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History of Psychology

Psychology is the science that studies the mind and the mental processes that influence the behavior of an individual. Its advances over time have allowed the study and understanding of the mechanisms of the mind, brain functions and behavior.

As we are curious beings by nature, and that same curiosity is what develops in us the ability to investigate, we cannot just know without inquiring about the origins of things. Therefore, to know the meaning of psychology in its entirety, we must first know its history, how did psychology originate? when it started? Who were responsible for establishing psychology as a science separate from the others? To answer these questions, we will travel back in time, going through its origins and the formation of its main schools of thought, which make psychology today able to understand mental processes with greater precision.

Emergence of psychology

The history of psychology dates back to the time of the first Greeks, such as Plato and Aristotle. During the 17th century, the French philosopher René Descartes introduced the idea of ​​mind-body dualism, also called Cartesian dualism. This dualism suggested that the soul – later known as the mind – and the body were two entities that interacted together to form the human experience.

For Descartes, the soul was the one that had the ability to discern between good and bad, and the body was what was determined by the environment and was reduced to mechanical laws. This was one of the most controversial topics in psychology, before it was conceived as a science. Many other issues still debated by psychologists today, such as the relative contributions of nature versus nurture, are rooted in these early philosophical traditions.

While early philosophers relied on methods such as observation and logic, today psychologists use scientific methodologies to study and draw conclusions that lead to more accurate results about human thought and behavior.

It could be said that psychology as a scientific discipline eventually arose due to the interrelation between philosophy and physiology, where the latter was in charge of contributing to research on the brain and behavior that had a strong impact on psychology; He also contributed to the application of scientific methodologies for the study of human thought and behavior.


Wilhelm Wundt, published in 1874 a book entitled “Principles of Physiological Psychology”, which was based on an investigation where Wundt was dedicated to observing the reaction times of the human being. In the book, the author highlighted many of the main connections between the science of physiology and the study of thought and behavior. Later, in 1879, he inaugurated the first psychology laboratory, at the University of Leipzig. This was a crucial fact for psychology, since it was considered the beginning of psychology as a separate scientific discipline from philosophy and physiology.

Since psychology was considered a science, Wundt defined it as the study of human consciousness. For this study, the philosopher, already considered a psychologist, tried to use experimental psychological methods to study internal mental processes. One of the first methods used was introspection.

The method of introspection proposed by Wundt consists of the process of analysis of consciousness, where the own thoughts, feelings, memories, desires and internal affective states are analyzed. This observation is made directly by the individual himself, who performs an internal examination of his own consciousness.

This version of introspection used only very specific experimental conditions in which an external stimulus was designed to produce a scientifically observable experience of the mind. Although the use of this method is not considered scientific today, it helped the knowledge of the mind in the early work of psychology and set the stage for future experimental methods. For this and much more, Wundt is considered the main pioneer and founder of psychology.

Some time later, one of the best students of Wundt’s school of thought, Titchener, founded the current or psychological school of structuralism. For this current, human consciousness was not considered as a unified whole, but it could be divided into smaller parts, which together would form the complete consciousness.


At the end of the 19th century, in the United States, William James took a critical stance on the system proposed by Wundt and created a new school of thought that studied psychic activities and processes as operations and not as contents, this new psychological current was called functionalism. James was the first American psychologist to embrace a different perspective on how psychology should work.

The founder of functionalism was introduced to Darwin’s theory of evolution of natural selection and accepted it as an explanation of the characteristics of an organism. The key to this theory is the idea that natural selection leads to organisms that adapt to their environment, including their behavior. Adaptation means that a trait of an organism has a function for the survival and reproduction of the individual, because it has been selected naturally.

Functionalism focused on how mental activities helped an organism to integrate into its environment. This school began using methods such as direct observation to discover how behavior worked to help people live in their environment.

Like Wundt, James believed that introspection was a method that could serve as a means by which the mental activities of individuals could be studied, but James also relied on more objective measures, including the use of various recording devices and specific examinations of mental activities, anatomy and physiology.


In 1896 the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud changed the face of psychology in a dramatic way, proposing a theory of personality that emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind and not the conscious mind, as the other currents did. This new psychological trend was called psychoanalysis .

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Freud began his clinical work with patients suffering from hysteria and other ailments, later called “disorders.” From his beginnings as a psychotherapist we can highlight one of the most well-known and relevant cases of hysteria of this current, the case that would lead Freud to think about the unconscious mind, the well-known case of Anna O.

The author gave an unexpected turn to the history of psychology, stating that experiences in early childhood and unconscious impulses are what contribute to the development of personality and behavior in adults. Although many of his ideas are viewed with skepticism today, his influence in the area of ​​psychology is undeniable.

Some of the most emblematic and important theories within psychoanalysis were: first topic: conscious, preconscious and unconscious; second topic: it, I and superego; pleasure principle-reality principle; primary process and secondary process; psychosexual development; Oedipus complex; defense mechanism theory.


Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler were three German psychologists who emigrated to the United States in the early 20th century to escape Nazi-dominated Germany. These three psychologists are credited with creating the Gestalt psychology school of thought.

Gestalt psychology is the school of thought that looks at the human mind and behavior as a whole. It consists of a biological or symbolic configuration of an element so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be identified from a simple sum of its parts.

An example to understand what is spoken in Gestalt psychology is found in music, for example: a song can be made up of individual musical notes played by different instruments, but these instruments in turn form the musical notes, and the combination The musical notes in turn form the actual nature of the song as they form the melody, rhythm, and harmony.

Upon moving to the United States, the pioneers in Gestalt psychology were forced to abandon much of their work and were unable to continue their extensive research. These factors, added to the incidence that a new psychological trend – behaviorism – was beginning to have in the United States, prevented the principles of Gestalt psychology from being as influential in the country as they were in his hometown (Germany).


At the beginning of the 20th century, the world of psychology had a dramatic change of thought, when a new school of thought known as behaviorism rose to dominance. This psychological current developed by the American psychologist John B. Watson (1912) proposed that the object of psychology is the behavior of the human being, leaving aside the theories of consciousness and the unconscious proposed by Freud.

Later, following the line of Watson, BF Skinner proposed what is known as “radical behaviorism”. Although behaviorism eventually lost its hold on psychology, the basic principles of behavioral psychology are still widely used today, for example, in behavioral therapies that are used to treat different types of mental disorders.


During the second half of the 20th century, when behaviorism was losing dominance, a new school of thought emerged known as humanistic psychology .

Humanism, founded by the American psychologist Carl Rogers, holds that morality, ethical values, and good intentions are the driving forces of behavior, while adverse social or psychological experiences can be attributed to deviations from natural tendencies.

Abraham Maslow was another of the great psychologists who contributed great contributions to the world of humanistic psychology . He contributed his theory of the hierarchy of needs of human motivation, also called Maslow’s pyramid . The author suggested that people were motivated by increasingly complex needs, and once the basic needs of the human being were satisfied, people were motivated to seek higher-level needs, until reaching self-realization, the highest state of fullness of a human being.


Cognitive psychology took place between 1950 and 1960. During this time, cognitive psychology was gaining ground in the area of ​​psychology, replacing psychoanalysis and behaviorism. This psychological current sought to modify the way of reasoning and thoughts of people, because it believed that if they could change their way of thinking, they could also change their behavior.
what is psychology

The study of human behavior involves the analysis of processes within the conscious and unconscious mind. Psychology applies to all aspects of mental activity. Our reactions to everyday problems at home or work reflect the health of the ‘mind’.

Socioculturalism and its influence on modern psychology

Culture has an extremely important impact on individuals, however, the effects of culture on psychology to this day are little studied. Research focused on sociocultural psychology differs from other schools of thought, because in addition to focusing on individual and intrapsychic factors, it also takes into account the cultural context, which is considered an important aspect in the lives of individuals and groups.

The history of sociocultural psychology is very extensive. The role of African American psychologists in investigating cultural differences between the African American individual and social psychology are just one example. Although psychologists have dealt with racial and cultural issues in their professional work for more than a century, culture was not explicitly considered an important variable in professional practice until the Vail Graduate Conference on Psychology in 1973.

Sociocultural psychology has been considered a great influence within contemporary psychology, and includes such broad topics as the development of racial identity, prejudices, stereotypes, and multicultural competence.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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