humanities maintained that Freud was not a "scientist at all, but ... an interpreter."
In the United States, behaviorism became the dominant school of thought during the 1950s. Behaviorism is a discipline that was established in the early 20th century by John B. Watson, and embraced and extended by B.F. Skinner. Theories of learning emphasized the ways in which people might be predisposed, or conditioned, by their environments to behave in certain ways.
Classical conditioning was an early behaviorist model. It posited that behavioral tendencies are determined by immediate associations between various environmental stimuli and the degree of pleasure or pain that follows. Behavioral patterns, then, were understood to consist of organisms' conditioned responses to the stimuli in their environment. The stimuli were held to exert influence in proportion to their prior repetition or to the previous intensity of their associated pain or pleasure. Much research consisted of laboratory-based animal experimentation, which was increasing in popularity as physiology grew more sophisticated.
Skinner's behaviorism shared with its predecessors a philosophical inclination toward positivism and determinism. He believed that the contents of the mind were not open to scientific scrutiny and that scientific psychology should emphasize the study of observable behavior. He focused on behavior–environment relations and analyzed overt and covert (i.e., private) behavior as a function of the organism interacting with its environment. Behaviorists usually rejected or deemphasized dualistic explanations such as "mind" or "consciousness"; and, in lieu of probing an "unconscious mind" that underlies unawareness, they spoke of the "contingency-shaped behaviors" in which unawareness becomes outwardly manifest.
Notable incidents in the history of behaviorism are John B. Watson's Little Albert experiment which applied classical conditioning to the developing human child, and the clarification of the difference between classical conditioning and operant (or instrumental) conditioning, first by Miller and Kanorski and then by Skinner. Skinner's version of behaviorism emphasized operant conditioning, through which behaviors are strengthened or weakened by their consequences.
Linguist Noam Chomsky's critique of the behaviorist model of language acquisition is widely regarded as a key factor in the decline of behaviorism's prominence. Martin Seligman and colleagues discovered that the conditioning of dogs led to outcomes ("learned helplessness") that opposed the predictions of behaviorism. But Skinner's behaviorism did not die, perhaps in part because it generated successful practical applications. The fall of behaviorism as an overarching model in psychology, however, gave way to a new dominant paradigm: cognitive approaches.
Humanistic psychology was developed in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. By using phenomenology, intersubjectivity, and first-person categories, the humanistic approach sought to glimpse the whole person—not just the fragmented parts of the personality or cognitive functioning. Humanism focused on fundamentally and uniquely human issues, such as individual free will, personal growth, self-actualization, self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. The humanistic approach was distinguished by its emphasis on subjective meaning, rejection of determinism, and concern for positive growth rather than pathology. Some of the founders of the humanistic school of thought were American psychologists Abraham Maslow, who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, and Carl Rogers, who created and developed client-centered therapy. Later, positive psychology opened up humanistic themes to scientific modes of exploration.
Wolfgang Kohler, Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka co-founded the school of Gestalt psychology. This approach is based upon the idea that individuals experience things as unified wholes. This approach to psychology began in Germany and Austria during the late 19th century in response to the molecular approach of structuralism. Rather than breaking down thoughts and behavior to their smallest element, the Gestalt position maintains that the whole of experience is important, and the whole is different than the sum of its parts.
In the 1950s and 1960s, largely influenced by the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, psychoanalytically trained American psychologist Rollo May pioneered an existential branch of psychology, which included existential psychotherapy, a method of therapy that operates on the belief that inner conflict within a person is due to that individual's confrontation with the givens of existence.
Existential psychologists differed from others often classified as humanistic in their comparatively neutral view of human nature and in their relatively positive assessment of anxiety. Existential psychologists emphasized the humanistic themes of death, free will, and meaning, suggesting that meaning can be shaped by myths, or narrative patterns, and that it can be encouraged by an acceptance of the free will requisite to an authentic, albeit often anxious, regard for death and other future prospects.
Austrian existential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl drew evidence of meaning's therapeutic power from reflections garnered from his own internment, and he created a variation of existential psychotherapy called logotherapy, a type of existentialist analysis that focuses on a will to meaning (in one's life), as opposed to Adler's Nietzschean doctrine of will to power or Freud's will to pleasure.
In addition to May and Frankl, Swiss psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger may be said to belong to the existential school.
Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes including problem solving, perception, memory, and learning. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics.
Noam Chomsky helped to launch a "cognitive revolution" in psychology when he criticized the behaviorists' notions of "stimulus", "response", and "reinforcement". Chomsky argued that such ideas—which Skinner had borrowed from animal experiments in the laboratory—could be applied to complex human behavior, most notably language acquisition, in only a superficial and vague manner. The postulation that humans are born with the instinct or "innate facility" for acquiring language posed a challenge to the behaviorist position that all behavior, including language, is contingent upon learning and reinforcement. Social learning theorists, such as Albert Bandura, argued that the child's environment could make contributions of its own to the behaviors of an observant subject.
The biopsychosocial model is an integrated perspective toward understanding consciousness, behavior, and social interaction. It assumes that any given behavior or mental process affects and is affected by dynamically interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors. The psychological aspect refers to the role that cognition and emotions play in any given psychological phenomenon—for example, the effect of mood or beliefs and expectations on an individual's reactions to an event. The biological aspect refers to the role of biological factors in psychological phenomena—for example, the effect of the prenatal environment on brain development and cognitive abilities, or the influence of genes on individual dispositions. The socio-cultural aspect refers to the role that social and cultural environments play in a given psychological phenomenon—for example, the role of parental or peer influence in the behaviors or characteristics of an individual.
- History of psychology
- Psychological novel
- Abnormal psychology
- Big Five personality traits
- Psychopathy and psychopathology