What is Psychology? Definition and Its Stages of Development

What is Psychology?

Today, psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes. It helps us to understand our behavior and mental process as well as others consisting of how we and they think, feel, act, and react.

A psychologically well person can think better, feel better, and live life better. We live in a social environment, it is necessary to understand people’s mental processes and behavior to live with them well.

We individuals are different from one another, not only in our physical characteristics such as height, weight, look, etc. but also in psychological characteristics. To live well, we must know how to manage ourselves better, control our emotions, and forget unwanted and undesirable experiences. We live in an environment and are curious about the world ourselves. The study of psychology helps us to get an insight into the intricacies and glories of what we call human nature.

What is man? To this question, psychology seeks an answer. “Edwin Boring, 1939”.

Who are psychologists? There are many false notions about psychology and psychologists. One of these false notions is the belief that psychologists are the “mind readers” like an astrologer who predicts fortune and can estimate character at a glance. Another misconception is that they are the authorities of mental telepathy or fortune-telling. The depth of knowledge of psychology definitely enhances these understandings.

Defining psychology is not a simple matter because of its wide scope, broad concern, and philosophical differences among its practices. Psyche and science combine to form psychology. Today, it is defined as the science of behavior and mental processes.

The word psychology was actually derived from two Greek words ‘Psyche’ and ‘Logos’. Psyche means “Soul” and Logos means “Discourse”. Thus, literally is the study of the soul.

Stages of Psychology

Before arriving at today’s definition of psychology, there are many schools formed, and many controversies, and doubts, arise. Many renowned philosophers and psychologists defined it differently. All these stages are categorized into four stages:

  • Philosophical Stage
  • Structural Stage
  • Behaviorist Stage
  • Modern Definition

Philosophical Stage (Soul/Mind)

It is the early stage. Ancient Greek naturalist and philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), used the term “psyche” to refer to the essence of life. Aristotle was the renowned early introducer of different components of psychology such as learning, motivation, emotion, memory, perception, and personality. Plato, another philosopher’s (427-347 BC) contribution is equally important in defining psychology as a science of the “soul”. They defined psychology as a “science of the soul”.

Later on, it was felt that soul had no physical existence. It could not be touched, seen, or felt. It had mystical, unscientific characteristics that could not be observed or experimented with. The soul, for some, was an inner flame, for others a form of motion, while for others a function of bodily processes.

As the word “soul” was criticized, these philosophers are begun to translate “psyche” as mind, and psychology was then defined as ” a study of the mind”. Thus, it started to be called the science of mind.

Structural Stage (Consciousness)

In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), a German psychologist and philosopher, established the first psychological laboratory at Leipzig University in Germany, making him the “father of experimental psychology”. Before him, there was enough psychology but no psychologist. Wundt first time freed it from the clutches of philosophy and physiology. He could for-see it as a respectable and independent science.

Wundt, in his book “Bietrage” 1862, regarded psychology as the science of internal and immediate experience i.e. as the science of consciousness. He focused on inner sensations, feelings, and thoughts. His basic tool was introspection, which means self-examination of one’s own internal feelings and mental processes.

Later, with Wundt, Edward Titchener (1867-1927), worked to determine the structure of the mind through controlled introspection, describing elements of experience, which was later on called structuralism.

Again, William James (1842-1910), at Harvard University, was concerned about the functions of consciousnesses and what the mind could do rather than its structure. According to James, studying the elements of the mind could tell us nothing about how it functions to help us to adapt to the elements of life. Thus a school of thought known as “functionalism” emerged based on his work.

Behavioral Stage (Behavior Stage of Psychology)

J. B. Watson (1878-1958) the American Psychologist rejected the ideas of structuralism and functionalism and based his approach to psychology on behavior. Watson (1913) felt that it was impossible to study private mental processes like consciousness because only outward behavior could be measured and scientifically understood.

Watson was strongly influenced by the work of Ivan Pavlov (classical conditioning), Charles Darwin, and Francis Galton.

Watson diminished introspection as a method of psychology, instead argued in the favor of objective observation, and redefined it as the “science of observable behavior”. According to Watson, we can not observe a sensation, feeling, or thought but we can observe people behavior’s as they respond to different situations. Science is rooted in observation, and because of the emphasis on the precise measurement of overt behavior, Watson called a new school of thought, founded on his principle “Behaviorism”.

The key points of behaviorism are:

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

Modern Definition of Psychology

In the 1960s, psychology has begun to recapture its initial interest in mental processes through studies on how our minds process and retain information as to how we perceive, think and remember.

Psychology’s concern, both with observable behavior and inner thoughts and feelings made psychology “the science of behavior and mental processes”. If we examine this definition very closely, the three terms science, behavior, and mental processes are clearly evident as important concepts which need further explanation.

Psychology As A Science

It is considered a science because science is a body of knowledge held together and build meaningful by common principles and laws. Science is not merely a collection of facts but is knowledge gathered and organized through the application of what is called the scientific method.

Psychologists attempt to understand people not only by thinking about them but also by learning about them through careful, controlled observation and rigorous analysis. It is based on supported judgment and fact-finding. As science psychology has four basic characteristics:

  • It is systematic and uses scientific methods
  • It includes measurement
  • The results can be verified and the procedure must be repeatable
  • It has objectivity in explaining behavior

Psychology Studies Behavior: Overt Behavior

Generally, the word behavior refers to the overt activities of people or animals that can be observed directly or measured through special instruments or techniques. It is a very broad term, as behavior is anything that an organism does, any actions that we can observe and record, such as reading, smiling, sweating, talking, marking exam papers, etc. are all observable behaviors. We can not see, hear, or touch the mind but we can see and observe behavior.

This helps psychologists to make inferences about feelings, attitudes, thoughts, and mental processes which may be behind the behavior. In this way, internal mental events can be studied as they manifest themselves through one or more behaviors. Thus behavior helps us to study, know, and understand internal mental processes that would otherwise remain hidden from us.

Psychology Studies Mental Processes: Covert Behavior

Mental processes are the internal subjective experiences we infer from behaviors like sensation, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and motives that others directly can not observe. For example, private thoughts and feelings about your “best friend” are mental processes.

Most contemporary psychologists agree that although private mental processes can not be directly observed, they are very important for a complete understanding of human lives. Therefore, these processes must be included in the field of psychology, otherwise, the study of an organism remains incomplete if we ignore the mental aspects of behavior. Thus psychology as a science should include both overt and covert behaviors.

New Trends in Psychology

Present-day psychologists are interested in the application of its diverse topics. Psychology offers specialization in many different aspects of behavior. Its scope expanded to new fields and specialists such as adult development, health psychology, neuroscience, and so on. They do not support strictly anyone of the approaches.

Two concepts seem important focusing on the recent trends, the first one is the growing attention of psychology to diversity and its focus on the role of evolution in human behavior. The second, important trend is increasing the use of the finding of psychology in other fields of knowledge. This change made it significant among other subject matter.

Learn More:

1 thought on “What is Psychology? Definition and Its Stages of Development”

  1. Now the time come to define psychology as a scientific study of mind and behaviour,as behaviour is the outcome of mind. The need of a proper definition of mind as the outcome of brain. Like FOB is standardized for mental study of rodents. The same battery of psychological test are urgently required.
    Pramod Kumar, Ph.D.,


Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: