Psychology is a practical and scientific field that studies the human mind. Psychological research aims at understanding the human mind and behavior. Psychology has been applied in the areas of mental treatment, promoting performance, personal help, ergonomics and other areas that influence wellbeing and daily life. Psychology is an offshoot of both philosophy and biology. The two subjects have been subjected to discussion for many centuries dating back to early Greek thinkers including Aristotle and Socrates. In fact the word psychology comes from the Greek word psyche which means ‘soul ‘or’ mind’.
Psychology came into existence officially, when Wilhelm Wundt founded the first experimental psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany in 1879. Wundt’s work centered on analyzing the components of the mind. This inclination depended heavily on the study of sensations and feelings by utilizing introspection, a very biased process. He believed that well trained professionals can precisely determine the mental processes that preceded feelings, sensations and thoughts.
Over the course of time, many schools of thought have arisen to try and explain human thought and behavior. While in many occasions they appear to clash with each other, these schools of thought have profoundly contributed to our understanding of this topic. Structuralism is a school of thought that came into being when psychology was founded as a separate discipline from biology and philosophy. The primary proponent of this school of thought was the founder of pioneer psychology lab, Wilhelm Wundt. Later on Wundt’s student, Edward B, Tetchiner proceeded to name and lay down the frameworks for structuralism, although he deviated from many of Wundt’s ideas. Following this, other theories emerged to try and compete for supremacy in psychology (James, 2001).
The most notable was the American theory of functionalism which was under the influence of great thinkers like Charles Darwin and William James. In the article psychological review of 1906, Mary whiton Calkins advocated for the harmonization of both schools of thought since they were related and centered on the conscious self. Despite this appeal, doubts continued to prevail. William James wrote that structuralism had” plenty of school, but no thought” (James, 1904).Wundt replied by dismissing functionalism as “literature”. At the long run both schools of thought lost prominence in psychology as they were replaced by behaviorism, psychoanalysis and humanism (Straub&Myers, 2004).
Structuralism was based on dissecting mental processes into the most necessary parts. Wundt, who founded the first psychology lab, is regarded as the father of structuralism and he was a great proponent of this school of thought although it was Titchener who gave it the name. Structuralism has faced many criticisms with many arguing that it dwells mainly on internal behavior which is not observable directly and cannot be determined precisely. By the measure of today’s scientific standards, experimental techniques employed in the study of the mind were one sided hence the end results were unreliable.
Despite the above limitations structuralism is credited with being the first major school of thought in the field of psychology. It also had profound impacts on experimental psychology. Functionalism was born out of a reaction to structuralism and was adversely determined by the works of William James and Darwinian evolutionary theory. Functionalist engaged in trying to elucidate the mental processes in an orderly and precise way. Rather than concentrating on the components of consciousness, they concerned themselves with the role of consciousness and behavior. They also stressed personal uniqueness which had a deep influence on education.
Functionalism was criticized as literature devoid of psychology. Its strengths are that it has defined behaviorism and practical psychology. Its impact on education cannot be ignored considering John Dewey’s assertion that children should learn at the stage for they are ready for developmentally.
Psychoanalysis is another school of thought founded by Sigmund Freud. It stresses the role of the unconscious mind on behavior. According to him, the human mind is made up of three components: the id, the ego and the superego. Clinical cases and case studies were the foundation of Freud’s studies making his results complicated to simplify to a wider group. Nonetheless his theory of psychosexual stages, the unconscious, and dream symbolism are still popular issues for both psychologists and non-psychologists, not forgetting the fact that his work is doubtful to many nowadays.
Behaviorism relies on the premise that behaviors can be learned through conditioning by coming into contact with the environment. According to this school of thought, behavior can be studied in an orderly and observable way ignoring internal state of the mind. It is divided into two; classical conditioning dealing with behavioral training and operant conditioning which is a method of learning that takes place by offering incentives and retribution for behavior. Through this, a relationship is determined between behavior and the results of that behavior (Weiten, 2010.)
Humanistic psychology rose to counter psychoanalysis and behaviorism. It is concerned with personal potential and emphasizes the significance of development and self realization. As psychology evolves, scientific methods to study human behavior are employed. Such methods include experimenting, co relational studies and longitudinal research.
Considering the width of this field, many specialty areas have emerged and include: abnormal psychology (study of abnormal behavior and psychopathology), clinical psychology (assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders), forensic psychology (applying psychology in the legal and criminal justice system), comparative psychology and many others.