Sunday, February 12, 2023


The discipline of psychology was going through rapid changes in the mid-nineteenth century. The rise of experimental physiology had a strong influence on psychology. Extensive research in experimental physiology, in those times, played a significant role in the experimental method being introduced into psychology. One of the main reasons behind this was the emergence of the discipline of psychophysics.

Psychophysics emphasizes the subjective experiences in the study of the relationship between physical stimuli and sensations. It examines sensations from many different perspectives. Psychophysics considers sensations with respect to the mind-body problem. It is a discipline that comes within physiology, physics, and natural philosophy.

The major proponent of psychophysics is the German physiologist, physicist, philosopher, and experimental ethicist, Gustav Theodor Fechner. Fechner had started working as a professor of physics at Leipzig in 1833. In 1840, he suffered a nervous breakdown. He became a recluse and began to experience severe depression. It was this phase that made him interested in philosophy. His interest in philosophy made him interested in the mind-body relationship.

Fechner wanted to solve the mind and body problem in a scientific manner. He disagreed with the idea of Descartes that mind and body are two separate entities (dualism). He, instead, agreed with the idea of Spinoza that the mind and body are two aspects of the same entity, that is, double aspectism. Fechner wanted to prove the idea of double aspectism, instead of only speculating about it.

Gustav Theodor Fechner

In the year 1950, Fechner came up with a way to prove Spinoza’s idea of mind and body. He realized that as a physical stimulus is systematically varied, the changes in sensation reported by an individual (subject) can be measured. Accordingly, Fechner felt that a systematic relationship between bodily and mental experiences can be demonstrated. The testing of these ideas led Fechner to create the discipline called psychophysics. Psychophysics is the scientific study of the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations and perceptions that they evoke.

To measure sensations, Fechner proposed the idea of absolute threshold. Absolute threshold is the lowest intensity at which a stimulus can be detected. Thus, absolute threshold is the intensity of stimulus at or above which a stimulus is detected. If the intensity of the stimulus is below the absolute threshold then it is detected in the unconscious. 

Fechner felt that the absolute threshold is only one measure of sensations and thus found its usage to be limited. He was looking to have a continuous scale that indicated how the sensations that are above the absolute threshold vary with respect to stimulation. He then proposed the idea of differential threshold - the least amount of change in magnitude of a stimulus required to detect a difference (just-noticeable difference, JND).

The idea of just-noticeable difference was first proposed by the German physician and experimental physiologist Ernst Heinrich Weber. Weber did this by asking subjects in his experiments to compare weights and report whether one felt heavier than the other. Weber also introduced the idea of the two-point threshold - the point at which two separate stimulations can be distinguished.

Ernst Heinrich Weber

Weber’s research on thresholds introduced a method for measuring the relationship between body and mind - the relationship between physical stimulus and the sensation associated with it. This was seen as a major breakthrough. However, Weber was interested in physiological processes and did not see the importance of his findings in psychology. It was Fechner who had attended Weber’s lectures on physiology realized the importance of these findings and used it to develop his discipline of psychophysics. Due to this, even though Fechner began the discipline of psychophysics, it is Weber who is often considered to be the first psychophysicist.

To further explore the mind-body relationship, Fechner developed three methods of psychophysics. The first is the method of limits or the method of just-noticeable differences, in which the subject is asked to detect or respond to minimal change in stimulus values. The second is the method of constant stimuli or the method of right and wrong cases, in which the subject has to judge repeatedly which of the two stimuli is the more intense. And, the third is the method of adjustment or the method of average error, in which subjects are asked to adjust stimuli until they are equal.

Psychophysics gave a major thrust to the beginning of modern psychology. Psychophysics demonstrated that sensations and mental experiences can be quantitatively measured. This was a landmark discovery, as a number of earlier scholars had raised doubts regarding this. They were all proved to be wrong. 

The idea of the quantitative measurement of experience turned out to be highly significant for the beginning of modern psychology. Wilhelm Wundt, considered to be the founder of modern psychology, had envisioned the discipline of psychology to be the scientific investigation of consciousness. The quantitative measurement of sensations helped Wundt in achieving his vision.

Further, Fechner’s book The Elements of Psychophysics, which was published in 1860, was a significant contribution to scientific psychology. This book is considered to be the beginning of experimental psychology. Wundt himself felt that Fechner should be credited for the beginning of experimental psychology. 

Edward Titchener, the student of Wundt and the founder of structuralism, the school that firmly established psychology as a scientific discipline and strongly emphasized the experimental method, considered Fechner to be the founder of experimental psychology. The introduction of the experimental method in psychology was highly significant in making it an independent, scientific discipline. In this regard, the contribution of psychophysics is paramount.   

The methods of psychophysics proposed by Fechner were also a major contribution to the beginning of modern psychology. These methods were used by Wundt, and later by Titchener, in order to understand consciousness in their laboratory. The methods of psychophysics have thus, contributed immensely to modern psychology. For any discipline to be scientific, it needs to have precise techniques of measurement. The methods of psychophysics are exactly that and helped Wundt to establish his scientific psychology. These methods are extensively used in psychology even today.

Wilhelm Wundt was highly instrumental in introducing the experimental method to the discipline of psychology, which is often dubbed the beginning of modern psychology. Wundt, however, was provided with a platform that enabled him to bring about such changes. One of the most significant of such platforms was psychophysics, therefore, making it a major precursor to modern psychology. 

Monday, October 17, 2022


The biological approach to psychology assumes the discipline of psychology to be a biological science. Thus, the biological approach to psychology is the scientific study of the biology of behavior. Accordingly, all psychological processes are examined from a biological perspective.

The roots of the biological approach to psychology can be found in a number of philosophical perspectives. In modern times, the earliest philosophical perspective associated with the biological approach to psychology is mind-body dualism, proposed by the French philosopher Rene Descartes. In his book Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1641, and considered to be one of the most influential texts in philosophy, Descartes suggested that, along with the physical body, human beings have an intangible soul. Further, Descartes believed that the body is controlled by the soul. The idea of human beings having an intangible soul later became interpreted as the mind.

Rene Descartes

According to Descartes, the mind interacts with the physical body, suggesting that the mind and body are two separate entities, thus the name dualism. He believed that the mind and body influence each other. Descartes further suggested that this mind-body interaction takes place in the brain in the pineal gland.

Descartes gave emphasis on the brain being an important mediator of behavior. He was the first to suggest that the human mind is linked to the brain. Therefore, mind-body dualism is viewed as the earliest philosophical perspective associated with the biological approach to psychology in modern times.

Mind-body dualism was dominant for a long time but was later disproved by biologists. It faced strong opposition from the philosophical perspective of materialism. Materialism is the philosophical perspective that suggests that all events can be explained in physical terms. It is the belief that all events are causally dependent on physical processes. It suggests that all mental events are aspects of physical events. Materialism is therefore opposing dualism, indicating that mind and body are not separate entities.

One of the main proponents of materialism in modern times is the British empiricist Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes believed that all human behavior and thought processes could be explained in terms of the physical. He suggested that sensations are corporeal motions that are created in the brain. He was a pioneer in trying to work out a physiological psychology.

Thomas Hobbes

Along with Hobbes, his contemporary, the French philosopher Pierre Gassendi represented materialism and opposed Descartes. Gassendi gave no relevance to the existence of non-material substances. According to him, all phenomena, including social, mental, and ethical have a materialistic explanation.

Pierre Gassendi

The biological approach to psychology is also associated with reductionism. Reductionism is the philosophy that believes in the idea of explaining complex phenomena in simpler or more fundamental forms. Regarding behavior, reductionism would explain behavior in its simplest form.

Psychologists suggest that explanations used by the biological approach to psychology are reductionist in their approach. The biological approach to psychology tries to explain complex behaviors in terms of physiological processes. Explaining behavior in terms of genes, neuronal interactions, neurochemicals, neural pathways, and brain structure is often suggested to be following the philosophy of reductionism.

In modern times, the beginning of the reductionist approach can be traced back to Rene Descartes. In part V of his Discourses, published in 1637, Descartes suggested that the world can be understood in terms of a machine that can be broken down into smaller individual components.

The biological approach to psychology is also associated with mechanism. Mechanism is the philosophy that suggests that the behavior of all organisms, including human beings, can be explained in the same way as the functioning of machines. It suggests that human beings are like complex machines. Just like to understand a machine it needs to be broken down into smaller parts, similarly to understand human behavior, according to mechanism, it needs to be broken down into smaller components. Mechanism further suggests that human behavior can be explained in terms of mechanical laws.

Rene Descartes had a mechanistic conception of the world. He believed that nature works according to mechanical laws. His strong emphasis on living organisms being mechanical systems led to a framework for future research in biology.

The mechanistic philosophy is more famously associated with the British empiricist, Thomas Hobbes. In his book Leviathian, published in 1651, he mentioned that the universe functions according to mechanistic laws, and since human beings are a part of the universe, human behavior also functions in a mechanistic way. According to Hobbes, human beings are like machines that are part of a larger machine known as the universe.

Even though Hobbes is more popularly associated with mechanism, the roots of the mechanistic view in biology are traced back to the writings of Descartes. He attempted a complete mechanistic explanation of bodily functions and behavior. Descartes also actually investigated animal bodies to understand their functioning and by that tried to understand the functioning of human bodies as well. In doing so, Descartes is often considered to be a major precursor to modern physiological psychology and comparative psychology, which are two of the major divisions of the biological approach to psychology.

The biological approach to psychology asserts that genetics, the brain, and other aspects of physiology play a role in psychological processes. This associates the biological approach to psychology with determinism. Determinism is the philosophy that states that for everything that happens there are certain conditions such that given them nothing else can happen. The philosophy of determinism is the assumption that for every event there are certain causes and knowing these causes helps in making predictions about that event. The biological approach to psychology can be specifically associated with biological determinism, which emphasizes physiological conditions or genetic predispositions in the explanation of behavior.

The philosopher who is often considered to be the first modern thinker to use a deterministic standpoint in explaining human behavior is Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza argued that nature is lawful, and because human beings are also part of nature, psychological processes can also be understood in a lawful manner, and are thus deterministic.

Baruch Spinoza

A very significant and widely accepted theory within the biological approach to psychology is the localization theory. The localization theory suggests that each brain area is associated with specific functions and that damage to that brain area would lead to deficits in that function. The emergence of the localization theory took place in the early 1800s and is credited to the German anatomist Franz Joseph Gall.

Franz Joseph Gall

In coming up with his idea of brain localization, Gall was highly influenced by faculty psychology. Faculty psychology is the approach that argues that the mind can be divided into separate abilities or capacities (faculties). Faculty psychology can be viewed as an aspect of rationalism that emphasizes on logic and intellect in explaining human behavior. Rationalism also emphasizes on the innate functions of the mind.

In order to elaborate on the innate powers of the mind, the Scottish philosopher and rationalist Thomas Reid formulated faculty psychology, in the 18th century. Reid believed that faculties are aspects of the mind that influence human thought and behavior. He further stated that all faculties are innate and function in cooperation with other faculties. Reid suggested 43 faculties of the mind, which include abstraction, attention, generalization, imitation, judgment, morality, perception, compassion, and reason.

Thomas Reid

The biological approach to psychology uses the scientific method for investigation. Like any other science, it emphasizes on making scientific inferences. It enables in making the discipline of psychology to be highly scientific. However, it is important to understand the philosophical roots of the biological approach to psychology, which mainly are mind-body dualism, materialism, reductionism, mechanism, and faculty psychology.

Friday, April 22, 2022


Meaning in life is often considered to be a vague and abstract concept, which has been difficult to define. Usually, meaning in life has been conceptualized as a coherent sense of identity, an understanding of the self, the world, and life in general, goal-directedness, or a sense of purpose in life, and having a sense of significance in life. It has also been described as a cognitive construct that helps in discovering significant aspects of life. 

Having a sense of meaning in life has been found associated with positive emotions, increased self-esteem, lesser depressive symptoms, and a greater sense of wellbeing. Over the years, different psychologists have given their perspectives on the concept of the meaning in life. These differing perspectives help in getting a better understanding of the concept. It also gives an understanding of how the concept has developed throughout the years, within psychology.

Alfred Adler
The psychoanalyst and founder of Individual Psychology, Alfred Adler, in his book, What Could Life Mean to You, published in 1931, acknowledged that the idea of meaning in life is age-old. In his book, he mentioned that the way to find meaning in life is to make a contribution to the life of others. Adler suggested that to have meaning in life, the person should believe in cooperation and have an interest in contributing to the welfare of society.

In his book, Adler further emphasizes that the meaning in life lies in communication, and not being in isolation. If this does not happen then the individual has unpleasant experiences. By suggesting this, Adler was again giving emphasis on contributing to the life of others. He also suggested that in contributing to the life of others, the individuals develop, and enhance their skills and abilities. In order to feel significant, Adler suggested that individuals should be significant to others.

Therefore, according to Adler, meaning in life can be experienced by making a contribution to the life of others. In this regard, later on, in 1939, Adler introduced his concept of social interest, which is about helping others - being respectful and considerate - to strive for a better society.  

Rollo May
Similar ideas have been conveyed by the existential psychologist, Rollo May. In the 1950s, Rollo May emphasized on having a healthy communal orientation. A healthy communal orientation is a strong concern for the welfare of others. This can be viewed in contrast to an unhealthy communal orientation, in which people are confused about themselves and are not sure about what they want. Due to this, they then turn to others meaninglessly in order to overcome their disconnect and separateness from others, only ending up being more desperate and more lonely.

The unhealthy communal orientation, according to May, results from unhealthy individualism, which involves a lack of sense of community and hyper-competitiveness, leading to interpersonal antagonism and separation from others. This unhealthy individualism eventually leads to a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, and a sense of meaninglessness. Therefore, according to May, having a healthy communal orientation gives meaning in life and helps in avoiding the experience of meaninglessness.

Around the same time as Rollo May, the existential psychologist, Viktor Frankl suggested that meaning in life is one of the major goals that drive human behavior. He referred to this as the will to meaning. This will to meaning, according to Frankl is innate.

Victor Frankl
Frankl categorized meaning in life in three different ways. First, he suggested that meaning in life is derived from one’s accomplishments, which include creative works such as art. Second, meaning in life is derived from varied experiences such as traveling, enjoying nature, and even experiences associated with the feelings of love.

The third type of meaning, according to Frankl, is associated with the approach towards suffering and events that cannot be changed. In such instances, Frankl suggested that meaning could be derived from compassion or even humor. This type of meaning is the transcendental nature of human experience and is associated with the feeling of dignity in suffering. It is this derived meaning that helps individuals to survive their experience of suffering.

Frankl, further, suggested that it is the will to meaning that helps people to overcome the existential vacuum, which involves a sense of emptiness or blandness, and hopelessness in life. It is a sense of alienation and an inexplicable feeling of loneliness that a person experiences. It is from this idea that Frankl originated his logotherapy. Logotherapy is a therapeutic approach that helps individuals to find meaning in life. Logotherapy is known as the third school of Viennese psychotherapy – the first school being the approach of Sigmund Freud, and the second school being the approach of Alfred Adler.

These early perspectives of meaning in life led to the high popularity of the concept. It allowed psychologists to conduct extensive research on the notion of meaning in life. This is reflected in the more recent perspectives on meaning in life.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Flow: The Psychology of Happiness, published in the year 2002, suggested three different yet related aspects of meaning in life. Csikszentmihalyi suggested that one of the aspects of having meaning in life is purpose, which means that individuals have a goal that is challenging enough to make their lives to be significant. The goal should be such that it makes people focus their attention on it, and they get involved in activities that not only make the goal achievable but even enjoyable.

The second aspect of meaning in life, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is resolution in the pursuit of the goal. This means that having purpose is not enough. Individuals should be having an expression of intentionality. Csikszentmihalyi suggested that there should be a striving for the goal that individuals have and that their intent should be transferred into some action.

Finally, the third aspect of meaning in life, according to Csikszentmihalyi, is a sense of harmony that results from the other two aspects, that is, having purpose as well as being able to act upon it. Individuals who have purpose and work towards achieving that, have their thoughts, feelings, and actions congruent with each other. Such individuals, Csikszentmihalyi suggested experience a deep sense of inner harmony, which eventually gives them meaning in life.

Michael Steger
In 2009, Michael Steger, Social and Health Psychologist, and the Director of the Center of Meaning and Purpose, Colorado State University, in his research demonstrated that meaning in life can be viewed in terms of two dimensions – presence of meaning and search for meaning. 

The presence of meaning is the degree to which people find their life to be significant and meaningful. It is about the extent to which people find their lives to be significant as well as the extent to which they find their life to be purposeful.

The search for meaning is the degree to which people engage themselves in the search for meaning. It is about the efforts that people put in, while they try to comprehend the significance and purpose of their lives.

With Steger suggesting two dimensions, more recently, psychologists have been emphasizing upon viewing meaning in life in terms of multiple dimensions. In recent times, a tripartite view of meaning in life has emerged. According to the tripartite view, meaning in life has three distinct but related dimensions – comprehension, purpose, and mattering.

The first dimension, comprehension is the extent to which people perceive a sense of coherence in their life. People who are high on comprehension have more clarity about their life and feel that their life makes sense. People who are low on comprehension experience their life as being incoherent and unclear.

The second dimension, purpose is the degree to which people feel that they have valued goals and have direction in life. People who are high on purpose have a clear sense of their goals in life, feel motivated and enthusiastic, and have a greater sense of direction in life. People who are low on purpose, experience a sense of aimlessness and disengagement.

Finally, the third dimension, mattering is the extent to which individuals feel their existence is significant and that they are valued in the world. People who are high on mattering, feel that their significance has a lasting value. People who are low on mattering feel that their existence is of no significance and that their life matters to nobody.

The tripartite view attempts to give a better understanding of the concept of meaning in life. In 2017, Social and Positive psychologist Login George, along with Health psychologist, Crystal Park, developed a scale to measure meaning in life, on the basis of these three dimensions. The tripartite view has, thus, helped in making the notion of meaning in life more refined.

Meaning in life is a concept that has been widely studied in psychology. In recent times, it has emerged to be a significant construct in positive psychology as well as cognitive psychology. From initially being viewed as a general, abstract concept, to more recently being viewed as a multidimensional, refined construct, meaning in life has been described in many ways. 

Over the years, some of the ways in which meaning in life has been suggested to be derived from are - making significant contributions to the society, being concerned about the welfare of others, being able to overcome suffering and emptiness, having purpose in life, feeling coherence, and feeling significant in life. 

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

Thursday, December 30, 2021


Wilhelm Wundt
Wilhelm Wundt had envisioned the discipline of psychology to include methods of study based on the natural sciences. He believed that this would make psychology different from philosophy and establish it as an independent, academic discipline.

Wundt became successful in his vision by establishing the first experimental psychology laboratory at Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. The laboratory for many years was the leading center for studying psychology, and people from all over the world visited it to study there. 

In 1892, after studying under Wundt, for two years, at Leipzig, Edward Bradford Titchener returned to the USA and began to propagate his perspective of psychology. He claimed to be carrying forward Wundt’s idea of having a discipline of psychology based on the natural sciences.

Edward Titchener
According to Titchener, psychology is the analytic study of the generalized adult normal mind through the method of introspection. Titchener was giving emphasis on studying only adults and excluding the study of children, animals, and abnormal behavior. He believed that psychology should be only about studying basic human processes and has nothing to do with applying knowledge in everyday life.

Further, Titchener proposed that one of the major goals of psychology is to identify the basic elements of conscious experience. In doing so, he was then going along with the idea of elementism, which is the belief that complex processes can be understood by studying the basic elements involved in them. For this, Titchener suggested that the method of introspection be used in experimental conditions.

While Titchener was propagating his perspective of psychology, another view of psychology was emerging and gaining a lot of popularity. This perspective, sometimes referred to as the Chicago School of Psychology, directly targeted Titchener’s psychology for its artificiality and limited scope.

In 1898, Titchener published a paper titled The Postulates of a Structural Psychology in The Philosophical Review. In this paper, Titchener differentiated his perspective of psychology - calling it structuralism - from the other one - calling it functionalism. In distinguishing the two, Titchener emphasized that his structuralism is the true and original psychology, whereas functionalism is the other one, which should be ignored.

Functionalism as a school of psychology formally began in 1894, which was then called the Chicago School of Psychology. One of the main founders of functionalism is John Dewey. However, functionalism is based mainly on the works of William James.

Functionalism is about how the mind functions or how the organism uses conscious experiences to adapt to the environment. It becomes different from structuralism in that it does not believe in elementism. Functional psychologists believed that the mind or consciousness could not be broken down into smaller elements. They suggested the idea of the unity of consciousness.

William James
In order to suggest the idea of the unity of consciousness, William James coined the term stream of consciousness. James suggested that consciousness is a continuous flow, and thus it is not possible to break it down into smaller elements. Any attempts to break it down, according to James, will distort conscious experiences and lose their true meaning.

Functionalism, further, differed from structuralism in that it significantly widened the scope of psychology. Whereas Titchener restricted the study of the mind to normal adults, functional psychologists included the study of children, abnormal behavior, and even animals.

Functional psychologists also believed in using multiple methods. In contrast to Titchener, who suggested that only introspection in an experimental setup be used, functional psychologists suggested using the methods of observation, psychological testing, questionnaires, and physiological measures along with introspection and experimentation.

Functionalism also majorly differed from structuralism in its utilitarian aspect. Titchener had clearly emphasized that structuralism is only about understanding basic human processes and has nothing to do with the application of knowledge. For Titchener, structuralism was about answering the question of what are the contents of consciousness?

In contrast, functionalism was looking to answer the question of how does consciousness help the organism adapt to the environment? The emphasis of functionalism was on the processes of the mind instead of the content. Functionalism emphasized the functions of consciousness in adaptation. It was concerned with the utilities of consciousness. Due to this, functionalism eventually became concerned with the application of psychology to everyday life.

Titchener, in his paper The Postulates of a Structural Psychology, suggested that structuralism is the true, original psychology. He named the other perspective as functionalism to differentiate it from his structuralism and suggested it to be the other perspective, the one that came up later, and thus, should be ignored. However, there can be arguments made against this claim of Titchener.

Functionalism emphasized on how consciousness helps the organism to adapt to the environment. Due to an emphasis on adaptation in the environment, the roots of functionalism can be traced back to the ideas of Charles Darwin. 

Charles Darwin
In his theory of evolution, Darwin suggested that there are variations within species. Based on this variation, some organisms can adapt well to the environment and survive, whereas others cannot adapt and do not survive. This variation within species is due to natural selection. Darwin further suggested that these variations within species that allow some to adapt and survive can be inherited.

Later on, Darwin’s notion of evolution became the basis to bring about a shift in psychology – from emphasizing the structure of consciousness to the functions of consciousness. The idea of Darwin about how organisms adapt to the environment became one of the main foci of functionalism. In this way, Darwin is considered to be a highly significant antecedent of functionalism.

Inspired by Darwin, his cousin Francis Galton thought of studying inheritance and individual differences in human beings. He became interested in studying the inheritance of intelligence. Based on his studies, he suggested that humans have individual differences in intelligence due to inheritance. His findings led to the beginning of the idea of psychological testing.

During the same time, a wide range of research on animal behavior was being carried out. The evolutionary biologists George Romanes and Thomas Morgan are the pioneers of animal psychology. Their research led to the development of the idea that there is a relationship between lower animals and human beings and that conclusions about human behavior can be derived from research in animals.

All these works had a strong influence on functionalism. Functional psychologists gave emphasis to adaptation in the environment, individual differences, psychological testing, and animal psychology. These major works were being carried out during the same time when the foundations of structuralism were being built.

Darwin wrote about his theory of evolution in his book The Origin of Species, which was published in 1859. Galton wrote about the inheritance of intelligence in his book Hereditary Genius, which was published in 1869. Further, the animal psychology experiments were being conducted in the 1880s, and William James’s landmark book Principles of Psychology, which became the basis for the establishment of functionalism, was published in 1890.

The book The Origin of Species was published almost at the same time as Wundt’s Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception. Wundt’s work was published in 1858, in which he had the first time described his methods for the new psychology based on natural sciences that he had envisioned. It was in this book that Wundt had mentioned the term experimental psychology for the first time.

Further, Darwin’s book was published about 15 years before Wundt’s Principles of Physiological Psychology. It was in this book that Wundt had outlined his ideas of a new psychology. Additionally, Darwin’s book came 20 years before Wundt had established the first experimental psychology laboratory.

Darwin’s book also was published a year before Fechner’s Elements of Psychophysics. Fechner described a number of experimental methods in his book and is often considered to be the major precursor behind the beginning of experimental psychology.

Similarly, Galton’s Hereditary Genius was published about 4 years before Wundt’s Principles of Physiological Psychology and about 10 years before the establishment of the first experimental psychology laboratory. Additionally, the pioneering researches on animal psychology were being conducted before Titchener had gone to Leipzig to study under Wundt, and James’s Principles of Psychology was published before Titchener had returned to the USA to propagate his structural psychology.

The works of Darwin, Galton, Romanes and Morgan, and William James are all significant antecedents of functionalism. These works were being carried out during the same time as Wundt’s and Fechner's works, which turned out to be significant precursors of Titchener’s structuralism.

This directly counters Titchener's argument that structuralism is the original perspective of psychology and functionalism is the other perspective. Based on the time period of the antecedents of the functional psychologists, functionalism can equally be called the true, original perspective of psychology.

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.