History and Origin of Psychology

The origin of psychology dates to 1870s. The term ‘Psychology’ is derived from two Greek words; Psyche means “soul or breath” and Logos means “knowledge or study” i.e., study or investigation of something. The word ‘Psychology’ was not in common use before the nineteenth century, and the field of psychology did not essentially become an independent science until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Psychology recognized as an independent academic discipline in 1879, when a German Professor Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology laboratory at the university of Leipzig, Germany. According to Bolles (1993), Wundt was a medical doctor by training and early in his career, he was fortunate to work with some of the great physiologists of the nineteenth century. Fittingly, his laboratory was established during the time he spent as a professor of philosophy. (Remember, the intellectual roots of psychology lie at the union of philosophy and physiology).

Wundt is traditionally recognized as the founder, or father of the modern psychology, and 1879 is seen as the year that psychology finally emerged as a unique field. Prior to Wundt, it was not possible to major in psychology, because there were no official psychologists or psychology departments. Wundt started studying the structure of mind which meant the immediate (conscious) experience, the contents, and processes of subjective experience such as sensations, thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Thus, formally, psychology was recognized as an independent science in 1879. Let us now look at how psychology has been defined.

Definition of psychology

Early definitions

Several authors tried to define psychology in various ways. They had been discussing on whether psychology should focus on “mind”, “consciousness” or “behaviour”. Let us look at how the definitions of psychology have come up a long way over the past centuries.

Earlier, psychology was part of Philosophy. Ancient philosophers were interested in the study of the soul. Thus, it was first defined in terms of ‘the science of soul’. However, since the term ‘soul’ has very wide-ranging and comprehensive meanings, it was considered as a vague term and was criticized severely, in the Middle Ages. There were questions regarding the physical existence, weight, and volume of soul. It was difficult for many people to believe and comprehend such obscure term. Moreover, no evidence of the precise nature of the soul was existed, nor it’s existence could be proved because of its metaphysical nature. Ultimately the definition of psychology as a science of soul considered unaccepted.

Next, psychology was defined in terms of ‘the science of mind’, by some ancient Greek philosophers. According to them, psychology was held as a branch of mental philosophy. Since this definition does not include overt behaviour of human beings and mind cannot be measured directly, this definition was also dropped by psychologists.

Then, psychology was defined as ‘the science of consciousness’. According to Bagga & Singh (1990), at one time during the history of Psychology, it was felt that the main business of Psychology was to the conscious experience.

Consciousness makes us alert or mindful of the situation or a thing around us. This definition too turned out to be obsolete, and it has been rejected due to the its subjective nature and so cannot be studied independently. Moreover, it is found that human and animal consciousness cannot be measured scientifically.

Lastly, modern Psychology has been defined as ‘a science of behaviour.’ In the early decades of twentieth century, John B. Watson, the father of the school of ‘Behaviourism’, defined psychology as ‘the study of behaviour’. He rejected mind as the subject of psychology and insisted that psychology be restricted to the study of behaviour which is observable. He believed that no essential differences between human and animal behaviour and that we can learn much about our own behaviour from the study of what animals do.

Watson emphasized that nothing is innate, and everything can be learned. In this context, Woodworth (1948) had earlier stated that, first psychology lost its soul, then its mind, then it lost its consciousness. It still has behaviour of sort.

Existing Definitions

Hilgard, Atkinson, & Atkinson (1975) have compiled the changing definitions of psychology starting from that of William James (1890) to that of Kenneth Clark and George Miller (1970). Bagga & Singh (1990) have also cited the following two definitions of Woodworth and Munn, respectively:

“Psychology is the scientific study of the activities of the individual in relation to his environment”.

“Psychology today concerns itself with the scientific investigation of behaviour, including from the stand-point of behaviour, much of what earlier psychologists dealt with as experience”.

Some of the more recent definitions of Psychology, in chronological order, are as follows:

  • Psychology is the science of human and animal behaviour. It includes the application of this science to human problems. (Morgan et al., 1986)
  • The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes. (Feldman,1996)
  • The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes and how they are affected by an organism’s physical state, mental state, and external environment (Tavris and Wade, 1997)
  • Psychology is all about human behaviour, about mental processes, and about the context in which behaviour and mental processes occur. (Das, 1998)
  • The science of behaviour and mental processes. (Lahey,1998)
  • The science of behaviour and cognitive processes. (Baron, 1999)
  • Scientific study of behaviour and mind. (Nairne, 2003)
  • A science in which behavioural and other evidence is used to understand the internal processes leading people (and members of other species) to behave as they do. (Eysenck, 2004)
  • The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes. (Ciccarelli & Meyer,2006; Coon & Mitterer, 2007, 2008)
  • The science that studies behaviour and mental processes. (Rathus,2008)
  • According to Wikipedia.org, 2022, Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour. Psychology includes the study of conscious and unconscious phenomena, including feelings and thoughts. It is an academic discipline of immense scope, crossing the boundaries between the natural and social sciences. 

    As is evident in the above definitions, study of human and animal behaviour in different environment has been emphasized in all of them. All authors have integrated mental activity i.e., cognitive process manifesting behaviour. Now, let us try to understand behaviour.

    Behaviour includes all actions and responses of organisms that can be observed and measured directly or indirectly. Behaviour mean bodily movements and can comprise of mental and cognitive processes such as feelings, attitudes, thoughts, emotions, and all other internal essences, which cannot be observed directly but can be measured indirectly through external behaviour and how they express or react to different problems and situations which is scientific in nature.

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