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Augustine Wianicho

Psychology has no one particular definition.

It is derived from Greek roots, where “psychy” refers to the “soul/mind” and “logos” is simply “study”.  There are several definitions of psychology but certain keywords are common;

a) Science/scientific, because it is systematic and objective and tends to understand people by thinking critically about carefully controlled observation.

b) Behavior

c) Human/ animal

d) Mind/ mental process

Schacter et al(2016) defines Psychology as “the scientific study of mind and behavior”

The study of human behavior was considered a part of Philosophy until the late 1800s, because matters of human behavior were considered a no go area. This is because, at the time, people though that normal scientific enquiries could not be applied to humans since laws of nature did not affect humans by virtue of the positions they occupied. For them, science was the study of the natural world and not human beings who possessed consciousness and who exercised free will and self-determination. Therefore, the study of human beings belonged to the realms of philosophy and metaphysics, that is, the branch of philosophy dealing with nature of existence, truth and knowledge. There was a significant reversal of this trend. Charles Darwin, between 1809 and 1882 was among the first scholars to change this trend by the publication of two books; “The origin of species”(1859) and “The descent of man”(1871). Darwin argued that, like all other forms of life on our planet, human beings evolved through a process of Natural Selection. Natural selection, according to Darwin, is the process through which populations of living organisms adapt and change in their environment. This conclusion was so radical that it took two decades to publish and thus portrays an aspect of biological influence in the establishment of Psychology as a separate scientific entity. Subsequently, young thinkers were inspired to apply the scientific method to human behaviour and mental processes. This paved way for modern Psychology. Scholars, most often in a common geographical area, grouped themselves to apply common systems or methods in their studies. They came out with varying viewpoints and these are referred to as the Schools of Psychology


These schools include;

1. Structuralism

2. Functionalism

3. Behaviorism

4. Psychoanalytic/Freudian Psychology

5. Humanistic Psychology

Most of these came into existence as a result of criticisms of others. Let’s have a brief peek into what these schools entailed.


Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Bradford Titchener founded this school of thinking as the first. Wilhelm Wundt founded the first psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879, and this was the start of formal psychology. Structuralism's main goal and belief was to investigate human perception in order to discover its fundamental elements and how they interrelate. Their name comes from their objective to establish the fundamental structures of human consciousness and perception.

To identify the most fundamental elements, Wundt and his pupils decided to strip perception of all its associations. They employed the introspective method, which entails an objective examination of one's thoughts, feelings, heart rate, and respiration rate when listening to a metronome. This method was heavily criticized as it raised the question of how objective one could be, as one is likely to observe and document what one wants to see. It also could not be used to study animals, children or more complex mental disorders.   Wundt’s insistence on measurement and experimentation marked the beginning of Psychology being studied as a science.

Structuralism fell out of favour with the passing of Wundt’s student, Edward Titchener, in 1927


Functionalism was brought into existence by William James, the first American born psychologist. Some books mention Darwin Spencer, John Dewey and Harvey Carr as the antecedent forces behind this school. Functionalism came to be born out of criticism of structuralism. William James did not agree with the structuralists’ idea of breaking down mental processes into its elemental structures, his reasons being that the human mind is constantly evolving as it adapts new information from the environment and that consciousness cannot be chopped up in bits but rather is a continuous whole that flowed like a stream. He believed that that which is most important is how the mind adapts to environmental information and help people function. Thus, the basic tenet of Functionalism was that our perceptions and consciousness come with learning, which goes a long way to help us function. This means mental associations enable us benefit from previous experiences. James suggested that when we repeat something, our nervous systems are changed so that each repetition is easier than the last time, thus enhancing our adaptability and functioning. Functionalism, no longer in existence, however, positively impacted the study of learning, memory and mental testing.


The name here is John Watson. Man is born "Tabula Rasa," which means "blank slate" in Latin, according to Watson. He thought psychology should focus on the environmental factors that influence and drive overt conduct. Watson's beliefs were founded on a well-known experiment conducted by Ivan Pavlov, a Russian Psychologist. Pavlov concluded that all that behavior is a learned response to some stimulus in the environment. He called this CONDITIONING. Thus, all human behavior could be attributable to learning.

To prove this point, Watson and Rayner conducted an experiment during which they conditioned eleven-month-old “little Albert” to fear soft furry white rats. Albert was a happy baby who initially had no fear for soft, furry white rats. He was first given a white furry rat. Then, each time Albert reached out to touch the rat, it was accompanied by a loud noise from striking a loud bar. Before long little Albert became terrified of white rats. Watson and Rayner concluded that an infant is born Tabula Rasa, on which experience may write virtually everything. Watson therefore declared, that, "Give me a dozen healthy infants well formed and  my own specialized 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… regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and the race of his ancestors".

Another prominent scholar is B.F Skinner. Like Watson, he believed that Psychologists should study only observable and measurable behavior. Skinner introduced the term REINFORCEMENT, in which he rewarded his subjects for behaving the way he wanted them to.

These scientists campaigned for the rejection of idealism in favor of realism, as well as a change in American psychology away from a subjective focus and toward a more objective, but mechanistic approach.


This was borne out of clinical practice of a neurologist called Sigmund Freud.

The Psychoanalytic theory is a body of knowledge primarily devoted to the study of human psychological functioning and behavior with three main components:

1. a method of investigation of the mind and the way one thinks;

2. a systematized set of theories about human behavior.

3. a method of treatment of psychological or emotional illness.

Freud used the therapeutic procedure of hypnosis, where the patient was led to recall and reenact a traumatic experience, thus discharging by catharsis, the emotions causing the symptoms. During this process, Freud discovered that there was a sudden cessation of the recounting of the traumatic past, a phenomenon he termed RESISTANCE. Freud thus reasoned that there must be a part of the mind we push unpleasant memories or anxiety provoking events and drives.

This new theory pointed Psychology to the existence of three imaginary forces; id, ego and superego, forces Freud called intra-psychic forces. He then proposed the ICEBERG MODEL of these interacting forces and transformed it into his structural model by proposing that these 3 forces operate at 3 different levels of consciousness; Conscious, Pre-conscious and Unconscious levels). Through the Psychoanalytic theory, Freud concluded that the unconscious forces and early childhood experiences shape our behavior.


Humanistic psychologists emphasized a positive, optimistic view of human nature that highlights people’s inherent goodness and their potential for personal growth. Humanists saw the self actualizing tendency as a major factor in personality. This is where Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs comes into play. Based on studies of historical figures, famous living individuals and friends who he admired, Maslow theorized that all people are motivated to fulfill a hierarchy of needs from the physiological, safety and security, the need for belonging and love and esteem(status or recognition). It is only when these needs are met are people ready and will to strive for self-actualization. Maslow thus proposed the most famous humanistic model of motivation called the “Hierarchy of Needs” and summarized it in the form of a pyramid. Carl Rogers was another humanist thinker.

In conclusion, while certain schools of thought have faded into oblivion, they have all had an impact on the evolution of psychology. Many psychologists nowadays do not identify with a single school of thinking. Instead, they might take a more eclectic approach, incorporating a variety of viewpoints and theoretical backgrounds.


  1. Cherry, Kendra. "Major Schools of Thought in Psychology". Retrieved from: Updated August 17, 2020
  2. "John Broadus Watson". Retrieved from: significance of childhood and,might select … regardless of his

Augustine Wianicho

A technological and astronomic enthusiast who seeks to inform about mind-blowing and developing technology and projects that are going to transform our lives and the world at large.