Friday, March 20, 2020


Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud are two very different figures in the history of psychology, as far as their contributions in psychology are concerned. Wundt is considered to be the founder of modern psychology, and Freud is regarded as the father of psychoanalysis. Even though both of their approaches were based on pure science, Wundt was influenced by physics whereas Freud based his ideas on biology.
The primary concern and the subject matter studied by Wundt and Freud is completely
Wilhelm Wundt
different and can also be considered to be quite the opposite. Wundt was interested in studying the immediate conscious experience. He was a proponent of elementism. He believed that consciousness can be understood by breaking it down into smaller elements. In doing so, Wundt was studying sensation and perception.
Freud, on the other hand, was more interested in studying the unconscious and how it shaped an individual’s personality. In his early days as a neurologist, Freud discovered that many of his patients had physical symptoms without any underlying biological cause. He was convinced that their physical symptoms are caused by emotional conflicts due to traumatic childhood experiences. According to him, these emotional conflicts are in the unconscious and need to be brought into the conscious mind, enabling them to overcome their traumatic experiences.
Sigmund Freud
Their subject matter being completely different, the method of investigation used by Wundt was very different from that of Freud. Wundt used the method of introspection in an experimental setup for his studies. Freud, however, followed the medical model and used the clinical approach of case studies and the clinical interview.
Despite these wide and highly contrasting differences between Wundt and Freud, there are commonalities between the two. Their ideas can be traced back to common origins. Even though making completely different, unrelated contributions, they have been found to be inspired and influenced by the same sources.
One of such common origin can be traced back to Hermann von Helmholtz. Helmholtz was a physicist and physician, and is regarded as a major precursor to the beginning of experimental psychology, and establishing psychology as an independent, academic, scientific discipline.
Helmholtz gave significant contributions in nerve induction, color vision, and visual and auditory perception. His contribution to the understanding of the senses helped strengthening the experimental approach to human issues. Through his work, Helmholtz brought physics, chemistry, physiology, and psychology closer together. This paved the way for the emergence of experimental psychology, which is considered to be an inevitable step after his work.
From 1857 to 1864, at the University of Heidelberg, Wundt was appointed as the laboratory assistant of Helmholtz. Helmholtz had a huge influence on Wundt. Wundt had a great admiration and respect for Helmholtz. It was while working with him in his experiments in physiology, Wundt began to conceive the idea of psychology being an independent, experimental, and scientific discipline.
It was during his time with Helmholtz, that Wundt outlined his ideas in his book Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception, the first section published in 1858 and the second section published in 1862. Wundt described his original experiments in this book, and it was in this book that the term experimental psychology was mentioned for the first time. Based on this book, in 1862, Wundt began his first course in psychology called Psychology as a Natural Science. His lectures in this course, a year later, in 1863, led to Wundt publish his book, Lectures on the Mind of Men and Animals. These works of Wundt built the foundation of him establishing the first ever experimental psychology laboratory, in 1879, and thus, establishing psychology as an independent, scientific discipline.
It was working with Helmholtz that had inspired Wundt to develop his ideas about
Hermann von Helmholtz
experimental psychology. While conducting his own research, he had adopted many of the methods used by Helmholtz. For instance, Helmholtz used the method of reaction time, which was later used by Wundt extensively. Wundt also adopted Helmholtz’s idea of volition – the mind being active, and not a passive entity. Helmholtz, therefore, played a significant role in Wundt developing his ideas, leading to the establishment of his scientific psychology.
Apart from influencing Wundt, Helmholtz also played a significant role in Sigmund Freud to develop his ideas. Freud was initially influenced by the medical model of Helmholtz. Further, Freud was highly influenced by Helmholtz’s concept of conservation of energy. According to this principle, which had been applied to physical phenomena, energy is neither created or lost in a system; it is just transformed from one form to another. Helmholtz demonstrated that an organism is like energy system that can be explained on the basis physical principles. According to Helmholtz, no energy is lost, but it is changed to different forms.
Freud took this idea to explain the human mind and psychic energy. He suggested that there can be only a specific limit of psychic energy available at a particular time, which finds an outlet in different forms. This in many ways determines thought and behavior. In regard to this, Freud suggested that undesirable id impulses may be represented in different ways. For instance, aggressive impulses may be represented in the form of fast, rash driving, or being involved in adventure sports. Similarly, sexual impulses may be represented in the form of art such as making erotic paintings.
Therefore, both Wundt and Freud were influenced by Helmholtz in their ideas and approach. Wundt got inspiration for his idea of experimental psychology during his time with Helmholtz, and even adopted many of his methods. Freud used Helmholtz’s conservation of energy to explain how undesirable id impulses may be expressed.
Helmholtz, however, is not the only common origin of Wundtian psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis. Another common origin of the two can be traced back to Gustav Theodor Fechner. Fechner was initially a physicist, but later became interested in philosophy, which got him into studying sensation and perception. He did extensive work on the quantitative relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions they produce. He had conducted a number of experiments, in this regard. He thus, came to be known as the pioneer of psychophysics, which is the scientific study of the relation between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions that they evoke.
Fechner published his insights on psychophysics in two short papers in 1858 and 1859. Then, in 1860, Fechner published his landmark book Elements in Psychophysics. It was this work in psychophysics, especially the book Elements of Psychophysics, that worked as a strong impetus for Wilhelm Wundt to conduct experiments to study consciousness, and eventually establish the first ever experimental psychology laboratory.
The whole idea of using experiments as a method to study sensation and perception, and thus, consciousness led to the beginning of what came to be known as the new science of psychology or scientific psychology, making psychology a separate, independent discipline.
Gustav Theodor Fechner
In his laboratory experiments on consciousness, Wundt had used the Weber-Fechner law. The law states that the change in a stimulus that will be just noticeable is a constant ratio of the original stimulus. The law was first developed by Weber, and later adopted by Fechner, a student of Weber, naming it the Weber-Fechner law. This is regarded as the first ever quantitative law in psychology. It was from this law that Fechner had derived psychophysics. Wundt also used many methods of psychophysics and adopted the concepts of absolute threshold (lowest intensity of a stimulus to make it detectable) and difference threshold (the least amount by which two stimuli can differ making them to be perceived as different), which were used by Fechner in his studies on psychophysics.
Wundt was influenced by Fechner in many of his other works. Fechner’s interest in aesthetics, and socio-cultural factors are reflected in Wundt’s book Lectures on the Minds of Men and Animals, published in 1862. It can also be found associated with Wundt’s ten volume work called Volkerpsychologie (Cultural Psychology), published from 1900 to 1920. In these volumes, Wundt wrote about social and cultural factors that he believed could not be studied in a laboratory setup, using the experimental method.
In this way, Fechner played an influential role in Wundt’s studies of consciousness and also his later works on social and cultural factors. A number of historians of psychology, including the renowned Edwin Boring, suggest that it was Fechner who paved the way for Wundt’s experimental psychology and scientific psychology. Wundt himself had suggested that it was Fechner who had fired the first shots of experimental psychology. His student and founder of the school of structuralism, Edward Titchener, called Fechner to be the father of experimental psychology.
Apart from providing an added impetus to Wundt in establishing scientific psychology, Fechner played a role in making Sigmund Freud develop his ideas. In his understanding of the human mind, Freud applied the research done by Fechner, on sensory thresholds. Based on his early clinical experiences, Freud came to the conclusion that most of the part of the mind lies below the threshold of conscious experience.
According to Freud, above this threshold is the conscious mind, which is about thoughts, feelings, memories, and experiences that an individual is currently aware of. Below the conscious mind is the preconscious mind, which consists of memories that a person may not be currently aware of, but after some effort they become readily available. And finally, below the preconscious mind is the unconscious mind, which consists of memories, desires, impulses, feelings, experiences that are beyond awareness. Freud suggested that it is the unconscious mind that determines behavior. These are usually undesirable and painful memories and experiences, which are repressed, but are represented in forms of anxiety and other psychological problems.
Freud’s idea of the mind clearly reflects Fechner’s idea of the absolute threshold. Fechner suggested that the lowest intensity at which a stimulus can be detected is called the absolute threshold. The intensity of a stimulus at this threshold or above it is consciously detected. If the intensity of the stimulus is below this threshold, it will still lead to reactions, but those reactions will be unconscious.
Therefore, Wundt and Freud both were influenced by Fechner’s work in psychophysics. Even though both had very different contributions to psychology, Fechner’s work can be viewed as the common origin of the two.
Wundtian psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis have nothing in common. The former is about understanding conscious experience, and completely disregards the unconscious. The latter gives greater emphasis to the unconscious in determining behavior, as compared to conscious experience. Keeping this in view, it seems quite fascinating that they had common origins. Both Wundt and Freud, despite making completely different contributions in psychology, were inspired and influenced by Hermann von Helmholtz and Gustav Theodor Fechner.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Psychology is considered to be a relatively new as well as one of the oldest disciplines. It is relatively new, because it was only in the mid- to late 19th century that it emerged as a separate, independent discipline. It is really old, because even though it may not have existed as a separate discipline, psychology and its concepts have been studied for many years within philosophy and physiology. This aspect of psychology develops an intrigue and a certain level of curiosity about who exactly can be viewed as the father of psychology – that one person who can be said to be responsible for the development of psychology, for what psychology has become today.
Sigmund Freud
One name that quite often comes up to be considered as the father of psychology, especially by lay persons, is Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the discipline of psychology, and there is no denying that he was a highly significant figure in the development of psychology. He is one of the reasons for psychology being highly popular. His ideas and concepts such as the unconscious mind, dream analysis, Freudian slip, repression, Oedipus complex, etc. have aroused a lot of interest in a wide range of people. Many of his concepts create a lot of excitement in people, even today.
Despite his popularity and strong impact, Freud cannot at all be considered as the father of psychology. In its initial years, psychoanalysis was not even considered to be a part of mainstream psychology. It played a role in including the study of abnormal behavior and mental disorders within psychology. But, initially, psychoanalysis was mostly a separate, isolated field. Thus, Sigmund Freud was not the father of psychology. He can only be called the father of psychoanalysis.
A person that can be strongly considered to be the father of psychology is William James. James was the major precursor to functionalism, the second classical school of psychology. Many consider James to be the greatest psychologist ever. He was the one who started psychology in the United States of America.
William James played a very significant role in the development of modern psychology. His book Principles of Psychology is still considered to be one of the best books of psychology and consciousness. His idea of social self has led to a lot of research in the field of social psychology.
William James
William James’s idea of the unity of consciousness and the doctrine of pragmatism changed the course of the study of psychology. The doctrine of pragmatism suggests that the strength of a theory or concept can be viewed from its practical applications.
It was this very doctrine of pragmatism that led to the development of the discipline of applied psychology, which is considered to be the greatest legacy of functionalism. The doctrine of pragmatism is something that is very relevant in today’s time. There is a strong emphasis on practical applications in research in psychology.
Keeping in view the legacy of William James, it is suggested by many to consider him to be the father of psychology. However, by the time William James came into prominence within the discipline of psychology, psychology was already well on its way to be established as an independent discipline.
Additionally, James later on in his career had very little fondness for psychology. He considered himself to be more of a philosopher than a psychologist. Therefore, William James, certainly being the father of American psychology, but cannot be considered the father of psychology.
Like William James, two early figures of modern psychology, John B. Watson and William McDougall changed the course of psychology and left a long-lasting legacy. Watson brought about a revolutionary change in the discipline of psychology. He led to a complete change in the subject matter of psychology.
John Watson
Before Watson, psychology emphasized on the study of consciousness. Watson, however, rejected the whole idea of consciousness to be studied in psychology and emphasized on overt behavior, environmental stimuli, and objectivity. The current, most widely used definition of psychology states that psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. The term behavior in the definition of psychology is largely because of Watson, whose ideas led to the establishment of behaviorism, one of the classical schools of psychology. 
In today’s time, psychology is largely what Watson and his behaviorism had proposed. There is a lot of focus on objectivity and overt behavior. Watson surely left a lasting impact on the subject matter and discipline of psychology. The influence that Watson has had on contemporary psychology make many to consider him to be the father of psychology. However, by the time Watson began to gain popularity (early 1900s), psychology was already well established as a discipline. He certainly brought about a revolutionary change, which lasted for many years.
But Watson cannot be credited to be the person who led to the beginning of psychology as an academic discipline. Additionally, Watson did not have a very long career in psychology. Later, in his career, he worked extensively in advertising and marketing. Therefore, Watson was clearly the father of behaviorism, but not the father of psychology.
Like Watson, his rival, William McDougall, brought about a major change in the discipline of psychology. McDougall is said to have redefined the study of psychology. He introduced his hormic psychology suggesting that human behavior is purposive, that is, psychological activity has purpose, which is guided by instincts. Instincts are biological in nature; they are inborn patterns of behavior.
William McDougall
McDougall wrote extensively about the role of instincts in social behavior. By focusing on social behavior, McDougall widened the scope of psychology. He believed that psychology should be the study of all kinds of behavior and conduct. Contemporary psychology has been emphasizing on studying a wide range of aspects and contexts, and not just consciousness. Further, advances in research in genetics and neurosciences suggesting a biological basis of many social and psychological behaviors, is in a way extending McDougall’s idea of instincts.
McDougall, however, like Watson, gained prominence at a time when psychology had already been established as a separate discipline. In fact, McDougall, initially was planning a career in neurology. The works of William James had inspired him to get into psychology, which indicates that he did not initiate the beginning of psychology. McDougall can be considered a precursor to contemporary psychology, but not the father of psychology.
The aforementioned psychologists came into existence after psychology was well established as a discipline. Although William James came into prominence much earlier, he did not put in an extra effort in establishing a new discipline or school of thought. He later did not even associate himself with psychology.
Wilhelm Wundt
The psychologist that did make a lot of effort in establishing psychology as an independent discipline was Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt had introduced experimentation as a method in studying psychology, making it a scientific discipline. He had made all efforts, including delivering lectures, writing books, and eventually establishing the first experimental psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. For many years, this laboratory was the major center for psychological research. People from all over the world used to come at this laboratory to study psychology. Wundt is, thus, considered to be the person responsible in making psychology a separate scientific, academic discipline.
By establishing psychology as a scientific, academic discipline Wundt, however, had brought about the beginning of modern psychology. Psychology, as an aspect of philosophy, was already existing as a discipline. Wundt, then, is regarded as the father of modern psychology, not psychology.
Franz Brentano
A major rival of Wundt, Franz Brentano, also had a great impact on psychology. His idea of psychic phenomena and the unity of consciousness as opposed to Wundt’s elementism had a long-lasting legacy. Brentano went on to have an influence in the development of functionalism, gestalt psychology, phenomenological psychology, and humanistic psychology, all going along with the idea of phenomena and the unity of consciousness. In this way, Brentano’s legacy has had a huge impact on the development of the discipline of psychology.
Brentano, however, like William James, did not put in that effort and did not intend to establish a separate discipline. Also, like Wundt, Brentano’s contribution is considered to be more in the establishment of modern psychology.
All these psychologists, in many ways, have taken forward the ideas of scholars that were at an earlier time, and contributed to the emergence and development of modern psychology. It is then indicative that the father of psychology can be one of such scholars, someone whose ideas emerged in the premodern phase of psychology or what sometimes is called the prehistoric stage of psychology.
In this regard, the beginning of what turned into the discipline of psychology is often traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Aristotle is one of the first persons to give a systematic explanation of experience. He is regarded as the first philosopher to extensively write about topics that later became part of mainstream psychology.
Aristotle wrote about a wide range of topics such as memory, reasoning, sensation, motivation, morality, social behavior, education, development, geriatrics, sleep and dreams, language, and learning. All of these topics are covered in psychology, in today’s time, by the many different subfields in psychology. Further, Aristotle’s book De Anima (On the Soul) written in 350 BC, is often considered to be the first book of psychology. In the book, Aristotle gave an extensive explanation of behavior using the biological sciences. The explanation of behavior in terms of biology is a major part of psychology, today. As there is advancement in technology, there are more and more discoveries suggesting the biological root of behavior.
This suggests that Aristotle can be considered to be the father of psychology. After all, it all began from him. But Aristotle has been associated with almost every discipline. He has made contributions to physics, metaphysics, biology, logic, literature, political science, etc. In this case, it might not be very correct to consider Aristotle the sole founder of psychology.
Rene Descartes
Apart from Aristotle, Rene Descartes, the founder of modern philosophy, is credited to be the forebearer of psychology. Descartes’s notion of dualism, suggesting that mind and body are two separate entities and both influence each other had major implications for the discipline of psychology. Descartes contended that all bodily processes are in the realms of physiology and that all mental processes belong to psychology. In doing so, Descartes firmly defined the subject matter of psychology, suggesting that psychology is the study of the mind.
Descartes’s influence on psychology is also reflected in that he paved the way for the scientific study of conscious, the study of overt behavior, and psychophysiology. The successors of Descartes either elaborated on the mechanical aspect of his Cartesian thought or the cognitive side of it, both of which have been significant in shaping psychology. In this way, Rene Descartes directly stimulated the founding of the discipline of psychology.
Even though Descartes was highly influential in paving the way for the discipline of psychology, many of ideas have been found incompatible with scientific analysis. In comparison to that, the German philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s ideas were more aligned with scientific principles associated with the development of scientific psychology.
Spinoza is said to be the first person to treat human emotions (one of the major topics discussed in modern psychology) in great detail. The ideas of Spinoza, regarding emotions, have influenced one of the first major theories of emotions, which was proposed by William James and Carl Lange.
Baruch Spinoza
Also, the psychoanalysts, Franz Alexander and Sheldon Selesnick, in their book The History of Psychiatry: An Evaluation of Psychiatric Thought & Practice from Prehistoric Times to the Present, published in 1966, have, referred to Spinoza as the greatest pre-Freudian psychologist. This clearly makes him to be viewed as one the earliest recognized psychologists.
More importantly, Spinoza rejected Descartes’s idea of free will, and strongly believed in the principle of psychic determinism. This led to the stimulation of the scientific study of the mind, which played a major role in the beginning of the discipline of psychology. Spinoza is, in fact, regarded as the first modern scholar to view human beings in terms of psychic determinism. Due to this, Spinoza is given more credit as compared to Descartes in being the major precursor to the development of the discipline of psychology.
Apart from psychic determinism, the quantification of behavior is something that became important in making psychology a separate, scientific discipline. The German philosopher, Johann Friedrich Herbart is credited with this aspect of psychology.
Johann Friedriech Herbart
One of the main goals of Herbart was to describe the mind in mathematical terms. He wanted to use mathematics to describe behavior just like Newton did for the physical sciences. Herbart used calculus to describe mental phenomena. This made him one of the first persons to have a mathematical model for psychology. The use of mathematics in psychology by Herbart gave it a lot of respect, and played a very significant role in the development of scientific psychology. Most of the psychology in today’s time is about quantification of behavior. A lot of credit for this clearly goes to Herbart.
Further, Herbart’s book Textbook in Psychology, published in 1816, in many ways is often regarded as the beginning of psychology. Books on psychology were written before this, but they always discussed psychology to be an aspect of either philosophy or physiology. Herbart’s book, however, was the first book in which psychology was discussed as a separate, independent discipline.       
Descartes, Spinoza, and Herbart represented the rationalistic thought, which had a significant influence in the development of psychology. Along with rationalism, empiricism also played an important role in psychology. Empiricism, in fact, is said to have laid the foundation for scientific psychology.
Thomas Hobbes
The founder of empiricism was Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was convinced that the mechanistic principle can be used to study human beings. He was influenced by Galileo who explained the motion of physical objects using the mechanistic principle, that is, external forces acting on it. Hobbes argued that since humans are also a part of the universe, they also function in a mechanical manner, suggesting that humans are like machines.
This was the first time when the methods and principles of Galileo were used to study human beings. It, therefore, began the use of the methods of the physical sciences in behavior, which became a major factor in the beginning of scientific psychology. The methods of physical sciences were used by all the other empiricists, and then later by Wundt, which led him to make psychology a separate, independent discipline.
By using the mechanistic principle, Hobbes was also proposing the idea of materialism – all that existed (including human behavior) was physical, and determinism – all activity (including human behavior) is caused by external forces acting on the object. Mechanism along with materialism and determinism were very important in the beginning of scientific psychology, and in the rise of the classical schools of psychology of structuralism and behaviorism. Many of the behavioristic principles are still very widely used in psychology.
The idea of materialism and mechanism was later strengthened to a greater extent by the later empiricist and one of the greatest scholars of his time, John Stuart Mill. Mill argued that even though it may be difficult to predict human behavior, it is a matter of time when such predictions can be made with more accuracy. In this way, he is regarded to have advanced the idea of studying human behavior through natural sciences or what was referred to as the science of human nature.
John Stuart Mill
Mill further proposed for the development of the science of human character and called it ethology (not the same as modern ethology). According to Mill, his ethology would be about the formation of character and personality in specific contexts, and would be derived from the general laws of the science of human nature. This was his attempt to develop a highly accurate science for studying human behavior.
Mill wanted to give a lot of emphasis to individual differences. The study of individual differences became a highly significant aspect of modern psychology, and is still a major part of personality psychology. The idea of individual differences led to the idea of the trait approach. It also became very important in the rise psychological testing, which in itself has now become a major subfield of psychology.   
Mill had made a proper outline of his ethology, but did not do much to further develop it. Nevertheless, this perhaps can be seen as an early attempt to have a separate, independent discipline to study human behavior, much before Wundt had been successful in it. In this way, John Stuart Mill becomes a highly significant precursor to modern psychology.
Alexander Bain
Another later empiricist and a close friend of John Stuart Mill, was Alexander Bain. Bain is also regarded as a significant precursor to modern psychology. Due to his strong influence, Bain is often referred to as the first true psychologist. Two of his books, The Senses and the Intellect, published in 1855, and Emotions and the Will, published in 1859, are regarded as the first systematic textbooks on psychology. These two books were considered to be standard textbooks in psychology for the next 50 years. He also founded the journal, Mind in 1876, which is considered to be the first journal that addressed psychological questions. It is still considered to be a prestigious journal in philosophy of psychology.
In his book, The Senses and the Intellect, Bain tried to explain how the biological processes are related to psychological processes. The book started with a chapter of neurology, which has now become a standard procedure in all textbooks of psychology. Bain, in fact, differed from the other empiricists in that he explained association as neurological processes. It was after Bain’s attempt that the relation between physiological and psychological processes became an integral part of psychology. This eventually brought the study of human behavior at the brink of being an experimental discipline, which is one of the main reasons for psychology to emerge as an independent, scientific discipline.  
Alexander Bain setting the trend of the subject matter and textbooks of psychology as well as being considered to be the first true psychologist can, therefore, be considered the father of psychology. However, the contributions of other scholars before Bain cannot be ignored, and thus, considering Bain to be sole person leading to the development of the discipline of psychology may not be a very plausible argument. Along with Bain, all the other aforementioned scholars, namely, Descartes, Spinoza, Herbart, Hobbes, and Mill have also made significant contributions and in their own right can be considered the forebearer of the discipline of psychology.
Psychology is a multifaceted discipline; it deals with a wide range of issues. In different phases of the development of psychology there have been different individuals that can be referred to as the forebearer of psychology.
In this regard, specifying a father of psychology may be difficult and would rather be inappropriate. Instead, it can be said more appropriately that there cannot be one sole founder of psychology. The discipline of psychology has, in fact, had multiple forebearers.

This article can also be found on the blog Life and Psychology

Thursday, May 9, 2019


The sixth part of the series - Initially Not A Psychologist ...

William McDougall
William McDougall was a highly influential early 20th century psychologist. He was significant in shaping and giving direction to the development of modern psychology. He made major contributions to areas of Experimental Psychology, Personality Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Social Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, and Parapsychology. McDougall, however, initially did not intend to have a career in psychology; he was initially not a psychologist.
After, initially, studying at Manchester University, McDougall went to Cambridge University for medical training, feeling that studying medicine will give him a thorough education. Later, in 1897, he obtained his degree in medicine, at St. Thomas Hospital, London. During his time at St. Thomas Hospital and before that at Cambridge, McDougall wanted to dedicate his life to study the nervous system, because he felt that the brain has all the secrets to human nature.
McDougall, however, changed his views when he read the classic Principles of Psychology by William James. After reading the book, McDougall felt that neurology may not be the only way to understand human nature. He felt that apart from neurology, psychology and philosophy can be very useful. He then decided to study psychology, and for that, he got a fellowship at St. John’s College, Cambridge.
After completing his education at Cambridge, in 1899, McDougall joined an Anthropological expedition to Torres Straits, in association with W. H. R. Rivers and Charles Rivers. There he conducted psychological tests on the native inhabitants and studied their sensory processes.
McDougall, then moved to Germany, and worked with G. E. Muller. He worked in the area of experimental psychology and psychophysics. It was during this time that McDougall had developed an interest in psychical research, which he was majorly involved in later on in his career.
From Germany, McDougall then moved back to London, and joined the Department of Psychology, at University College. He accepted a position to teach psychology. There, and later on at Oxford, McDougall was appointed as Reader in mental philosophy. He was teaching experimental psychology and did research on sensory processes.
In this way, McDougall, after being influenced by the work of William James, changed his career path, and established himself in psychology. His tenure in London began a series of his significant contributions in psychology.
While in London, McDougall became instrumental in the founding of the British Psychological Society (initially named The Psychological Society) and starting the British Journal of Psychology. The society, founded in 1901, began to raise the standards in teaching and practice of psychology, increase awareness in psychology, and increase the influence of psychology on the society.
From London, McDougall moved to Oxford and continued his significant contributions. In his book, Physiological Psychology, published in 1904, McDougall emphasized the significance of the biological approach over the more traditional philosophical approach that was being used during that time.
McDougall became one of the first psychologists to redefine psychology as the science of behavior. In 1905, he defined psychology as “the positive science of the living creature.” In his highly influential book, An Introduction to Social Psychology, published in 1908, McDougall elaborated on this, in great detail.
In the book, he suggested that psychology should not restrict itself to the study of consciousness and should focus more on all modes of functioning or what he called a “positive science of conduct or behavior”. McDougall suggested that psychology should be studying varied aspects of human behaviour and use multiple methods, including physiological methods, and not narrow it down to consciousness and introspection.
It is very evident that in today’s time, psychology is the study of all kinds of behaviors and conduct, and is not limited to consciousness. In this way, McDougall can be seen as the pioneer of contemporary psychology. His book is also regarded as one the major precursors to the discipline of Social Psychology, which emphasizes on social behavior in specific contexts.
In his book, An Introduction to Social Psychology, McDougall introduced his hormic psychology, which includes his instinct theory of motivation. Hormic means urge or impulse. Hormic psychology suggests that psychological activity has purpose, emphasizing on purposive behavior of individuals. This purposive behavior was not guided by the environment, unlike what psychologists at that time were emphasizing on. Instead, according to McDougall, it was instincts that were propelling this purposive activity.
Instincts are inborn patterns of behavior, that is, they are biological in nature. In his instinct theory of motivation, McDougall emphasized the role of instincts in social behavior. He suggested that individuals are pre-programmed to behave in certain ways. He suggested a number of instincts such as sleep, hunger, sex, gregariousness, comfort, curiosity, among others.
In 1920, McDougall joined the psychology department at Harvard. This was the department that was established by William James, whose work influenced McDougall to take up a career in psychology, rather than continuing with physiology and neurology. It, thus, meant a lot for him to be joining the department started by William James. In the same year, McDougall’s book The Group Mind got published. This book is considered to be the sequel to his An Introduction to Social Psychology, and in a way completed his work in explaining social behavior through his hormic psychology.
Later, in his books, An Outline of Psychology, published in 1923, An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, published in 1926, and Character and the Conduct of Life, published in 1927, McDougall elaborated on his instinct theory of motivation and used it to explain personality and abnormal behavior, giving emphasis to free will.
In 1927, McDougall moved to Duke University. He developed the psychology department over there and established a parapsychology laboratory. He had already had interest in psychical research and in 1920 and 1921 had been the president of the Society for Psychical Research and The American Society for Psychical Research, respectively. He was interested to find scientific evidence for psychical phenomena and encouraged research on it. In 1937, McDougall became the founding co-editor, with Joseph Banks Rhine, of the Journal of Parapsychology. He was instrumental in establishing parapsychology as a separate subfield of psychology.
McDougall remained in Duke University till his death in 1938. In his life time he published 24 books and more than 150 papers. His contributions to psychology are indelible.

Initially wanting to dedicate his life to neurology, McDougall, after reading the work of William James, changed his mind, and ended up making a highly influential career in psychology. He redefined the study of psychology by introducing his hormic psychology, became instrumental in establishing the disciplines of Social Psychology and Parapsychology, and made significant contributions to Experimental Psychology,  Physiological Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.       

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The discipline of psychology, from an early phase, right after its inception, has been emphasizing on the significance of social relationships. Psychologists, from the beginning, have been suggesting the role of relationships in individuals’ life. Over the years till contemporary times, theories and research, in psychology, have emphasized how social and interpersonal relationships play an integral role in guiding human thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, in shaping the psyche of the individual, and being an important source for individual and social wellbeing.
One of the earliest psychologists to extensively talk about social relationships is William McDougall. McDougall suggested that human beings are goal-oriented and purposive. He called his approach hormic psychology. Hormic means an urge or an impulse.
William McDougall
Hormic psychology suggests that psychological activity has a purpose, or goal, that prods the individual to action. The propelling force of such activity is termed as instinct. Instincts are inborn patterns of behavior that are not learned. McDougall was one of the pioneers of the instinct theory of motivation. His theory of motivation states that organisms are pre-programmed to behave in the way they do so. This includes seeking social relationships.
In 1908, McDougall wrote his highly influential book, Introduction to Social Psychology. This is one of the first books to emphasize on social behavior, and was a major precursor to the field of social psychology. It was in this book that McDougall introduced his instinct theory of motivation. In the book, he wrote a full chapter on what he called the gregarious instinct.
The gregarious instinct, according to McDougall, enables individuals to seek others and works as a motivation to have social interactions and develop affiliations. McDougall also writes that it is the gregarious instinct that makes people indulge in behaviors like cooperation, and leads people to sharing of feelings and emotions with as many people as possible. McDougal further suggests that the gregarious instinct is responsible for the development of civilizations. It is the gregarious instinct that makes people want to be in groups and socialize at a much larger scale, leading to the formation of cities and societies.
The gregarious instinct, therefore, plays a very important role with respect to social behavior and the development of social relationships. By the year 1932, McDougall had created a list of a number of instincts such as hunger, sex, sleep, curiosity, construction, comfort, among others, including the gregarious instinct.
Drawing inspiration from McDougall, Henry Murray, in the 1930s, developed his theory of needs, called personology. According to Murray, a need is something that is internally aroused or results from external stimulation that produces an activity on part of the individual, which continues till that need is satisfied.
Henry Murray
A need, as per Murray, may be weak or intense, momentary or enduring, but it gives rise to overt behavior leading or directing to reduction or satisfaction of the need. Murray, further, suggests that a need is related to underlying processes in the brain and is accompanied by feelings and emotions.
Murray listed a number of needs, among which is the affiliation need. The affiliation need is a psychological or psychogenic need and is characterized by being drawn towards cooperation, reciprocity, winning affection, and remaining loyal to others.
David McClelland
Murray’s theory led to a great deal of research, especially by the psychologist David McClelland. McClelland in his theory of social motives or social needs talked about three needs that lead to social outcomes. One of those three needs is the need for affiliation.
The need for affiliation is the desire to be with others and have harmonious relationships. It prompts people to have friends as well as maintain their friendships. The need for affiliation may differ from person to person, some being high and some being low on the need. Nevertheless, each and every person has this need to some extent or the other.
Abraham Maslow
Before McClelland’s research, Abraham Maslow, one of the pioneers of the humanistic movement in psychology, extended Murray’s personology, in the 1940s, and gave his theory of hierarchy of needs, in which he described a number of inherent needs that motivate individuals. Among these needs, Maslow talks about the belongingness needs.
The need for belongingness is the need to have friends and family. It is a natural tendency to belong to a larger group and enables people to experience companionship and have affectionate relationships. Empirical evidences suggest that deficits in belongingness and a lack of strong social bonds lead to lowered physical and mental health. Human beings, according to Maslow, are, thus, naturally and inherently driven towards belongingness.
Mark Leary
Roy Baumeister
Extensive research has been done on the need for belongingness in contemporary times. Leading researchers in this area are Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary. In the 1990s, Baumeister and Leary did extensive work on the need for belongingness suggesting that it is a pervasive need to develop long-lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. It involves a need for frequent, pleasant, and stable interactions. If such interactions are with the same people then it is more satisfying as compared to when they interact with a changing sequence of individuals. A lack of belongingness, according to Baumeister and Leary, leads to a feeling of severe deprivation and other psychological issues.
Emily Esfahani Smith
The need for belongingness is viewed as highly significant in understanding human behavior, and over the years a number of psychologists have emphasized its importance. More recently, in her book The Power of Meaning, published in 2017, Emily Esfahani Smith suggested that the fulfilment of the need for belongingness is one of the major factors to experience meaning in life.
Therefore, the instincts and underlying needs depicted in the early and modern theories of motivation show that individuals are inherently motivated to be with others and have relationships. They urge people to seek out others, spend time with them, and maintain satisfying relationships with them.
The idea of the individual and social relationships is appositely reflected in the concept of the self. The self is a construct that is referred to contain an individual’s organized and stable experiences. It is the cognitive and affective representation of an individual’s identity. In other words, it is the sum of what the person actually is. It is about phenomena that pertain to the individual.
William James
The concept of the self was introduced in psychology by William James, in his book The Principles of Psychology, published in the year 1890. According to James, the self is central to all of an individual’s experiences and that people divide the world into me and not me. This distinction that people derive is based on interactions with others. According to James, social interactions are the key to the self.
James also talked about the social self. The recognition that individuals get from others is referred to as the social self. This further led to the idea of many selves – suggesting that individuals have different sides to them, depending on the person with whom one interacts with. We maybe a completely different individual with one person as compared to the other, indicating how others are important in shaping the self.
George Herbert Mead
The views of William James were taken forward by George Herbert Mead, often considered to be the father of social psychology. Mead, in the early 1900s, argues that the self is a product of social processes. The self, according to Mead, arises in the process of social experiences and is based on an individual’s perception of how he/she looks to others. He further states that the self is a product of social interactions. His ideas were published posthumously in the book Mind, Self, and Society, in 1934.
Influenced by Mead, Harry Stack Sullivan, the founder of the interpersonal approach to psychology, and a post-Freudian, in the 1940s, placed great emphasis on the social, interpersonal basis of the development of the self. Sullivan preferred the term self-system, instead of self, conveying his notion that the self is not a static entity, structure, or being, but rather an active process, or dynamism. For Sullivan, the self, including individuality and uniqueness, is a product of interpersonal experience and social influence. The self-system is constructed out of the individual’s perceptions of others reactions, from reflected appraisals.
Harry Stack Sullivan
Sullivan extended his idea of interpersonal interactions shaping the self to his notion of personality. In his theory of personality called the interpersonal theory of psychiatry, Sullivan states that enduring patterns of human relationships form the essence of personality. He asserts that personality is the relatively enduring pattern of recurrent interpersonal situations, which characterizes an individual’s life. For Sullivan, personality cannot be isolated from interpersonal situations, and interpersonal behavior is all that can be observed as personality. He repeatedly insisted that personality is shaped almost entirely by the individual’s relationships.
The interpersonal approach to self and personality led to other post-Freudian views that gave emphasis to interpersonal relationships in the development of the individual. One of such perspective was the object relations theories. The object relations theories suggest that the essence of an individual cannot be understood without the understanding of the significant relationships of the individual. Objects are internalized representations of real people.
Heinz Kohut
The most influential object relations theorist is Heinz Kohut. Kohut is the founder of self psychology - a school of thought of psychoanalytic theory and therapy that explains psychopathology as the result of disrupted or unmet developmental needs. According to self psychology, the key issue in the formation of the self is the presence and absence of loving relationships. Kohut, in the 1960s, suggests that the receipt of empathic reactions from significant others is highly important for the healthy development of the self.
Kohut further suggested that healthy interactions with people who are important to an individual leads him/her to develop into an ideal personality type, where the individual is an independent and self-sufficient person. On the other hand, if this interaction is not healthy then it will lead the individual towards emptiness and insecurity. By suggesting the role of healthy interactions with significant others, Kohut was clearly emphasizing the significance of relationships in the development of the self.
Apart from the post-Freudians, the humanistic psychologists, especially Carl Rogers, have also emphasized the role of interpersonal relationships in the formation of the self. Self is the central concept of Rogers’s theory, which is why it is referred to as the self theory.
The self, according to Rogers, is patterned conscious perceptions experienced by the individual. The self is an outgrowth of what a person experiences, and an awareness of self helps a person differentiate himself/herself from others.
Carl Rogers
Rogers, in the 1940s, suggested that the self is a social product that is developed out of interpersonal relationships. For a healthy self to emerge, a person needs unconditional positive regard – love, warmth, care, respect, and acceptance – from parents/caretakers. This unconditional positive regard helps in having less discrepancy between the real self (what the person actually is) and the ideal self (what the person wants to become), a state referred to as congruence by Rogers. This state of congruence leads to the condition of becoming oneself, eventually making the individual what Rogers calls a fully functioning person – a person who is well adjusted and is close to his/her true potential.
Susan Anderson
These perspectives of the self, right when it was introduced by William James to the post-Freudians and Rogers, vividly indicate that individual is shaped by his/her interpersonal interactions. This is further reflected in the emergence of the concept of the relational self, first proposed by Susan Anderson and Serena Chen, in early 2000s. They suggest
Serena Chen
that the self is relational, in the sense, that it is entangled with significant others that has implications for self-definition, self-evaluation, self-regulation, and daily functioning, which is all in relation to others. By significant others, Anderson and Chen mean someone who has been highly influential in the individual’s life and someone in whom the individual is or was emotionally invested.
The concept of relational self indicates that each of the significant others are linked to the self, capturing unique aspects of that relationship. Therefore, the self is shaped by the significant others, if they are present both physically as well as symbolically.
Influenced by this, a number of interpersonal theorists state that the concept of the relational self reflects that relationships are incorporated in the self and that the self is defined in terms of interpersonal relationships. By being tied to the self, these relationships influence behavior, cognition, and affect of the individual, as well as perceptions of the self.
Therefore, theories of self indicate that individuals are shaped by their relationships. Some theorists suggest general interpersonal interactions to shape the self, and some give emphasis on healthy interactions with significant others in the formation of the self.
Along with theories of motivation and self, more recently, advances in neurosciences suggest that human beings are in fact built to have appropriate social relationships. The biological system of human beings is structured in such a way that it helps them develop proper interpersonal interactions. This is explicitly depicted in the field of social neuroscience.
John Cacioppo
Social neuroscience is the biological approach to social behavior. It was proposed by the neuroscientists John Cacioppo and Gary Berntson in 1992. Social neuroscience is an integrative field that examines the involvement of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems in socio-cultural process. It examines how the brain drives social behavior and in turn how the social world influences brain and biology. It is a comprehensive attempt to understand mechanisms that underlie social behavior by combining biological and social approaches.
Gary Berntson
Social neuroscience has led to the discovery that the brain of human beings are built in such a way that it guides people to have social interactions. The neural circuitry of human beings is designed in such a way that it enables people to socialize with each other. There are a number of areas spread in the brain that act together and are responsible for people to interact with each other. These brain regions are collectively termed as the social brain.
Michael Gazzaniga
The term social brain was introduced into neuropsychology by the psychologist, and founder of cognitive neuroscience, Michael Gazzaniga in 1985 in his studies of disturbances in social and emotional communication after damages in the right hemisphere. The term was then more prominently used by Leslie Brothers in 1990. Brothers in her studies with monkeys proposed that there are a set of brain regions that are dedicated to social cognition. With the advent of brain imagining techniques, the social brain has also been discovered in human beings, and neuropsychologists like Ralph Adolphs have found similar results in humans as that of monkeys.
Ralph Adolphs
The social brain is a set of distinct but fluid and wide-ranging neural networks that synchronize around relating to others. Neuroscientists suggest that these social centers are mainly in structures of the prefrontal area of the brain in connection with areas in the sub-cortex, especially the limbic system (set of brain structures responsible for emotions, motivation, memory, and olfaction). However, other brain areas apart from these have also been discovered to constitute the social brain.
Giacomo Rizzolatti
During any kind of social interaction, regions in the social brain work together to fine tune the activity and orchestrate the bodily movements and emotions to make the person attuned to that social action. The specific brain cells called the mirror neurons play a very important role in this. The mirror neurons were first discovered in the early 1990s by the neurophysiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti.
The mirror neurons, found in the social brain, connect the brain of one person with that of the other. The mirror neurons immediately get active and start function during a social interaction. These neurons sense both the move that the other person is about to make and their feelings, and instantly prepares the individual to respond appropriately. For instance, if a person smiles the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to smile back. Or, if a person waves his/her hand, the mirror neurons detect that and make the other individual to wave back. Emotions have been found to be contagious because of the mirror neurons. In these ways, mirror neurons function during any social activity in the brain region that is responsible for that action.
The social circuits together keep things operating smoothly during interactions. Damage to any of these social centers impairs the ability to attune. It leads to making poor interpersonal decisions, misjudge the feelings of other people, and are incapable in coping with the social demands of life.
Howard Gardner
Interpersonal intelligence, one of the multiple intelligences proposed by the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, the the mid-1980s, is an important factor in social interactions. Interpersonal intelligence is the ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people. It includes sensitivity to facial expressions, voice, and gestures; the capacity for discriminating among many different kinds of interpersonal cues; and the ability to respond effectively to those cues in some pragmatic way. These aspects have been to be associated with the frontal lobe, right temporal lobe, and the limbic system.
Reuvan Bar-On
Emotional intelligence - a set of abilities related to self and social awareness – is another important aspect that helps in having appropriate social interactions. Reuvan Bar-On, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, on the basis of lesion studies (studies on patients who have brain injuries in clearly defined areas) identified several brain areas crucial for the abilities of emotional intelligence. Other findings using different methods support the same conclusion. These brain researches suggest that there are unique brain centers associated with specific aspects of emotional intelligence, including aspects that help in social interactions.
For instance, abilities to solve interpersonal problems, managing impulses, expression of feelings effectively, and relating with others, have been found to be associated with the prefrontal cortex. Empathy, the ability to understand the emotions of others, has been found to be associated with the right somatosensory cortex and the insula. A large number of studies have also found the amygdala (center of emotions in the brain) to be associated with empathy.
Cameron Carter
Research has identified many specific chemicals that are synthesized in the brain to be associated with social behaviors that play a role in social interactions. Cameron Carter and Eric Keverne, in early 2000s, found that the neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain that the brain cells use to communicate) such as dopamine and endogenous opioids play a role in social bonding. Additionally, hormones such as oxytocin, vasopressin, corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF), and adrenal hormones, including corticosterone are also responsible for social bonding.
The human brain, thus, not only guides people in socializing with others, but it also works in order to help people in having appropriate social interactions, which in turn help in having better relationships. The human brain, is therefore, built to make human beings form proper social relationships.
In the field of psychology, the notion of humans being social in nature, like to be in groups, and have social interactions, can be said to have begun with the early theories of motivation. This notion was strengthened by the perspectives of the social self, and the beginning of the interpersonal approach to psychology. Finally, the advances in neuroscientific techniques gave proper evidences that the brain plays a very important role in fine tuning social interactions to help in having appropriate social relationships.