History of Psychology: From its Origin to Today (Modern Day)

History of Psychology

Today we witness psychology as a separate discipline, but it has its origin, history, and stages of its development. Psychology to become what it is now has undergone various thoughts, doubts, and debates.

To get a full understanding of what psychology is it is necessary to read what are its history, origins, and stages to come to the modern-day.

Many people are responsible and had spent their life on defining and exploring psychology. There are many stages in the history of psychology that led down how it had originated but luckily all stages can be categorized into four stages. They are:

Philosophical Stage (Soul/Mind)

In the history of psychology, it is seen that it is first introduced as the science of soul and mind. Psychology’s ancestors date to the early writings of the world.

Before 300 BC, Aristotle (384BC – 322BC) theorized about learning and memory, motivation and emotion, perception and personality. He was interested in learning for the sake of learning, and this enthusiasm led him to become one of Greece’s most renowned philosophers.

Aristotle used the term “Psyche” to refer to the essence of life. Defining psychology as a soul of science, Plato’s (427-347 BC) contribution is equally important, they defined it as the “Science of the Soul”.

During the Greek period, there was no distinction between psychology and philosophy. Despite the fact that the Greeks referred to psychology as the “science of the soul,” they never attempted to establish it as a science. Later, it was believed that the soul did not have a bodily existence. It was impossible to touch, see, or feel it.

It possessed mystical, non-scientific properties that could not be examined or tested. The term “soul” did not have the religious connotations that it does now. The soul was an inner spark for some, a type of motion for others, and a function of bodily processes for others.

It was seen as a philosophical and abstract phenomenon that was condemned for obstructing knowledge of tangible truths of life-based on reality and a more scientific study of psychology. As the word “soul” faced criticism, philosophers began to translate “psyche” as “mind,” and psychology became known as “the study of the mind.” Psychology began to be referred to as the “science of the mind.”

The word mind, on the other hand, has been blamed for having the same difficulties in expressing the soul. Thus, the definition was rejected on the following grounds:

  • The ancient Greek philosophers could not come to a unanimous definition of the mind and its nature.
  • The word mind was regarded as the branch of mental philosophy so it could not be regarded as an independent branch.
  • Psychology as the ‘science of the mind’ was not clear whether it was a positive or normative science.
  • The study of mind talked only about covert behavior and did not include the overt behavior of the organism which is a major part of the study of contemporary psychology.

The definition as the ‘science of the mind’ had many complications and was again rejected with a search for an appropriate replacement of the word.

Structural Stage (Consciousness)

The young science of psychology has undergone enormous revolutionary works with several pioneers in the field during the 19th century. Psychology was not able to attain complete independence until 1879.

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), a German physiologist and philosopher, founded the first psychological laboratory at Leipzig University in 1879, identifying himself as the “father of experimental psychology.” There was enough before him, but no psychologist.

For the first time, Wudnt released psychology from philosophy and physiology’s grip. He saw psychology as a worthy and self-contained discipline. Wundt defined psychology as the science of internal and immediate experience, i.e. as the science of consciousness, in his book “Beitrage.” 1862. He concentrated on inner feelings, perceptions, and thoughts. Introspection, or self-examination of one’s own interior feelings and mental processes, was his primary tool. Wundt’s Leipzig laboratory became a Mecca for students interested in learning about new psychology as a mental science.

Wundt’s work was expanded by Edward Titchner (1867-1927), a strong supporter of Wundt. He tried to figure out what the fundamental components of conscious experience were. Titchner collaborated with Wundt on determining the structure of the mind by controlled introspection and describing parts of the experience, a process that became known as structuralism. This approach to psychology placed a strong emphasis on laying the groundwork for turning psychology into a legitimate science.

At Harvard University, another young professor of biology and philosophy named William James (1842-1910) wanted to research the functions of consciousness, much as Wundt and Titchner wanted to examine the construction of the mind. James was more interested in what the mind might accomplish than in its structure. Studying the parts of the mind, according to James, can tell us nothing about how it works to assist us to adjust to the demands of life. As a result of his work, a school of thought known as ‘functionalism’ arose. In his book “Principles of Psychology (1890),” William James criticized Wundt’s theories by describing consciousness as having four math properties.

  • Consciousness is selective to individuals’ motives.
  • It is personal; one has to rely on other another person’s reporting which may be socially colored and not reveal the truth.
  • It is a continuous activity; it cannot be broken into units for study.
  • It is very dynamic and changing, which is why we cannot bring the same state of mind again and study.

Besides these facts as pointed out by James, psychology as the study of conscious experience was lacking in some aspects:

  • It did not include the study of subconscious and unconscious processes which constitutes a major portion of human nature.
  • The psychology of consciousness was not included animal and human overt behavior.
  • It was also not clear whether psychology is a positive normative science.

With these backgrounds defined in its history psychology again went into controversies and confusion. Thus until the 1920s, psychology was defined as the “science of mental life”.

Behavioral Stage (Behavior)

J. B. Watson (1878-1958), an American psychologist, rejected structuralism and functionalism in favor of a behavior-based approach to psychology. The work of Russian physiologist Ivan P. Pavlov (1927) on dog conditioning, British philosopher and naturalist Charles Darwin’s (1809-1882) theory on “origin of species” (1859) that described natural selection and theory of evolution, and Francis Galtonis (1822-1911) “Hereditary Genius” (1869) that related the importance of individual differences were all influential on him.

These works established the way for the study of organism behavior. Watson (1913) believed that private mental processes such as awareness could not be studied because only outer conduct could be observed and scientifically comprehended. He rejected introspection as a method of psychology in favor of objective observation and renamed psychology the “science of observable behavior.” We cannot observe a sensation, feeling, or idea, according to Watson, but we can observe people’s behavior as they respond to various situations.

Because of the emphasis on the accurate measurement of overt behavior, Watson used the term “behaviorism” to describe the new school of thought based on his theory. He believes that behavior is complex and that it can be broken down into a basic stimulus-response unit. In a nutshell, behaviorism evolved into stimulus-response psychology.

Behaviorists define propagated behavior as:

  • The objective can be felt and seen
  • Can be observed and verified
  • Studying overt behavior of both animal and human beings including children, old, normal, abnormal.

Watson’s belief in “objective behavior” was criticized for being one-sided, partial, and limited. He was criticized for failing to adequately define the scope, goal, and subject matter of psychology. Some of the arguments made against him were as follows:

  • It is impossible to conduct a comprehensive examination of human behavior. Because they differ in various ways, human behavior cannot be anticipated by animal behavior.
  • Behaviorism considers behavior to be an overt mechanism rather than a covert thing. External behavior is simple to examine, but internal behavior is more challenging, and a clear image of an individual is unachievable without a mix of both external and internal elements.
  • Watson viewed behavior as a stimulus-response (S-R) unit when it should have been a stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) unit; behaviorism takes behavior in a very restricted sense.
  • In natural conditions, an organism’s activity is evident and natural, but when a person realizes that he or she is being studied, the data becomes unreliable for specific outcomes.

Thus in the history and development of psychology from the 1920s into the 1960s, it was thought of as the “science of observable behavior”.

Modern Stage

Psychology began to revive its interest in mental processes in the 1960s, with studies of how our minds process and store information, as well as how we perceive, think and remember. This is today’s definition of psychology which combines both observable behavior and inner thoughts & feeling and it is now referred to as “the science of behavior and mental processes”.

The modern definition now consists of three terms: science, behavior, and mental processes, all of which need to be clarified.

Psychology as an Empirical Science:

Because science is a set of knowledge held together and made meaningful by common principles and laws, it is considered a science. Science is more than just a collection of facts; it is information gained and structured through the scientific process. Psychologists try to comprehend individuals not just by thinking about them, but also by learning about them via diligent observation and study.

As a science, psychology gains characteristics like systematic, measurable, verifiable, and objectivity.

Psychology Studies Behavior: Overt Behaviour

The term “behavior” is used in modern psychology to describe the overt behaviors of people or animals that may be viewed directly or assessed using particular devices or techniques. It’s a broad term, because behavior encompasses anything an organism does, including actions that we can witness and document, such as reading, smiling, sweating, talking, exercising, and so on.

We can’t see, feel, or think, but we can watch and monitor activity. This allows psychologists to draw conclusions about the behavior’s feelings, attitudes, ideas, and mental processes. Internal mental events can be researched as they materialize through one or more behaviors in this way.

As a result, conduct aids in the research, knowledge, and understanding of internal mental processes that might otherwise go unnoticed. Behavior research is vital not only for psychologists but also for other social and biological experts. It aids in the understanding of individuals in many aspects of life, including social, cultural, and economic factors.

Psychology Studies Mental Processes: Covert Behavior

Inner subjective experiences we derive from behaviors like sensation, thought, emotions, moods, and intentions that others cannot directly view are known as mental processes. Private thoughts and feelings regarding your loved ones, for example, are mental processes.

Although private mental processes cannot be directly witnessed, most modern psychologists agree that they are critical for a thorough knowledge of human life. As a result, these processes must be included in the discipline of psychology; otherwise, an organism’s research will be incomplete if mental components of behavior are ignored.

Some suggest that this can be accomplished by carefully inferring inner mental processes. As a result, psychology should contain both overt and covert activities.


Psychology has been characterized in a variety of ways throughout its brief history. Most psychologists, on the other hand, agree that physical structure and behavior are intertwined. Psychology is, in this sense, a biological science.

Man, on the other hand, is both a biological and a social organism. His conduct is influenced by others, and others’ behavior is influenced by him. As a result, psychology is both a social and a biological discipline, forming a bio-psycho-social hybrid.

A good example is the human socialization process. Each biological science is focused on a different component of life. Psychology is distinguished by its emphasis on organisms’ behavior and experiences, as well as their adaptation to their surroundings.

As a result, carefully studying its history and development stages psychology can be described as the science of behavior, mental processes, and the organism’s adaption to its surroundings.

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