Notable Psychologists and Theories

Wilhelm Wundt and the Structuralists


Edward Bradford Titchener

Studied conscious experience and its structure using introspection. Emphasis was placed on the "what" of the mind. He believed attention is controlled by intentions and motives.Wundt was responsible for moving psychology out of the realm of philosophy and to the world of science. He introduced measurement and experiment into psychology. Titchener tried to classify the structures of the mind such as sensations and thoughts. This approach became known as "structuralism."

These structuralists broke experience into its elemental parts in order to better understand thought and behavior. To do so, they used introspection or looking into one's own mind for information about the nature of conscious experience.  They believed this detailed analysis of experience as it happened provided the most accurate glimpse into the workings of the human mind.

William James and the Functionalists

James was the first American-born psychologist. His perspective became known as functionalism which is based on the idea that consciousness is a continuous flow - the "what it does" of the mind.  This perspective focused on why and how people think and feel. It is better to look at why the mind works the way it does than to describe its parts. James studied how the mind works in allowing the organism to adapt to the environment using naturalistic observation of animal and human behavior. Perceptions, emotions, and experiences flow together.

Sigmund Freud: Psychodynamic or Psychoanalysis


The Nature of the Unconscious Mind

The theories of Freud added another dimension to psychology: the idea that much of our behavior is governed by unconscious conflicts, motives, and desires. The goal was to explain personality and behavior and to develop techniques for treating mental illnesses through the study of individual cases. The application resulted in development of psychotherapy with an emphasis on the first six years of life. Freud believed adult problems could invariably be traced back to critical stages of childhood.

G. Stanley Hall

Established the first American psychology laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in 1883. He became known as the father of the scientific study of adolescence and coined the term storm-and-stress to describe adolescent years as a time of conflict and mood swings. Hall believed that development is controlled by genetically determined physiological factors. He believed the environment played a minimal role in development.  Hall founded the American Psychological Association (APA). He also started the first scientific journal in American psychology, the American Journal of Psychology.

John B. Watson: Behaviorism

John B. Watson argued that psychology should concern itself only with observable, measurable behavior. Watson based much of his work on the conditioning experiments of Ivan Pavlov who trained his dogs to expect food when they heard a bell. Watson argued that an infant is tabula rasa or a blank slate. One of his best-known experiments was with Little Albert. Watson taught Little Albert to fear a white rat by pairing the rat with a frightening noise. Eventually Little Albert was afraid of anything white and furry.

B. F. Skinner:

B. F. Skinner's beliefs were similar to Watson's, but he added the concept of reinforcement or rewards. In this way he made the learner an active agent in the learning process. This view became known as behaviorism or the idea that psychology should be based only on observable, measurable behaviors.  Psychology can be a true science only if it examines observable behavior, not ideas, thoughts, feelings, or motives. His views dominated American psychology into the 1960s.


Behaviorism is an extreme form of environmentalism.

Gestalt Psychology

Gestalt psychology posits that the unified whole is more than a compilation of parts. The word gestalt means whole or circle. In this emphasis on wholeness, the Gestalt school radically differed from structuralism. Gestalt psychologists were most interested in perception. When applied to perception, Gestalt refers to our tendency to see patterns. The goal was to describe the organization of mental processes -"the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" concept. Methods used were observation of sensory/perception experiences.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is the study of mental processes in the broadest sense, focusing on how people perceive, interpret, store, and retrieve information. Cognitive psychologists believe that not only behavior but thoughts and feelings can be studied scientifically.

Humanistic and Positive Psychology

Humanistic psychology

Positive psychology

Founded by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, this approach focuses on personal growth and meaning to reach one's full potential.


Humanistic psychology emphasizes the goal of reaching one's potential, love, belongingness, and self-esteem.


Martin Seligman and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi developed the study of happiness, well-being, intimacy, leadership, and altruism known as positive psychology in the 1990s. Wellness is stressed more than abnormal behaviors.


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