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Summary: The History of Psychology

The field of psychology started in the mid-1800s by defining itself as "the science of consciousness." The primary technique was intro­spec­tion: looking within.

Intro­spection suffered from one major problem: there was no way to resolve differences of opinion. This proved to be a fatal flaw when people reported different introspections under similar conditions.

By the 1920s psychologists were more likely to define their field as "the science of behavior." Behaviorists argued that truly scientific psychologists should study only observable behavior.

Although behaviorism appears to constrict the subject matter of psychology by leaving out the mind, Hilgard pointed out that behaviorism also broadened psychology. It allowed psychologists to study those unable to make introspective reports, such as animals and babies.

The behavioral era dominated psychology in the United States from the 1920s through the 1950s. Partly as a reaction to behaviorism's neglect of subjective mental processes, humanistic psychology emerged as an alternative approach during the early 1960s.

Computer technology led to the resurgence of cognitive psychology in the 1970s. Computers provided a new metaphor for discussing mental processing as well as new tools for research on human information processing.

Another change in the 1970s and 1980s was the emergence of neuroscience as an important source of information about behavior and mental processes. Aided by new technologies such as brain scanning, scientists could now document which areas of the brain were activated by cognitive processes.

Today, the different approaches to psychology coexist. Each provides a useful perspective, and they are often combined when more than one approach is relevant to a topic.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


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