Sample Psychology Research Paper on Historical Development in Psychology

Historical Development in Psychology


Psychology is a science because it uses systematic approaches to understand human behaviors and thoughts. Through systematic approaches, psychologists collect factual information, develop theories to explain the factual information and test the resultant theories. In spite of this fact, psychology as a discipline started by trying to understand human behaviors through logic and reason (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007). This research paper evaluates the five waves that have dominated the development of scientific nature of psychology. The focus of the research paper will be on the major developments of each wave as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each wave.   

Introspective wave

As far as the five waves that will be evaluated in this research paper and the scientific part of psychology are concerned, this wave could be regarded to be the first wave in the historical development of psychology. The wave started off with Wilhelm Wundt’s psychological laboratory and his concept of structuralism. The psychological laboratory was particularly influenced by developments in other fields of science that investigated matters by breaking them down into smaller parts. Following the influence, Wundt thought that it was possible to evaluate the elements that composed human consciousness. He proceeded to doing it and arguing that human mind operated by combining both objective sensations and subjective emotions (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007).    

Later on, William James introduced the idea of functionalism. With this idea, William James who was an American philosopher focused his attention on the functions and purposes of consciousness. In contrast to Wundt, James viewed consciousness as an incessant stream of thoughts thereby he argued that consciousness was supposed to be studied in real world rather than in laboratory. James’ works led to the development of intelligence tests for human beings. Like other waves, the wave was influenced by Darwinian idea of natural selection (Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014). However, it was criticized for arguing that it was possible to understand human mind by dividing it into constituent parts.        

Gestalt wave

While the introspection wave was in its top gear, the Gestalt wave was on the other hand setting its grounds in Germany and other parts of the world. Max Wertheimer on his part was against the idea of dividing human behaviors and thoughts into discrete structures. He argued that it was not possible to understand human behavior and thoughts by dividing them into constituent parts. His argument was that the whole experiences had properties that were not present in constituent parts (Goodwin, 2015).  

The wave had its roots in the theoretical traditions of Husserl and Kant. In contrast to the introspection wave, the wave argued that human behaviors and thoughts could be understood as a whole as opposed as understanding them in parts. The argument was linked to the 19th century developments in physics that explained force fields in general rather than in the constituent objects in the field (Goodwin, 2015). Ernst Mach who had great influence on the wave argued that some human sensory experiences were of the forms that could not be reduced. Christian Von Ehrenfels used a similar concept to illustrate that melodies played in new keys retained their form-qualities despite their individual differences.

Generally, the wave was founded in 1912 immediately Max Wertheimer, with the help of Wolfgang Kohler and Kurt Koffka completed his research on apparent motion that he called the phi phenomenon. Through this research, Wertheimer showed that it was not possible to analyze light in motion in its component parts. He concluded that whole was different from its constituent parts and that whole determined its constituent parts and not the way round (Goodwin, 2015).

The wave was dominant in Germany when behaviorism wave was dominant in USA. However, following the rise of Nazism, the wave could not develop further in Germany. Majority of its proponents including Wertheimer; Lewin; Arnheim; Kohler; and Koffka moved to USA. In spite of the dominance of behaviorism wave in USA, majority of these people were received warmly in USA. Lewin was welcomed in the social psychology; Koffka was welcomed in developmental psychology whereas Arnheim was acknowledged for his psychology arts (Craighead, & Nemeroff, 2001). Soon after the end of the Second World War, new centers for the wave were established in Japan and Italy. In Germany, the wave was advanced by Witte, Gottschaldt, Metzger and Rausch. The wave was accused of vague concepts that could not be tested scientifically (Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014).   

Behaviorism wave

This wave was founded by John B. Watson who lived between 1878 and 1958. While developing this wave, Watson was influenced greatly by Ivan Pavlov’s conditioning experiment that showed that dogs could be trained to salivate in response to bells (Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014). With the help of this experiment, Watson argued that for psychology to be considered as a science, it had to limit itself to observable phenomena and do away with unobservable concepts such as unconscious minds. By arguing this way, Watson and his colleagues wanted behaviorism to be the dominant wave in psychology. The wave focused much of its attention on the nurture aspect of human development thereby placed greater importance on environmental influences on people. The argument was that psychologists should limit themselves to human behaviors and their causes, and distance themselves from the elements of consciousness (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007).  

This belief was radically different from the previous ones. It even rejected the notions of the introspection wave. However, although Watson was radical, he did not originate with the basic idea of the wave. Instead, he relied heavily on the animal philosophy as well as the philosophy of positivism and mechanism. The positivism psychology had been developed by Auguste Comte and it argued that people knew what was objectively observable. Consequently, all that was inferential or speculative was illusory and it had to be rejected. In this respect, both introspection and consciousness could not be verified thereby they could not be part of psychology. Mechanism, on the other hand, was the idea that all natural processes were mechanically determined and they could only be explained by the laws of physics. This idea originated from both Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei (Hergenhahn, & Henley, 2014). In psychology, the argument was that human bodies were composed of physical matters like other physical objects thereby they could only be explained by physical and mechanical laws that explained other living things. The animal psychology on its part influenced the wave through Darwin’s evolutionary theory. Following this theory, Watson argued that it was possible to learn about human behaviors by studying animals. The three notable animal researchers that influenced the wave were Ivan Pavlov, Edward Thorndike and George Romanes. B. F. Skinner was also another important personality in the development of the wave. He expanded the wave by including the reinforcement idea. His intellectual influence lasted for many years and it contributed to the significant effects of the wave from 1920s to 1960s (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007). Despite the wave’s impact on development of psychology, the wave has been criticized of equating human beings to animals.  

Psychoanalysis wave

This wave was founded by Sigmund Freud who during his career discovered that it was possible to treat patients with psychosomatic disorders through psychoanalysis. His belief was that human behaviors were influenced greatly by the unconscious minds. Out of this belief, he developed a theory that argued that human mind contained both conscious and unconscious levels. According to him, the painful memories, desires and wishes that are unfavorable to a person are stored in the unconscious level and they develop over time. These memories can only be unveiled through dream analysis (Schultz, & Schultz, 2015). With such a background, Freud believed that psychologists needed to analyze dreams to understand human behaviors and thoughts.

In contrast to other waves that were developed by psychologists, this wave was developed in a clinical and medical tradition. As a result, experiments were rarely conducted to verify the hypotheses (Singh, 2006). Although this was the case, Freud did not develop the wave from nowhere. Instead, he was influenced by other people. Firstly, he was influenced by Gottfried Leibnitz through his Leibnitz’s theory of monads. From this theory, Freud derived the idea of psychic energy. He also derived the idea of division between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. Secondly, Freud was also influenced by Johann Herbart who developed the idea of a threshold between unconsciousness and consciousness. Herbart in his earlier works had pointed out that ideas existed in both conscious and unconscious minds (Schultz, & Schultz, 2015). Thirdly, Charles Darwin also had significant effects on Freud in developing this wave. He presented the concept of natural selection that Freud used to explain the neurotic and normal behaviors of people. Darwin also presented the idea of similarity between animals and human beings. Freud used this idea to emphasize the animal nature of human beings. Other people that influenced this wave were Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer among other people (Singh, 2006). Whereas some psychologists strongly believe in this wave, the wave has been criticized of creating unverifiable theories. It has also been criticized of being unscientific. 

Humanism wave

In contrast to other waves, this wave was less scientific. Its founders preferred to explore people’s conscious experiences, and their special interest was in people’s prospective growth and their exclusive personal qualities. Partially, the wave was developed to address the professed reductionism of the behaviorism wave (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007). As a result, it did not reject everything from behaviorism even if it modified it. It essentially offered both a critique and an alternative to behaviorism. However, it acknowledged that even if behaviorism was limited in its capacity, its domains were valid. The basic assumptions of the wave were that human behaviors had to be understood in terms of subjective experiences and that behaviors were not constrained by personal experiences because people were able to make choices.

The basic tenets of the wave included the idea that very little could be learned about human beings from animals; subjectivity reality was the primary guide for human behaviors and that individuals provided more information about human behaviors than groups of people did. Other tenets included that effort had to be made to discover things that enriched human experiences, research had to be conducted to discover things that solved human problems and that the focus of psychology was to describe human beings (McEntarffer, & Weseley, 2007).  

The major founders of the wave were Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers on his part developed the client-centered psychotherapy and applied it to soldiers that returned from the Second World War. Rogers argued that behaviorism constrained psychology to certain theories and techniques. He also argued that behaviorism treated people like objects. By arguing this way, he maintained that human beings had freedom of choices even in therapy. Abraham Maslow, on the other hand, started out as a psychologist of experimental animals, but turned his attention to creative art and science. He developed the theory of self-actualization and argued that human beings possessed creative talents that could be actualized if there were no socially imposed inhibitions (Schultz, & Schultz, 2015).

Despite the wave’s contribution to psychology, the wave has been accused of ignoring social change researches and lacking cumulative empirical base. It has also been accused of denying human reciprocity and community. The wave has also been criticized because of its phenomenological approach that critics feel is both dualistic and subjective. Based on this argument, the wave has been accused of lacking scientific methods and empirical validity.


The research paper highlights the progress that has been made to develop psychology as a science. However, despite the progress, psychologists do not share a common way of looking at human behaviors and thoughts. As a result, the above waves are still in use and they depend largely on one’s perspective.              


Craighead, W., & Nemeroff, C. (2001). The corsini encyclopedia of psychology and behavioral science. New York: Wiley.

Goodwin, C. (2015). A history of modern psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hergenhahn, B., & Henley, T. (2014). An introduction to the history of psychology. Belmont, CA, USA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

McEntarffer, R., & Weseley, A. (2007). AP psychology. Hauppauge, N.Y: Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.

Schultz, D., & Schultz, S. (2015). A history of modern psychology. Belmont, CA, USA: Cengage learning.

Singh, A. (2006). The comprehensive history of psychology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.