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By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer
Published: January, 5 2010
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Psychology—Taking a closer look into this field
Psychological study is a fascinating pursuit that would appeal to those students who are interested in the deepest understanding of the human experience. Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and how thoughts, emotions, and the mind influence and motivate the actions and interactions of individuals both by themselves and within a society. The evolution and exploration of psychological thought helps define the history of contemporary intellectualism and man’s attempts at self-exploration. Psychology seeks to understand and explain how life experiences, conditioning, and familial & societal factors contribute to the behavior and overall psychological make-up of man. In this way it is vital to the health and well being of both individuals and the society they are part of.
What are the schools of classic Psychological thought?
As psychology has evolved as both a science and a profession, different schools of thought have emerged, each focusing on different aspects of the human condition. All of these schools of thought lend a unique perspective and have contributed to a greater overall understanding of the factors that influence the psychology and behavior of man.
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Contemporary psychology is a melding of these various schools of thought. It gives value to the research and scientific method of each. An academic and professional career in psychology would involve in-depth study and a comprehensive understanding of the most influential major classic schools of psychological thought and the psychologists who pioneered them:
As psychology was first being recognized as its own scientific field of study independent of the other sciences, among the first questions to be grappled with was the structure of the human psyche and it’s relation to human physiology. Wilhem Wundt, who founded the first experimental lab of psychology, was the originator of the psychological structuralist school of thought and postulated that conscious experience can be broken down into basic elements, much like things in physical nature can be broken down to their elemental and chemical components.
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Wundt cataloged the conscious elements that he felt quantified the entire human experience, though by today’s standards these were limited explorations of the psychology of man. Of primary interest to the early psychologists was how the mind constructs perceptions and sensations from sensory stimuli transmitted through the nervous system to the brain.
This school of thought asserts that all human behavior is the result of environmental and societal conditioning. Behaviorism is the belief that no innate ability or natural penchant in a person can compete with the influence of the outside world in motivating and directing behavior. This school of thought believes that all human behavior is directed by either a series of rewards or punishments in response to a particular behavior.
Behaviorism was made famous by the psychologist Ivan Pavlov who experimented with conditioning on dogs. In his well-known experiments he associated feedings with the aural stimulus of bell ringing. Eventually he showed that the aural stimulus alone, bell ringing, could cause the dog to salivate even when no food was presented. Pavlov’s dog had been, in effect, conditioned to salivate in response to a ringing bell.
Easily the most influential psychologist in the history of the field, and commonly known as the “Father of Modern Psychology”, Sigmund Freud’s psychosexual theory on the development of man studies human development over the course of a lifetime through five distinct stages: oral, anal, phallic, latent, and genital.
Freudian psychologists recognize man’s unconscious psychological make-up to consist of three parts:
- The id which operates on the pleasure principal and is driven only by the need to satiate immediate desires for comfort, food, warmth, and attention without concern for societal or cultural expectations.
- The Ego which operates on the reality principle and balances the drives of the id with the reality of a given situation and the need to function within a society.
- The Superego which factors morality in decision making and distinguishes between what is right and wrong.
Inspired by the revelations of Darwin’s evolutionary theories, functionalism seeks to understand the practical evolved purpose behind patterns of human thought and behavior. This school of thought asserts that human behavior is more adaptive to the pragmatism of survival than it is innate to the individual.
Gestalt, the German word for shape or figure, is used to describe a school of thought with a holistic approach to understanding the psychology of man. Its Principal of Totality attempts to factor everything that is known to comprise the human experience, both physical and mental.
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Gestalt’s principal of psychophysical isomorphism asserts that conscious experience and cerebral activity are correlated, and that humans have a natural tendency to organize their world and experiences in a way that is orderly, symmetric, and simple.
This school of thought, as its name implies, is concerned with human cognition or how a person thinks, perceives, remembers, and learns. Cognitive Psychology studies complex mental processes like problem solving, speech, and memory.
This school of psychological thought is often applied to education, as its core focus is how humans acquire, process and store information in the course of learning and retention.
The uniqueness of this school of thought is its synthesis with both psychological and existential philosophical thought. The basis of this theory is that humans are alone in a godless universe but operate with autonomy and fee-will as participants, rather than observers, in their own lives.
Existential psychology seeks to define man as more than a sum of his individual parts and gives significance to the entirety of the individual and his personal history. Therapists in this field attempt to submerge themselves completely in their patient’s reality for a more total understanding of the individual experience.
This school of thought also known as Adlerian Psychology, named for its founder Alfred Adler, asserts that man in deciding his own reality is responsible for the creation of his own personality. Adler is known for saying: “The individual is both the picture and the artist. Therefore if one can change one’s concept of self, he can change the picture being painted.”
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