Giving Birth to Psychology

Psychology as we know it today is a result of years and years of development by ancient philosophers, mostly Roman and Greek. Some of the most well known philosophers of the time included Plato, Pythagoras, and Aristotle, names that have remained wildly popular throughout the centuries.

Psychology is a science and, as with any science, is constantly changing from day to day. Unlike more concrete fields like history or literature, there are always new theories to discuss and test. Because of this constant change, modern psychology is much different from the days of ancient Rome and Greece. Wilhelm Maximillian Wundt, a German physician and professor has been accredited as being one of the founding fathers of modern psychology.

In December of 1879, The University of Leipzig in Germany became the birthplace of psychology as we know it today. In this small third story room, two young men were assisting Professor Wundt in the creation of an experimental apparatus. The purpose of this machine was to take a measurement of the lag between a person’s ability to react to a sound after hearing it. The test was carried out by dropping a ball on a platform, once the test subject heard the sound, they were asked to press a telegraph key and the professor and his colleagues would take a reading of how much time lapsed between the time the ball made contact with the platform and the telegraph key was depressed. Wundt called this process of measurement “atoms of the mind” which he described as the fasted and simplest mental processes. This tiny, simple project has since been known as the first psychological experiment and led to the launch of the first psychology laboratory led by Wundt and his team of graduate students.

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, namely behavior. The idea behind this science is to assist in our understanding of how minds work, and how behavioral and mental processes are established. There are many different professional titles in the field of psychology including: social scientists, behavioral scientists, and cognitive scientists. The spectrum of a psychologist’s research can lead to concepts such as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, motivation, and personality.

Another vital contributor to modern psychology was Edward Titchener. His research was devoted to describing the mind’s structure by relating to the most primitive elements of mental experience. Titchener’s ideas and theories were based around three elements: consciousness, organization of complex experiences, and the relation of mental phenomena to physical events.

William James was a psychologist whose theories and philosophies came from structuralist ideas and later became known as the main source for the creation of functionalism. It was his way of thinking that led his peers to believe that psychology should have some form of practical value and be used to benefit humans by showing them how the brain functions.

Perhaps one of the most well known psychologists of his time and even today was a physician by the name of Sigmund Freud. Freud created a method of investigation known as psychoanalysis where the primary focus is to determine how one thinks. His was based on not only interpretative methods, but also clinical observations.

In the United States, man by the name of John B. Watson led the foundation of behaviorism which was later extended upon by Edward Thorndike, Clark L. Hull, Edward C. Tolman and B.F. Skinner. Behaviorism dealt with the ways that an individual could be taught, or conditioned by their surroundings, thus acting a certain way.

It was Watson’s arguments that led to the belief that controlling an environment would be a direct result of a certain behavior. This conditioning of the environment allows a person to learn and associate specific details of that environment with corresponding consequences. Later, Skinner furthered this idea and introduced something known as operant conditioning; a voluntary behavior is affected positively or negatively by a certain stimuli.

A direct result of the reaction to behaviorism and psychoanalysis was humanistic psychology. In the 1950s psychologists began to look at the person as whole, not just fragments of a personality. Humanism became the basis for studies regarding free will and personal growth; it also led us to understanding how humans approached things like death, freedom, and self identity.

Modern psychology today has grown vastly and has come to include a vast array of fields and studies. Today’s psychologist has a huge technological advantage over their predecessors and because of this fact; the advancements in psychology and understanding the human brain are limitless.


Myers, David G. Exploring Psychology. New York: Worth, 2009. Print.

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