UNDERSTANDING the conscious mind. His perspective became known




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This paper will explore
psychology from beginning to present and all it’s extensive makeup in between.
We will begin with the history of psychology and explore its past roots that
lead to where the field is today. Next, we will look at the major approaches in
the contemporary field of psychology. I will also discuss psychology’s well-known
key issues and controversies. Lastly, we will explore just what the future of
psychology will hold.

What are the origins of psychology?

It is said that the
field of psychology can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. They considered
the mind a topic for contemplation. Philosophers would later argue for hundreds
of years over some of the same things psychologist still argue about today. For
example, philosopher John Locke of the 17th century suggested the
blank slate theory. His belief was that children were born with minds like a
blank slate and that the experiences they had determined who they would become
in adulthood. Then there was Rene’ Descartes who argued that we are indeed born
with some knowledge that is inborn.

The formal beginning of
the field of psychology did not begin until the 19th century though.
Wilhelm Wundt from Leipzig Germany established the first experimental laboratory
devoted to the study of psychology. Wundt considered psychology a study of the
conscious mind. His perspective became known as structuralism. Structuralism
focused on the elements of consciousness, perception, thinking, emotion, and
other mental activities. He and other structuralist used a procedure called
introspection which is a procedure that presents the subject


with a stimulus and ask
the subject to describe the stimulus in their own words. Other Psychologist
eventually began to question Wundt’s work. They were not satisfied that
introspection revealed the structures of the mind.

The perspective that
would later replace structuralism was functionalism. Functionalism focuses on
what the mind does and how behavior functions. William James one major
functionalist examined how behavior enables people to satisfy their needs and
how our stream consciousness thinking allows us to adapt to our environment.
John Dewey drew from functionalism and developed the field of school
psychology, encouraging new ways for the schools to meet the educational needs
of their students. Another important reaction to structuralism was the
development of Gestalt Psychology. In the early 1900’s this development emphasized
how perception is organized.

What are the major approaches in
contemporary psychology?

Today the field of
psychology contains five major perspectives. These perspectives include:
Neuroscience, Psychodynamic, Behavioral, Cognitive, and Humanistic. These
perspectives shine light on different aspects of behavior and mental processes.

The Neuroscience
perspective considers how people and non-humans function biologically. It
studies how individual nerve cells are joined and how the characteristics of parents
and other ancestors effect behaviors. Because behavior can be broken down into
biological components, the neuroscience perspective has a broad appeal.

The Psychodynamic
perspective argues that behavior is motivated by inner forces and conflicts about
which have little awareness or control. It views dreams and slips of the tongue


indications of what the
person is truly feeling. The psychodynamic perspective is linked to one person,
Sigmund Freud. Freud was a physician in the early 1900’s whose ideas about the
unconscious mind factors of behavior had a sweeping effect on 20th
century psychology and related fields. Although some of Freud’s original
concepts have been criticized, his contemporary psychodynamic perspective gives
a way to understand and treat some kinds of psychological disorders. It also
helps to understand prejudice and aggression.

The Behavioral
perspective was formed out of rejection of psychology’s early push on the inner
workings of the mind. This perspective suggests that observable, measurable
behavior should be the focus of study. John B. Watkins was the first
psychologist to advocate the behavioral approach. In the 1920’s Watson was
adamant in his view that you could gain complete understanding of behavior by
studying and modifying the environment in which one operates. John Watson
believe that it was possible to bring out any desired behavior by controlling
the person’s environment. A great deal of our understanding about how people
learn new behaviors is based on the behavioral perspective.

The Cognitive
Perspective focuses on how people think, understand, and know about the world.
It emphasizes a learning of how people comprehend and represent the world
within themselves and how our way of thinking about the world effects our
behavior. Psychologist that adhere to the cognitive perspective compare human
thinking to that of a computer that takes in information and transforms,
stores, and retrieves that information.

The Humanistic
Perspective suggest that all individuals naturally work to grow, develop, and
be in control of their own lives and behaviors. This perspective maintains that
each of us have the


ability to seek and
reach fulfillment. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow were central figures the
development of the humanistic perspective. The emphasis of this perspective is
free will and the ability to make decisions about one’s own life and behavior rather
than relying on social standards.  More
than any other approach the behavioral perspective stresses the role of
phycology in the enrichment of people’s lives.

What are psychology’s key issues
and controversies?

It seems Psychologist
can agree on the key issues/controversies of psychology which are nature(heredity)
vs. nature(environment), conscious vs. unconscious causes of behavior,
observable behavior vs. internal mental processes, free will vs. determinism,
and lastly individual differences vs. universal principles. Psychologist all
agree that these issues must be addressed in order to further the field of

First is the field of
nature(heredity) vs. nature(environment). This key issue addresses how much of
an individual’s behavior is genetically determined nature or heredity and how
much is because of nurture or the influences of physical and social environment
a child is raised in. It also takes a look at the interplay of heredity and
environment. Psychologist do agree that neither nature nor nurture alone
determines an individual’s behavior.

Next up is conscious
vs. unconscious causes of behavior. This controversy takes a look at how much
of an individual’s behavior is produced by things in which we are fully aware
and how much is due to unconscious activity. Clinical psychologist argue that
psychological disorders are brought on by unconscious elements however,
psychologist suggest that they are a result of flawed thinking processes.


Following is observable
behavior vs. internal mental processes. This key issue begs the question,
should psychology focus solely on behaviors that can be seen or unseen thinking
processes? Some psychologist especially the ones who depend on the behavioral
perspective, assert that the only source of information is behavior that can be
observed directly. Other psychologist with the cognitive perspective would
argue that the processes that take place inside a person’s mind is crucial to
the understanding of behavior.

Free will vs.
determinism is another key controversy. This issue looks at how much of our
behavior is a factor of our own free will and how much of it is a matter of
determinism (behavior is beyond willful control). Some psychologist contend that
individuals with psychological disorders make intentional choices while other
would argue that these said individuals fall prey to forces beyond their

Another key issue is
individual differences verses universal principle. This issue considers how
much of our behavior is a result of our unique qualities and how much is result
of the culture and society we live in. Psychologist who rely on neuroscience look
at how the nervous system works and similar behavioral fates despite different
childhoods. Other psychologist who focus on the humanistic perspective rely
more on an individuals distinct and unique qualities.

What is the future of psychology
likely to hold?

Specific developments
in psychology are difficult to predict. But, as the knowledge grow the field
will become more specialized. Our understanding of the brain and nervous
systems are ever growing and combined with genetics, this will allow
psychologist to concentrate on preventing disorders. The evolution of
neuroscience approaches is surely to have an increase in impact over


all the branches of
psychology. The field of psychology’s influence on issues of interest such as
terrorism, violence, and racial prejudices will undoubtedly grow in the future.
Lastly, as our society becomes more diverse, the study of racial, ethnic, and
cultural elements will increase in importance. The results of all this will be
a psychology field that can understand human behavior in the broadest of sense.


The field of psychology
is an ever changing and ever evolving science that has been long contemplated.
From it’s earliest roots within the ancient Greeks to the modern perspectives
of psychology the longing to understand and grow in knowledge of who we are and
what makes us that way is and has been a plateau for differing perspectives,
opinions, and controversies. The knowledge that is gained in the future is sure
to put some to rest while it promotes other ideas and philosophies. I believe
that Psychology could be summed up as the search for the story behind the