Identify the major schools of thought in psychology and examine their major underlying



Prepare a 2 page paper in which you examine the foundations of psychology.
Address the following components:

•    Identify the major schools of thought in psychology and examine their major underlying



Psychology is a vast field with a long past. Early psychologists developed different schools of thought in accordance with their research. All this was in a bid to explain human behavior and understanding the mind. Although all of them have been disputed for one reason or the other, they are still accepted as approaches in the study of human behavior.

Structuralism was the first school of thought in psychology and was advanced by Wundt together with his student, Edward B. Tichenet. It involved the study of the structure of the mind. The mind is abstract and dynamic and so the different parts that make up consciousness should be identified and studied scientifically through ‘introspection’.  This involves trying to understand individuals’ internal experiences.  Different subjects were exposed to a variety of stimuli and described what they experienced. Their responses would be analyzed to come up with the primary components of the mind. Structuralism is unique as it employed scientific methods in psychology. However, structuralists were criticized for employing introspection as a method as different people have different perceptions of the same thing.

Psychoanalysis is another school of thought that was advanced by Sigmund Freud. He believed that in studying behavior, not only the conscious mind is studied. He therefore incorporated the unconscious mind in behavior study. The unconscious mind is responsible for many factors that influence human behavior. Freud was the pioneer of vital theories of personality. He explained how the conscious and subconscious minds work and how personality development happens in individuals. Many therapists today employ psychotherapy which was developed by Freud. However, Freud’s theory is mainly criticized for its failure to be tested scientifically. Burger (2011) observes that Freud only dwelt on the significance of childhood experiences, forgetting that experiences after childhood also play a role in childhood development.

Functionalism was propagated by William James. He argued that consciousness and the mind were not static, but ongoing and therefore it is impossible to study their structure. He proposed that the function of the mind should instead be studied. How the mind operates and how it enables adaptation in a radical world are of essence. According to Hergenhahn, 2009, functionalism incorporated study of children, animals and mental disorderliness into psychology. They were also broad in their study as they applied psychology to real-world issues. In addition to introspection, they used mental tests and psychological measures (Schultz & Schultz, 2011). They were however criticized for using introspection and a misguided meaning of ‘function’

Behaviorism was advanced by John B. Watson who argued that covert behavior could not be studied scientifically. He emphasized observable behavior rather than mental processes. The relationship between the environment and an individual’s response are key to understanding human behavior. However, later cognitive behaviorists embraced the study of both observable and non-observable behavior. A major criticism of this thought was that there are many more aspects of human experience (for example, thinking and creativity) outside of observable behavior (Walters, 2002, p.29). These must also be studied.

Gestalt psychology was embraced by Max Wertheimer and other propagators who argued that human behavior should be studied as a whole and not in segments. They believed that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. Therefore, by breaking down human behavior, meaning is lost. They studied cognition, thinking, problem-solving and perception as whole.

Humanistic psychology was advanced by Carl Rodgers who was against the determinism portrayed in psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Humanists argued that individuals have free will to control their own lives and so cannot be controlled by external forces. This thought focused on the positive side of humans as opposed to psychoanalysis which dwelt on the negative.

All these schools of thought are linked by biological psychology which bridges the gap between biological and psychological processes. ‘Biopsychology’ unites the body and mind as it studies the role of the brain, nerves and neurotransmitters in human behavior. Normal and abnormal behavior are influenced by brain circuitry. The primary biological foundations that shape behavior have been identified as; motivated behavior, perception and sensation, learning, memory, sleep, emotion and other biological rhythms.  The link between basic psychology and biological psychology is employed in treating mental disorders and other medical conditions today.

In conclusion, no school of thought is regarded as winner or loser in psychology as they all contributed to founding psychology. Most modern psychologists still make reference to these schools of thought, even as more psychological theories continue to be developed.











Burger, J.M. (2011). Personality. Belmont, CA:Wadsworth.


Hergenhahn, B.R. (2009). An introduction to the history of psychology (6th ed.). Belmont,



Schultz,D.P., & Schultz, S.E. (2011). A history of modern psychology (10th ed.). Belmont,



Walters, G.D. (2002). Psychology as the study of mind and behavior. In S.p. Shohov (Ed.),

Advances in psychological research, vol 15 (pp. 27-50). New York: Nova Science

Publishers Inc.