The Foundations of Psychology
Psychological development is universal. It is integral in understanding how human behaves, why an individual acts and thinks as such. As the science of behavior and mental processes, psychology has three unique attributes: science, behavior and the mind (Kassin, 2008). First, it is scientific; meaning data collected underwent scientific method, subjected to various methods and validation (2008). The second key word is behavior. Psychology is a broad disciple that studies, observes and measures behavior, any action that may explain humans (2008). Lastly, psychology focuses on the mind, studying both the “conscious and unconscious mental states” (2008). The study of human behavior and mental processes used to boggle people as they tried to elucidate how the human mind and behavior are connected. It was not until the 1800s when theories on psychology started to crop up. Here are some major schools of thoughts that dominated the field of psychology: psychodynamic, behaviorism, cognitive and humanistic.
Psychodynamic psychology is founded by one of the pioneers in psychology- Sigmund Freud. Prior to Freud, psychologists only dealt with the consciousness, or thoughts that people are aware of (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 15). This school of thought underscores the unconscious or the feelings, thoughts and ideas that people are unaware of. Freud believed that is the unconscious that influences behavior. In studying the human mind, Freud theorized that there are three elements: the id, ego, and the superego (p. 446). Hence, personality is formed based on these elements. Freud’s psychodynamic theory paved the study of personality.
On the other hand, behaviorism is the school of psychology that studies behavior that can be measured and observed (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 16). Based on the works of Ivan Pavlov, John Watson and B.F. Skinner, behaviorism contends that the environment can explain all behavior. Pavlov conducted experiments wherein he trained a dog to salivate at the sound of the bell before food was brought in (p. 189). In the long run, the dog salivated at the sound of the bell alone. This resulted in what is now known as Classical or Pavlovian conditioning wherein a response is obtained from a stimulus (p, 188). Based on this, Watson argues that mental experiences are merely reactions to accrued conditioning (p.16). Skinner, another proponent on behaviorism, added the element of reinforcement, rewarding the subjects (human and animals) every time they behave the way he wanted them to. It is said that this school of thought became dominant in the United States in the 60s (p. 17).
When behaviorism started to fade, the cognitive revolution began. Psychologists began to shift from studying behavior to mental processes. The result led to the emergence of cognitive psychology. This school of thought focuses on studying mental processes in the most extensive range, including how people feel, learn, remember, etc. Unlike behaviorism whose model of learning uses a stimulus, cognitive psychologists emphasizes on how people “process information” (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 19). One of the most influential theories in this area is the cognitive development by Jean Piaget (p.400). Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development refers to the changes a child undergoes from birth and has four stages: sensory-motor, preoperational, concrete-operational and formal-operational (p.401).
Humanistic psychology, on the other hand, centers on self-actualization and personal growth. The groundwork for the humanistic psychology was laid out by Alfred Adler’s concept that individuals strive for their own personal and social goals (Morris and Maisto, 2002, p. 451). Adler’s focus on the elements that play towards “positive growth “ and “personal perfection “ makes Adler the first humanistic personality theorist. Other humanistic thinkers include Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Carl Rogers’ Actualizing Tendency, which avers that people steer toward becoming what he/she is capable of (p. 457).
Psychology, as aforementioned, pertains to the scientific study of behavior and mind. The fact that it deals with the mind indicates that there is a biological basis of behavior. Psychobiology is a psychology branch that studies the biological foundation of mental processes and behavior (p. 48). The body has two communication systems: nervous and endocrine system. The nervous system is divided into the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system (pp.57-77). The nervous system, which includes the brain, is acts as the lead of the body, responsible for transmitting information to all parts of the body. On the other hand, the endocrine system coordinates psychological reactions with the release of hormones. These hormones, released by the endocrine glands, aid in regulating bodily activities such as mood, sexual behavior and physical changes (p.77). Hormones may likewise affect emotional reactivity in an individual (p. 77). Furthermore, it has been proven that hormones unrest may be part of the cause of psychological diseases (p. 77).
Psychology is important for it seeks to describe and explain thoughts, feelings, and actions. Its growth has led to the foundation of major school of thoughts which are constantly being observed, experimented and revolutionized to fit with the changing times. In the same vein, it is crucial to map out the biological basis of behavior to help explore how biological process affect one’s actions, thoughts and ideas.
Kassin, S. (2008). Psychology. Retrieved April 7, 2009, from
Morris, C. and Maisto, A. (2002). Psychology 11th ed.
New Jersey: Prentice Hall.