Development of psychology

In this piece I will explain the development of psychology since the 19th century and the main schools of thought that have contributed to it.

The science of psychology was developed from other common areas of study such as philosophy; as deliberated by the Ancient Greeks, Biology; where evolution and physiology were examined and Physics from which psychology took its scientific methods and principles. It was not until the 19th century that psychology was considered a scientific discipline on its own. In 1879 the world’s first lab specialising in psychology opened in Leipzig, Germany. Its founder, the scientist Wilhelm Wundt focused on simplifying the workings of the mind by mapping out thought processes and recording thoughts. This process is referred to as Introspection and it was key to Wundt’s school of thought which was coined ‘Structuralism’. Wundt is often titled as the founding father of structuralism, however many argue that this label should be awarded to Wundt’s student Edward Bradford Titchner who first used the expression to define his studies.

One of the most popular and researched approachs in psychology is the psychodynamic approach. It originated from the studies of Sigmund Freud and his collaborations with like minded people such as Josef Breuer and Jean-Martin Charcot. The psychodynamic theory is based around childhood experiences and how they interlink with irrational adult behaviour and mental illness. Freud developed many ideas, his main being the Psychosexual Stages and the Tripartite theory of the mind. Freud stated that the mind was made up of three separates parts. The Conscious; thoughts that we are fully aware of, including memories and impulses. The Pre- Conscious; thoughts, memories and impulses just under the conscious ‘surface ’that can remembered if prompted in the correct way. Freud stated that the final part of the mind was the Un-Conscious, which is not possible to access unless under psychoanalysis. This part of the mind consists of our wishes, conflicts, desires and childhood experiences and traumas and the repression and denial of these experiences. Freud felt that through Free Association, Dream Analysis and Freudian Slips some access to the un- conscious could be allowed. Freud stated that an individuals personality was made of three different areas, the Id, the Ego and the Superego, these parts were said to be in constant battle with each other. Whichever part wins determines the personality of the individual and this is crucial in understanding behaviour. According to Freud and the psychodynamic approach, development of an individuals personality is caused by childhood experiences and relationships. Often childhood traumas and the denial and repression of these situations add to the development of the person and manifest themselves in anxiety, depression and other negative mental states. The psychodynamic approach states that a persons behaviour is controlled by animalistic emotions, such as the sexual and aggressive urges. Freud felt that if these urges were not satisfied then energy would amount inside the mind manifesting itself in stress and anxiety. Freud would use free association and dream analysis to treat this stress and tension.

This treatment can be seen at work in the case study of ‘Little Hans’ where Freud treated a small boy via correspondence with his father. Freud encouraged the analysis of the boys dreams and conversations with his parents. Through this method Freud was able to understand ‘Little Hans’s phobia of horses and connect it to an Oedipus Complex and fear of castration.

The psychodynamic approach was instrumental in drawing attention to the new science of psychology and the psychological causes for mental illness. However Freuds ideas were criticized for being too vague and assumptions were often made based on concepts that were problematic to test.

The second approach of psychology to be studied was the Learning Theory or Behaviourist Approach. The learning theory states that we are all born as a ‘blank slate’, all behaviour we develop is learned from people or situations around us. Behaviourist psychologists felt that only outwardly observed behaviour could be studied as it was not possible to read a individuals mind. These observations were seen as more scientific and therefore findings were seen as more accurate. The behaviourist approach was researched by psychologists such as Edward Thorndike and Ivan Pavlov who routinely used animals as test subjects. It was through the behaviourist research with animals that the theory of operant and classical conditioning was explored. For example in proving his theories for operant conditioning B.F Skinner used rats and puzzle box. In classical conditioning a person associates a neutral stimulus with something like food, then whenever the neutral stimulus is produced the subject expects the food to follow. However Skinner felt this theory was too simplistic to explain all learning in human behaviour. His use of the rat seeking out food in a puzzle box helped examine the cause of an action to be carried out and the outcome of the action therefore supporting his theory of operant conditioning. Due to the learning theories scientific and researched style it has almost never gone out of favour. It is routinely used in this day and age, often in desensitisation and dealing with phobias. However due to the lack of interest in the inward workings of the mind many cognitive psychologist feel that behaviourism misses out the internal thoughts associated with learning and development. It is also felt by many that the behaviourist use of animals in experimentation is not particularly ethical.

The Cognitive Approach studies the internal workings of the mind and how these workings contribute to development, learning and behaviour. It is the main school of psychological thought followed today. The approach was first studied in the late 50s and 60s, in the 1970s with development of computers psychologists started comparing the mind to a processor. Psychologist believed, unlike in the behaviourist theory, that internal mental processes were important in understanding how behaviour developed. It was felt that like computer processors the mind could process, organise and effectively use information it absorbed. The cognitive approach is used often used in modern psychology and medical practice. For example in the treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Cognitive Restructuring Therapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often applied. During treatment therapist help their patients to understand that the obsessive urges of their OCD are irrational thoughts known as Cognitive Distortions. Therapist can use a type of treatment called Exposure and Response Prevention where the patient is encouraged to confront their obsessional fears without trying to make things better by carrying out their compulsion. Through therapy patients can recognise their obsessions and finally rationalise them.

Nowadays we recognise that the Cognitive Approach can over simplify the workings of the mind. We know the limits to computers and can see the human mind is much more complex and intricate in comparison.

The fourth and final approach to psychology is the Biological Approach. It is the most recent and up to date psychological study made and is sometimes referred to as the Physiological Approach. As the name suggests, it concerns the physical internal workings of the mind. The more that is known about human anatomy and the anatomy of the brain the more is learnt about how biological factors affect behaviour. The brain is investigated during laboratory experimentation and observation. Scientists are able to research in to the mental processes by observing the live brain during CT scans. Through making correlations between family members it is possible to work out if genes play a part in mental illness, learning and behavioural development. Psychologists researching in to schizophrenia have made many developments in understanding the condition by carrying out CT scans on identical twins. It has been found that in examples of twins where one individual suffers from the disorder that their brains do not entirely mirror each other. Scientists have found that in schizophrenics the ventricles of the brain are often enlarged although it is not yet known if the schizophrenia causes the enlargement or if the abnormality causes the condition.

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