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Psychology Basics: Modern & Historical Perspectives

Updated on November 24, 2017
Jessie L Watson profile image

Psych Major - Purdue University Global. Writer. Philosopher.

What is Psychology?

A proper definition of psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes1. Behavior describes any bodily action or response such as movement, speech or facial expression. Mental processes refer to activity hidden beneath our actions including thought, memory, and emotion. If we break apart the word psychology, we find that the combining form "psyche" is a Greek description for "breath", "soul" or "spirit" while the suffix "-ology" indicates a field of study 2.

To this day, we have yet to empirically define the human spirit but it has continued to spark debate among theologians and philosophers since before the dawn of the enlightenment. Rene Descartes was one of the first to make a popular case for the presence of a soul in which he intuited to exist separately from the material substrate of the body3. Here he would argue that evidence of consciousness and free will were the decisive factors between what he regarded as an intrinsic divinity among human beings apart from mere stimulus response organisms (animals) This particular school of thought is referred to as "dualism". Dualistic perspectives are generally supported by religious faiths across the world but are met with increasing criticism by modern philosophers and neuroscientists.

The current aim of psychology is not to make any metaphysical claims or assumptions about the spiritual nature of human beings. A psychologists' primary obligation in their respective field of study is to confine their observations to a strict scientific methodology. These methods are designed to minimize the contamination of evidence via personal biases.

Every scientific field of study shares a common goal in uncovering the mysteries of nature by communicating their findings through description, explanation, prediction and control.

Description - What is happening?

This phase of inquiry begins with simple observations of phenomena. Psychologists attempt to make assertions and describe certain curious behaviors whilst making note of every arbitrary detail along the way.

Example: A psychologist notices that an overwhelming majority of participants in a card game called "Magic: The Gathering" are male; an enterprise claiming 21 million players worldwide since 2014 4. They may have discovered this through quantitative research or naturalistic observation. A sensible question to follow might be: What accounts for female absence or indifference to MTG and is this preference consistent with other gaming platforms?

[Between this phase and the rest, experiments are necessary to validate certain theories and hypotheses. This involves gathering random samples of data, cross referencing, taking polls, or creating artificial scenarios with test subjects for further observation. In the figure at the bottom of this section are suggested steps for any experimental procedure.]

Explanation - Why is this happening?

From here, the psychologist will generate a theory or hypothesis with regard to their observations. In this case, pre-existing psychometric data provides a foothold: Females differ from males on a scale of temperament and interest. Previous findings suggest that women are more agreeable on average, therefore, they are less likely to engage with disagreeable men in competitive environments 5.

Prediction - When will it happen again?

Using the provided example, we might be able to determine where else in the world exist gaps in cooperation between males and females. How can we apply our gathered data to other circumstances and predict similar outcomes? How broadly can our findings predict behavior at larger and larger scales?

Control - How can it be changed?

Once an appropriate measure of behavior or mental process has been identified, we are then faced with the ethical implications of our findings. What should be done in light of new information? Does the information suggest that certain phenomena is natural or innocuous? Or does it describe a product of cultural influence thereby leaving the discussion open for new ethical systems? Believe it or not, much of the world is embroiled in such a debate as we speak.

Scientific Method



Every discipline has a unique ancestry of predecessors which have shaped what we understand today. Psychology is no different, albeit a bit younger than most of the canonical sciences like mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry and medicine.

The field of psychology is only 138 years old. Before then we had the great philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and countless others who grappled with notions about how we might relate to the world around us. Several weeks ago, I received a fortune cookie at my favorite Thai restaurant that I found both amusing and correct. It reads:

"The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next"

...which is nearly identical to that of a quote recently espoused by Psychologist Dr. Jordan B Peterson:

"We are the unconscious exponents of dead philosophers"

In our recent history, another task was at hand: To dive deep into the human psyche, describe what motivates our actions and why certain ideas never seem to go away.

Moreover, the development of psychological theories and ideas was not carried out in a linear fashion, rather they unfolded almost simultaneously in different parts of the world over the last two centuries. In the following sections, I will do my best to prioritize important figures and perspectives as they are situated throughout history.

Wilhelm Wundt (1832 - 1920)

Objective Introspection

In 1879, a physician named Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory of psychology in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt was the first of his kind to apply scientific theories and reductionist principles to the human psyche. His laboratory soon became a hub for students around the world to study the structure of the mind.

Wundt believed that consciousness (our awareness of external phenomena) could be broken apart into individual elements of mind such as thoughts, emotions and experiences. When addressing his students, Wundt would emphasize the importance of objectivity when analyzing one's own psychic elements in which he termed objective introspection.

"...Hence, even in the domain of natural science the aim of the experimental method becomes indispensable whenever the problem set is the analysis of transient and impermanent phenomena, and not merely by the observation of persistent and relatively constant objects"

In one exercise, he would place an object in a student's hand and prompt the student to describe all of the sensations that become conscious. Such ongoing practices were designed to ensure that students could eventually dissociate their preconceived notions or biases about external stimuli by focusing only on what emerges out of the mind in those moments of contact. This was, in essence, the first trial of bringing objective measurement to the idea of psychology - and perhaps why Wundt is thought of today as the father of psychology6.

Edward B. Titchener (1867 - 1927)


As a student of Wundt, Titchener brought concepts like objective introspection with him to the United States for further study at Cornell University in 18927. He expanded on the idea of introspection by focusing more closely on the sub-components of conscious experience, i.e. thoughts, feelings and emotions. This would later be termed structuralism.

"The world of psychology contains looks and tones and feelings; it is the world of dark and light, of noise and silence, of rough and smooth; its space is sometimes large and sometimes small, as everyone knows who in adult life has gone back to his childhood's home; its time is sometimes short and sometimes long, it has no invariables. It contains all the thoughts, emotions, memories, imaginations, volitions that you naturally ascribe to mind."

The aim of structuralist psychology was to move away from the uninhibited habits of philosophers to gain more tangible insights of the human mind. Unfortunately, after Titcheners death in 1927, structuralism faded while newly emerging psychological theories like functionalism and psychoanalysis swept the world by storm.

William James (1842 - 1910)


In the late 1870's, Harvard University was the first American school to offer courses in psychology. Of the instructors at the time, William James was very much notable among the early psychologists of his day. He originally began his academic career teaching anatomy and physiology but became exclusively committed to the study of the mind8. And perhaps it is his background in biology which lead him to certain revolutionary ideas in this field.

Unlike Titchener and his colleagues, James had very little faith that science could thoroughly study consciousness at the time. He would come to forthrightly make these five observations:

  • Consciousness cannot be divided for analysis
  • Consciousness is personal
  • Consciousness is always changing
  • Consciousness is selective: some elements are permitted entry while others are prohibited.
  • Consciousness is adaptive

From here, James shifted the focus of psychology to the functional necessity of consciousness and how it enables people to make use of the world around them. In short, emphasis was placed on what particular mental states do rather than what they are.

James attempted to merge concepts of Darwinian evolution and natural selection with human behavior. If genetic or physical traits could help organisms adapt to their environment, then behavioral traits could certainly be an extension of this process. It is this revolutionary viewpoint in which James deemed the essence of functionalism. James would then go on to enrich these concepts by exploring how mental states, namely attitudes and beliefs, serve as both tools for well-being and instruments of our own destruction.

"The world that we see that seems so insane is the result of a belief system that is not working. To perceive the world differently, we must be willing to change our belief system, let the past slip away, expand our sense of now, and dissolve the fear in our minds"

Jean Piaget (1896 - 1980)

Constructivism - Epistemology

Jean Piaget is perhaps one of the most remarkable and intelligent figures in academic history. Piaget displayed an astonishing aptitude for the sciences in his early years. At age fifteen, he published a research paper on mollusks which lead to a career at the Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland 9.

Piaget is often remembered as a child developmental psychologist but considered himself foremost a genetic epistemologist. Throughout his life, Piaget attempted to marry the framework between how people construct internal models of the world and the emergence of moral behavior throughout human history.

[ It's important to note that the term "genetic" in this case refers to the study of origins and not so much the influences of DNA.]

"The common postulate of various traditional epistemologies [theories of valid knowledge] is that knowledge itself is a fact and not a process, and that if our various forms of knowledge are always incomplete, and our varies sciences still imperfect, that which is acquired is still acquired and can therefore be studied statically. Hence the absolute position of problems: what is knowledge or how are various types of knowledge possible? Under the converging influence of a series of factors, we're tending more and more today to regard knowledge as process more than a state. Any being or object that the sciences attempts to hold facts dissolves once again in the current of development. It is the last analysis of this development and of it alone that we have the right to state that it is a fact. What we can and should then seek is the law of this process."

In this, he alludes to the idea that facts, even scientific facts are subject to change across time. If someone is able to produce a set of propositions like Newtonian physics, for example, then there is a high probability that someone such as Albert Einstein will come along and transform the current perspective; ultimately displacing Newtonian physics as a mere subset of physical laws. *A great example of this can be seen throughout the progression of ideas in this article.

"...In fact, if all knowledge is always in a state of development and consists in proceeding from one state to a more complete and efficient one, evidently it is a question of knowing this development and analyzing it with the greatest possible accuracy."

Piaget applied this axiom concerning the nature of knowledge to how infants begin by seeing the world as a low resolution landscape of tool-like propositions which unfold and become more complex as the child adapts to changing realities. As it goes, the bulk of his research in child development was conducted by observing 3 of his infant relatives as test subjects. In his book "The Construction of Reality in The Child", Piaget describes distinct stages of development during infancy such as object concept, spatial recognition, and temporal perception10. He would later go on to publish works on the latter development of children through adolescence which is still widely referenced today11.

  • Sensorymotor Stage (0-24 months): A child or infant begins to understand object permanence. In other words, if you hide a toy the child will begin to realize that it doesn't disappear out of thin air but simply moves out of sight.
  • Preoperational Stage (2-7 years): Children can operate in the world using consolidated memory and symbolism but cannot understand the finer points of cause and effect.
  • Concrete Operational Stage (7-12 years): Where thoughts become less ego-centric as the child becomes more aware of external circumstances and peers. According to the updated model, it is around this time a child begins to develop Theory of Mind (ToM) 12.

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939)

Psychoanalysis - Freud

Sigmund Freud remains the most famous yet controversial character in the history of psychology. He began his career in Vienna, Austria as a neurologist studying disorders of the nervous system13. A large portion of Freud's patients at the time suffered from varying degrees of hysteria (a general term for abnormal behavior in those days) for which he and his colleagues could not find physical causes. Out of these mysteries, Freud came to believe that such ailments were evidence of dysfunction of a non-physical mind. Through his interactions with patients, Freud noticed that often people could not make honest and direct accounts of their motivations. This indicated to him that forces beneath conscious control were largely at work.

In the early 20th century, Freud would develop a topographical model of the human psyche in the image of an iceberg that divided the mind into unconscious and conscious components14 (figure 1). He would later elaborate on this theory by attributing various specific forces or sub-personalities that continually jockey for dominance in one's consciousness (figure 2). These forces were thought of as having narrow motivations that guided behavior:

ID: Freud thought of the id as the source of all our most primordial drives such as sex, hunger, fear and aggression. All of which operate at the unconscious level. He would also come to regard the id as a source of passion.

"...'[The id] knows no judgments of value: no good and evil, no morality... [It is] the great reservoir of libido”

Ego: A partly conscious component of personality. The ego was a cut-to-length version of oneself to operate in the world. It served to accommodate some of the demands of the id but often did so with great strife in a civil society15.

“The Ego is that part of the Id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world ... The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the Id, which contains the passions.”

Superego: The most sensible description of the superego is what you might consider today as your conscience, or perhaps the iconic cartoon angel on your shoulder who informs moral decision making. A primary function of the superego was the penalization of the ego with feelings of guilt or remorse after either violating social norms or committing moral transgressions.

“The Super-ego can be thought of as a type of conscience that punishes misbehavior with feelings of guilt. For example: having extra-marital affairs.”

It was through this composition and dynamic in which Freud believed people's egos were tormented by the crushing weight of demands of both id and superego.

Throughout the years in his clinical practice, Freud also placed great emphasis on maternal and paternal influences throughout one's development. He believed that personality is most vulnerable to shaping during the first 6 years of life and that most of the neuroses he studied were a result of childhood trauma and/or neglect. Freud's bold ideas would go on to lay the foundation for modern clinical psychotherapy.

"The psychoanalysis of neurotics has taught us to recognize the intimate connection between wetting the bed and the character trait of ambition"

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

Psychoanalysis - Jung

As a brief collaborator of Freud's, Carl Jung would brave the depths of his personal unconscious and paint a much broader picture of the psychic landscape. He believed that the further one dug into the recesses of human consciousness, the more you would encounter ancient themes and symbols that are consistent with dated mythologies and folklore.

Jung would spend years documenting these figures through objective introspection and self-induced hypnagogic states of fantasy. These near-hallucinogenic experiences produced what he would come to regard as universal "species memory" or "archetypes". Jung claimed that archetypes were forged over the course of our evolution through adaption of survival related challenges and all manner of moral lessons . Out of what he termed "the collective unconscious" (which was a stark rebuttal to Freud's theory of the unconscious) he would draw parallels between these insights and the wisdom portrayed in both Judaeo-Christian and eastern spiritual texts.

“Although the Mass itself is a unique phenomenon in the history of comparative religion, its symbolic content would be profoundly alien to man were it not rooted in the human psyche. But if it is so rooted, then we may expect to find similar patterns of symbolism both in the earlier history of mankind and in the world of pagan thought contemporary with it. . . . The liturgy of the Mass contains allusions to the ‘prefigurations’ in the Old Testament, and thus indirectly to ancient sacrificial symbolism in general. It is clear, then, that in Christ’s sacrifice and the Communion one of the deepest chords in the human psyche is struck: human sacrifice and ritual anthropophagy [eating of human flesh]. . . . I must content myself with mentioning the ritual slaying of the king to promote the fertility of the land and the prosperity of his people, the renewal and revivification of the gods through human sacrifice, and the totem meal, the purpose of which was to reunite the participants with the life of their ancestors. These hints will suffice to show how the symbols of the Mass penetrate into the deepest layers of the psyche and its history.” 16

During much of Jung's work in the early 20th century, Europe was fully engaged in the first World War. This caused Jung great foreboding for the future of Western culture unless individuals could effectively integrate various elements of the mind (figure 3) into consciousness in which he termed the process of "individuation".

"I began to understand that the goal of psychic development is the self. There is no linear evolution; there is only a circumambulation of the self."


"Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized as the mass itself"

Unfortunately, Jung could not match the impact on the world to that of Sigmund Freud. It is believed that Freud could speak to the layman while much of Jung's literary work was considered cryptic and indecipherable. Ongoing interpretations of Jung's work still carry on today.

Ivan Pavlov (1849 - 1936)

Behaviorism - Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov, like James and Freud, began his career as a medical physician who would find himself entrenched in the study of behavior during the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1904, Pavlov was awarded the Nobel prize for Physiology and Medicine 17, becoming the first Russian Nobel Laureate and the 24th most cited psychologists of the 20th century18.

Pavlov is best known for his role in studying "classical conditioning" (figure 4) but did not come about certain discoveries as a psychologist. He was initially interested in studying digestion and the mechanisms of salivation in canine subjects. By collecting saliva samples from his subjects, Pavlov could measure precise amounts after food was presented. Over repeated tests, he began to notice something peculiar: the salivary reflexes would become active before the dog made contact with the food. This meant that visual information of food was sufficient for salivation. What's more, the triggers for salivation would change as the food dish or the sound of footsteps corresponding to food would produce the same effect. Pavlov diverted his measurements to the amount of saliva produced after introducing new stimuli (metronomes, lights, bells) around feeding time. All of which triggered salivary reflexes in subjects so long as the stimuli was reliably present before food was delivered. From this, Pavlov discovered something that was fundamental to learning which would be come to be known as "classical conditioning"

"It is not accidental that all phenomena of human life are dominated by the search for daily bread - the oldest link connecting all living things, man included, with the surrounding nature."

John B. Watson (1878 - 1958)

Behaviorism - Watson

While the structuralists, functionalists and psychoanalysts quibbled among themselves, John Watson was determined to pave a new route that would cease to emphasize contents of consciousness but instead focus on explicit observable behavior. His attitude toward human behavior was that of a devout scientist. Watson believed that the only effective method of describing behavior was by recording what could be directly seen and measured 19. Inspired by the groundbreaking research of Pavlov, Watson continued his pursuit in developing behaviorism as the newest addition to psychology.

"The Behaviorist cannot find consciousness in the test-tube of his science."


"There are...for us no instincts - we no longer need the term in psychology. Everything we have been in the habit of calling an 'instinct' today is a result largely of training - belonging to a man's learned behavior"

Watson's behaviorist assertions and relentless critiques would quickly be proven in the classic study of "Little Albert" in 1920 20. To demonstrate how behavior and phobias are learned through methods of conditioning, Watson would induce fear in a human infant named "Albert" (real name Douglas) by exposing him to a white rat accompanied by loud, scary noises. The original stimuli (rat) by itself produced no emotional response but when coupled with startling, unconditioned stimuli (loud noise) little Albert would display signs of fear such as flailing and crying. Such tests would be repeated over numerous trials until the mere sight of the rat caused little Albert to panic. This study illuminated the simplicity of learning through conditioning; ethical concerns notwithstanding.

It was later discovered that Douglas was suffering from congenital hydrocephalus during the time of the study and would perish six years later21. Despite Watson's efforts being the object of dislike among his colleagues, he is still regarded as the father of behaviorism.

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I select - doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant, chief and yes, even beggar man and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations and race of his ancestors."

Burrhus Frederic Skinner (1904 - 1990)

Behaviorism - Skinner

B. F. Skinner has been considered one of the most pre-eminent behavioral psychologists of the 20th century. He affirmed that the phenomenology of the mind was something that couldn't be directly perceived, therefore, the best way to understand and predict behavior was to observe it through the narrow lens of science.

Although, Skinner would take the concept of classical conditioning to new heights. Unlike Watson, Skinner conceded that people possessed some form of consciousness, albeit devoid of any conventional notion of free will. This was, at least, a marker of more liberal thinking than the staunch perspectives of John Watson.

Skinner thought of classical conditioning as a far too simplistic description about how people learned and behaved. He would take a closer look at causal factors of behavior and their consequences which we termed "operant conditioning" 22. This approach took into account the complexity of the individual subjects and their environment. Skinner set out to identify the process in which particular operant behaviors were more or less likely to occur.

To do this, reinforcement techniques were applied to produce repeatable or non-repeatable behaviors. Skinner would construct artificial environments rigged with specific cues after isolating a behavior to see how it could be changed. These models would come to be known as the famous "Skinner Boxes" 23 (figure 5). If the animal subject successfully performed a desired behavior, a mechanism would deliver a reward in the form of food. In some cases, an electric shock would be administered if the subject did not perform a task correctly. From these experiments, Skinner identified three types of responses that follow behavior.

  • Neutral Operants - Responses from the environment that had no effect on the probability of repetitive or non-repetitive responses
  • Reinforcers - Responses that increased the likelihood that the subject would repeat the behavior
  • Punishers - Responses the decreased the likelihood that the subject would repeat the behavior

The outcome of this research may appear obvious or trivial in some manner, however, the data suggests that organisms, including humans are, by nature, programmable through various schedules of reinforcement. This discovery seems to weigh heavily on the belief that we are free agents to pave our own destinies. If we look closely enough, we find that this is still the case. Skinner appears to make a subtle contradiction of his skepticism in the following quotes:

"I have to tell people that they are not responsible for their behavior. They're not creating it, they're not initiating anything. It's all found somewhere else. That's an awful lot to relinquish"


"The ideal of behaviorism is to eliminate coercion: to apply controls by changing the environment in such a way as to reinforce the kind of behavior that benefits everyone"

The application of controls to the environment denotes some measure of free will. Regardless, B. F. Skinner has made epic contributions to the growing dynamic of learning and behavior. He would go on to teach psychology at Harvard University from 1948 to 1974 24.

Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1970)

Humanism - Maslow

As a graduate student, Abraham Maslow began his research in psychology studying primate dominance and sexual behavior at the University of Wisconsin. Between 1937 and 1951, Maslow worked as a faculty member at Brooklyn College where he met anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer. He would come to notice particularly positive and inspiring traits about them that, in turn, shifted his focus to the study of the minds of those were successful and fulfilled 25.

This perspective would help Maslow develop a new field of psychology (Humanism) which he considered the "third force" among psychoanalysts and behaviorists.

"Human nature is not nearly as bad as it has been thought to be."

Rather than examining mental illness, abnormal behavior, reflexes or the dark hallways of the unconscious, Maslow was able to identify specific traits and characteristics about people that enabled them to go above and beyond their expectations. This transcendence of self and perceived limitations is what Maslow would come to call "self-actualization".

"An ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of [a] mission, as fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of the person's own intrinsic nature, [and] as an unceasing trend toward unity." 26

In order for this to take place, one must have certain dimensions of their life secure in order to ascend the "ladder" or "hierarchy" of needs. (figure 6). This meant unfulfilled needs at any level of this hierarchy would hinder individuals from entering peak experiences of joy and accomplishment. The implicit over-simplification of this model was not lost him. Maslow understood the complexity of life, even for those who may have lived seemingly fortunate lives.

"Self-actualizing does not mean a transcendence of ALL human problems. Conflict, anxiety, frustration, sadness, hurt and guilt can all be found in healthy human beings" 27

The most fundamental message Maslow attempted to bring forth was that every human being possesses an intrinsic value and that value is proportionate to the number of challenges that we can overcome despite having existed in a universe that seems indifferent to us for any length of time.

Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987)

Humanism - Rogers

Carl Rogers was another American psychologist and founder of the humanistic approach to psychotherapy. Like Maslow, Rogers believed that the tendency for humans to self-actualize was at the core of our motivations. He would go a step further and describe self-actualization as a matter of congruence between what people believed and how they acted in the world (figure 7). That is also to say that the more people act contradictory to their beliefs, the more suffering they experienced 28.

With a strong background in Protestantism and Phenomenology, Rogers would refine his therapeutic methods by attempting to place himself within the perspective of his clients. By seeing the world through the eyes of another, he could then engage in open and honest dialogue which he found to be therapeutic in and of itself.

"In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat or cure this person? Now I phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for personal growth?"

One of his most famous methods of establishing such relationships with his clients was "unconditional positive regard". This form of client centered therapy allowed people to act freely and naturally within the environment without condemnation or judgement of their speech or actions 29. If a client acted in a non-conventional or distasteful way, Rogers would not make any aggressive attempt to suppress these behaviors. Instead, he would mirror their ideas back to them which might sometimes result in the client realizing the absurdity of their position.

"In a person who is open to experience, each stimulus is freely relayed through the nervous system without being distorted by any process of defensiveness"

Modern Psychological Perspectives

Cognitive Perspective

Cognitive psychologists aim to explain mental processes in terms of intelligence, perception, problem solving, language and learning. With the help of developing computer science and biology, cognitive science has expanded widely since its instantiation in the 1960's. Furthermore, advances in neuroscientific research of physical mechanisms in the brain have merged with cognitive perspectives to explain mental processes with greater detail. Cognitive neuroscientists use high-tech instrumentation to analyze processes of the brain such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

Sociocultural Perspective

This perspective arises out of the combination of both social psychology (study of groups) and cultural psychology (study of cultural norms). Taking these environmental influences into account can partly explain why people behave differently under specific circumstances. The aim of this research is to examine how individuals behave as a consequence of suggestion through friends, family, community as well as class and ethnicity. Insights provided from this perspective illuminate particular biases embedded within the value structure of group and how it complements or contradicts what we believe to be true about the human species as a whole.

Biopsychological Perspective

Biopsychology is a general term used to describe biological influences of behavior and mental processes. We might consider this as part of a larger field described earlier as neuroscience: the study of the physical structure, function and development of the nervous system. Among these related perspectives, animal and human behavior is thought to be a direct result of bodily activity at the level of hormones, genes, brain chemicals, cancer and disease.

Evolutionary Perspective

The evolutionary perspective seeks to describe mental and behavioral characteristics as part of a selective hereditary process. Like cognitive and biopsychological theories, the mind is regarded as a set of information-processing machines. Evolutionary theory extends itself into the field of psychology by explaining how behavior/instincts arose through common adaptive survival techniques and how they were propagated through natural selection. 30

American Psychological Association Divisions

For a brief glance at the varying approaches and professions within the current field of psychology click here.


We began our journey with Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener who were courageous enough to take the first objective stance on the contents of consciousness. Shortly to follow, William James found some of these contents to be particularly useful for problem solving in the world. Jean Piaget helped us realize that knowledge is not static but always changing and accounts for the transformation of reality from birth to adulthood. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung shattered the illusion of the individual being a singular entity and explained the unconscious competing forces which compelled to us act, on occasion, counter-intuitively. Behaviorists such as Pavlov, Watson and Skinner brought us back into the world of empiricism by demonstrating how organisms are largely motivated and molded by the experience of pleasure and pain. And finally, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers would show us how to approach the human condition with more gentle and optimistic methods of helping people reach their full potential.

As we've made our way through the history and range of psycho-dynamic theories, it becomes abundantly clear that our experience of life is truly multi-faceted. It's most useful to think about such progression of ideas as adding to a more or less complete picture of the human psyche.

"The day we feel that we understand the mind in its totality is the day we cease to understand." - Me

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© 2017 Jessie Watson


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