A Very Brief History of Psychology……..

Psychology as a subject is in the main considered to be a relatively recent development. The study of our ‘being’ is of course as old as humanity itself. Wilhelm Wundt is credited with the Father of Psychology openi01wundtng the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1879.  Whilst in America, William James is also considered to be an early pioneer of Psychology with his volume, ‘The Principles of Psychology (1890)’, which started the first debate within Psychology, Wundt’s Structuralism Vs  James’ Functualisim.   Theses initial differences in approach  and perspective between the US and Europe would continue through Psychology’s timeline.

In 1896, The founding of father of Psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, academically outlines his theories of the significance of unconscious forces which would go on to become one of the most enduring and controversial ideas still debated today.  Freud went on to publish ‘The Interpretation of Dreams ‘ in 1900, and nine years later the source of both disdain and intrigue in ‘An analysis of a phobia in a 5-year-old boy‘, Freud’s offering of the Oedipus complex.

Another huge shift was soon to come in the rise of Behaviourism.  Initially based upon the research of Russian Physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, (1906) and his work to undercover the most simplistic of learning processes ‘ Classical Conditioning’.  The process of ‘Operant ConditionincYwtRCHg’  introduced the notion of reinforcement and punishment and its impact upon behaviour.  Behaviourism rejected the subjective notion of the unconscious conflicts that Freud had introduced and instead argued how only observable behaviour was important in the scientific measurement of organisms (they believed that animals and humans weren’t so different and therefore, why all the animal experimentation). It is the environment that shapes our behaviour and if you can manipulate that environment you can shape people’s behaviour.

“Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select — doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors.”

                                                                                                                     John Watson, Behaviourism, 1930

In 1921 The Rorschach test  was created to attempt to assess the personality of individual based upon their interpretation of an ambiguous image.  1924 sees the publication of Swiss Epistemologist, Jean Piaget’s ‘Language and thought of the child’, a groundbreaking text that would lay the foundations of (cognitive) developmental psychology. In 1929, the Electroencephalograph is developed by Hans Bergetumblr_mvyckgcr1F1r8rjf0o1_500r. 1932 saw the publication of Frederick Bartlett’s research into the nature of reconstructive memory, ‘The War of the Ghosts‘.  In 1934, Lev Vygotsky outlined his contradictory Piagetian theories into cognitive development.  Unfortunately, these two greats never were able to meet and Vygotsky’s work was in the main inaccessible to the west until translation in the 1970‘s from the original Russian. Vygotsky died of consumption at the age of 38.  In 1938 the highly controversial  technique of Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) starts being used as a therapeutic approach to depression, it is still used today however only as a method of last resort (apart from psychosurgery).

The three faces of eve

In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his research into motivation and the quest for individuals to attain self-actualisation.  In 1951, what is to become the first anti-depressant drug Tofranil is trialled. Also in 1951, Solomon E. Asch conducted his research investigating conformity in groups.  The research is a stalwart of Social Psychological research today. 1952 saw the publication of the first version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 1954, is one of the biggest years in Psychological history.  Thigpen and Cleckley publish their still controversial study of a 25-year-old woman with Multiple Personality Disorder; The three faces of Eve. Both Penfield’s Biopsychology and Roger’s Humanistic Psychology can trace their roots back to this time.    Soon after, in 1956, The Cognitive approach is cemented with one of its first pieces of research which is still often cited today – George Miller’s magical number 7.

 Albert Banduralbert-bandura-bobo-experiment-oa’s 1961 research into learned aggression at the Bobo doll experiments and a well-needed theoretical injection into the Behaviourist paradigm – providing ‘Social Learning Theory’ as an explanation into gender differences in aggression as well as key concepts  in the process of ‘observation and imitation‘.    1963 sees the publication of one of the most controversial pieces of research in its short history, Stanley Milgram’s research into obedience.

. In 1971, Philip Zimbardo attempts to discover how Social Psychology can explain how situational forces are often overlooked for dispositional ones, by conducting a simple replication of a specific environment.  The ‘Stanford Prison expeyX2r67riment‘ becomes one of the most infamous pieces of research of all  time.  1973 brings the publication that will rock the world of psychiatry, David Rosenhan conducts his research investigating being ‘Sane in insane places’, making a mockery in the face of conventional Psychiatry. The 70’s also saw the controversial use of bias IQ tests removed in U.S schools as inherently discriminatory based upon race. The 70’s saw the removal of homosexuality from the DSM, the rise of evolutionary psychology, particularly the publication of Richard Dawkins ‘Selfish Gene’ in 1976.  In 1985, research investigating a lack of ‘theory of mind’ as an explanation for autism was developed, in particular, the Sally-Anne test. The 1990‘s have seen the development of the fMRI scans as well as further development of key applied process such as the Cognitive interview and profiling within the realm of Forensic Psychology. In 2000, the human genome had been mapped and in 2013 the DSM-5 was released.

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Access the BPS origins website for a potted history of Psychology

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