Psychology is a young science, but despite its short life trajectory, it has given it time to create various psychological currents that establish the way it is researched, the concepts and methods used to work and the purpose it is. to reach.
In fact, the variety of theoretical and practical propositions about the direction psychology can take has been surprisingly large, which is not to say that they cannot be summarized.
Below we will see what are these main currents of psychology and what are or have been their characteristics.
The most relevant trends in psychology
Psychology as a discipline distinct from philosophy appeared in the second half of the 19th century. His birth is generally considered to coincide with the inauguration of a psychology research laboratory established by Wilhelm Wundt in 1879.
From that moment on, different approaches to psychology began to emerge, many of which appeared in reaction to others. They are as follows.
This current, which appeared around 1890, includes members of the tradition of psychological research initiated by Wilhelm Wundt. Edward Titchener was its main representative, And defended the idea that the goal of psychology should be to discover the basic building blocks of consciousness and how they interact with each other to create mental processes.
It is from a reductionist perspectiveAs it sought to investigate from the most elementary elements to understand the most complex, and mechanistic, because it was based on the idea that a system as complex as the one that we are composed of can be reduced to isolated parts, an engine .
Precisely because of its more academic than pragmatic approach, another current quickly emerged which came to compete with it: functionalism.
One of the main currents in the psychology of those that appeared at the beginning of the twentieth century. Functionalism, born in the first decade of the twentieth century, it represents a rejection of the structuralist approach; instead of focusing on studying the components of the mind, it aimed to understand mental processes. He didn’t focus on the “bits”, but on functioning, that is, the psychological functions that take place in our head (and, by extension, in our body).
Moreover, while the approaches to structuralism concerned very abstract and general questions, functionalism aspires to offer useful tools. The idea was to find out how they work so that we can use that knowledge in everyday and specific problems.
If he has dissociated himself from functionalism, William James is considered to be one of the great historical figures in the development of psychology who best embodies the approaches and concerns of this current.
3. Psychoanalysis and psychodynamics
The psychodynamic current first appeared through the work of Sigmund Freud, in the last years of the 19th century. It was based on the idea that human co-behavior, both in its movements, thoughts and emotions, is the product of a struggle of opposing forces trying to impose on each other. This struggle is unconsciousBut according to the followers of this current, it can be recognized through the interpretation of its symbolic manifestations.
Although the work of Sigmund Freud has given rise to many different psychological theories and schools of therapy, the truth is that they currently have no scientific approval, Among others by the criticism that the philosopher of science Karl Popper carried out on this way of investigating.
Behavioralism was consolidated shortly after psychoanalysis, and appears as a current of psychology opposing Freud and his disciples, but also many other researchers with a tendency to mentalism. Unlike the latter, behaviorists they stressed the importance of basing research on observable elements behavior, avoiding unjustified speculation as much as possible and avoiding the interpretation of acts as a symbolic key.
Basically, behaviorists have been characterized by considering that the object of study of psychology should be behavior, and not what is usually meant by “mental processes” or, of course, any sort of speculation about it. soul (although at one point, mental processes were also studied, although understood as behavior, as well as motor behavior).
But even if behaviorists wanted to base their work on the study of matter and not the soul, that does not mean that they devoted themselves to the study of the brain, as a neurologist would.
Unlike biopsychologists, to lead behaviorists they didn’t need to know the details of what’s going on in our nervous system when performing certain tasks. Instead, they focused on studying the relationships created between stimuli and responses. For example, to know whether or not a reward system works in a business, it is not necessary to know which neural circuits are involved in this process.
Thus, in this current of psychology, the unit of analysis is contingency: the relationship between stimuli and their responses (Be both observable and measurable). However, the way to measure certain reactions to stimuli was considered immoral with humans, they relied on animal experimentation, which gave a lot of strength to comparative psychology.
Two of the most famous representatives of this current of psychology were John B. Watson and BF Skinner.
This current, which should not be confused with Gestalt therapy, was born in Germany to study psychological processes related to perception and with the way in which solutions to new problems are found.
For these researchers, by both seeing an image and having an idea, we are able to create a holistic picture of the environment and its potential, instead of limiting ourselves to accumulating piece-by-piece information about what is happening to us. surrounded. .
For example, when we solve a puzzle or try until by chance we get it, we get a picture of the problem solving spontaneously. Wolfgang Köhler, for example, studied how chimpanzees come to conclusions about possible ways to modify the environment to obtain food.
This group of researchers developed a series of rules, the so-called ‘Gestalt laws’, through which they described the processes by which our brains it creates qualitatively different information units from the data that arrive there through the senses.
Technically, humanist psychology is not characterized by the proposal of specific research or intervention tools, nor based on differentiated scientific hypotheses. What sets him apart is the way in which psychology is linked to ethics and to a conception of the human being.
In this current, it is believed that the function of psychology should not be simply to obtain information and analyze it coldly, but you have to make people happy.
In practice, this means that humanistic psychologists have relied heavily on phenomenology and have considered that the subjective and the not directly measurable must also have value for psychotherapy and research. This has earned them a lot of criticism, as it can be understood as a symptom that their orientation is dualistic.
One of the best-known representatives of this current was Abraham Maslow, Who theorized on the hierarchy of human needs.
Cognitivism consolidated itself as a mainstream of psychology in the late 1960s, and it was a reaction to BF Skinner behavioralism. This meant a return to the study of mental processes that were not overly taken into account by behaviorists, and it led to a new concern for beliefs, emotions, decision making, etc.
Methodologically, however, this new current has been strongly influenced by behavioralism, and he used several of his intervention and research tools. Currently, cognitivism is the dominant perspective.