Foundations of Psychology

Psychology is the scientific investigation of mental processes (thinking, remembering, feeling, etc. ) and behavior (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) The phrase mental behavior and mental processes means many things: it encompasses not just what people do but also their thoughts, emotions, perceptions, reasoning processes, memories and even the biological activities that maintain bodily function (Jex. ) Psychology is divided into sub-fields such as health, human development, law, and many other sub fields, just to name a few.

The major schools of thought in Psychology are structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism, psychodynamic, humanistic, cognition, and evolutionary. William Wundt is called the father of psychology for his pioneering laboratory research (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) He founded the first psychological laboratory in Germany in 1879. Wundt used introspection to evaluate thoughts and behaviors when subjects were presented with a stimulus such as a pink object on a card and basically were asked to put in their own words what they were feeling.

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Wundt’s student Edward Tichener (1867-1927) advocated the use of introspection in xperiments with the hope of devising a periodic table of elements of human consciousness, much like the periodic table developed by chemists (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) Tichener focused on consciousness and therefore founded the first school of psychology known as structuralism. Structuralism focused on uncovering the fundamental mental components of perception, consciousness, thinking, emotions, and other kinds of mental states and activities (Feldman, Chapter 1. )

Tichener’s belief varied from that of Wundt’s in that he believed that experimentation was the only appropriate method for a science of psychology and that concepts uch as “attention” implied too much free will to be scientifically useful (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) As a response to structuralism, it was replaced by functionalism. Functionalism relied heavily on the works of William James, who was a Harvard Psychologist, and the Evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. Instead of maintaining the focus on consciousness, functionalists focused on consciousness and how behavior functions.

James believed that knowledge about human psychology could come from many sources, including not only introspection and experimentation but also the study of children, other animals, and people hose minds do not function adequately such as the (mentally ill) (Kowalski and Westen, 2009. )

Behaviorism was a school of thought that came prevalent in the 1950s. Behaviorism focuses on the way objects or events in the environment (stimuli) come to control behavior through learning (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) This perspective varies from the other perspectives in that it relies on the relation between external events and observable behaviors. Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) was a Russian physiologist that initiated studies on dogs. Pavlov discovered that his dogs learned to anticipate a meal when they heard a sound from a whistle.

Whenever the dogs heard the whistle they began to salivate associating that with the meal. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a Viennese physician, was the founder of the psychodynamic approach. Proponents of the psychodynamic perspective argue that behavior is motivated by inner forces and conflicts about which we have little awareness and control (Feldman. ) Freud originated his theory in response to patients whose symptoms, although real, were not based on physiological malfunctioning (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. )

The humanistic approach is based on free will. More than any other approach, it stresses he role of psychology in enriching people’s lives and helping them achieve self-fulfillment. By reminding psychologists of their commitment to the individual person in society, the humanistic perspective has been an important influence (Feldman. )

The cognitive perspective focuses on the scientific study of mental processes. The emphasis is on learning how people comprehend and represent the outside world within themselves and how our ways of thinking about the world influence our behavior (Feldman. ) This was initiated by early experiments by William Wundt and John Piaget.

Many cognitive psychologists used the computer as a metaphor to model the way the brain works in reference to information processing. Behavior is examined by cognitive psychologists, but primarily as an avenue into the underlying mental processes, in the same way that physicists infer the force of gravity from the behavior of objects in the world (Robinson-Riegler, 2008. )

The evolutionary perspective, the viewpoint built on Darwin’s principle of natural selection which argues that human behavioral proclivities must be understood in the context of heir evolutionary and adaptive significance ( Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) A prime example of the process of natural selection occurred in the cities of England. Light colored moths were common in the rural areas and industrial cities. As the cities in New England industrialized dark colored moths became dominate as the air became filled with soot.

The soot darkened the barks of the trees. As a result of the darkened bark light colored moths were easily seen and eaten by predators. Therefore, dark colored moths became dominate in these areas. They survived and assed on their color to their offspring. The biological foundations of psychology start with biology and culture. The connections between brain and behavior became increasingly clear during the nineteenth century, when doctors began observing patients with severe head injuries (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. )

One example is the case of Phineas Gage. Gage worked as a foreman on a construction site and was injured on his job when a 3 by 7 foot piece of tamping iron went through his head. The damage to his brain was so severe that it caused a change in his personality. People around him oticed a change in his personality because he was not the same person after the accident. Whereas he was known to be respectful and reliable, Gage became rude and used profanity.

Unfortunately, due to this change in his personality, he lost his job. Such observations led researchers to experiment by producing lesions surgically in different neural regions in animals to observe the effects on behavior. In this research, psychologists lesion one brain structure at a time along pathways they hypothesize are involved when rats learn to fear an object associated with pain.

When a lesion disrupts learning, the researcher knows that the lesioned area, or other areas connected to it, is involved in fear. (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. ) Three physicians were detrimental to the major issues in behavioral science known as localization of function. Marc Dax associated lesions on the left side of the brain with language disorders also known as aphasia.

In his study of brain injured people, Paul Broca correlated lesions in the front of the brain with people who could not speak but were able to understand language. Contemporary neuroscientists no longer believe that complex psychological functions appen exclusively in a single localized part of the brain (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. )

These types of experiments are used by biological neuroscientists today and with the ever-changing world of technology has introduced more non-invasive studies on the brain. The study across different cultures is imperative to the study of psychology. The first theorists to address this issue were psychologically sophisticated anthropologists like Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, who were interested in the relation between culture and personality (Bock, 2001; LeVine, 1982) (Kowalski & Westen, 2009).

Child development is dependent on the teachings of our caregivers that, in turn, based on customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of race and religion, among other things. Our caregivers are our first examples we observe as children. As we develop into adults, we learn to conform to cultural norms. The openly competitive, confident, self-interested style generally rewarded in North American society, an individualistic society, is unthinkable in Japan, a collectivist society, where communal sentiments are much stronger (Kowalski & Westen, 2009. )

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Foundations of Psychology. (2017, Feb 14). Retrieved from