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Major Schools Of Thought In Psychology

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When psychology was first established as a science separate from biology and philosophy, the debate over how to describe and explain the human mind and behavior began. The different schools of psychology represent the major theories within psychology. The first school of thought, structuralism, was advocated by the founder of the first psychology lab, Wilhelm Wundt. Almost immediately, other theories began to emerge and vie for dominance in psychology. Structuralism and Functionalism

Structuralism is generally thought of as the first school of thought in psychology. This outlook focused on breaking down mental processes into the most basic components. Major thinkers associated with structuralism include Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener. The focus of structuralism was on reducing mental processes down into their most basic elements. The structuralists used techniques such as introspection to analyze the inner processes of the human mind. Functionalism formed as a reaction to the theories of the structuralist school of thought and was heavily influenced by the work of William James. Unlike some of the other well-known schools of thought in psychology, functionalism is not associated with a single dominant theorist. Instead, there are a number of different functionalist thinkers associated with this outlook including John Dewey, James Rowland Angell, and Harvey Carr. Author David Hothersall notes, however, that some historians even question whether functionalism should be considered a formal school of psychology at all given its lack of a central leader or formalized set of ideas. Gestalt psychology

Gestalt psychology is a school of psychology based upon the idea that we experience things as unified wholes. This approach to psychology began in Germany and Austria during the late 19th century in response to the molecular approach of structuralism. Instead of breaking down thoughts and behavior to their smallest elements, the gestalt psychologists believed that you must look at the whole of experience. According to the gestalt thinkers, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Behaviorism

Behaviorism became a dominant school of thought during the 1950s. It was based upon the work of thinkers such as: John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, B. F. Skinner Behaviorism suggests that all behavior can be explained by environmental causes rather than by internal forces. Behaviorism is focused on observable behavior. Theories of learning including classical conditioning and operant conditioning were the focus of a great deal of research. The behavioral school of psychology had a major influence on the course of psychology and many of the ideas and techniques that emerged from this school of thought are still widely used today. Behavioral training, token economies, aversion therapy and other techniques are frequently used in psychotherapy and behavior modification programs. Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a school of psychology founded by Sigmund Freud. This school of thought emphasized the influence of the unconscious mind on behavior. Freud believed that the human mind was composed of three elements: the id, the ego and the superego. The id is composed of primal urges, while the ego is the component of personality charged with dealing with reality. The superego is the part of personality that holds all of the ideals and values we internalize from our parents and culture. Freud believed that the interaction of these three elements was what led to all of the complex human behaviors. Freud’s school of thought was enormously influential, but also generated a great deal of controversy. This controversy existed not only in his time, but also in modern discussions of Freud’s theories. Other major psychoanalytic thinkers include: Anna Freud, Carl Jung, Erik Erikson Humanistic Psychology

Humanistic psychology developed as a response to psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Humanistic psychology instead focused on individual free will, personal growth and the concept of self-actualization. While early schools of thought were largely centered on abnormal human behavior, humanistic psychology differed considerably in its emphasis on helping people achieve and fulfill their potential. Major humanist thinkers include: Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers. Humanistic psychology remains quite popular today and has had a major influence on other areas of psychology including positive psychology. This particular branch of psychology is centered on helping people living happier, more fulfilling lives. Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the school of psychology that studies mental processes including how people think, perceive, remember and learn. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy and linguistics. Cognitive psychology began to emerge during the 1950s, partly as a response to behaviorism. Critics of behaviorism noted that it failed to account for how internal processes impacted behavior. This period of time is sometimes referred to as the “cognitive revolution” as a wealth of research on topics such as information processing, language, memory and perception began to emerge. One of the most influential theories from this school of thought was the stages of cognitive development theory proposed by Jean Piaget.


Hothersall, D. (1995). History of Psychology, 3rd ed. New York: Mcgraw-Hill. Schacter, D. L., Wegner, D., and Gilbert, D. (2007). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers

Branches of psychology or field
Abnormal Psychology: This explores psychopathology and abnormal behavior. Examples of disorders covered in this field include depression, OCD, sexual deviation and dissociative disorder. Biopsychology: This looks at the role the brain and neurotransmitters play in influencing our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It combines neuroscience and the study of basic psychology. Clinical Psychology: The focus here is the assessment and appropriate treatment of mental illness and abnormal behaviours. Cognitive Psychology: This branch of psychology focuses attention on perception and mental processes. For example, it looks at how people think about and process experiences and events – their automatic thoughts and core beliefs. Also, how they learn, remember and retrieve information. Comparative Psychology: This field of psychology studies animal behavior. Comparative psychologists work closely with biologists, ecologists, anthropologists, and geneticists. Counseling Psychology: Here, the focus is on providing therapeutic interventions for clients who are struggling with some mental, social, emotional or behavioural issue. It also looks at living well, so people reach their maximum potential in life.

Developmental Psychology: This looks at lifespan human development, from the cradle to the grave. It looks at what changes, and what stays the same, or even deteriorates over time. Also, whether growth and change is continuous, or is associated with certain ages and stages. Another area of interest is the interaction of genes and the environment. Educational Psychology: This focuses attention on learning, remembering, performing and achieving. It includes the effects of individual differences, gifted learners and learning disabilities. Experimental Psychology: Although all of psychology emphasises the central importance of the scientific method, designing and applying experimental techniques, then analysing and interpreting the results is the main job of experimental psychologists. They work in a wide range of settings, including schools, colleges, universities, research centers, government organisation and private businesses and enterprises.

Forensic Psychology: Psychology and the law intersect in this field. It is where psychologists (clinical psychologists, neurologists, counselling psychologists etc) share their professional expertise in legal or criminal cases. Health Psychology: This branch of psychology promotes physical, mental and emotional health – including preventative and restorative strategies. It looks at how people deal with stress, and cope with and recover from, illnesses. Human Factors Psychology: This is an umbrella category that looks at such areas as ergonomics, workplace safety, human error, product design, and the interaction of humans and machines. Industrial-Organizational Psychology: This applies findings from theoretical psychology to the workplace. Its goal is increasing employee satisfaction, performance, productivity – and matching positions to employees’ strengths. Other areas of interest are group dynamics, and the development of leadership skills. Social Psychology: This is what many people think of when they hear the word “psychology”. It includes the study of group behaviour, social norms, conformity, prejudice, nonverbal behaviour/ body language, and aggression. Sports Psychology: This area investigates how to increase and maintain motivation, the factors that contribute to peak performance, and how being active can enhance our lives. History


First psychology laboratory
Wilhelm Wundt opens first experimental laboratory in psychology at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Credited with establishing psychology as an academic discipline, Wundt’s students include Emil Kraepelin, James McKeen Cattell, and G. Stanley Hall.


First American psychology laboratory
G. Stanley Hall, a student of Wilhelm Wundt, establishes first U.S. experimental psychology laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.


First doctorate in psychology
The first doctorate in psychology is given to Joseph Jastrow, a student of G. Stanley Hall at Johns Hopkins University. Jastrow later becomes professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin and serves as president of the American Psychological Association in 1900.


First professor of psychology
The academic title “professor of psychology” is given to James McKeen Cattell in 1888, the first use of this designation in the United States. A student of Wilhelm Wundt’s, Cattell serves as professor of psychology at University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.


APA founded
G. Stanley Hall founds the American Psychological Association (APA) and serves as its first president. He later establishes two key journals in the field: American Journal of Psychology (1887) and Journal of Applied Psychology (1917).


Functionalism, an early school of psychology, focuses on the acts and functions of the mind rather than its internal contents. Its most prominent American advocates are William James and John Dewey, whose 1896 article “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” promotes functionalism. Psychoanalysis

The founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, introduces the term in a scholarly paper. Freud’s psychoanalytic approach asserts that people are motivated by powerful, unconscious drives and conflicts. He develops an influential therapy based on this assertion, using free association and dream analysis. Structuralism

Edward B. Titchener, a leading proponent of structuralism, publishes his Outline of Psychology. Structuralism is the view that all mental experience can be understood as a combination of simple elements or events. This approach focuses on the contents of the mind, contrasting with functionalism.

First psychology clinic
After heading a laboratory at University of Pennsylvania, Lightner Witmer opens world’s first psychological clinic to patients, shifting his focus from experimental work to practical application of his findings.


Interpretation of Dreams
Sigmund Freud introduces his theory of psychoanalysis in The Interpretation of Dreams, the first of 24 books he would write exploring such topics as the unconscious, techniques of free association, and sexuality as a driving force in human psychology.


Manual of Experimental Psychology
With publication of the Manual of Experimental Psychology, Edward Bradford Titchener introduces structuralism to the United States. Structuralism, an approach which seeks to identify the basic elements of consciousness, fades after Titchener’s death in 1927.


First woman president of the APA
Mary Calkins is elected president of the APA. Calkins, a professor and researcher at Wellesley College, studied with William James at Harvard University, but Harvard denied her a Ph.D. because of her gender.


IQ tests developed
Using standardized tests, Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon develop a scale of general intelligence on the basis of mental age. Later researchers refine this work into the concept of intelligence quotient; IQ, mental age over physical age. From their beginning, such tests’ accuracy and fairness are challenged.


A Mind That Found Itself
Clifford Beers publishes A Mind That Found Itself, detailing his experiences as a patient in 19th-century mental asylums. Calling for more humane treatment of patients and better education about mental illness for the general population, the book inspires the mental hygiene movement in the United States.


Psychoanalysts visit Clark University
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung visit the United States for a Psychoanalysis Symposium at Clark University organized by G. Stanley Hall. At the symposium, Freud gives his only speech in the United States.


John B. Watson publishes “Psychology as Behavior,” launching behaviorism. In contrast to psychoanalysis, behaviorism focuses on observable and measurable behavior.


Army intelligence tests implemented
Standardized intelligence and aptitude tests are administered to two million U. S. soldiers during WWI. Soon after, such tests are used in all U.S. armed forces branches and in many areas of civilian life, including academic and work settings.


First African American doctorate in psychology
Francis Cecil Sumner earns a Ph.D. in psychology under G. Stanley Hall at Clark University. Sumner later serves as chair of the Howard University psychology department.

The Child’s Conception of the World
Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget publishes The Child’s Conception of the World, prompting the study of cognition in the developing child.


Rorschach test created
Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devises a personality test based on patients’ interpretations of inkblots.


Menninger Clinic founded
Charles Frederick Menninger and his sons Karl Augustus and William Clair found The Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. They take a compassionate approach to the treatment of mental illness, emphasizing both psychological and psychiatric disciplines.


Menninger Clinic founded
First Nobel Prize for psychological research


Electroencephalogram invented
Psychiatrist Hans Berger invents the electroencephalogram and tests it on his son. The device graphs the electrical activity of the brain by means of electrodes attached to the head.


Nazi persecution of psychologists
After the Nazi party gains control of the government in Germany, scholars and researchers in psychology and psychiatry are persecuted. Many, including Freud, whose books are banned and burned in public rallies, move to Britain or the United States.


Alcoholics Anonymous
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is founded by Bob Smith of Akron, Ohio. AA’s group meetings format and 12-step program become the model for many other mutual-support therapeutic groups.

Gestalt psychology
Kurt Koffka, a founder of the movement, publishes Principles of Gestalt Psychology in 1935. Gestalt (German for “whole” or “essence”) psychology asserts that psychological phenomena must be viewed not as individual elements but as a coherent whole.


First lobotomy in the United States
Walter Freeman performs first frontal lobotomy in the United States at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. By 1951, more than 18,000 such operations have been performed. The procedure, intended to relieve severe and debilitating psychosis, is controversial.


The Neurotic Personality of Our Time
Psychologist Karen Horney publishes The Neurotic Personality of Our Time. Horney goes on to challenge many of Freud’s theories, as have many later psychologists and scholars. Specifically, she questions Freud’s theories on the Oedipal Complex and castration anxiety.


The Behavior of Organisms
B.F. Skinner publishes The Behavior of Organisms, introducing the concept of operant conditioning. The work draws widespread attention to behaviorism and inspires laboratory research on conditioning.

Electroconvulsive therapy begun
Italian psychiatrist and neuropathologist Ugo Cerletti and his associates treat human patients with electrical shocks to alleviate schizophrenia and psychosis. ECT, while controversial, is proven effective in some cases and is still in use in 2001.


The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Children
Anna Freud publishes The Psychoanalytic Treatment of Children, introducing basic concepts in the theory and practice of child psychoanalysis.

National Mental Health Act Passed
U.S. President Harry Truman signs the National Mental Health Act, providing generous funding for psychiatric education and research for the first time in U.S. history. This act leads to the creation in 1949 of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).


First drug to treat depression
Studies are published reporting that the drug imipramine may be able to lessen depression. Eight years later, the FDA approves its use in the United States under the name Tofranil.


Thorazine tested
The anti-psychotic drug chlorpromazine (known as Thorazine) is tested on a patient in a Paris military hospital. Approved for use in the United States in 1954, it becomes widely prescribed.


APA Ethical Standards
The American Psychological Association publishes the first edition of Ethical Standards of Psychologists. The document undergoes continuous review and is now known as APA’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct.


Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy…
In Epilepsy and the Functional Anatomy of the Human Brain, neurosurgeon Wilder G. Penfield publishes results from his study of the neurology of epilepsy. His mapping of the brain’s cortex sets a precedent for the brain-imaging techniques that become critical to biopsychology and cognitive neuroscience.

The Nature of Prejudice
Social Psychologist Gordon Allport publishes The Nature of Prejudice, which draws on various approaches in psychology to examine prejudice through different lenses. It is widely read by the general public and influential in establishing psychology’s usefulness in understanding social issues.

In his studies of epilepsy, neuroscientist Wilder G. Penfield begins to uncover the relationship between chemical activity in the brain and psychological phenomena. His findings set the stage for widespread research on the biological role in psychological phenomena.

The development of psychoactive drugs in the 1950s and their approval by the FDA initiates a new form of treatment for mental illness. Among the first such drugs is Doriden, also known as Rorer, an anti-anxiety medication approved in 1954.

Humanistic Psychology
In the wake of psychoanalysis and behaviorism, humanistic psychology emerges as the “third force” in psychology. Led by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, who publishes Motivation and Personality in 1954, this approach centers on the conscious mind, free will, human dignity, and the capacity for self-actualization.


Cognitive psychology
Inspired by work in mathematics and other disciplines, psychologists begin to focus on cognitive states and processes. George A. Miller’s 1956 article “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two” on information processing is an early application of the cognitive approach.


Syntactic Structures
Noam Chomsky publishes Syntactic Structures, marking a major advancement in the study of linguistics. The book helps spawn the field of psycholinguistics, the psychology of language.


FDA approves Librium
The FDA approves the use of chlordiazepoxide (known as Librium) for treatment of non-psychotic anxiety in 1960. A similar drug, diazepam (Valium), is approved in 1963.


Community Mental Health Centers Act passed
U.S. President John F. Kennedy calls for and later signs the Community Mental Health Centers Act, which mandates the construction of community facilities instead of large, regional mental hospitals. Congress ends support for the program in 1981, reducing overall funds and folding them into a mental health block-grant program.


First National Medal of Science to psychologist
Neal E. Miller receives the National Medal of Science, the highest scientific honor given in the United States, for his studies of motivation and learning. He is the first psychologist to be awarded this honor.


FDA approves Lithium
The FDA approves lithium carbonate to treat patients with bipolar mood disorders. It is marketed under the trade names Eskalith, Lithonate, and Lithane.


Homosexuality removed from DSM
After intense debate, the American Psychiatric Association removes homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The widely used reference manual is revised to state that sexual orientation “does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder.”


PET scanner tested
A new brain scanning technique, Positron Emission Tomography (PET), is tested. By tracing chemical markers, PET maps brain function in more detail than earlier techniques.


Evolutionary psychology
Richard Dawkins publishes The Selfish Gene, which begins to popularize the idea of evolutionary psychology. This approach applies principles from evolutionary biology to the structure and function of the human brain. It offers new ways of looking at social phenomena such as aggression and sexual behavior.

The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins publishes The Selfish Gene, a work which shifts focus from the individual animal as the unit of evolution to individual genes themselves. The text popularizes the field of evolutionary psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionary biology are applied in research on human brain structure.


Standardized IQ tests found discriminatory
The U.S. District Court finds the use of standardized IQ tests in California public schools illegal. The decision in the case, Larry P. v. Wilson Riles, upholds the plaintiff’s position that the tests discriminate against African American students.


AIDS and HIV first diagnosed
The epidemic of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection presents mental health professionals with challenges ranging from at-risk patients’ anxiety and depression to AIDS-related dementia.


Insanity Defense Reform Act passed
U.S. Congress revises federal law on the insanity defense, partly in response to the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr. of charges of attempted assassination after he had shot President Ronald Reagan. The act places burden of proof for the insanity defense on the defendant.


Homeless Assistance Act passed
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act provides the first federal funds allocated specifically for the homeless population. The act includes provisions for mental health services, and responds, in part, to psychological studies on homelessness and mental disorders.

Prozac, Paxil, and Zoloft made available
The FDA approve the new anti-depressant medication fluoxetine, (Prozac). The drug, and other similar medications, acts on neurotransmitters, specifically, serotonin. It is widely prescribed and attracts attention and debate.


Cultural psychology
In Acts of Meaning, Four Lectures on Mind and Culture, Jerome Bruner helps formulate cultural psychology, an approach drawing on philosophy, linguistics, and anthropology. Refined and expanded by Hazel Markus and other researchers, cultural psychology focuses on the influences and relationship among mind, cultural community and behavior.


Sequencing of the Human Genome
Sixteen public research institutions around the world complete a “working draft” mapping of the human genetic code, providing a research basis for a new understanding of human development and disease. A similar, privately funded, project is currently underway.

The latest revision of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published in a version for personal digital assistants (PDAs). The manual, first published in 1954, outlines prevalence, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. Only 132 pages on first printing, in 2000 it was 980 pages.

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