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Origins of Psychology

by Oren Lahav

Brief History of Psychology


Before we begin, let's ask ourselves-what is psychology?

Psychology is the academic and applied scientific study of mental processes and behaviour. Psychology also involves the application of knowledge to various spheres of human activity, from daily life, work and family to the treatment of severe mental health problems.

Psychology revolves around such broad areas as emotions, perception, individuality and personality, relationships, social dynamics and functions, plus many other subjects. Psychology also attempts to identify the physical, biological processes that underlie mental functioning.

Early origins

The earliest origins of psychology are, unsurprisingly, found in the ancient civilizations of Greece, Egypt, China and India. This took a highly philosophical form though- the early psychology involved theories on the mind, body and soul and how they all operate together, so they weren't really what we would call psychology today. However, these great early psychological philosophers identified things like the brain and speculation of its functions, basics of human nature, and the "self".

The Medieval Times saw more psychological progress. As early as the 700s Medieval Muslim had built insane asylums and practices to help patients with diseases of the mind. Ahmed ibn Sahl al-Balkhi was among the first to suggest that if the mind gets sick, the body may eventually develop a physical illness. He recognized and analyzed what we modernly call depression.

Several other modern psychological phenomena and neuropsychiatric conditions were emerging: hallucination, mania, dreams, nightmares, epilepsy, paralysis, stroke, vertigo, psychotherapy and musical therapy, social psychology, neurophysiology, and the subconscious. Western Psychology Emerging

The Ancient writings were preserved thanks to Islamic translators, and together with their theories and experiments became the basis for modern psychology which started to emerge during the Renaissance. While early psychology involved the study of the soul, modern psychology focused more on brain functions. During the Enlightenment period, thinkers like Descartes, Thomas Willis, and John Locke, discussed the nature of mind and soul, but also supported the development of clinical psychology as a discipline of medicine.

Those times also saw the rise of popular yet false psychological developments. This included the science of hypnotism, developed by Anton Mesmer as a way to cure diseases using the "magnetism of the mind". Phrenology, the study of the brain and skull structure to establish personality traits and mental disposition.

All the while though, psychology was treated as just a branch of philosophy. Scientific, empirical psychology was not seen as plausible or acceptable, since the mind and soul were abstract concepts.

Experimental Psychology is Born

During the Scientific Revolution, concepts that were thought to be philosophical were fused with mathematical and scientific thoughts to come up with profound disciplines such as economics and early engineering. Psychology was no exception. Johann Friedrich Herbart was among the first to try and apply a mathematical basis for a scientific psychology.

As a result, more research followed. Fechner attempted to mathematically relate external stimuli and resulting sensations, coining psychophysics in the process. Bessel, Donders, and other scientists measured things like reaction times and the speed of mental decisions. During the later 1800s, Wilhelm Wundt, the father of psychology, founded the first laboratory dedicated exclusively to psychological research in Germany.

Experimental psychology became important during the late 1800s especially in Germany, but also in Russia, the US, and the rest of Western Europe. Pioneers like Ebbinghaus and Pavlov made important discoveries in the areas of memory, learning processes and more.

In the 1890s, psychoanalysis was developed. Sigmund Freud, probably the most well-known psychology theorist, developed this method of study of human psychological functioning and behavior through interpretive methods and observation. He became famous after tackling taboo subjects such as sexuality, repression, and the unconscious mind, and he influenced Carl Jung who developed analytical psychology. This laid basis to many modern psychological concepts still used today.


Behaviorism, Humanism, Cognitivism, and other Modern Developments

Experimental psychology led to the use of things like recollecting childhood experiences and analyzing them subjectively and introspectively. Opposition to this led to the development of behaviorism, which states that all things which organisms do can be regarded as behaviors, which can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind. This was developed by John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, and based on animal experimentation.

Behaviorism was popular in the US for the first half of the 1900s. In the 50s, drawing from psychoanalysis, behaviorism and existentialist philosophy, humanistic psychology was developed. It focused on human issues such as self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and Carls Rogers's client-centered therapy are humanistic developments still used today.

Cognitivisim is another psychological school of thought. It accepts the use of the scientific method, rejecting introspection (and pscyhoanalysis), and it acknowledges the existence of internal mental states (unlike behaviorism). Cognitive psychology sees mental functions as information processing, and is advancing thanks to computerized developments and a better understanding of how the brain and neural systems work.

Where is psychology going?

Modern psychology incorporates all of these fields to provide useful solutions to mental problems. Using psychoanalytical therapy, behavioral theories, humanist concepts and cognitive understanding, psychologists can learn and offer the best solutions possible.

Future developments and questions that need to be answered in psychology are numerous. The application of genetic research and the discoveries of new genes that relate to behavior and personality will pose a challenge for psychologists. Using new bioengineering and computerized techniques can help develop medicines and cures for neuropsychological symptoms.

As well, new social concepts have to emerge to explain changing, modern societies. With depression and eating disorders constantly on the rise, psychological answers are in high demand. In engineering and technology, the development of artificial intelligence will require thorough psychological understanding of human intelligence.


Psychology went through a lot, but there's a lot more to be done.


Photo Credits:


Brain in a box, by Jefferey Beall Tomb, by Ahron de Leeuw, by Epugachev Physiology Lab, by euthman DNA, by j/f/photo

22 Comments
    Sheagoon
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    SheagoonSun, 14 Apr 2013 10:14:47 -0000

    Pls I need help with the history of psychology in Nigeria. That is where and when it was established. Thanks

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    ciara1
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    ciara1Sat, 05 Jan 2013 02:19:13 -0000

    some one should pls help me with the history of experimental psychology in Nigeria

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    Squareprecio
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    SquareprecioSat, 08 Dec 2012 13:25:58 -0000

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    Eriziki
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    ErizikiFri, 31 Aug 2012 11:44:18 -0000

    I find the meaning,function & mode of operation of Experimental psychology.

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    bams
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    bamsTue, 28 Aug 2012 09:03:01 -0000

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    praise17
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    praise17Wed, 20 Jun 2012 21:53:34 -0000

    i need to know more abaut the history of psychology in nigeria. Thanks

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    FOWOSE12
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    FOWOSE12Tue, 12 Jun 2012 15:20:48 -0000

    PLS HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGY IN NIGERIA

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    ebens
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    ebensMon, 11 Jun 2012 12:12:08 -0000

    Psychology is a field of study that is very important for every being on earth since it concerns with the study of human behaviour. Although i obtained my degree in psychology therefore, i know the benefits i derived from so you are highly appreciated for accurate presentation of psychology history that made people to know more in detail all about psychology.

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    sewen
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    sewenSat, 02 Jun 2012 16:44:28 -0000

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    chinyere
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    chinyereTue, 15 Nov 2011 19:10:10 -0000

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    Franco1990
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    Franco1990Sat, 03 Sep 2011 10:40:51 -0000

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    tnath
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    tnathWed, 24 Aug 2011 13:11:56 -0000

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    Hsoul
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    Thu, 18 Aug 2011 18:29:38 -0000

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    CHARITHA_3
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    CHARITHAFri, 22 Jul 2011 09:36:06 -0000

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    kavilux
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    kavithaFri, 16 Jul 2010 05:52:41 -0000

    i love psychology………………..

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    Megh TharyaMon, 23 Nov 2009 06:10:01 -0000

    the information was useful! appropriate details thanks a lot for sharing this and broadening my horizon of knowledge! i ADORE PSYCHOLOGY!

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    Megh TharyaMon, 23 Nov 2009 06:08:09 -0000

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    Ayodeji
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    AkindeinTue, 10 Nov 2009 13:04:48 -0000

    how can i get the history of experimental psychology in Nigeria

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    rubinasingh
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    Rubina SinghSat, 06 Feb 2010 07:47:34 -0000

    hi, the university for History of Experimental psychology in Nigeria is mentioned below:

    Lagos State University

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    Abel D. NigusieWed, 28 Oct 2009 20:04:47 -0000

    Thanks to you, i am now very well aquainted with the historical development of the life changing field.

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    mylz_18
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    melanieTue, 23 Jun 2009 22:55:22 -0000

    thanks for helping me understand about psychology…its really interesting…

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    lucyinthesky
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    TiffanyMon, 02 Feb 2009 08:26:09 -0000

    Great lesson! I love psychology.

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    swetha_k
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    swetha kSun, 23 Nov 2008 00:59:27 -0000

    thank u reallly……….nice intro to psychology………..

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About the Author

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Last Updated At Apr 14, 2013
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