Saturday, September 3, 2016

THE BEGINNING OF MODERN PSYCHOLOGY: A DEEPER LOOK INTO THE HISTORY OF PSYCHOLOGY

In the year 1879, Wilhelm Wundt established the first ever psychology laboratory to conduct his experiments, at the University of Leipzig, Germany. The laboratory became highly influential in the development of modern psychology. It led to the establishment of many other psychology laboratories at different places. The laboratories that followed in different parts of Germany as well as other countries were modelled on Wundt’s laboratory.
Wilhelm Wundt
Wundt’s laboratory, thus, led the establishment of many other psychology laboratories, which helped in further establishing psychology as a separate, independent discipline. Due to its immense influence in the development of modern psychology, the year in which Wundt established his laboratory is usually regarded the beginning of modern psychology. However, when looking deeper into the history of psychology, there are a few other events or incidents or landmarks that occurred before 1879, which may also be considered as the beginning of modern psychology.
William James
A few years before Wundt established his laboratory at Leipzig, in 1875/76, William James established his own psychology laboratory at Harvard, which refutes the claim of Wundt’s laboratory to be the first one. The laboratory by James, was however, established for teaching demonstrations and not for conducting experiments.
The laboratory by James is said to be the first psychology laboratory and thus, can be said to be the beginning of modern psychology. William James was, however, not very fond of experimentation in psychology, and considering that the beginning of modern psychology is associated with experimentation, which separated it from philosophy and gave it its own identity, Wundt’s laboratory in 1879 is seen to be a better mark for the beginning of modern psychology rather than the laboratory by James in 1875/76.
A couple of years before William James established his laboratory and six years before Wundt established his laboratory, the year 1873 is seen as a highly significant landmark in the development of modern psychology. Wundt published the first part of his book Grundz├╝ge der Physiologischen Psychologie (Principles of Physiological Psychology) in 1873, the second part being published in 1874.
Through this book, Wundt had envisioned to establish the framework of psychology as an experimental science. This is what it eventually turned out to be. The book, Principles of Physiological Psychology is considered to be a masterpiece by Wundt. It firmly established psychology as an independent scientific discipline, which is about conducting experiments in a laboratory and that has its own problems and methods of experimentation. For many years, this book served as a storehouse of information for experimental psychologists.
In this sense, the year of the publication of Principles of Physiological Psychology can be strongly considered to be the actual beginning of psychology. In this book, Wundt precisely laid out the framework of psychology to be an experimental science. He gave his perspective of what psychology should be, and eventually it went on to establish the psychology that Wundt had envisioned, that is, a science involving experimentation.
The book, however, cannot be seen in isolation. The origins of the book can be traced to another landmark in the history of psychology. More than ten years before Wundt published the first part of Principles of Physiological Psychology, he began a psychology course, Psychology as a Natural Science, at the University of Heidelberg. This was the first ever formal offering of such a course in the world.
The lectures that Wundt delivered in this course led him to the writing of his book Principles of Physiological Psychology. The book was actually drawn out from the lectures that he delivered in his course. Psychology as a Natural Science was the first ever formal course in psychology. In his lectures, Wundt talked about his views of psychology, which culminated into a book that established psychology as an experimental science, something that he had envisioned.
The year 1862, the beginning of this course can then be said to be the actual beginning of modern psychology. The beginning of modern psychology, then instead of being the year 1879, when Wundt established his experimental psychology laboratory, perhaps, actually took place about seventeen years before.
Even though in his course Psychology As A Natural Science, Wundt gave lectures about his views on psychology, the foundations of that were being built much before the beginning of the course. Wundt had studied physiology for the one semester under the great physiologist, Johannes Muller. After that he completed his doctorate, and then in 1857, was appointed assistant to the physiologist, Hermann von Helmholtz.
Being completely involved in research in physiology, it was during this time that Wundt began to conceive his ideas of a new psychology, that is, psychology being an independent experimental scientific discipline. He first outlined his ideas in the book, Beitrage zur Theorie der Sinneswahrnehmung (Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception), published in 1858, with different sections being published later.
In the book, Wundt described his own original experiments and described the methods that should be used in the new psychology that he had thought of. It was in this book that Wundt used the term experimental psychology for the first time.
This gives a very good reason to mark the beginning of modern psychology as 1858, the publication of the first section of the book Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception. Much before the establishment of first experimental laboratory of psychology, in 1879, the publication of the book Principles of Physiological Psychology, in 1873, and the beginning of the first course in psychology, Psychology As A Natural Science, it was in this book that Wundt expressed his views about psychology.
Apart from the many contributions by Wundt, which can be suggested as the beginning of modern psychology, there is another person whose name and work can be associated with the beginning of modern psychology. Gustav Theodor Fechner, a German physicist and philosopher, along with Wundt, is regarded as an early pioneer of experimental psychology.
Gustav Fechner
Fechner was the founder of psychophysics, the scientific study of the relation between stimulus and sensation. It is the investigation of how physical stimuli are related to sensation. In 1860, Fechner published his book, Elemente der Psychophysik (Elements of Psychophysics), describing methods to study the relation of physical stimuli with the contents of consciousness.
Fechner was basically suggesting experimental methods to investigate sensation. This was also the method being suggested by Wundt. The work and method of Wundt was very similar to what Fechner had been suggesting. In this sense, many consider 1860, the year of the publication of Elements of Psychophysics as the beginning of modern psychology. In fact, the books Contributions to the Theory of Sensory Perception by Wundt, and Elements of Psychophysics by Fechner are referred to be as the literary birth of modern psychology.
Like there are other landmarks, apart from the establishment of the first experimental psychology laboratory, in 1879, that can be considered to be the beginning of modern psychology, in the same way, there are other people than Wundt who are considered to be the founder of modern psychology.
Studying sensation with the method of experiments and being the author of the highly significant book Elements of Psychophysics, many suggest Fechner to be the true founder of modern psychology. Wundt himself considered Fechner’s book to be the first conquest in experimental psychology. Wundt’s student, Edward Bradford Titchener, even referred to Fechner as the founder of experimental psychology. All this makes Fechner to be a strong contender to the founder of modern psychology.
Hermann von Helmholtz
Another person, apart from Wundt, who can be considered the founder of modern psychology, is the physicist, physician, mathematician, and physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz. Helmholtz is regarded as a significant contributor to the development of modern psychology. He was very successful in his works of sensory physiology and visual perception.
Wundt assisted Helmholtz for 13 years at the University of Heidelberg. The sensory physiology of Helmholtz became the basis of the work of Wundt. Many suggest that had it not been for Helmholtz, Wundt would have not gone ahead with his ideas of the new psychology. In this regard, Helmholtz can be considered to be the founder of modern psychology, instead of Wundt.
Both Fechner and Helmholtz, even though being significant contributors to the new psychology, they never intended to develop a new science or establish psychology as a separate discipline from philosophy and physiology. Wundt, however, made great efforts to actually establish a new psychology that was experimental in nature.
Wundt made great strides in promoting and selling the idea of a scientific psychology, which is why he is always regarded as the true founder of modern psychology. Nevertheless, not ignoring the significant contributions of Helmholtz and Fechner, many suggest Helmholtz, Fechner, and Wundt together to be the founders of modern psychology.
The year 1879, when Wundt established the first experimental psychology laboratory at Leipzig, has always been suggested to be the beginning of modern psychology. A deeper look into the history of psychology, however, shows that there have been significant events or landmarks occurring before 1879 that could very well be considered as the beginning of modern psychology.
The years 1875, 1873, 1862, 1860, and 1858 are all highly significant in the development of psychology as a separate scientific discipline and can very well be regarded as the beginning of modern psychology. Likewise, there have been other contributors, apart from Wilhelm Wundt, who can be considered to be the founders of modern psychology.

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