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Historical Roots of Psychology Essay

Psychology is a relatively new science, having emerged as a formal discipline only during the 19th century. It, however, came into existence due to the philosophical aim of understanding and explaining the nature of the mind and the soul. Physiology was later integrated into psychology when the latter sought to discover the causes and the cure for mental illness. Historical Roots of Psychology Psychology is considered as one of the youngest sciences – it emerged as a formal discipline only during the 19th century. Ironically, the historical roots of psychology can be traced back to the ancient field of philosophy.

Throughout history, philosophers and religious scholars have sought to understand and explain the nature of the mind and the soul. This objective, in turn, resulted in the institution of psychology as an official school of thought (MSN Encarta, 2008). Ancient Philosophers and Philosophies Greek philosophers started venturing into psychological topics from about 600 to 300 BC. They were said to be most interested in epistemology, a philosophical sub-discipline which studied the nature of knowledge and human existence.

As a result, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle wrote extensively about topics such as knowledge, beauty, desire, free will and common sense (MSN Encarta, 2008). The immense interest of the Greek philosophers in epistemology led to the creation of cosmology, the “study of the universe as a whole, including its distant past and future” (MSN Encarta, 2008). They must have realized that the nature of the universe determined the existence of its inhabitants, including human beings. Contentions

French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes, however, disagreed with the views of the ancient Greek thinkers – he believed that the mind and the body were independent units. The body was a physical entity while the mind was a spiritual one – the pineal gland (a tiny organ found at the base of the brain) was their sole means of interaction. English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, meanwhile, argued that all human experiences (images, sensations, feelings and thoughts) were actually physical processes that took place within the nervous system and the brain.

This belief eventually became the basis for monism, a philosophical school of thought which argued that “the mind and the body are one and the same” (MSN Encarta, 2008). At present, however, psychologists no longer recognize monism due to the immense scientific evidence that validate the intertwined relationship between the physical and mental aspects of human experience (MSN Encarta, 2008). Early Psychology It is widely believed that psychology became a science in 1879.

In this year, physiologist Wilhelm Wundt established the first laboratory dedicated to the scientific study of the mind at the University of Leipzig in Leipzig, Germany. Since the late 18th and early 19th centuries, physiology has already been integrated into psychology. Some experts believed that specific parts of the brain were responsible for certain brain activities (MSN Encarta, 2008). This idea paved the way for the creation of psychological subfields whose theories and principles are being used in modern-day psychology.

Functionalism Functionalism was one of the most well-known psychological schools of thought during the first decades of psychology. Its founder, William James, was a staunch advocate of Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory that “all characteristics of a species must serve some adaptive purpose” (MSN Encarta, 2008). Consequently, James created a psychological subfield which espoused the investigation of the purpose of consciousness instead of its structure.

Functional psychologists later came up with the longitudinal research, a technique which was composed of interviewing, testing and observing one person over a long period of time. In using this system, the psychologist can make and record observations on a patient’s development and his or her response to different situations (MSN Encarta, 2008). Sigmund Freud Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud was one of the most prominent figures in the field of psychology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He is best known for his personality theory of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis operated on the premise that “people are motivated largely by unconscious forces (such as) strong sexual and aggressive drives” (MSN Encarta, 2008). Although humans have the capability to suppress their unconscious motives, it is necessary for them to find a suitable outlet if they wish to maintain a healthy personality (MSN Encarta, 2008). Psychoanalysis eventually became a form of psychotherapy through the technique of free association.

Freud developed free association as a means of probing the unconscious mind. In this technique, the patient is made to lie down and talk about whatever thoughts, wishes and memories that come to his or her mind. The analyst, in turn, determines the psychological significance of these verbalizations by attempting to interpret them. For Freud, dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious” – the disguised expressions of deep, hidden impulses (MSN Encarta, 2008). Behaviorism Behaviorism was formed in the 1990s mainly as a response to Freudian psychology.

Psychologists who followed the former contested the reliability and usefulness of studying invisible mental processes such as consciousness and unconsciousness. For them, it was better to analyze only behavior that could be directly observed rather than interpreting the vague manifestations of a given behavior. Because of its relatively more scientific methods, behaviorism dominated the field of psychology for almost 50 years (MSN Encarta, 2008). Two of the most well-known experiments in behaviorism are those by American psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike (1898) and Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1906).

Thorndike’s tests on cats produced the law of effect, which argued that “behaviors that are followed by a positive outcome are repeated, while those followed by a negative outcome or none at all are extinguished” (MSN Encarta, 2008). Pavlov’s research on dogs, on the other hand, resulted in the Pavlovian conditioning (also known as classical conditioning). According to the Pavlovian conditioning, it is possible for an organism to relate one stimulus to another (MSN Encarta, 2008). Conclusion

It is true that psychology emerged as a formal discipline only during the 19th century and is mostly a combination of philosophical and physiological concepts. But these did not hinder psychology from being a very advanced school of thought today. One of the most important contributions of psychology is the proper treatment of mental illnesses. Prior to the advent of psychology, mentally ill people were believed to be possessed with evil spirits. As a result, they were subjected to physical torture in order to release the malevolent beings that were “controlling” them.

Furthermore, advances in the field of psychology that were geared towards improving mental health just goes to show that medicine has already progressed so much as well. Health is no longer defined as merely being free of disease but also having a vigorous mind. The body, after all, cannot function without the mind and vice versa. References MSN Encarta. (2008). Cosmology. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761564398/Cosmology. html MSN Encarta. (2008). Psychology. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from http://encarta. msn. com/encyclopedia_761576533/Psychology. html

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