Foundations of Psychology Essay

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Foundations of Psychology
June 4, 2013
Shawna Aubuchon Foundations of Psychology

The debate over how to explain the human mind began when psychology became a separate science from philosophy and biology. Dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks, the question to how personalities and behavior is developed was deliberated (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). It was not until 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt opened the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig, that psychologists were able to investigate these questions in a scientific setting (McLeod, 2008). It was not long before theories began to transpire and compete for dominance in psychology. In order to understand the foundations of psychology, one must acknowledge the major schools of thought and the primary biological foundations linked to behavior. Today, there are five major schools of thought: structuralism and functionalism, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic, and cognitive (Cherry, n.d.). In addition to the five schools of thought, psychologists acknowledge that the biological structure of the human body plays a vital role in human behavior.

It was Wundt’s student, Edward Titchener, who developed the first major school of thought, structuralism. Titchener sought to break down the components of the human mind in to basic components and to give it structure. To do this, Wundt and Titchener evaluated reports from trained colleagues on their personal thoughts and interpretations when presented with stimuli or a task (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). Following structuralism, psychologist William James founded the second major school of thought, functionalism. James felt that introspection was not enough to gain knowledge about the human mind. James was more interested in answering the question to why humans behave the way they do. Influenced by Charles Darwin, James sought to explain how evolution has shaped human behavior and why some behaviors are more common than others are (Green, n.d.). Today, structuralism and functionalism have lost their dominance to behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanism.

With the influence of functionalism, Burrhus Frederick Skinner developed the school of thought: behaviorism. Behaviorists believe that psychology is the science of behavior, not of the mind. During an experiment, physiologist Ivan Pavlov discovered that his dogs would salivate automatically at the sound of a bell that they had grown accustomed to hearing at mealtime, even if the food was not present (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). This experiment gave behaviorists enough proof to argue that human and animal behavior is learned. While behaviorists recognize mental processes, they believe that these mental processes are results of external events. Through observations, Skinner learned that behavior could be controlled by rewarding or reinforcing a behavior to strengthen it, punishments to weaken the behavior. While behaviorism remained dominant in the field of psychology during the 1920s to the 1960s, psychologists have become more interested in understanding the mental processes (Kowalski & Westen, 2011).

Sigmund Freud founded the next school of thought, psychoanalysis, in the late nineteenth century. In response to patients with no physical maladies, Freud deduced that these patients were suffering from symptoms that were created unconsciously. The psychoanalysis theory suggests that while humans have conscious thoughts and feelings, they have unconscious wishes that contradict their conscious intentions (Kowalski & Westen, 2011). For instance, the common phrase, ‘Freudian slip’, stems from the notion that a person’s unconscious mind is betraying them when they mistakenly use the wrong word in a sentence. Unlike other psychological theories, which center around a portion of an individual’s behavior or personality, psychodynamics focuses on the entire human experience. However,