Psychology the Field of Psychology An Overview Essay

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The Field of Psychology:

An Overview of Foundations, Influence and Pertinence in Today's World

One of the most fascinating and complex fields of study in today's scientific world is psychology, the scientific examination of human behavior. Psychologists, as professionals, can prove to be an extremely useful resource, especially since mental disorders tend to be just as complicated as physical disorders, and, often, much less apparent. The field of psychology has grown tremendously in the past century, with numerous innovations coming to the fore from various illustrious individuals, and proving that theories can be attributed to any human being, and his or her behavior, regardless of whether there is a problem or not. Psychology, therefore, is no longer a study of those who cannot function well in society, but it has rather become a means through which we, as a society, can understand ourselves and function better as individuals. The following paragraphs will examine this vast and intricate field by beginning with a history of its foundations, continuing with the way psychology has been influenced contemporarily by individuals and pertinent issues and what theories arose from this influence, and finally concluding with the way psychology functions in society today, both in diverse and personal mediums.

Foundations of Psychology

If a person were to ask on what foundations psychology is based, he or she would receive three main answers: historical, philosophical and empirical. This section will therefore examine these elements; however, before beginning this analysis, it is important to provide some clear definitions in order to place the various elements into context. Though previously mentioned in the very first sentences above, it is important now to define psychology once again. According to an article, the concept can be defined as "a science of behavior and mental functioning that uses both quantitative and qualitative research studies to develop and test hypotheses and put forward theories and models that explain human behavior."[footnoteRef:1] [1: Spear, L. (2007). "Foundations of Psychology." Psychology -- Socyberty. Retrieved July 28, 2011, < / >.]

In other words, psychology is the study of man, of human nature, and of humans as being who are constantly responding to an ever-changing environment. Scientists further claim that the complexity of the study of psychology cannot be stressed enough, and that one of the reasons why psychology is such an intricate field and why it necessitates both quantitative and qualitative studies is due to that fact that the mind is truly the most difficult organ to study, though many strides have been made in this aspect.

It is of importance to begin with historical and philosophical foundations of psychology for they are what provides a basis for the study as a whole, as they hold the oldest records of this field. The reason for this is because psychology was present from the very incipience of modern humankind, including during Antiquity in Egypt, Greece and Rome. To speak of history without philosophy is incomplete, as the Greeks were vital to beginning and furthering of the study of psychology. According to historian Richard McCleod,

"Western intellectual history always begins with the ancient Greeks. This is not to say that no one had any deep thoughts prior to the ancient Greeks, or that the philosophies of ancient India and China […] were in any way inferior […] it was the Greeks that educated the Romans and, after a long dark age, it was the records of these same Greeks, kept and studied by the Moslem and Jewish scholars as well as Christian monks, that educated Europe once again."[footnoteRef:2] [2: Daniels, V. (1997). "Psychology in Greek Philosophy." Sonoma University Paper presented at the Western Psychological Association Conference. Retrieved July 29, 2011, <>.]

It is thus important to begin with the ancient Greeks and examine what they believed about psychology, thus placing this into the historical and philosophical foundation for psychology discussion.

For example, Protagoras, a Sophist, could very well be known as the Father of Relativism. This is due to the fact that the man maintained that one cannot find an absolute truth, but only truths given to various individuals under various conditions by perception. Thus, different truths hold different meanings for all individuals. Furthermore, truth, goodness and beauty are always subjective and relative, according to Protagoras.[footnoteRef:3] According to further description by McCleod, the ancient Greek also writes, [3: Daniels, 1997. ]

"Everything that we know is in part a function of the knowing agent. The data of direct experience may be accepted as such; what is not given in direct experience must always be questioned […] Knowledge may extend beyond experience, but...the interests and limitations of the thinker will determine the nature of the product [...] truth depends on the perceiver rather than on physical reality […] because perceptions vary with the previous experiences of the perceiver, they will vary from person to person […] what is considered to be true will be, in part, culturally determined because one's culture influences one's experiences."

These very words describe thought processes in many people, yet they are placed in a context of individuality, within the context of a distinction well made by Protagoras between appearance and reality. This duality is a key vein of thought that runs throughout Greek philosophy with respect to the study at hand, and that is mirrored in the philosophy of other Greek geniuses and therefore holds a basis for the beliefs that have created, through historical processes, modern psychology.

Richard McCleod further comments on these Protagorean beliefs by stating that appearances are, indeed, familiar things and events of daily perception and the fact that appearances are deceptive is a "truism." For example, the fact that a stick in the water appears bent or hallucinations and other mind irregularities are at variance with reality, is all part of perception, according to McCleod. For this reason, the world is limited to what one can perceive and comprehend, and the "perceiver" can never "transcend his won perceiving and thinking process."[footnoteRef:4] These very opinions hold the basis of psychology, where perceptions are constantly analyzed to better understand an individual both externally and internally. [4: Daniels, 1997.]

In the same historico-philosophical view, it is important to mention Plato, another Greek philosopher who held somewhat of a different view from Protagoras. Plato believed in dualism, or dividing a person into two parts. The first part, according to the philosopher, contained imperfections, i.e. The body. The second part, represented by the mind and the soul, was, however, perfect and pure. According to McCleod, Plato "held that all knowledge is innate and can be attained through introspectively searching one's inner experience."[footnoteRef:5] In this way, an individual can utilize this duality and his or her perceptions to analyze himself or herself, and to find something out about his or her own person. This does begin to sound quite a lot like modern psychology. [5: Daniels, 1997. ]

The last part of the foundations of psychology is the empirical, which will be analyzed through a short history of more contemporary psychology, or practice. Empirical, which means achieving results through observation or experience, is most evident in descriptions of the history of modern psychology. Some of the most important discoveries have been made in the late 19th and early 20th century, but have also continued until present day. This section will thus address some of the most important empirical foundations for psychology, beginning with the opening of the first psychology laboratory in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt, one of the pioneers in the field. After this first German lab, an American student of Wundt opened his own lab in the United States, at Johns Hopkins University in 1883. Three years later, Joseph Jastrow is awarded the first doctorate in psychology and eventually serves as one of the first presidents of the American Psychological Association.[footnoteRef:6] [6: "History of Psychology: Contemporary Foundations." (2011). Anneberg Society. Retrieved July 29, 2011, . ]

With the dawn of the 20th century, functionalism (focusing on acts and functions of the mind rather than its internal contents), psychoanalysis (the analysis of unconscious drives and conflicts through the analysis of dreams and free association), and structuralism (holding the mental experience can be understood as a combination of simple events) develop. The various beliefs all promote the opening of the first psychology clinic and the promotion of experimental psychology, such as the development of IQ tests.[footnoteRef:7] [7: "History of Psychology," 2011. ]

By the early 1920's there are various philosophies floating around, including those mentioned above, and the addition of behaviorism, which focuses on observable behavior. Furthermore, the 1920's see innovations such as the Rorschach Test and the foundation of the Menninger Clinic, which took a compassionate approach to treating those mentally ill. Perhaps the most important of empirical foundations is the performance of the very first lobotomy in the U.S. As early as 1936. With such innovations, by 1951, America has its first drug to treat depression, and oversees, during the same decade, the birth of biopsychology, psychopharmacology, humanistic psychology and…

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