ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

History of Psychology: From Philosophy to Science

Updated on November 30, 2009

Descartes Described Reflexes

 

The drive to understand human behavior and psychological processes has fueled the development of psychology from philosophical conjecture to a true science. For centuries, the questions about the human mind remained in the realm of philosophy. The transition from philosophical conjecture to a science was made possible by many factors. Less authority by the Catholic Church allowed science to progress past the principles established by Aristotle and other philosophers.

Sir Francis Bacon supported an inductive approach to science, whereas knowledge is gathered by observation rather than the acceptance and promotion of philosophy. He helped shape the nature of science, including psychology. René Descartes (1596-1650) furthered this movement by developing a systematic approach to studying the body.

Through observation and experimentation, Descartes created explanations for reflex actions and the interactions between mind and body. Descartes considered the pineal gland to be the location of mind-body interaction. He was a dualist, believing that the mind and body were separate entities, but that they interacted with each other.  As science gained notoriety and more systematic approaches evolved, the understanding of learning, reflexes, and thought processes and their relationship to the body became more understood, but also more disputed.

Different approaches to understanding human cognition and behavior emerged and were frequently debated. The nature versus nurture debate is one such concept that was widely debated since the birth of psychology in philosophy. John Locke, the founder of the British Empiricist movement of psychology, believed that human cognition is shaped by experience, not by innate knowledge.

In the late 19th century, there was a movement to begin to treat psychology as the science it is. Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory dedicated to a scientific study of psychology in Germany. Wundt emphasized the importance of experiments but not to the exclusion of other methods. He used a method of introspection in his experiments. Titchener, a student of Wundt’s, believed that too little was known about the anatomy of the brain to focus on the function of it. Structuralism is focused on the anatomy of the brain. Functionalism is more concerned with the function of the brain.

 

In addition to psychology being established as a laboratory science, growing knowledge in human anatomy and physiology increased the understanding of how the brain affects mental processes and behavior. Phrenology proposed that personality characteristics should be identified by the shape of the skull. Based on a weak, biased gathering of data related to the shape of skulls and the individual’s behavior, phrenology continued to be popular among the public long after it was disproven.

Case studies such as that of Phineas Gage taught psychologists more about the localization of brain functions and cognitive processes on the brain. In 1868, Phineas Gage was a railroad construction supervisor. During an accidental blast, a steel rod shot through his skull. Miraculously, he survived the incident. Behavior and personality changes due to the injury became evident. The once mild-mannered Gage became aggressive and vulgar. Cases like this showed how the brain affects personality and behavior. Gage’s physician documented these changes, though he had a tendency to minimize the effects of the accident.

During the late nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, psychology became established as a scientific field in the United States. William James is considered the first American psychologist. While James brought psychology into the system of higher education in the United States, Stanley Hall is credited with establishing the first psychology laboratory. The decades that followed featured growth of experimental psychology and the development of other schools of psychology including behaviorism.    

 

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      ANG 

      6 years ago

      TNKS SO MUCH DIS WUZ VERY HELPFUL

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Nicely done - many people don't know that philosophy was the precursor to psychology and science as we know it today....

    • profile image

      Kim S 

      7 years ago

      Just a note, Phineas died in 1860. The date of this event was 1848. Otherwise, good article. I do believe that it may be the event which generated enough interest to push psychology to be a recognized science as soon as it did. Although it took 30 years, I think this event may be the real trigger for Wundt opening his lab for research.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 

      8 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      This is a great intro to the history of Psychology. I am sure it s a big subject, and it would be a huge hub if it had every single detail attached, hubs are meant to be articles and we don't get enough room to write books here, more's the pity. I am interested in how the mind works and has so much control over the rest of the body and how it shapes our actions. Great hub, Sheila!

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      What do you find confusing, vm? (In English, please.)

    • profile image

      vm 

      8 years ago

      ang gulo!!!!!!!

    • Sheila Wilson profile imageAUTHOR

      Sheila Wilson 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Well, obviously, anyone could write volumes of books on the history of psychology, but this is just a brief article...

    • profile image

      mr ripper 

      8 years ago

      You have got to be kidding me? You call this a history? your starting with Bacon? Lets go back to the very beginning to the likes of Aristotle who lived from 384-322 B.C. he wrote the relationship of the soul and body in his De Anima as well as other works. Lets not forget his teacher Plato who origanally formulated the idea for dualism with his idea that the soul can exist separately from the body.His idea that has become dualism.What about Gustav Fechner who performed the first scientific experiments that would form a basis for experimentation in psychology. No mention of Titchener while flawed and mostly feel out of sight with his idea of structuralism. No mention of freud even some of his ideas' are used today granted not much but still are.William James what type of psychology did he follow? Functionalism! What about the first women Margaret F Washburn she published a book on animal behavior that was considered an important work in the era of psychology? I could go on....

    • profile image

      PWalker281 

      8 years ago

      Intriguing and well-written hub!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)