The Development of Schools of Psychology Leads to Greater Understanding of Human Behavior

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The Development of Schools of Psychology Leads to Greater Understanding of Human Behavior


Although speculation about the nature of human thought and behavior are very ancient, psychology did not entirely separate itself from philosophy and physiology until relatively recent times. By the end of the nineteenth century psychologists had established several different approaches to the study of the mind, including structuralism, associationism, and functionalism. During the early twentieth century several schools of psychology developed distinct and competing approaches to the study of mental processes. Through the work of Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis replaced structuralism, but conflicts within the Freudian community gave rise to new schools of psychology, such as behaviorism and humanistic psychology. Proponents of humanistic psychology considered their work a revolt against the reductionist and deterministic approach of previous schools.


Psychology emerged as a field distinct from philosophy with the establishment of the school of psychology known as structuralism by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) and Edward B. Tichener (1867-1927). Using the technique of introspection, structural psychologists attempted to analyze the "anatomy of the mind" in terms of simple components and discover how these simple components combined to create complex forms. According to Tichener, conscious experience could be adequately described in terms of sensations and feelings. After Tichener's death, the movement was superceded by several rival schools of psychology.

In contrast to the reductionist approach of structuralism, psychoanalytic theory (sometimes called "depth psychology") emphasizes unconscious mental processes. The psychoanalytic movement was founded by the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). In 1895 Freud and his colleague Josef Breuer (1842-1925) described the technique of "free association of ideas" in Studies in Hysteria. Breuer had been using hypnosis in the treatment of neurotic patients, but while treating a patient referred to as "Anna O." he discovered that when his patient was encouraged to talk about her symptoms she seemed to find some relief. Breuer and Freud argued that the "talking cure" allowed patients to discharge emotional blockages that caused hysterical symptoms. Freud realized that when his patients expressed random thoughts associated with specific queries, he could uncover hidden material from the unconscious mind. The degree of difficulty experienced during this process indicated the importance of the repressed material and the strength of the patient's defenses. In contrast to Breuer, Freud concluded that the most strongly repressed materials were sexual in nature. He argued that the struggle between sexual feelings and psychic defenses was the source of the patient's neurotic symptoms. Freudian theory provided explanations for neuroses, such as hypochondria, neurasthenia, and anxiety neurosis, and psychoneuroses, such as obsessive-compulsions, paranoia, and narcissism.

In 1896 Freud coined the term psychoanalysis to describe his theories and technique. After focusing on hysteria and female sexuality, Freud turned his attention to the male psyche and the development of a general theory of the mind. Much of his theory was based on generalization from his own self-analysis. Freud realized that the analysis of dreams was an important source of insights into the unconscious. All of Freud's disciples underwent a training analysis before they were considered competent to analyze their own patients.

In 1905 Freud published Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, the work that established him as a pioneer in the serious study of sex, mind, and behavior, both normal and pathological. Although Freud's theories were controversial from the beginning, he attracted many disciples. By 1902 the Psychological Wednesday Circle that met in Freud's office included Alfred Adler (1870-1937), Wilhelm Stekel, Sándor Ferenczi (1873-1933), Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), Otto Rank (1884-1939), Ernest Jones (1879- 1958), and A. A. Brill. The group became the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society in 1908 and held its first international congress. In 1909 Freud, Jung, and Ferenczi gave a series of influential lectures at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Freud's lectures were published as The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis (1910).

Because of Freud's assumption that male sexuality was the norm of development and his controversial assumption of penis envy, his theories evoked considerable opposition and feminist criticism. As anthropologists investigated other cultures, Freudian claims of universality were also criticized. Many of Freud's closest associates eventually rejected various aspects of his theories and methods. When the Nazis took over Germany and attacked "Jewish science," Freud's books were among the first to be burned. Although psychotherapy itself was not banned, many of the pioneers of psychoanalysis escaped to North America and England, where they developed new schools of thought.


Disagreements about psychoanalytic theory and techniques led some of Freud's associates to revise Freudian theories or to establish competing schools of psychology. These theorists included Carl Jung, Otto Rank, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson (1902-1994), Karen Horney (1885-1952), Erich Fromm (1900-1980), and Harry Stack Sullivan (1892-1949). Initially, all psychoanalysts were physicians and held credentials in psychiatry, but eventually nonmedical therapists found a role in the evolving professional world of psychology

Alfred Adler is primarily remembered for developing the concept of the inferiority complex. Adler's work suggested means of compensation that could overcome the inferiority complex. Adler's Practice and Theory of Individual Psychology (1924) is the landmark treatise for the school of thought known as individual psychology.

Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922), the Swiss psychiatrist who devised the inkblot test that is widely used in diagnosing psychopathology, was one of the early advocates of psychoanalysis in Switzerland. When shown ambiguous stimuli, such as inkblots, human beings tend to project their own interpretations and feelings onto them. Instead of relying entirely on psychoanalysis and the talking cure, Rorschach argued that trained observers could use such clues to diagnose hidden personality traits and impulses in patients taking such tests. In 1921 Rorschach published his landmark treatise Psychodiagnostics, which summarized his work with 300 mental patients and 100 normal subjects. His method became widely used as a tool for psychological evaluation and diagnosis.

Carl Gustav Jung broke with Freud and founded a new school of thought known as analytic psychology. Jung is best known for his concepts of the extroverted and introverted personality types, archetypes, and the collective unconscious. His major treatise in this area was Psychology of the Unconscious (1916). Many of Jung's relatives were clergymen, and he initially intended to become a minister, but he decided to study medicine and become a psychiatrist instead. While working at a mental asylum in Zurich, Switzerland, Jung experimented with association tests. His results convinced him that the peculiar responses elicited by certain words were caused by clusters of unconscious and unpleasant associations. Jung used the term complex to describe these conditions.

Initially, Jung believed that his results confirmed many of Freud's ideas. From 1907 to 1912 Jung and Freud were close collaborators. Personal and professional conflicts eventually severed their relationship. Primarily, Jung rejected Freud's ideas about the sexual bases of neurosis. Through studies of his own dreams and fantasies, Jung developed his famous theory of the collective unconscious, which postulates that everyone's unconscious mind contains similar impulses and memories that arise from the inherited structure of the brain. (The collective unconscious is separate from the personal unconscious, which is based on each individual's experience.) Jung's interest in the psychology of religion led to his theory of archetypes, which he saw as universal instinctive patterns of behavior and images. The relationship between psychology and religion became Jung's major interest and led him to explore new psychotherapeutic methods. Jung believed that psychotherapy could help middle-aged and elderly people through a process he called individuation.

Max Wertheimer (1880-1943), along with his assistants Kurt Koffka (1886-1941) and Wolfgang Köhler (1887-1967), was the founder of Gestalt psychology. Wertheimer's interests included music, the philosophy of law, the psychology of courtroom testimony, the perception of complex and ambiguous structures, and experimental psychology. His doctoral research led to the development of a lie detector and a method of word association. Studies of the problem-solving abilities of feebleminded children led Wertheimer to the basic concepts of the Gestalt school of psychology.

Gestalt psychology examines psychological phenomena as structural wholes, instead of breaking them down into components. In 1921 Wertheimer and his associates founded the journal Psychological Research, which became the voice of the Gestalt movement. Critical of conventional educational approaches, Wertheimer called for an emphasis on problem-solving processes that required grouping and reorganization, so that students could deal with problems as structural wholes. Shortly before the Nazis came to power in Germany, Wertheimer fled to the United States and became a professor at the New School for Social Research in New York City. His last book, Productive Thinking, was published posthumously in 1945.

Followers of Gestalt psychology always considered the whole of anything to be greater that the sum of its parts. Gestalt theorists called for a holistic description of psychological experience and a humanistic approach to psychology that could encompass the qualities of form, meaning, and value. Although primarily interested in perception, Gestalt psychologists applied their approach to problem solving, learning, thinking, motivation, social psychology, personality, aesthetics, economic behavior, ethics, political behavior, and the nature of truth.

Twentieth-century behaviorism as a psychological theory evolved from much older philosophical and physiological sources. While some behavioral theorists, such as William James (1842-1910) and William McDougall (1871-1938), gave increased attention to the instinctive component of human behavior and paid less attention to the concept of will, others, such John B. Watson (1878-1958), emphasized learning and dismissed instinct and will. Watson's school of behaviorism regarded behavior as a response to changes in environmental stimuli and explained motivation in terms of drive. The psychological term drive, which is linked to the physiological concept of homeostasis, was first used by American psychologist Robert S. Woodworth (1869-1962) in 1918. Drive theory was developed by Clark Hull (1884-1952) in the 1940s, but by the end of the twentieth century it was no longer widely accepted. Until the 1960s behaviorism dominated research on motivation, although cognitive psychologists regarded this approach as overly mechanistic. Cognitive psychologists argued that behaviors could be purposive and that motivation was based on the expectation of future events and choices among alternatives.

Humanistic psychology, based on the principle that psychologists should recognize and treat human beings as unique individuals, developed in opposition to behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Humanistic psychologists rejected the laboratory models favored by behaviorists and the deterministic orientation of psychoanalysis, which postulates that adult behavior is determined by early experiences and drives. Humanists believe that the individual must be understood as a feeling, thinking being, capable of making major changes in attitude and behavior. The goals of humanist psychology are to facilitate maturation, to establish of a system of values, and to enhance the individual's capacity for love, fulfillment, self-worth, and autonomy.

Eventually, Freud's ideas about female sexuality, gender issues, and child psychology were extended, revised, or rejected by other psychoanalysts, including Helene Deutsch, Karen Horney, Clara Thompson (1893-1958), Melanie Klein (1882-1960), and Erik H. Erikson.

Anna Freud (1895-1982), the youngest daughter of Sigmund Freud and his wife Martha, became a distinguished psychoanalyst and one of the founders of child and adolescent psychology. Her book The Ego and Mechanisms of Defense (1937) was an important contribution to ego psychology. With her American associate, Dorothy Burlingham, Anna Freud published several studies of the psychological impact of war on children. Her major theories were summarized in Normality and Pathology in Childhood (1968).

Austrian-born British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (born Melanie Reizes) was primarily known for her work with young children. Klein argued that observations of the content and style of play provided insights into the child's unconscious fantasy life and psychological impulses. After undergoing psychoanalysis with Sándor Ferenczi, one of Freud's closest associates, Klein began her studies of young children. She published her first paper on child psychoanalysis in 1919 and joined the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute, at the invitation of Karl Abraham (1877- 1925). In 1926 she moved to London. Her theory of child analysis was published in 1932 as The Psychoanalysis of Children. Klein's insights and methods are now widely used to help troubled children. In the 1930s Klein extended her methodology to work with adult patients.

In contrast to orthodox Freudian theory, German-born American psychoanalyst Karen Horney (born Karen Danielsen) suggested an environmental and social basis for the development of personality disorders. After undergoing analysis with Karl Abraham, Horney joined the teaching staff of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Institute. In 1932 she took a position at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. Two years later she moved to New York, where she established a private practice and taught at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and the New School for Social Research. Horney publicly criticized orthodox Freudianism and called for new studies of psychosexual issues specific to women. At the time, her theories about the importance of social and cultural factors in human development were considered heretical in Freudian circles. Rejecting Freud's ideas about female psychology, the libido, the death instinct, and the Oedipus complex, Horney argued that the male-dominated culture that produced Freudian theory was the major source of female psychiatric problems. In contrast to Freud's assumptions about penis envy, Horney proposed the concept of womb envy, that is, male envy of women's ability to produce new life. Although Horney's theories were considered controversial during her lifetime, she was subsequently recognized as a major figure in the history of psychoanalytic theory. Clara Mabel Thompson also left the orthodox Freudian community in the 1940s. Thompson was influential as a teacher, writer, and researcher with a special interest in female sexuality. Her major book was Psychoanalysis: Evolution and Development (1950).

Despite the differences between the various twentieth-century schools, clinicians, experimenters, and theoreticians were able to contribute to the growth of a shared body of psychological knowledge that has provided valuable insights into human thought and behavior. By the 1950s competing schools of psychology had essentially converged into a broad professional community sharing the insights of predecessors and contemporaries. The actual success of psychoanalytic therapy for the treatment of psychoneuroses is, however, still subject to considerable dispute.


Further Reading

Caplan, Eric. Mind Games: American Culture and the Birth of Psychotherapy. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.

Hughes, Judith M. Freudian Analysts/Feminist Issues. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

Jones, Ernest. The Life and Work of Sigmund Freud. Edited and abridged by Lionel Trilling and Steven Marcus. New York: Anchor Books, 1963.

Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff. The Assault on Truth: Freud's Suppression of the Seduction Theory. New York: Farrar, Straus & Girous, 1984.

Mitchell, Juliet. Psychoanalysis and Feminism. New York: Pantheon Books, 1974.

Sulloway, Frank J. Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

Timms, Edward, and Ritchie Robertson, eds. Psychoanalysis in Its Cultural Context. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992.


Parapsychology is the scientific study of unexplained phenomena. Parapsychological events include psychokenesis (motion via psychic powers), telepathy (communication through means other than the senses), clairvoyance (the power to perceive things out of the natural range of human senses), and post-death experiences. Extrasensory perception (ESP) includes telepathy and clairvoyance in either an historic (retrocognition) or prophetic (precognition) mode, but not psychokenesis (PK), which involves affecting the outcome of real events (e.g., games of chance) and is studied separately. Parapsy chology is often associated with many sorts of unexplained phenomena (UFOs, astrology, etc.), but most researchers limit their research to ESP or PK phenomenon.

Scientific interest in parapsychology dates from 1882 with the establishment in London of the Society for Psychical Research, a group of scholars dedicated to examining "without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit" phenomena not readily explicable by contemporary knowledge. Generally hostile to parapsychology, academic psychologists began conducting experiments in telepathy in the United States as early as 1912 (J. E. Coover at Stanford University). Important work from the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University began in 1927. Today many dozens of respected scientists engage in psychic research.

Setting aside the possibility of outright fraud, two theories currently dominate thinking on the subject of parapsychology: the first demands a reconceptualization of space-time such that objects or information distant in a three- or four-dimensional system are accessible; the second proposes a set of laws that govern psychical events apart from those that govern the physical world. Experimental data for fantastic acts of ESP and PK exist, though few fields have had their claim to scientific credibility as routinely or fiercely challenged as psychical research and, despite its popular appeal, the scientific community overwhelmingly rejects current theories.



The Development of Schools of Psychology Leads to Greater Understanding of Human Behavior