Since the beginning of its history, human beings have developed hypotheses and theories about psychological functioning and mental disorders. Despite the predominance of the scientific method, very old views, such as the attribution of diseases to the action of spirits or the separation between body and soul, still have some influence.
To talk about the history of psychology we must go back to the classical philosophers; however, the discipline we know today only developed as such when the works of authors such as Emil Kraepelin, Wilhelm Wundt, Ivan Pavlov, and Sigmund Freud became popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ancient age: beginning of the history of psychology
The term psychology comes from the Greek words “psyche” and “logos”, which can be translated as “study of the soul”. During antiquity, it was believed that mental disorders were a consequence of possession by spirits and demons, and treatments consisted of spells and spells to which curative effects have been attributed.
Between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, philosophers such as Socrates and Plato made contributions that would be essential to the development of psychology, in addition to philosophy. While Socrates laid the foundations of the scientific method, Plato conceived of the body as the vehicle of the soul, truly responsible for human behavior.
At the same time, the physician Hippocrates studied physical and mental illnesses using the inductive method and attributed them to mood or body fluid imbalances. This tradition would be taken up by Rome: the work of Galen, who developed that of Hippocrates, is one of the best examples of Greek influence in Roman thought.
Middle Ages: events and setbacks
In the Middle Ages, European thought was dominated by Christianity; this has led to obvious setbacks in scientific progress. Although the Greco-Roman theories of humor remained in place, they were again combined with the magical and the evil: mental disorders were attributed to the commission of sins and were “treated” with prayers and exorcisms.
In the Arab world, however, in its heyday, medicine and psychology continued to advance in the Middle Ages. “Diseases of the mind” have been described such as depression, anxiety, dementia or hallucinations, humane treatments were applied to those who suffered from them and basic psychological processes began to be studied.
Important developments in Asian psychology have also taken place. Hindu philosophy analyzed the concept of self, while in China tests were already applied in the field of education and this was done the first known psychological experience: Draw a circle with one hand and a square with the other to assess resistance to distraction.
Renaissance and Enlightenment
Between the 16th and 18th centuries, in the western world the demonological conception of mental illness and humanitarianism coexisted. The recuperation of the influence of classical Greek and Roman authors played a key role in this second aspect, which linked psychological disorders to physical and not moral alterations.
The word “psychology” began to gain popularity during this historical period. The works of the philosophers Marko Marulic, Rudolf Gockel and Christian Wolff were particularly important in this sense.
It is necessary to underline the influence of the philosophers like René Descartes, who contributed to the dualistic conception that separates body and soul, Baruch Spinoza, who questioned it, or John Locke, who said that the mind depends on the influences of the environment. Dr Thomas Willis has also attributed mental disorders to alterations in the nervous system.
Also at the end of the 18th century Franz Joseph Gall and Franz Mesmer were very influential; the first phrenology introduced, according to which mental functions depend on the size of specific areas of the brain, while mesmerism attributed physical and psychological alterations to the action of magnetic energies on bodily fluids.
Psychiatry was preceded by alienism, represented mainly by Philippe Pinel and his disciple Jean-Étienne Dominique Esquirol. Pinel promoted the moral treatment of the mentally ill and diagnostic classifications, while Esquirol encouraged the use of statistics to analyze the effectiveness of psychological interventions.
19th century: “Scientific Psychology” is born
From the second half of the 19th century increase knowledge of brain anatomy they made mental processes more widely understood as consequences of biology. We underline the contributions of the psychophysiology of Gustav Theodor Fechner and those of Pierre Paul Broca and Carl Wernicke in the field of neuropsychology.
too much the influence of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was very important. Evolutionism served as an excuse for eugenics such as Francis Galton and Bénédict Morel, who advocated the inferiority of the lower class and people with mental disorders through overestimating the weight of inheritance.
In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory for experimental psychology, Where knowledge from different branches of science would be combined; this is why Wundt is often called “the father of scientific psychology”, although before Wundt, psychophysical researchers like Gustav Theodor Fechner had already paved the way for the emergence of this discipline. Granville Stanley Hall was the creator of a similar laboratory in the United States and founded the American Psychological Association.
Psychiatry developed in large part thanks to the work of Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum, who studied disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and Emil Kraepelin, pioneer of current diagnostic classifications depending on the symptoms and signs, as well as their evolution.
Also among the antecedents of modern psychology are functionalism and structuralism, two very influential schools of the last years of the 19th century and the first stage of the 20th century. While William James’ functionalism studied mental functions, Edward Titchener’s structuralism focused on its content, Such as sensations or thoughts.
On the other hand, during this century, Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer studied hypnosis and hysteria, developing research and ideas that inspired Sigmund Freud in the later years of this century. During this time, hand reflexology appeared in Russia Iván Pávlov and Vladimir Bekhterev. With these contributions the foundations of psychoanalysis and behaviorism have been laid, The two orientations which would dominate the psychology of the first half of the XXth century.
Development in the 20th century
During the twentieth century, the main theoretical currents of modern psychology were established. Sigmund Freud, disciple of Charcot and Breuer, created psychoanalysis and popularize verbal therapy and the concept of the unconscious through a psychoanalytic prism, while authors such as John Watson and Burrhus F. Skinner have developed behavioral therapies focused on observable behavior.
The scientific research promoted by behaviorism would eventually lead to the emergence of cognitive psychologyThis revived the study of elementary and complex mental processes and became popular from the 1960s onwards. As a result, cognitivism includes treatments developed by authors such as George Kelly, Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck.
Another relevant theoretical orientation is humanistic psychology, Performed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow, among others. Humanism emerged as a reaction to the predominance of psychoanalysis and behaviorism and has advocated the conception of people as free, unique, self-fulfilling and worthy beings.
In addition, knowledge about biology, medicine and pharmacology has increased enormously during the twentieth century, which facilitated the predominance of these sciences over psychology and influenced the development of interdisciplinary fields such as psychobiology, neuropsychology and psychopharmacology.
The last decades
The development of behavioral science and mental processes was marked by the development of neuroscience and the constant dialogue with cognitive science in general and with behavioral economics. Likewise, the current schools linked to psychoanalysis have lost much of their presence and their hegemony, although they remain healthy in Argentina and France.
This made a conception of psychology in which neuroscience and cognitive psychology (With many contributions from behaviorism) they exchange tools and knowledge with each other in research and interventions.
However, the critiques that behaviorism has made of mentalistic and subjectivist views of psychology (which are those which treat “the mind” as something separate from a person’s context and those which deviate from the person on the outside. what’s going on in his head, respectively), are still in effect.
This means that both cognitivism and psychoanalysis and all perspectives relating to humanistic psychology are severely criticized, among others, for working from very abstract and vague concepts under which they can place very diverse and unrelated meanings. others.
Anyway, Behavioralism remains a minority philosophy in psychology, While cognitivism enjoys very good health. However, the vast majority of research in cognitive psychology of an experimental type is carried out on the basis of methodological behaviorism, which leads to certain contradictions: on the one hand, mental phenomena are treated as elements located “inside the brain. “. person (mentalism) and on the other hand is to study this element by creating stimuli and measuring objective responses.