Psychology: Defined

  1.  The term psychology is derived from 2 Greek words Psyche meaning soul and Logos meaning study of a subject or topic. Hence, we can say that Psychology is the study of the soul or mind.
  2.  However, it has moved considerably from this simple definition and has established itself as a scientific discipline which deals with the processes intrinsic to human experience and behavior.
  3. Psychology is defined formally as a science which studies mental processes, experiences and behavior in different contexts.It uses methods of biological and social sciences to obtain data systematically.
  4.  Behaviors are responses or reactions we make or activities we engage in. When it is said that experiences are intrinsic to the experiencing person, then it is referred to states of awareness or consciousness or mental processes. 
  5. However, brain activities and mental processes are interdependent. Brain activities give major hints as to how our mind functions. But the consciousness of our own experiences, thoughts and mental processes are so much more than brain or neural activities.

Psychology when studied as a discipline

The main motive is to understand and explain how the mind works and how various mental processes result in various behaviors. Psychologists explain behaviur and experiences in different manners. Some of them make their analysis more scientific and objective while others explain behavior from the point of view of the experiencing individual because they consider that subjectivity is a necessary aspect of human experience. Psychology as a discipline has its focus largely on biological principles to explain individual behavior.

Evolution of Psychology

  • Sructuralism:
  1. Psychology as a modern discipline, grew out of ancient Philosophy including questions of psychological significance. The first experimental laboratory was established in 1879 in Leipzig, Germany by Wilhelm Wundt. 
  2. Wundt was engrossed in studying conscious experiences and wanted to analyse the building blocks of the mind. Introspection is a process by which subjects in psychological experiments are asked to describe in detail their own mental processes or experiences.
  3.  Psychologists who analysed the structure of the mind with the help of introspection were known as structuralists.
  • Functionalism:
  1. American psychologist, William James developed a functionalist approach to study of the mind. 
  2. He believed that psychology should focus on what the mind does and how behavior helps in making people deal with their environment and enable them to satisfy their needs. William James set up a psychological laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 
  3. According to him, the very core of psychology is formed by consciousness as an ongoing stream of mental processes interacting with environment.
  • Gestalt Psychology Approach:
  1. Gestalt Psychology emerged in Germany as a reaction to Structuralism in the early 20th century.
  2.  It focuses on the organisation of perceptual experiences and it states that our perceptual experience is more than the sum of the components of the perception or in other words, what we experience is more than the inputs received from the environment.
  • Behaviorism:
  1. Around 1910, John Watson, came up with the Behaviorist approach to psychology as a reaction to Structuralism. For Watson, the mind is not observable and introspection is subjective.
  2.  He said that psychology should fixate on what is observable and verifiable. He defined psychology as the study of behavior or responses to stimuli which can be studied objectively.
  • Psychoanalytic Approach:
  1. Sigmund Freud founded Psychoanalysis as a system to understand and cure psychological disorders.
  2.  He viewed human behavior as a dynamic manifestation of unconscious desires for gratification of pleasure-seeking desires and conflicts.
  3.  According to Freud, the mind is responsible for decisions both conscious and unconscious that it takes on basis of psychic drives.
  • Humanistic Approach:
  1. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow took a more positive view of human nature and came up with the Humanistic Perspective in psychology.
  2.  They emphasized on the free will of humans and their attempts to grow and reveal their inner potential. It stresses on empathy and prioritizes the good in human behavior. 
  3. This approach mainly pays attention to the self, personal growth and development.
  • Cognitive Approach:
  1. Cognitive Perspective to psychology was developed by combining the aspects of Gestalt Psychology and Structuralism. This perspective focuses on how we gain knowledge about the world.
  2.  Cognition is the process of knowing and it also includes thinking, understanding, perceiving, memorizing, problem solving and various other mental processes by which our wisdom about the world develops. It also enables us to deal with the environment in specific manners.
  3.  This approach views humans as actively constructing their minds on the basis of their exploration into the social and physical world. This view is termed as Constructivism.

Any knowledge discipline is very difficult to define because it evolves continuously and the range of phenomena that is studied cannot be hooked by any one definition.This is even more true for psychology. The most interesting feature of this discipline lies in the study of psychological processes which are mostly innate and are available to individuals for observation within themselves.