Course Hero Logo

Historical and Modern Psychological Perspectives



Modern psychological perspectives draw on historical perspectives, but emphasize scientific evidence over tradition. Starting with the early Greek philosophers and continuing to today, multiple schools of thought have contributed to understanding why people think, feel, and act as they do. In the late 19th century, psychology emerged as a new discipline, independent of philosophy and biology. Early work in psychology often relied on self-reflection and thought experiments. Now, psychology has embraced a scientific approach, relying on carefully collected evidence to evaluate hypotheses. Unfortunately, media presentations of psychology often misrepresent the field and cover pseudoscientific ideas about mental health and behavior, such as "quick fixes" for anxiety or depression that may be too good to be true. Psychology has emerged in the 21st century as a robust and respected field with many subdisciplines. Although some people with psychology training work as therapists, far more work in other fields such as business, criminal justice, and education.

At A Glance

  • Psychology is a science that generates testable predictions called hypotheses and relies on evidence-based theories to explain findings.
  • People are easily swayed by vivid examples and patterns, but are less skilled at determining whether those anecdotes and apparent trends reflect common experiences.
  • Pop psychology and pseudoscience have penetrated modern culture but often misrepresent psychological knowledge and can be harmful.
  • Psychology emerged from the study of biology and philosophy. Structuralism focused on using introspection to reveal the structure of the mind. Functionalism explored the purpose of consciousness and mental processes.
  • Psychoanalytic theorists highlighted the importance of early childhood events in shaping personality and considered unconscious desires critical influences on behavior.
  • Behavioral psychologists argued that psychology should focus on observable behavior rather than on thoughts and feelings. Their research focused on ways in which learning shapes behavior.
  • Humanistic psychologists found Freudian and behavioral approaches limiting. Rather than focusing on how past events shaped people, they emphasized the potential for growth and change.
  • Cognitive psychologists focus on mental processes and use scientific methods to examine how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact to influence one another.
  • Social-cultural psychologists study how people behave based upon the social groups to which they belong.
  • Discoveries in genetics, biology, neuroscience, and neuroimaging have spurred research into how biology, genes, brain structure, and brain function shape behavior.
  • No matter the area of specialization, all psychologists rely on the scientific method to advance knowledge and recognize that behavior is influenced by multiple interacting factors.
  • Career paths in psychology can follow the multiple subdisciplines that have developed, such as cognitive psychology, neurology, and forensic psychology.