There is a group of people who find Psychology as a discipline to be very interesting. This is because it not only gives them gripping details about themselves and others but also help them solve problems that they go through in their individual lives.
Then, there also exists a group of people who question it’s worth and do not consider it to be a scientific discipline. Rather, they perceive Psychology to be a part of a person’s common reasoning.
If you have come across this query, you either could be a raving fan of Psychology who wants to understand how psychology influences human behavior. Whereas, if you belong to the second group of people, you certainly are a cynic. For you, it is quite challenging to believe that Psychology as a discipline studies human behavior and uses scientific methods to undertake such a study.
Well, if you are a fan, then this article will certainly give you interesting insights on what psychology is all about. And how it helps in studying the human mind and behavior. However, if you are the one who doubts Psychology as a scientific discipline, this article would help you understand Psychology with a different paradigm altogether.
What is Psychology?
According to American Psychological Association, Psychology is a study of mind and behavior. This definition consists of two parts.
The first relates to study of behavior which means everything that human beings do or say. It includes our observable activities and responses to various events. Thus, behavior comprises everything that can be seen and hence evaluated.
The other part of the definition deals with the study of mind or cognitive processes. These include various facets of the functioning of the human mind such as perceptions, memories, thoughts, reasoning etc.
Thus, Psychology as a discipline has a wide scope given that it is a science of both the human mind and behavior. Simply labeling it as a part of human’s common reasoning would not be completely correct as it encompasses a vast array of theories and principles that defies this belief.
Origin of Psychology
Philosophers Started Questioning The Relationship Between Mind And Body
Modern Western Science has its roots in the 16th Century Renaissance period. This is the period where various European Artists, Writers, Scientists and Thinkers made new advances in Art, Science and Literature.
The Renaissance is described as an era where monks like Martin Luther challenged the foundations of Roman Catholicism. And led to Protestant Reformation. Also, Philosophers like Rene’ Descartes started focusing on questions like the relationship between mind and body, mind’s perception about the external world, etc.
Until this time, Philosophers solely used reasoning to cater to such questions. But with the coming of the Modern Western Science and eventually towards the end of the 19th Century Philosopher concluded that reasoning alone would not be sufficient to answer such questions about the human mind. Observation too would be needed to decode such questions about the human mind.
Increasing Role of Physiology
Physiology started playing its part as physiologists had been using scientific techniques to examine the nervous system. These Physiologists determined how nerves were responsible for carrying the electric signals within the body. And how we perceived the outside world.
This is what led the philosophers believe in the fact that scientific methods can be used to study the human mind. Hence, this gave birth to the idea of Psychology as a scientific study.
Birth of Psychology
Wilhelm Wundt, who is known as the founder of experimental psychology, thus established the first laboratory for research in Psychology in 1879 at the University of Leipzig. Further, G. Stanley Hall, the pioneering American Psychologist, was the one responsible for getting Psychology to United States. In addition to this, he founded the Laboratory of Psychology at Johns Hopkins in 1883 as well as supported in starting the American Psychological Association in the year 1892.
Challenges in Psychology
One of the major challenges that Psychologists faced was with regards to the areas that should form part of the field of psychology. Should it be a study of consciousness or should it be the one that deals with the inner states of mind or the unconscious.
Let’s have a look at the views of various Psychologists with regards to the focus areas of Psychology.
This view regarding Psychology was given by William Wundt. He suggested that Psychology should be a study of the components of consciousness and the relationships between various components.
He emphasized that the elements of consciousness can be understood by exposing trained people to external drivers in a controlled manner. Eventually, observations or comments need to be noted down regarding their reactions or responses to such external factors.
This is what encompassed Structuralism. However, this ideology could not stand the test of time. But the only thing that was carried forward was the adoption of research to study Psychology.
Structuralism as a view was condemned by William James, the renowned American Philosopher and Psychologist. He suggested that instead of studying the components of consciousness, Psychology should focus on studying the functions of consciousness.
This is because consciousness is a distinctive quality that human beings are blessed with. It evolves over a period of time and certainly performs significant functions for human beings.
Like Structuralism, Functionalism too disappeared but it did have an everlasting impact on the field of Psychology. Moreover, the very idea of consciousness evolving and serving important functions for human beings laid foundation for the next evolution in the discipline of Psychology, that is, Behaviorism.
Functionalism as a focus area of Psychology was challenged by the American Psychologist, John B. Watson. He suggested that Psychology as a discipline should not concentrate on consciousness or experience. Rather, the field of Psychology should focus on the behavior of a human being.
He opinionated that principles in Psychology must be defined based on only action or reaction of human beings that can be observed and measured. Watson advocated that cognition and other internal states should be ignored and only observable behavior must be the focus area of Psychology.
This view received great acknowledgement. Thus, Behaviorism had put an end to all the former challenges that the field of Psychology had to encounter. But Behaviorism as a view too had to face the test of time.
4. Other Challenges
As mentioned above, Behaviorism as a view in Psychology had put an end to the former challenges and thus influenced the field of Psychology for a long period of time. However, it too had to face challenges.
One of the challenges came from Sigmund Freud, an Austrian Neurologist and the founder of Psychoanalysis. Frued argued that the unconscious mind consists of processes that take place automatically. Such processes are not available to examine one’s own thoughts and feelings.
Another body of psychologists, known as humanistic Psychologists, too challenged the behaviorism view of Psychology. They claimed that people do not repeat behaviors that lead to positive consequences and do away with behaviors that lead to negative ones. Rather they have independent will and get encouraged through inner motivation for individual growth.
Lastly, cognitive revolution challenged the Behaviorism view of Psychology in a big way. Such a revolution laid emphasis on the study of various cognitive processes such as memory, thoughts, reasoning etc. Furthermore, the latest developments in technology allowed researchers to make the previously unobservable inner processes observable.
This was undertaken by making individuals vulnerable to certain external factors in a controlled environment and measure their responses with accuracy.
Issues in Psychology
Over a period of time, Psychology as a discipline has been dealing with a number of key challenges. These relate to:
Stability Vs Change
All of the individuals remain the same to some degree and change to a certain extent. This challenge deals with the question to what extent individuals change and to what extent they do not.
Rationality Vs Irrationality
There are situations where individuals tend to behave unreasonably not knowing as to why they behaved in this manner. For instance, getting angry on someone not because the person had actually committed a mistake. But because you were in a bad mood.
Nature Vs Nurture
This issue relates to the question to what extent individuals behave in a particular way due to their genetic makeup. And to what extent they behave as a result of the experiences they gain over a period of time.
Perspectives in Psychology
Suppose, you are in the midst of solving a puzzle. You try really hard to put it together but are unable to do so. Finally, you decide to call your friend to help you decode the puzzle. The moment your friend joins, he is able to connect the dots and solve the puzzle for you.
The situation above is common and happens to almost everyone of us everyday. Psychologists tend to study situations like these from various perspectives. Since studying human behavior is complex in nature, these exist different perspectives from which such a study can be undertaken. These are as follows:
|Behavioral||Focuses on visible behavior
|Cognitive||Focuses on the thought process of the individual
|Biological||Focuses on biological processes that are responsible for your behavior
|Developmental||Focuses on the change in behavior and the processes of mind over a period of time
|Psychodynamic||Focuses on the unconscious motivations
|Social and Cultural||Focuses on social and cultural factors that impact your behavior