Basic psychology: definition, objectives and theories that influence it

To understand psychology, we have to imagine a giant mental map where we find, roughly speaking, two central concepts or backbones: applied psychology (practical part of psychology) and basic psychology (theoretical part).

Basic psychology studies the psychic processes and behaviors of human beings, As well as the laws governing these processes and conduct. In turn, it feeds on different historical currents that we will know about in this article.

For its part, applied psychology collects the contributions of basic psychology to put them into practice and solve people’s problems.

    Basic psychology and applied psychology

    Basic psychology is, in a way, the most basic part of psychology. Which means applied psychology is based on basic psychology as a fundamental science. But what is applied psychology?

    Generally speaking, applied psychology is a concept which refers to the practical side of psychology; uses the knowledge acquired and the methods developed by basic psychology. In other words, it puts into practice the knowledge obtained not only by basic psychology, but also by different branches of psychology (for example social psychology, experimental, evolutionary, developmental psychology …).

    The goal of applied psychology is to solve the problems of everyday life, Improve people’s quality of life and make their functioning more positive and adaptive.

    In addition, the different branches of applied psychology deal with the functionality of the mentioned processes, in the different environments of the individual.

      General psychology

      But to talk about basic psychology, we must also understand what general psychology is; this is the part of basic psychology that you study mental processes and behavior of the individual considered normal and mature.

      This is why the specific contents of general psychology do not correspond exactly to all the knowledge of basic psychology.

      Basic psychology: what is it?

      For its part, basic psychology is a fundamental part of psychology, which deals with the study of the psychic processes and behaviors of human beings, as well as the laws governing these processes and leads. It tries to explain the processes underlying the behavior that the organism develops or performs.

      In other words, basic psychology encompasses all that knowledge of mind and behavior that is not applied. Basic psychology focuses on a number of areas of knowledge or research.

      Research areas

      The areas that basic psychology mainly studies are 6:

      • Memory.
      • Learning.
      • Sensation.
      • Reasoning.
      • Perception.
      • Motivation.

      psychological currents

      Basic psychology he is nourished and supported by different psychological currents to develop his explanations and theories. Historically, the main currents that fed basic psychology were – and are – (in chronological order) a total of 9:

      1. Structuralism

      Initiated by Wundt at the beginning of the 19th century, he attempts to study consciousness scientifically (considered as the object of psychology).

      2. Functionalism

      Developed by William James a little later, also in the 19th century. He is interested in the functional and pragmatic approach of consciousness.

        3. Psychoanalysis

        Prompted by Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century. Freud began his studies of neurosis with psychoanalysis, facing the traditional anatomical or physiological model.

        4. Russian reflexology

        Developed by Ivan Pavlov. Pavlov discovers a procedure (the conditioned reflex) to study the dynamics of psychic activity which he calls “higher nervous activity”.

        5. Behaviorism

        Launched in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century by John Watson. Watson, faced with the failure of introspection, seeks a method whose results are absolutely objective. He studies behavior and its genesis, and uses techniques that can control and change it.

        6. Gestalt

        It appeared in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, at the hands of Wertheimer. He considers that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts” and therefore does not seek to decompose the psychological phenomenon into parts.


        It was born in the 1930s by three major authors: Hull, Tolman and Skinner. It is based on an experimental analysis of the behavior, And his doctrine is based on operant conditioning (stimulus – response – reinforcer).

        8. Cognitivism

        It appeared in the 1950s and 1960s, spurred on by Piaget and Neisser, as behaviorism began to be questioned for its excessive reductionism and cognitive variables began to be taken into account in the study of human activity.

        9. Humanism

        It also finds its origin in the 1950s and 1960s, a little later than cognitivism, with authors such as Rogers, Allport and Maslow. It represents a conception of man close to the most traditional philosophical currents and encompasses concepts such as self-realization and human motivation.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Arias, MF and Fernández, F. (2000). Basic psychology, applied psychology and research methodology: the paradigmatic case of experimental and applied behavioral analysis. Latin American Journal of Psychology, 32 (2), 277-300.
        • García Vega, L. (2007). Brief history of psychology. 2nd edition. 21st century. Madrid.

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