Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Positive psychology is said to be the scientific study of wellbeing. It is the discipline that focuses on positive experiences, positive traits or character strengths, and institutions that enhance wellbeing. Positive experiences include positive states such as happiness, satisfaction, flow, optimism, hope, etc. Positive traits and character strengths include altruism, interpersonal skills, integrity, wisdom, originality, perseverance, forgiveness, etc. Institutions that enhance wellbeing are the institutions that move individuals towards being a better citizen, which includes a sense of responsibility, civility, nurturance, tolerance, and work ethics.

In 1998, the psychologist Martin Seligman, in his presidential address of the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA) asserted that the discipline of psychology had been focusing too much on the negative aspects of human behavior such as mental illness, and thus, has been ignoring many of the positive aspects like growth and mastery.   

The direct influence of this focus on the negative aspects of human behavior, according to Seligman has been the World War II, which has led to a flurry of research in psychological disorders and human suffering. Seligman suggested that psychology is not just about studying illness, disorders, difficulties, and weaknesses, but it is also about studying strengths and virtues; it is about education, insight, and growth.

Martin Seligman
Seligman called this emphasis of psychology on positive aspects of human behavior as positive psychology. Thus, 1998 can be said to be the formal beginning of the field of positive psychology, with Martin Seligman being its founder. In contemporary times, positive psychology covers a wide range of areas such as subjective wellbeing, happiness, life satisfaction, quality of life, positive relationships, positive self, positive affect, leisure, peak performance, creativity, optimism, hope, interventions to enhance wellbeing, and positive psychology in the context of organizations, among others.

Even though positive psychology was formally established in 1998, it was not the first time that such topics were being studied or were being given emphasis. There were psychologists who were emphasizing on such positive aspects of behavior much before the year of 1998.

Ed Diener
In 1984, the psychologist Edward Diener proposed the tripartite model of subjective wellbeing. According to Diener, the subjective evaluation of life is referred to as subjective wellbeing. He suggested that subjective wellbeing comprises of cognitive judgments associated with overall life satisfaction, and affective experiences that involve positive and negative emotional reactions.

On the basis of this, Diener formulated his tripartite model of subjective wellbeing. He suggested that subjective wellbeing has three components, which are life satisfaction (LS), positive affect (PA), and negative affect (NA). This model was widely adopted, where psychologists conducted a number of empirical researches related to it, and even developed self-report measures of subjective wellbeing.

After Diener, in 1989, the psychologist Carol Ryff proposed a six-factor model of psychological wellbeing. Ryff had concerns regarding the dearth of research in psychology, related to positive functioning. This led her to come up with the multi-faceted concept of psychological wellbeing.

Carol Ryff
Psychological wellbeing is the perception of positive functioning. It comprises of six dimensions or factors – self-acceptance (maintaining the same level of self-esteem in varying circumstances, and trying to be positive in doing so), purpose in life (goals and beliefs that give a sense of direction and meaning in life); autonomy (self-determination and being guided by one’s own internalized standards, rather than conformity), positive relationships (the ability to have satisfying, long-lasting relationships), environmental mastery (being able to manage the environment according to one’s needs), and personal growth (enhancing skills for personal development, seeking opportunities for growth, and having insight into one’s potential for self-development).

The concepts of both Diener and Ryff, in the 1980s, can be seen as significant precursors to the positive psychology movement, leading Seligman to formally establish the discipline in 1998. However, a more direct influence on positive psychology existed much earlier than Diener and Ryff. This direct influence was in the form of humanistic psychology, especially its founder Abraham Maslow.

Maslow suggested that to understand human nature, instead of examining mental illness, it is more appropriate to study people who he referred to as psychologically healthy individuals. According to Maslow, psychologically healthy individuals are those who have an objective sense of reality, self-acceptance, simplicity, autonomy, empathy, non-conformism, commitment to work, and a high level of social interest.

Abraham Maslow
In studying psychologically healthy individuals, and not mental illness, Maslow was emphasizing on aspects of improvement, instead of cure. He was, thus, focusing on the positive aspects of human behavior, which eventually had a strong influence on the positive psychology movement. In fact, in the 1950s, Maslow was the one who had used the term positive psychology, which was much before Seligman had used it.

Further, in emphasizing on the positive aspects of human behavior, Maslow, in 1961, coined the term Eupsychia. Eupsychia, according to Maslow is a society made up of self-actualizing people, in which individuals will grow, be happy, aware, compassionate, and connected. Based on this, Maslow proposed his Eupsychian theory, which was aimed to create the Eupsychian society that he had envisioned.

In many ways, the humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, carried forward the ideas of Maslow. Like Maslow, Rogers also emphasized on the positive aspects of human behavior. Rogers developed his approach calling it the person-centered approach. In this approach, Rogers suggested that every individual has the capability to alter their thoughts and behavior to bring about a positive change, leading to personal growth.

Carl Rogers
He emphasized on the significance of unconditional positive regard (love, empathy, warmth, care, respect, and acceptance) from parents or care-takers, for individuals to develop in a healthy manner. According to Rogers, this unconditional positive regard enables individuals to become fully functioning persons, which is mainly characterized by openness to experience, living life to the fullest, a sense of freedom in thought and action, and high level of creativity. On the whole, Rogers was strongly emphasizing on nurturance and personal growth, which are important aspects of positive psychology.

The works of Maslow and Rogers, suggest that, in many ways, positive psychology is an extension of humanistic psychology. However, they were not the only significant influence on positive psychology. Even though humanistic psychology is a direct influence on positive psychology, there have been other psychologists before humanistic psychology, who proposed ideas and concepts that can also be considered as the roots of positive psychology.

One such psychologist is Alfred Adler, psychoanalyst and founder of individual psychology. Adler is often considered to be the pioneer in emphasizing positive aspects of human behavior. In 1939, Adler introduced his concept of social interest. Social interest is the drive that every individual is born with. According to Adler, social interest comprises of cooperation, interpersonal and social relationships, identification with the group, empathy, and feeling of a sense of community and belongingness.

Alfred Adler
More specifically, social interest is about the individual helping the society to strive for a perfect society. Adler suggested that this striving implies respect and consideration for others. Research suggests that people who are high on social interest are altruistic, trustworthy, socially adjusted, and nurturant compared to those who are low in social interest. They also have greater satisfaction and more satisfying relationships. Further, people high in social interest have been found to report lesser levels of depression, anxiety, loneliness, emotional instability, and hostility towards others.

Adler’s concept is considered to be highly influential with respect to emphasizing on positive aspects of behavior. It is often suggested that the idea of social interest was something that had influenced humanistic psychologists. Maslow’s idea of Eupsychia can be found to be similar to a society that Adler had envisioned, which can be attained due to innate tendency of social interest.

Apart from Adler, another psychoanalyst who emphasized on the positive aspects of behavior is Erich Fromm. Like Adler, Fromm is considered to be a social psychoanalyst. His approach is referred to as humanistic psychoanalysis.

Erich Fromm
Fromm suggested that every individual has existential needs, which need to be fulfilled. These existential needs are – relatedness (drive for union with people), transcendence (urge to rise above a passive and accidental existence, towards purposefulness), rootedness (need to establish roots), sense of identity (the capacity to be aware of oneself as a separate entity), and frame of orientation (need for putting events into framework to make sense of it). If these needs are fulfilled then the individual experiences wellbeing.

According to Fromm, these are needs are remain unfulfilled due to the modern capitalist and consumerist society. Because of this, individuals feel estranged and alienated, leading to anxiety and depression. The only way to get out of such feelings, according to Fromm is love, affiliation, sharing, and bonding.

Fromm gave a lot of emphasis to love. He believed that love is the only way that people can get united with the world, and yet maintain their individuality. He defined love as the union with somebody or something outside oneself, while not losing one’s individuality, separateness, and integrity. Fromm suggested that love involves sharing and communionship. This emphasis on love, connection, bonding is something that has been found in positive psychology as well, making Fromm an important precursor of the movement.

Harry Stack Sullivan
Going along with the idea of nurturance, growth, and development, the psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan has also made significant contributions. Sullivan, is the pioneer of the interpersonal approach to psychology, which gives emphasis on the role that relationships play in the development of personality and mental health. This approach changed the entire picture of psychoanalysis and psychology, in general, by emphasizing the role of positive, satisfying relationships in wellbeing, personal growth, and psychotherapy. These aspects of Sullivan’s contributions make it a highly significant precursor to the positive psychology movement.

In his interpersonal theory of psychiatry, formulated in the early 1950s, Sullivan asserted that interpersonal interactions shape personality. According to him, personality can only be studied in the context of interpersonal interactions, and that enduring patterns of relationships form the essence of personality. Personality, for Sullivan, cannot be isolated from interpersonal behavior and interpersonal situations.

Therefore, Sullivan suggested that positive and empathetic relationships become the key in the healthy development of individuals – positive relationships lead to better mental health, and help to cope with stress and anxiety. Sullivan, further, suggested that if relationships are not positive or if interpersonal needs are not met, then it leads to loneliness and depression.    

Heinz Kohut
Another psychoanalyst who gave emphasis to positive relationships is Heinz Kohut. Kohut suggested that the presence and absence of loving relationships is very significant in the formation of the self. According to Kohut, receiving empathetic reactions from significant others is highly important for the healthy development of the self.

He further suggested that healthy interactions with significant others enables the person to develop what he called an ideal personality type – an independent and self-sufficient person. Unhealthy interactions, on the other hand, lead to emptiness and a sense of insecurity. Kohut’s emphasis on empathy and healthy interactions in the role of the development of self, which emerged in the 1960s, can be viewed as an important precursor to positive psychology.

Along with the humanistic and psychoanalytic perspectives, the roots of positive psychology can also be traced back to philosophical traditions. The main focus in positive psychology has been the study of wellbeing. Wellbeing has been examined from two perspectives that are based on two very different philosophies – hedonism and eudaimonism. Hedonism determined the hedonic perspective of wellbeing and eudaimonism determined the eudaimonic perspective of wellbeing.

Hedonism is the philosophy that suggests that human behavior is determined by increasing pleasure and decreasing pain. According to hedonism, pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life. The hedonistic philosophy can be traced back to Aristippus, the 4th century BCE Greek philosopher. Aristippus believed that the greatest human value is pleasure and pain is the lowest, which should be avoided. He believed that the pursuit of life should be enjoyment and pleasure.

The philosophy of Aristippus was later carried forward by the 18th and early 19th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, in his utilitarian philosophy. Bentham believed that human happiness can be completely explained in terms of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. The British empiricists Thomas Hobbes, James Mill, and John Stuart Mill also propagated Bentham’s hedonism. The philosophy of hedonism determined what came to be known as the hedonistic perspective of wellbeing or hedonistic wellbeing. According to hedonistic wellbeing, wellbeing involves happiness, pleasure, and enjoyment.

The hedonistic philosophy was opposed by eudaimonism or the eudaimonic philosophy or eudaimonia. The founder of eudaimonia is the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Aristotle heavily criticized hedonism. He suggested that hedonism makes individuals become slaves to their desires. According to him, instead of seeking pleasure, the essential aspect of a good life is the realization of one’s true potential.

Eudaimonia determined the eudaimonic perspective of wellbeing or eudaimonic wellbeing. Eudaimonic wellbeing conceptualizes wellbeing with respect to realizing one’s true potential, optimal functioning, and having purpose and meaning in life.

The field of positive psychology has brought about a major change in the approach of examining human behavior. While humanistic psychology has been a direct influence on positive psychology, specific psychoanalytic perspectives can also be viewed as its roots. Apart from that, the roots of positive psychology can be traced back to two distinct philosophical traditions, in terms of hedonism and eudaimonia.

Friday, July 30, 2021


The most widely accepted definition of psychology is that it is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. The emphasis on scientific has been there from the 19th century, which indicates that, largely, psychology follows the scientific methods and principles. One such principle has been the doctrine of determinism. The doctrine of determinism is the assumption that all that is investigated is lawful, that is, it can be understood in terms of causal laws. 

Determinism, in psychology, is the assumption that all behaviors have a specific cause. In other words, determinism centers around the notion of causation. Determinists have the assumption that all the events in the universe have a cause. Further, since human beings are part of the universe, all human behaviors also have a cause. The assumption of determinism also suggests that all the causes of behavior are beyond the control of human beings. This suggests that, according to determinism, human beings have no control over their own behavior.

The idea of human behavior being deterministic fits well with the notion of science and scientific psychology. Determinists believe that the more causes of behavior are known, the easier it will be to make predictions about human behavior.

Baruch Spinoza
The Dutch philosopher, and one of the great rationalists, Baruch Spinoza, is often considered to be the first modern thinker to talk about psychological processes from a deterministic perspective. Spinoza argued that nature is lawful, and since human beings are a part of nature, all kind of thoughts and behaviors are also lawful, and thus, deterministic.

Spinoza suggested that the laws of nature are applicable to the mind and other psychological processes. He further suggested that these laws can be used to study psychological processes. The strict deterministic perspective of Spinoza led to the rise of the scientific investigation of the mind. It turned out to be an important precursor to scientific psychology. It eventually played an influential role in Gustav Theodor Fechner and Wilhelm Wundt in introducing the experimental approach to the discipline of psychology.

Apart from Spinoza, one of the earliest modern thinkers to talk about lawfulness of psychological processes and assert a deterministic perspective of human behavior, is the founder of British empiricism, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes was highly influenced by Galileo, the father of modern physics. Galileo had explained the motion of physical objects using the mechanistic principle, suggesting that external forces act upon them.

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes felt that human beings are also part of nature, and thus, human behavior can also be explained as the motion of physical objects, that is, by the mechanistic principle. This was the first serious attempt to explain human behavior by using the techniques of Galileo, that is, it began the use of the methods of the physical sciences in examining human behavior. Because Hobbes was convinced that the motion of physical objects is caused by external forces acting on them, and that human behavior can be explained in the same way, he was using a deterministic perspective.

The deterministic perspective of Hobbes was carried forward by the later British empiricists, which eventually laid the foundation of scientific psychology that was established by Wilhelm Wundt. Therefore, Spinoza and Hobbes, being two of the earliest thinkers that used a deterministic perspective in understanding human behavior, were instrumental in making the discipline of psychology scientific in nature. It was their deterministic view of behavior that made psychologists during the beginning of modern psychology to also believe in determinism.

The belief in determinism by the early psychologists can be clearly found in the ideas of the five classical schools of psychology – structuralism, functionalism, psychoanalysis, gestalt psychology, and behaviorism. Structuralism, the first school of psychology, emphasized on the experimental method, suggesting investigation in terms of causal relationships. It also has been known to rigidly follow the mechanistic principle. This makes the school of structuralism deterministic in nature.

The school of functionalism emphasized on adaptation to the environment. According to functionalism, consciousness helps individuals to adapt in the environment; the environmental forces are acting upon the mind. This main idea of functionalism makes it deterministic.

The school of psychoanalysis emphasizes on the unconscious mind and childhood experiences shaping adult behavior. Individuals, according to psychoanalysis, have no control over their behavior. This makes the school of psychoanalysis to be deterministic in nature.

Gestalt psychology emphasizes on universal laws that govern perceptual organization and information processing. It suggests that the mind organizes and interprets information in a lawful manner. This indicates that the school of gestalt psychology is also deterministic in nature.

Finally, the school of behaviorism can be arguably viewed as the most deterministic among the five classical schools of psychology. Behaviorism is highly mechanistic in nature. It suggests that human beings passively respond to stimuli in the environment. Behaviorism strongly emphasizes on causal relationships – the stimuli causing a behavioral response.

The five classical schools of psychology being deterministic can be viewed as a direct consequence of modern psychology emphasizing on using the scientific methods. This trend was found in most of the subfields in psychology that emerged in the later years.

Determinism in psychology can be broadly classified as physical determinism and psychical determinism. When the cause(s) of behavior is measurable and quantifiable then it is referred to as physical determinism. Physical determinism includes biological, environmental, and socio-cultural determinism.

If the causes of behavior are related to physiological processes or genetics, then it is said to be biological determinism. If the causes of behavior are environmental stimuli, that is, it lies within the environment, and outside the individual, then it is said to be environmental determinism. If the causes of behavior are related to socio-cultural processes such as culture, norms, and customs, then it is said to be socio-cultural determinism. In all of these cases, the causes of behavior can be directly measured and even quantified. Psychologists who are involved in biopsychology, environmental psychology, behavioral theory, social psychology, cultural psychology, etc. are all associated with physical determinism.

In contrast to physical determinism, when the cause(s) of behavior are subjective in nature, and cannot be directly measured, then it is known as psychical determinism. It mainly includes causes explained in terms of cognitive and emotional experiences. If the causes of behavior are beliefs, emotions, perceptions, ideas, etc., then it is said to be psychical determinism. The psychologists giving emphasis to conscious, non-conscious, and unconscious mental events, such as those who are involved in cognitive psychology, or psychoanalysis are associated with psychical determinism.

Both physical and psychical determinism, thus, cover up most of the subfields in the discipline of psychology, in contemporary times. This indicates that the idea of determinism has been widely accepted within psychology.

Despite its wide acceptance, however, psychologists have often had to face one major criticism when associating determinism with human behavior. Human behavior being deterministic automatically gives the idea that human beings have no control over their behavior, and that their behavior is guided by forces that are beyond their control. This idea of human behavior has been suggested to be very dangerous by many scholars, and even raises a number of moralistic issues. Scholars against the idea of determinism argue that without having any personal responsibility over their behavior, human beings can get away with the most heinous acts by simply suggesting that everything is deterministic.

William James
William James, one of the most renowned psychologists and philosophers, and the major precursor behind the school of functionalism, however, has a response to this criticism. James suggested that in some cases personal responsibility can be associated with determinism as well.

In this regard, James differentiated between what he called hard determinism and soft determinism. When the behavior is caused by automatic or mechanistic processes, then it is called hard determinism. In such cases there will be no personal responsibility.

Soft determinism, on the other hand, involves cognitive processes such as intention, motivation, beliefs. These are rational processes that occur due to deliberate thought. They qualify as causes of behavior, but individuals have a choice to act in a specific way. Therefore, soft determinism becomes a way for personal responsibility to be associated with determinism.

Irrespective of personal responsibility, the one thing that all psychologists agree upon is that determinism with respect to human behavior becomes very complicated. Psychologists suggest that there can be a number of causes behind one specific behavior. This makes it very difficult to specify exactly what has caused a specific behavior. A lot of times a number of behaviors even occur accidently or suddenly or unexpectedly. This further makes determinism complicated in human behavior, because even when there is a cause, it becomes almost impossible to make predictions.

Psychologists have also borrowed the idea of the uncertainty principle from physics, in giving the argument of determinism being complicated with respect to human behavior. The physicist Karl Heisenberg, who gave this principle, suggested that simply observing an object/phenomenon can affect its activity, creating doubts about the validity of the observation. This indicates that nothing can be known with certainty, thus, known as the uncertainty principle.

The same idea when applied to human behavior suggests that the cause of any behavior cannot be certain. Determinists in psychology feel that even though behavior has specific causes, the uncertainty principle suggests that there can be no certainty about knowing those causes. Therefore, determinism or the idea of causation with respect to human behavior becomes very complicated.

Saturday, November 14, 2020


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

Robert Sessions Woodworth

Robert Sessions Woodworth was an influential functional psychologist, who spearheaded the functionalist movement at Columbia, independently, away from Chicago, from where it was originally established. Woodworth had elaborated the work of William James and John Dewey. He also introduced ideas that was extensively used by schools and perspectives of psychology that emerged after functionalism. Woodworth, however, did not begin his career as a psychologist. He was, initially, not a psychologist.

In 1891, Woodworth completed his Bachelor’s in philosophy, from Amherst College. After that he became a science and mathematics instructor for undergraduate students. During that time, he attended a lecture given by Granville StanleyHall. After that he read William James’s Principles of Psychology. These two experiences, especially reading the book by William James, played a huge influential role on him, and he decided to become a psychologist. He completed his Master’s at Harvard, where he studied under William James. At the suggestion of James, he completed his doctorate at Columbia, under James McKeen Cattell. The title of his dissertation being The Accuracy of Voluntary Movement.

Woodworth introduced the idea of dynamic psychology, which was an elaboration of the works of William James and John Dewey. Dynamic psychology is about motivation - the ‘why’ of behavior. Woodworth, however, differed from James and Dewey in the sense that he was giving more emphasis to the underlying physiological aspects of behavior that he felt drive or motivate behavior. His views can be seen to be similar to the instinct theory of motivation by William McDougal.

Apart from dynamic psychology, Woodworth propagated for objectivity in psychology. He believed that psychology should be studying stimulus and response. However, he also suggested that the organism should be considered to be the mediator between external stimulus and the response. He believed that varying energy levels and past and current experiences also play a role in determining behavior. It was due to this that Woodworth opined that both consciousness and behavior should be the subject matter of psychology.

In giving his views about the nature of psychology and its subject matter, Woodworth can be seen to foreshadowing schools and perspectives of psychology that emerged later on. His emphasis on the organism mediating stimulus and response were later examined extensively by neo-behaviorists Clark Hull and Edward Tolman. They suggested a number of intervening variables, within the organism, that they felt to be important in determining a response. It was the suggestion of these intervening variables by Hull and Tolman that made them move beyond the stimulus-response (S-R) connection of Watsonian behaviorism to stimulus-organism-response (S-O-R) connection.

Further, Woodworth suggesting both consciousness and behavior to be the subject matter of psychology was later adopted by the social theorists, like Albert Bandura and Julian Rotter. A similar approached can even be found in humanistic psychology, which emphasizes on conscious experiences as well as behavior in the realization of true potential. Woodworth, in this way, can be viewed as someone who links functionalism with behaviorism and humanistic psychology.

Woodworth turned out to be a highly influential psychologist. He wrote about his perspectives of psychology in his books Dynamic Psychology, published in 1918, and Dynamic Behavior, published in 1958. His book Psychology, published in 1921, is considered to be one of the most widely read psychology textbooks of that time. His book Experimental Psychology, first published in 1938, ended up being a classic textbook in psychology. Due to his influential writings, Woodworth has been one the most cited psychologists.

Starting his career as a science and mathematics instructor, Woodworth decided to become a psychologist after attending a lecture of Granville Stanley Hall and reading William James’s Principles of Psychology. His ideas and approach to psychology were later adopted and examined by highly significant perspectives in psychology that emerged later in the history of psychology.

Thursday, October 8, 2020


Rationality is the idea of being in accordance with reason and logic. When rationalistic explanations are given for human behavior, emphasis is given on logical, systematic, and intelligent thought processes. Rationality opposes the usage of emotions and other elements that are generally considered to be irrational, such as superstition, in explaining behavior and events.

The idea of rationality can be traced back to rationalism. Rationalism is the philosophical belief that knowledge can be gained by engaging actively in systematic mental activity. The rationalists believed that the mind actively interacts with information and derives some meaning out of it, suggesting that the mind is active.

Further, the rationalists believed that many of the processes involved among human beings are innate. They suggested that innate mental structures, operations, or abilities are involved in analysing thought.

The rationalists also felt that the idea of truth cannot be determined by merely experience and beliefs. According to them, conclusions about truth must be ascertained by making logical deductions and analysis, emphasizing a rational system in arriving at truth.

Baruch Spinoza
Rene Descartes
The rationalists, therefore, giving emphasis on deriving meaning from information, an active mind, innate processes, and logical analysis, stressed on deduction and a top-down approach to gaining knowledge. Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried
Wilhelm von Leibniz are considered to be the three great modern rationalists who initiated the idea of rationalism. They emphasized on innate ideas, an active mind, and logical and intellectual processes. Their idea of rationality, eventually led to the Age of Reason, also known as the Enlightenment, in the 18th century.
Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz 

In opposition to rationalism, a number of scholars felt that an emphasis on intellect and rationality is too dry to understand the essence of human nature. This idea is referred to as irrationalism, and emerged as a reaction against the Age of Reason, in the 19th century. Proponents of irrationalism believed that instead of logic and intellect, there should be an emphasis on the unique human experiences, feelings and emotions, and the will.

The idea of irrationalism was strongly represented in romanticism or the Romantic movement, which gave emphasis to subjectivity. Scholars within this philosophy believed that in going with the idea of rationalism, somewhere, the individual human gets lost. They, thus, felt that in explaining human behavior, feelings and emotions, give a lot more meaning. This is what is said to be the Romantic movement.

Friedrich Nietzche
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 
Irrationalism and romanticism led to significant contributions in understanding human behavior in the form of existentialism and vitalism. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Soren Kierkegaard are regarded as some of the proponents of this idea.

Soren Kierkegaard

The debate of rationalism versus irrationalism has been continuing for years. It is even prevalent in contemporary psychology, where it has been found that psychologists often favoring either rationalism or irrationalism. A good example of this debate can be found in the modern concept of intelligence.

Lewis Terman
The concept of intelligence, right from its inception in the discipline of psychology, has been viewed in terms of intellect, logic, and reason. This is reflected in the definition of intelligence given by the developmental and educational psychologist, Lewis Terman, in 1921. Terman defined intelligence as the ability to carry out abstract thinking.   

Theodore Simon
Alfred Binet
The widely used intelligence tests, starting from the Binet-Simon test, developed by the psychologist Alfred Binet and psychologist Theodore Simon, in 1905, the Stanford-Binet test, developed by Lewis Terman, in 1916, and the Weschler scales, first published in 1955, developed by the psychologist David Wechsler, all were modelled on the conception of intelligence being associated with logic and reason. These tests popularized the notion of intelligence quotient (IQ), first coined by William Stern, which has been extensively used in evaluating people in terms of having specific skills, being fit for a job, or even diagnosing for a psychological disorder. 
William Stern

The earlier notion of intelligence can be viewed as more of a representation of the philosophy of rationalism. A number of psychologists found this notion of intelligence to be very limited. Moreover, they felt that intelligence being measured by the existing intelligence tests is more about academic abilities, and may not be useful in everyday life.

John Mayer
Peter Salovey
These disagreements of describing intelligence completely in terms of logic and reason, eventually led to the emergence of the concept of emotional intelligence. In 1990, the term emotional intelligence was introduced by the social psychologist, Peter Salovey and personality psychologist, John Mayer. They defined emotional intelligence as the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.

Howard Gardner
In defining emotional intelligence, Salovey and Mayer, have been inspired by the idea of personal intelligence, given by the educational psychologist, Howard Gardner. Personal intelligence, according to Gardner, comprises of intra-personal intelligence (self-knowledge; awareness of inner moods, intentions, motivations, temperaments, and desires) and interpersonal intelligence (ability to sense moods, feelings, and motives of others and be in tune with them). These two types of intelligences are among the other eight to nine intelligences that Gardner describes in his theory of Multiple Intelligences, first introduced in his book Frames of Mind, in 1983.

Gardner, through his theory of multiple intelligences, was opposing the early notion of intelligence that psychologists had found to be too simplistic and limited in scope. There have been other psychologists, much before Gardner, who have been trying to describe intelligence beyond academic abilities.

Edward Thorndike
In 1920, the functional psychologist, Edward Thorndike, introduced the concept of social intelligence. Social intelligence is the ability to understand and manage people, and to act wisely in human relationships. By talking about intelligence in terms of managing people, Thorndike was giving a broader perspective of intelligence.

David Wechsler
Like Thorndike, intelligence theorist David Wechsler, also gave a broader perspective of intelligence. In 1944, Wechsler defined intelligence as the global capacity of the individual to act purposefully, to think rationally, and to deal effectively with the environment. Wechsler also differentiated between intellective and non-intellective elements of intelligence – intellective elements include academic abilities, and non-intellective elements include affective, personal, and social factors.

Both Thorndike and Weschler were describing intelligence that was different from the earlier notions. They were still not completely dissociating intelligence from rationality, which can be reflected in Thorndike’s description of “acting wisely” and Weschler’s description of “to think rationally”. However, they were also describing intelligence in ways that was not just limited to academic abilities.

It was these initial diversions from the early notions of intelligence that eventually led Salovey and Mayer to come up with the concept of emotional intelligence. It is quite clear that the term used by Salovey and Mayer comprises of two words that are said to be the opposite of each other – “emotion” and “intelligence”.

Emotions have often been described as disturbances, something that is disorganized and chaotic, and leads to a loss of control. It has also been suggested that emotions distort judgment. Emotions, in this way, are the opposite of logic and reason. This difference between emotions and rationality can be traced back to the rationalism versus irrationalism debate.

By introducing a term like “emotional intelligence”, Salovey and Mayer brought together these two opposing perspectives, that is, rationalism and irrationalism. This is further reflected in their definition of emotional intelligence, which talks about monitoring one’s own and others’ emotions, and using it to guide one’s thinking and actions. The latter part of this statement is representing aspects of rationality.

Further, emotional intelligence involves understanding one’s emotions, which enhances self-awareness, helps in not being overwhelmed by the situation, allowing proper decision making. Additionally, emotional intelligence involves the understanding of the emotions of others, which allows having positive personal and social interactions, managing conflict, and thus, helping in not making erratic and inappropriate judgments.  

In a way, Salovey and Mayer in describing something like emotional intelligence are suggesting to use emotions in an intelligent manner. Accordingly, the emotions that have often been said to distort judgment, if used properly, if channelized in the right direction, can actually be used to enhance judgment. Therefore, emotional intelligence can perhaps be viewed as a concept that is merging the two opposing philosophical perspectives of rationalism and irrationalism.

The debate of rationalism versus irrationalism has been going on for years. Rationalism, the philosophy emphasizing logic and reason, and irrationalism, the philosophy emphasizing the use of emotions, have been viewed as strong oppositions. However, the emergence of the concept of emotional intelligence has brought these two opposing philosophies together, in the sense that one compliments the other. It can therefore be said that the concept of emotional intelligence takes a mid-way path of the rationalism versus irrationalism debate.

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.