We can define psychology as the
scientific study of behavior.
This includes observable
actions or responses in both humans and animals; eating, drinking, sleeping, speaking. It also
includes mental processes that are not directly observable such as dreaming, imagining,
This definition developed out of the ideas, discussions and arguments among the early
psychologists. Who were they? They were philosophers, physicians, linguists, biologists,
mathematicians, and physiologists.
1879 is traditionally given as the date of the formal beginning of modern psychology. Wilhelm
Wundt created the first full-fledged program in experimental psychology.
Max Friedrich, one of two students working in Wundt’s lab under his supervision is credited with
earning the first Ph.D. in experimental psychology in that year.
In 1881, Wundt founded the journal,
- a journal of psychology
(psychology was a subdiscipline of philosophy).
In 1883 his lab and program were officially designated as
The Institute for Experimental
by Leipzig (one of the largest and most prestigious of German Universities).
So psychology is a relatively young science. But as one of the pioneering psychologists stated,
psychology has a short history but a long past. Compared with the established sciences of
astronomy, anatomy, chemistry, physics and physiology, psychology does have a short history.
But it has a long past because many of the questions and concerns of psychology can be traced
back to the ancient worlds of Greece and Rome, as can the roots of Western civilization.
Magic, superstition, and mysticism, in one form or another, dominated attempts to understand
nature for most of early history. A monumental step in human thought emerged when natural
explanations were offered by the early Greeks. Philosophy began when natural explanations
(logos) replaced supernatural ones (mythos).
(ca 580-500 BCE): Largely through his influence on Plato, he had a significant
influence on Western thought. He believed that the basic explanation of everything in the
universe was found in numbers and numerical relationships. Pythagoras took his observations
and created a school of thought that glorified mathematics. He and his followers applied
mathematical principles to almost every aspect of human existence. Pythagoreans believed that
the universe was characterized by a mathematical harmony. They suggested that physical
events were systematically related to psychological events. They thought illness resulted from a
disruption of the body’s equilibrium and medical treatment consisted of attempts to restore that