The Development of Psychology Throughout History

Prompted by an acceleration in science discovery, there is an increasing appetite from the scientific community as well as the general public to research and explore the workings of the mind; as such psychology as a science is in a process of being demystified allowing a wider community of interest to explore the mind and its effect on behaviour. Besides this increasing fascination and curiosity in human behavior, recent developments in psychology discovery have greatly contributed to the realization of the profound effect that mental health has on our well being, as well as on the impact that a socio-economic environment has on children’s mental development.  This growth in knowledge has resulted in bringing about advances in new skills and procedures to applied mental healthcare.

Psychology’s Origins
People in general associate the origins of psychology with Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, when therapeutic disciplines became recognized as a science.  This is a false conclusion as the first attempts in understanding human cognitive functions and behavior are attributed to the Ancient Greeks.
The physician Hippocrates proposed that people’s temperaments are highly influenced by the four bodily fluids, i.e. blood, phlegm, yellow, and black bile which when balanced, result in normal health, whereas a disequilibrium of these fluids would precipitate mental diseases.  Such valuable introspection can be considered as the first theory of biological influences on mental health.
Subsequently, Hippocrates associated blood with a sanguine temperament (i.e. enthusiastic, restless, sociable, compulsive talker, etc.), phlegm with phlegmatic personality (i.e. patient, calm, indecisive, shy, etc.), yellow bile with choleric temperament (i.e. dynamic, leader, impatient, unsympathetic, strong-willed, etc.), and black bile with a melancholic personality (i.e. moody, analytical, philosophical, creative, etc.).
Of course, Hippocrates’ systematization of temperaments drew recognition and criticism from upcoming philosophers and theorists, but he laid the foundation for further research by raising a conceptual awareness of body-mind connection and mental health.
The 1800s: An Era of Enlightenment
Although Hippocrates insights on personality and mental health were revolutionary at the time, not much more progress followed in terms of focused research and analysis for many millennia to come. In fact, if one is to examine the theories and methods applied to treat mental disorders in the past centuries, we could say that the approach to psychological and emotional issues in society was majorly reliant on, and influenced by spiritual and religious dictates, with people who were not conforming to ‘norms’ as dictated by religious authorities simply considered as being demonised regardless of the actual mental state of the accused. Those who suffered from diminished mental health and actually needed therapy faced the same brutal treatment as those who simply did not conform to the religious norms

Interest and progress aligning psychology to science began during the Enlightenment era, more specifically towards the late 1800s.  It was then that the physiologist Wilhelm Wundt separated the study of psychology from philosophy in 1875 by creating the first experimental laboratory with the purpose to examine and to record thoughts and resultant sensations, in order to better understand the mind’s functions, state of consciousness and its influence on behavior. Thanks to his experimental methods and his first textbook “Principles of Physiological Psychology, 1873”, psychology became recognized as a valid science and Wilhelm Wundt became “the father of the modern psychology” by publishing his works on the foundations of what we know today as cognitive psychology.

The 1900s: Psychology’s Accelerated Ascension in Times of War 
The 1900 millennium brought about accelerated growth in the systemic study and discovery of psychology as a science which many agree is the foundation of the success and the recognition it enjoys today amongst other scientific fields. With the rapid increase of interest and progress in science and experimental laboratories, many theorists and researchers saw psychology’s potential in understanding, treating and improving public’s mental health. But since humans and life experiences are complex, the fast-expanding field of psychology has embraced multiple theories, such as functionalism, behaviorism, and humanism. Every subdiscipline of psychology aimed to examine the vast range of factors that were affecting the disadvantageous members of society and subsequently, their target was to eradicate social injustice as well as generate knowledge amongst high and low social classes.
As theories and experiments were gaining attention and success for managing social issues, researchers’ psychological expertise was highly required and respected. Yet, psychology, as a scientific discipline, received its valuable place in academics after the two World Wars.

The cruelty of the wars left profound scars and traumas behind them, causing more social and emotional issues. This was the period when people needed guidance and healing more than ever. As a result, the professional organization American Psychology Association(APA, initially founded by 31 members in 1892), has encountered a rapid growth by 1970s as over 30,000 psychologists united in order to extend their work, skills, and theories with the purpose of treating contemporary human issues in all aspects: law, social warfare, and education.

Thanks to the newly developed rating scales, theories, interpretations of personality and the apparition of the concept “conscious vs unconscious mind”, psychologists were finally able to offer answers to multiple enigmatic concepts such as motivation, racism, marital issues, the causes of misbehavior in adolescence, the major stages of human’s life and so much more. The boom of information that psychologists were gathering through their research caused a mania among populations, transforming psychology into a dominant “interpretative tool”.
With a welcoming public and an increasing popularity, the psychological organizations began to share information with the public via books and articles, not only through their academic writings. Therefore, psychological information was no longer formal.
Psychology Today
After the end of the Second World War, psychology has systematically expanded its area of expertise in education, healthcare, law, sports, neurology, business and social services through research and continuous training of professionals.
Today, psychology does not only diagnose and treat patients but it also develops interventional strategies that could contribute to a better and healthier function of society.
Yet, this does not mean that psychology’s evolution will stop here. Due to the advances in technology and science, experts suggest that psychology will have a better understanding of the molecular processes in mental disorders, which will greatly improve the diagnosis process, the pharmaceutical treatments as well as possible preventions. The refined results of research in neuroscience will expand their benefits in multiple fields such as affective science and cognition. The implications will allow psychologists to prevent and determine what could affect/benefit children’s academic development, what people choose to remember, develop better procedures to improve memory, understand the biological basis of emotions and so much more.
It could be concluded that psychology as a science has a bright future.

2 thoughts on “The Development of Psychology Throughout History

  1. Interesting. I’m not sure about your conclusion about psychology as a science. There are elements of the psyche that are amenable to a scientific approach, but others that are not e.g. the unconscious, dreams, things such as ESP at the borderline of today’s understanding. Anyway, enjoyed the article!


    • Thank you Barry for your appreciation and comment.For many, psychology is still not a science for the same reasons you mentioned, yet others consider that psychology has greatly contributed to the understanding of numerous enigmas of human’s behaviour and mental health.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      Best wishes!


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