Psychology is a relatively young science, which is defined as the science of behavior and mental processes. The interest in understanding the nature of mind and behavior can be found even in ancient times. As Nevid states (2007), there is no way to define an exact date of the beginning of the story of psychology. Perhaps, it started its development when people became interested in the human nature. For example, such ancient philosophers as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, influenced the psychological thought in a profound way in their works (Nevid, 2007).
Nevertheless, the founding of psychology, as an independent science, is usually attributed to Wilhelm Wundt, a German scientist; because it was him, who established the first laboratory dedicated to the study of psychology in 1879 (Nevid, 2007). Wundt was interested in studying people's mental experiences. The experiments Wundt and his students conducted in the laboratory were aimed at developing a model of conscious experience. For that, it was broken down into sensations, perceptions, and feelings. Further, he was trying to determine the way they were evoked by lights, sounds and colors (Nevid, 2007).
The fact that Wundt created his laboratory and separated psychology from philosophy had a great impact for its further development as an independent science. The workings of the mind began to be analyzed in a more structured way with better measurement and control. Many approaches and theories appeared in the 19th and 20th centuries, which determined a rapid development of psychological thought. Emergence of such approaches as structuralism, functionalism, behaviorism and others is the main event in the history of this science.
In his laboratory Wundt studied reaction, sensory processes, and attention, exposing the participants to such stimulus as light and sound. The participants, in their turn, had to report what this or that stimulus made them feel or think. He aimed at recording sensations and thoughts, further analyzing them and finding a structure (McLeod, 2008). Therefore, this approach was later called structuralism. Inasmuch, Wundt used introspection studying the human mind structure, which was defined as a highly practiced form of self-examination (McLeod, 2008). In addition, he focused on the three areas of mind functioning: thoughts, images and feelings, which aroused interest in cognitive psychology and perceptual processes.
Even though Wundt talked much about the above-mentioned factors, he is not considered to be a founder of structuralism. His student, Edward Titchener, founded it being influenced by Wundt's ideas and interpretations and bringing it to the United States (Schultz & Schultz, 2007). He was the one, who attempted to classify the mind structure in a way resembling chemists classifying elements in the periodic table.
Knowing from Wundt that the mind was able to organize mental elements voluntarily, Titchener concentrated on mental elements and their mechanical linking in accordance with the process of association. He thought that it was essential for psychology to discover the nature of the simplest conscious experiences. He analyzed consciousness and its component parts determining its structure (Schultz & Schultz, 2007). Therefore, his focus remained directly on the elements of a mind.
Titchener pointed such mind elements as sensations, which are considered to be the elements of perception, images, which are connected with ideas, and affections, referring to the elements of emotions. These elements were believed to constitute the conscious experience, interacting as a result of associations. In addition, Titchener warned against confusing the mental process with the observed object, which he called a stimulus error (Schultz & Schultz, 2007). For example, when observing an apple all the observers really know that it is red, shiny and round. Describing anything else than color, brightness and shape, they begin interpreting the object instead of observing it. Therefore, this was not an immediate experience (Schultz & Schultz, 2007).
Consciousness is the sum of our experiences at a given time, while mind is the sum of our accumulated experiences over the lifetime. According to Titchener, they are similar, even though consciousness involves present mental processes, and mind involves the total sum of these processes (Schultz & Schultz, 2007). Titchener held structuralism as a pure science; even thought, psychology had the only legitimate purpose, which was to discover the facts of the mind structure.
William James has also used introspection in his works, but later he shifted the focus to the functions of behavior. He disagreed with structuralism and did not believe that conscious experience could be divided into definite elements. Instead, he assumed that it is best understood in terms of its functions, and that psychology should focus on the specifics of behavior and mental processes. Thus, he became the founder of functionalism: the approach, which describes the way individuals adapt to the demands of environment (Nevid, 2007).
Unlike structuralists, functionalists were concerned with the functions of mental processes and the reasons of people's actions. For example, according to James, people develop habits because they help them to perform more effectively in the everyday life (Nevid, 2007).
James' ideas were influenced by Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, which said that all life forms had evolved from the earlier life forms and managed to adapt to new conditions of living. This is explained by the natural selection, the key notion of this theory. It means that only the strongest species are able to survive in the changing environment. In the meantime, the weaker species are not able to adapt to these conditions and to survive.
James extended this theory by stating that the most adaptive behavior in a person usually becomes stronger and turns into a habit, while the weaker behaviors tend to disappear from the person's mind and actions. Therefore, James understood this process as a natural selection as well, comparing adaptive and non-adaptive states of mind to the strong and weak animal species (Nevid, 2007). He also turned to a new look at consciousness, saying that psychology should be referred to as a science of mental life, both of its phenomena and their conditions (Schultz & Shultz, 2007). In this case, phenomena are the notion, which indicate the subject matter of psychology, which can be found in the immediate experience, while condition refers to the importance of the brain in mental life.
James argued that the consciousness should be studied in a natural setting, because it forms the basic part of psychology. In addition, he introduced his theory of emotions in an article in 1884. He claimed in it that the arousal of the physical response comes before the direct appearance of an emotion. Especially, he assigned that to such strong emotions as fear, rage, anger, and love (Schultz & Shultz, 2007).
Thus, functionalism deals with the problem of mind, which is mainly engaged in intervening between the demands of the organism and the environment. It also describes the science of psychology as a means to prove the significance of the mind-body relationship (Angell, 1907). In the meantime, it is known that the functions persist both in mental and in physical life. In addition, there are both general functions, like constant memory, but also special functions, like the memory of particular events.
Functionalism is considered to be an alternative to structuralism. It never became an independent school, but still, it has contributed a lot to the science of psychology. Thus, it raised the concerns for the mind anatomy and resulted in a greater interest over the mind functioning, which later led to the development of behaviorism.
John Watson became a founder of behaviorism in the early 1990s. This approach says that psychology should limit itself to the study of overt behavior. Watson proved it in the following way. One can never see another person's mental processes, so it cannot be considered as an object of scientific inquiry. Instead, he suggested using behavior, which corresponded to the thoughts of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who also believed that it was important to study only the observable events (Nevid, 2007). The main features of behaviorism are the following. It says that people have no free will, but they are influenced by the environment. In addition, behaviorists believe in the concept of tabula rasa, and do not see any difference in studying humans' and animals' reactions (McLeod, 2007).
Skinner also was an important person at the behaviorist school. His behaviorist theory is considered to be radical, because it expands the studied principles to the processes within organism. In addition, he stated that internal states were not causes of behavior. In addition, Skinner wrote a book called The Behavior of Organisms introducing the idea of operant conditioning (McLeod, 2007).
The science of psychology has a rich history; even though, it became independent only in the 19th century. Many scholars create their own theories based on the way they understand the world and believe it operates and influences people's minds. All these theories and all the developments in the history of psychology are important, and they all need to be studied and considered, since there is still no evidence about one theory to be above all the other ones.