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Foundations of Psychology

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            Psychology is an area of study which  critically and systematically explores the relationship between mental processes of human beings and their behaviors. It is systematic in that it has a method or style, the behaviors can either be observable or unobservable. It evolved out of Philosophy and Biology and the name Psychology is derived from the Greek word Psyche which means soul or mind. It was founded by Wilhelm Wundt who was of the structuralism school of thought which described structures of the mind by analyzing sensations and feelings through introspection.

            The main aim of Psychology is to describe people’s behaviors to explain why things happen the way they do, to predict or try to find the likely consequences of certain behaviors and control them through measuring. The schools of thought under which Psychology has been founded are Structuralism, Functionalism, Psychoanalysis, Behaviorism, Humanism and Cognitivism.

            Structuralism was the first school of thought. The major structuralists were Wilhelm Wusndt and his student Edward Thatcher. It involved breaking down the mental processes of human beings into basic components through introspection which is the conscious mental self observation of inner thoughts, desires and sensations. It was criticized especially by Behaviorists who  reasoned that the methods used to study structures of the mind were too subjective and therefore not reliable in terms of results. Scientific Psychology should be strictly measurable. It was too concerned with internal behavior or sensations which cannot be directly observed or even measured. It is still credited for being the first ever major school of thought and for influencing experimental psychology.

            Behaviorism is the second School of thought in Psychology whose emphasis is on objective and scientific analysis of observable behavior. The basic assumption is that all behaviors can be acquired through conditioning. From  their surrounding environment individuals learn acquire new behaviors or modify the existing behaviors so as to be able to  adjust accordingly. Behaviorism is associated with B. F. Skinner who studied observable behaviors, the importance of environmental reinforcers and the elimination of mental processes. There are two types of conditioning; Classical conditioning and Operant conditioning. Classical conditioning shows how individuals are able to acquire new responses other than those which were previously present. It thus helps us understand how people learn emotional behavior. Operant conditioning is another type of conditioning also called Instrumental conditioning where an organism learns through rewards and punishment for behavior, this in turn allows the forming of an association between the behavior and its consequence. The organism learns to elicit a certain response due to what will happen as a result of that response.

            Another school of thought is Humanism which explores the strengths that lie within individuals. For example, a person has the ability to direct his/her own future, to achieve personal growth and to discover their intrinsic worth. Humanists believe that however much a person struggles to reach their potential, only they can control their fate on whatever it is they want to become or are capable of becoming (Hansen, 2000). Most Humanistic ideas have thus been used in Counseling and Psychotherapy. Behaviorists though tend to think of this approach as more of a philosophy of life than a science of human behavior.

The Psychoanalytic Approach point of view is based on the belief that past experiences

 largely influence the development of both personality traits and psychological problems later in life. That is how our desires, drives or motivations influence our behaviors. Sigmund Freud, proposed some revolutionary ideas concerning the human mind and personality development. He reasoned that fearful or guilty thoughts or any other thoughts that threaten our self-esteem are placed deep into our unconscious mind (Hansen, 2000).

            The Gestalt Psychologists  were of the school of thought that innate tendencies influence the way we see that is,our perception. They therefore majored in touch and observation since it is from perception we readily access facts. According to Kohler (1991), Gestalt psychologists are inclined to interpret motivation in terms of forces which operate between perceptual processes and this results in the processing within another part of the brain where needs are psychologically represented. We can thus be able to understand the Cognitive Approach which focuses on how we process, store and use information.  That is how the cognitive processes generally influence our behaviors. The approach provides answers concerned with different human behavior in relation to our mental processes.

Functionalism, another approach to the study of Psychology attempts to understand how or minds adopt to our changing environment. It was founded by William James who was for the idea that emotions are caused by physiological changes. According to him, mental activities have developed through ages of evolutions due to their adaptive functions like helping human beings survive under different circumstances.

             Finally the Biological foundations of psychology examine how biological genes influence our behavior. According to Plomin(2000), the genes use a chemical alphabet to write instructions for the development of the brain and body and for the manufacturing of chemicals that affect everything we do.  It also looks at how our genetic make-up, brain and nervous systems interact with our environment to influence how we react to different stimuli directed to us through our environment. Biological psychology studies all parts of the body and how the parts affect human behaviors.


            Hansen J(2000). Counseling Psychology.  Psychological Clinic,1,1-9.(2000)

            Kohler W. , Darley, J. M. & Chinchilla R. A. (1991)’Psychology’  (5th Edition). Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs; NJ.

            Plomin,R.,(2000). International journal of Behavioral development, 24. 30 – 34.

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