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psychology, science or study of the thought processes and behavior of humans and other animals in their interaction with the environment. Psychologists study processes of sense perception, thinking, learning, cognition, emotions and motivations, personality, abnormal behavior, interactions between individuals, and interactions with the environment. The field is closely allied with such disciplines as anthropology and sociology in its concerns with social and environmental influences on behavior; physics in its treatment of vision, hearing, and touch; and biology in the study of the physiological basis of behavior. In its earliest speculative period, psychological study was chiefly embodied in philosophical and theological discussions of the soul.

Development of Modern Psychology

The De anima of Aristotle is considered the first monument of psychology as such, centered around the belief that the heart was the basis for mental activity. The foundations of modern psychology were laid by 17th-century philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who argued that scientific causes could be established for every sort of phenomenon through deductive reasoning. The mind-body theories of Rene Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and G. W. Leibniz were equally crucial in the development of modern psychology, where the human mind's relation to the body and its actions have been significant topics of debate.

In England the empirical method employed in modern psychological study originated in the work of John Locke, George Berkeley, Thomas Reid, and David Hume. David Hartley, James Mill, John Stuart Mill, and Alexander Bain stressed the relation of physiology to psychology, an important development in the scientific techniques of modern psychology. Important contributions were made in the physiological understanding of human psychology by French philosopher Condillac, F. J. Gall, the German founder of phrenology, and French surgeon Paul Broca, who localized speech centers in the brain.

In the 19th cent., the laboratory work of Ernst Heinrich Weber, Gustave Fechner, Wilhelm Wundt, Hermann von Helmholtz, and Edward Titchener helped to establish psychology as a scientific discipline—both through the use of the scientific method of research, and in the belief that mental processes could be quantified with careful research techniques. The principle of evolution, stemming from Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, gave rise to what became known as dynamic psychology. The new approach, presented by American psychologist William James in his Principles of Psychology (1890), looked at consciousness as an evolutionary process.

Out of the new orientation in psychology grew the clinical experiments in hysteria and hypnotism carried on by J. M. Charcot and Pierre Janet in France. Sigmund Freud, in his influential theory of the unconscious, gave a new direction to psychology and laid the groundwork for the psychoanalytic model. Freudian theory took psychology into such fields as education, anthropology, and medicine, and Freudian research methods became the foundations of clinical psychology.

The behaviorism of American psychologist John B. Watson was highly influential in the 1920s and 30s, with its suggestion that psychology should concern itself solely with sensory stimuli and behavioral reaction. Behaviorism has been important in modern psychology, particularly through the work of B. F. Skinner since the 1930s.

Equally important was the development of Gestalt psychology by German psychologists Kurt Koffka, Wolfgang Köhler, and Max Wertheimer. Gestalt theory contended that the task of psychology was to study human thought and behavior as a whole, rather than breaking it down into isolated instances of stimulus and response.

Another influential school of psychology was developed in the 1950s and 60s by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Their humanistic theory asserts that people make rational, conscious decisions regarding their lives, and optimistically suggests that individuals tend to reach toward their greatest potential.

Modern Psychology

Modern psychology is divided into several subdisciplines, each based on differing models of behavior and mental processes. Psychologists work in a number of different settings, including universities and colleges, primary and secondary schools, government agencies, private industry, hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Recent years have seen a rise in the significance of applied psychology—as can be seen from the areas contemporary psychologists concern themselves with—with an attendant decline in the importance of psychology in academia. In the United States, clinical psychology has become a significant focus of the discipline, largely separate from psychological research. Clinical psychologists are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of various psychological problems.

Biological models of behavior have become increasingly prominent in psychological theory, particularly with the development of various tools—such as the positron emission tomography (PET) scan—for mapping the brain. The field of neuropsychology, which studies the brain and the connected nervous system, has been an outgrowth of this contemporary focus on biological explanations of human thought and behavior. Cognitive models, derived from the Gestalt school of psychology, focus on the various thinking processes which mediate between stimuli and responses.

Educational psychology, derived from the 18th and 19th cent. educational reforms of Friedrich W. Froebel, Johann Pestalozzi, and their follower Johann Herbart, was later expanded by G. Stanley Hall and by E. L. Thorndike. It is concerned with the development of improved methods of teaching and learning.

Social psychology, developed by British psychologists William McDougall and Havelock Ellis, studies the effects of various social environments on the individual. Some other branches of the field include developmental psychology, which studies the changes in thought and behavior through the course of life; experimental psychology, which is the laboratory research involved in the understanding of the mind; and personality psychology, which deals specifically with individual personality and the processes by which it is formed.

In recent years a number of new fields of psychology have emerged. Industrial/organizational psychology, emerging from social psychology, focuses on the workplace and considers such topics as job satisfaction, leadership, and productivity. Health psychology examines how psychological factors contribute to pathology, and demonstrates how psychology can contribute to recovery and illness prevention for such somatic disorders as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In environmental psychology, research focuses on how individuals react to their physical environments, and suggests improvements which may be beneficial to psychological health. Other new areas of psychology include counseling psychology, school psychology, forensic psychology, and community psychology.


See R. Fancher, Pioneers in Psychology (1979); D. Robinson, An Intellectual History of Modern Psychology (1986); E. Hilgard, Psychology in America (1987); M. Ash and W. Woodward, Psychology in 20th Century Thought and Society (1989); R. B. Evans, V. S. Sexton, and T. C. Cadwallader, ed., The American Psychological Association (1992).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


The study of human behavior and mental processes. Psychology is sharply divided into applied and experimental areas. However, many fields are represented in both research and applied psychology.

Researchers in psychology study a wide range of areas. Cognitive research is often included as part of subdiscipline called cognitive science. This area examines central issues such as how mental process work, the relation between mind and brain, and the way in which biological transducing systems can convert physical regularities into perceptions of the world. Cognitive science is carved from the common ground shared by computer science, cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, linguistics, neuropsychology, and cognitive anthropology. The study of human attention is a cognitive area that is central in the field. See Cognition

The study of consciousness involves such basic questions as the physiological basis of mental activity, the freedom of will, and the conscious and unconscious uses of memory. The latter topic can be classified under the rubric of implicit memory. See Instinctive behavior, Memory, Psycholinguistics, Sensation

Social psychology includes the study of interactions between individuals and groups, as well as the effects of groups on the attitudes, opinions, and behavior of individuals. The field covers such topics as persuasion, conformity, obedience to authority, stereotyping, prejudice, and decision making in social contexts. See Motivation, Personality theory

Developmental psychology has three subfields: life-span development, child development, and aging. Most research in the area concentrates on child development, which examines the development of abilities, personality, social relations, and, essentially, every attribute and ability seen in adults. See Intelligence

A clinical psychologist is usually known by the term psychologist, which in some states is a term that can be used only by a registered practitioner. A psychiatrist is a physician with a specialty in psychiatric treatment and, in most states, with certification as a psychiatrist by a board of medical examiners. A psychoanalyst is typically trained by a psychoanalytic institute in a version of the Freudian method of psychoanalysis. A large number of practitioners qualify both as psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. See Psychoanalysis

Neuropsychologists are usually psychologists, who may come from an experimental or a clinical background but who must go through certification as psychologists. They treat individuals who have psychological disorders with a clear neurological etiology, such as stroke.

Clinical practice includes individual consultation with clients, group therapy, and work in clinics or with teams of health professionals. Psychological therapists work in many settings and on problems ranging from short-term crises and substance abuse, to psychosis and major disorders. While there are definite biases within each field, it is possible for a practitioner with any background to prefer behavior therapy, a humanistic approach, a Freudian (dynamic) approach, or an eclectic approach derived from these and other areas.

Nonclinical professional work in psychology includes the human-factors element, which traditionally is applied to the design of the interface between a machine and its human operator. Cognitive engineering is a branch of applied psychology that deals mainly with software and hardware computer design. Industrial psychology also includes personnel selection and management and organizational planning and consulting.

The use of psychology in forensic matters is a natural result of the fact that much of law is based on psychology. Psychologists have been involved in jury selection, organization of evidence, evaluation of eyewitness testimony, and presentation of material in court cases. Psychiatrists and psychologists are also called on to diagnose potential defendants for mental disorders and the ability to stand trial.

McGraw-Hill Concise Encyclopedia of Bioscience. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


the scientific study of behaviour. This includes human and animal behaviour (see also ETHOLOGY), but its particular concern is with mental events as revealed through behaviour, including introspection. As a separate discipline it has only existed since the late 19th-century, but in this time has encompassed several influential schools of thought, including PSYCHOANALYSIS, BEHAVIOURISM, the mental testing movement, and the HUMANISTIC MOVEMENT, their differences resting on ideological as well as theoretical and methodological predilections. For all this, mainstream psychology is a more homogeneous, more professionalized discipline than sociology, with a relatively high degree of agreement on the importance of experimental and statistical methods reflecting its different subject matter. Nevertheless, in a discipline which straddles physical and social science, and which has relations with many other disciplines, there is an acceptance of the appropriateness of different approaches and methods for different areas of the subject. Major topic areas within the discipline include comparative psychology (comparisons of human and animal behaviour), developmental psychology, cognitive psychology (including a central concern with perception, memory, language, and problem-solving; see also ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, EPISTEMOLOGY and LINGUISTICS), abnormal psychology, and SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY. Numerous special applied psychologies exist (e.g. clinical psychology, educational psychology occupational psychology and more recently health psychology, counselling psychology and forensic psychology). Overlaps with sociology occur in a number of areas, especially in social psychology, which exists as a sub-field of both disciplines. Overlaps are greatest in those areas where the focus is on actors’ ‘meanings’, ‘naturally occurring situations’ and a concern with contextualising psychological phenomena (see also CRITICAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, FEMINIST PSYCHOLOGY). See also PSYCHOTHERAPY, PSYCHIATRY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the science of the laws of the genesis and functioning of the mental reflection of objective reality by the individual, in human activity and animal behavior.

Subject matter, basic problems, and methods. In their immediacy, the phenomena of mental reflection are given to man in the form of internal experiences that are inaccessible to objective observation: sensations, perceptions, images, thoughts, and feelings. Because of this special character, mental phenomena are counterposed to the phenomena of the external world, as well as those of the subject’s body. Consequently, psychology became a separate field, distinguished from the other sciences that study nature and society.

Knowledge of mental phenomena developed in the course of a struggle between two basic philosophical lines—materialism and idealism. In the final analysis, this struggle determined the solution of fundamental theoretical problems of psychology, on which the direction of specific research depended. Influenced by various forms of idealism and mechanistic thought, pre-Marxist psychology was characterized by the collision of opposite approaches. Thus, subjective-empirical, descriptive psychology was counterposed to natural scientific, explanatory psychology, and “integral” psychology to “atomistic” psychology, which breaks complex psychological formations into separate elements. All of this laid the foundation for eclectic views and tendencies toward pragmatism and pure empiricism. However, the lack of correspondence between concrete achievements and theoretical ideas in psychology gave impetus to the search for new methodological approaches. In Soviet psychology new theoretical positions were affirmed on the basis of Marxist-Leninist teachings about the psyche and consciousness.

Marxist-Leninist philosophy has radically changed the understanding of the subject matter of psychology, its methods, and its basic problems. By introducing into psychology the concept of reflection, Marxist-Leninist philosophy requires that mental phenomena be approached as a special form of the reflection by a subject of objective reality—of that which exists initially and independently of the subject.

Psychology studies the phylogenetic and ontogenetic development of the psyche in animals and humans. However, the most important subject matter of psychology is the study of the human psyche and its higher, specifically human form— consciousness. The development of labor and, consequently, of human communication and language necessarily gave rise to consciousness, a new form of mental reflection. Consciousness possesses a special quality: its reflected content is verbally designated and is accessible to the subject as a picture of the world that includes the subject’s actions.

Consciousness is the highest, though not the only, form of mental reflection in man. Among the basic problems of psychology are the study of the conditions and “mechanisms” of realization and the study of the connection between consciousness and unconscious forms of mental reflection. Although the connection between the unconscious and consciousness is not accessible to introspection, it can be discovered through objective methods, as is indicated by contemporary research on perception, memory, and verbal generalizations, for example. Another basic problem confronting psychology is the character of the processes that are subjectively experienced as taking place in the internal world. As a result of their study of complex (intellectual) activity in higher animals, of visually effective thinking in man, and especially, of the ontogenetic formation of intellectual processes, psychologists found it necessary to stop counterposing internal activity (as presumably the only subject matter of psychology) and external, practical activity, the analysis of which had previously been excluded from psychological research. The genetic connection between internal and external activity was demonstrated, as were the common features of their basic structure and the reciprocal transitions between them. In particular, the transformation of external actions and operations into internal, intellectual ones was investigated. At the same time, the opposite process was discovered—that is, the development of internal activity in external forms.

The introduction of the category of activity also made possible an adequate approach to the problem of the role of the biological and the social in the development of the human psyche. In pre-Marxist and non-Marxist psychology the solution to this problem was reduced to an affirmation that the human psyche is determined by both biological and social factors. The problem itself was reduced to a matter of establishing the relative significance of each of these determinants. This approach overlooked the fact that as the individual assimilates human social and historical practice, his initial biological needs and tendencies and his innate modes of behavior and cognition are necessarily transformed. The problem of the biological and the social in psychology is not reducible to the relationship between heredity and the social environment, the two different forces or factors behind the development of the psyche. Rather, the problem involves the displacement of the laws of the biological development of the psyche by the laws of the sociohistorical formation of the psyche.

The most widely studied processes in psychology are the cognitive ones—sensation, perception, memory, and thinking, which are increasingly regarded as various aspects, types, and forms of the subject’s objective activity. The cognitive processes are considered to be functionally or genetically connected with external activity, with practice. This point of view is evident in the development of research on muscle movements in direct sensory reflection; in the approach that regards the processes of perception, memorization, and recall as special actions and operations; and in the concept of thought as a derivative of practical activity. As a result of this point of view, psychological research now encompasses external motor activity, which subjective empirical psychology considered primarily an expression of internal mental phenomena. In addition, the view of the psyche as an aggregate of separate “mental functions” has been discarded, and psychologists have discovered the complex systemic structure of these functions, which constitute an ensemble of elementary sensory, motor, mnestic, and tonic processes. The understanding of the relationship between thought and perception has also changed. By maintaining the idea of the relative independence of thought, which is capable of going far beyond the limits of sensory cognition, contemporary psychology has revealed the important role of images in thought processes and in relating thought to knowable reality.

The most complex problems of psychology include the internal regulation of activity by needs, motives, and affective and volitional processes. Many research projects have focused on these problems, but various researchers have arrived at very different interpretations, owing chiefly to the confusion of various levels of analysis in their research—for example, the physiological and the psychological. The problems of the internal regulation of activity must be considered as part of a general system of mental regulation of objective activity and be regarded primarily from the standpoint of the specific characteristics assumed by the individual’s needs, motives, and feelings, depending on the social relations into which he enters and on his place in them. The majority of foreign authors describe human impulses as dualistic states and processes, having both a biological and a social level, which are said to coexist and compete. In Soviet psychology the problems of the internal regulation of activity are discussed from the standpoint of the doctrine of the primordial, historical character of all human needs and from the standpoint of the determination of motivation and feelings by activity under specific social conditions, under which the orientation of consciousness develops and the scale of subjective values takes shape.

The study of personality is of great importance in psychology. There are three trends in this branch of psychology: the differential trend, which studies individual traits; the ontogenetic trend, which studies the development of personality in childhood, adolescence, and youth; and the general trend, which seeks to characterize the integrity of personality, as distinguished from the integrity of man as a biological individual. Most of the research projects on personality are associated with differential psychology and are of great practical significance in vocational guidance and in the selection and assignment of personnel. In most instances, these research projects are multifaceted, encompassing the study of the characteristics of the human constitution, the types of higher nervous activity, and other individual traits. Productive research has also been done on maturation, tracing personality development in ontogeny. These studies constitute the foundation for the theory and practice of education. Often, they take into consideration pedagogical problems, especially problems of moral upbringing. Research in general psychology focuses on the shaping of the human personality in the course of sociohistorical and ontogenetic development, on the character of self-awareness, and on the experience of the ego.

The question of the value of introspection is important in the theoretical aspects of psychological methods. The use of subjective indications is precluded neither by the refusal to regard introspection as a principal method of psychological cognition nor by the transition to the objective study of the character of psychological phenomena. Psychological science is objective not because it ignores internal subjective phenomena but because it uncovers the objective relationships that generate these phenomena and the laws that govern them, which are inaccessible to introspection.

Psychology is an experimental science. Laboratory experiments are very important, because they make it possible to obtain an accurate evaluation and measurement of processes under study. Other concrete methods are also used in psychology, including observation under ordinary or specially created conditions, analysis of the results of activity, the comparative genetic method, and the ongoing experiment. In addition, psychology uses methods for gathering extensive data, including psychological tests, interviews, and questionnaires. The development of experimental psychology has been greatly influenced by the elaboration of subtle physiological indicators of studied processes and states (electroencephalographic, myographs, and plethysmographic data, for example), as well as by the development of electronic devices that show the occurrence of actuating signals, complex signals, and dynamic situations. Electronic computers are increasingly used in psychology to process data and to run experiments. There have been attempts to develop mathematical models of mental processes. Game theory and other logical and mathematical methods are used in psychology.

Psychological sciences. The extensive development of contemporary psychology has led to its differentiation into a number of specialized branches, including, in addition to general psychology, borderline specialties that link psychology with other sciences. Physiological psychology, which studies the physiological mechanisms underlying mental phenomena and processes, took shape in the second half of the 19th century. Research is developing in animal psychology. In the USSR as well as in many foreign countries, physiological psychology reached a high level of development in the mid-20th century, based on progress in the study of higher nervous activity and on research on the receptors (sense organs) and neurons (nerve cells).

Medical psychology, which was originally oriented toward the practice of psychotherapy, later became differentiated into a number of specialized fields, of which medical psychology proper deals with problems of psychotherapy, mental hygiene, and medical deontology. Pathopsychology studies the mentally ill from the standpoint of theory, as well as in the interests of psychiatric practice. Neuropsychology focuses on localizing the defect in cases of focal diseases of the brain and on restoring impaired functions.

Child psychology and pedagogical psychology have been extensively developed. They are closely related disciplines, since the mastery and assimilation of historically elaborated knowledge, skills, and behavioral norms are part of the child’s development, and upbringing and education must reckon with the psychological traits of various age groups and with the level of their personality development. Pedagogical psychology also studies the learning process in adults. The psychology of aging deals with psychological changes at all periods of an individual’s life, including old age.

With the development of industrial production, psychology confronted the task of studying labor processes in order to increase their effectiveness by rationalizing motor operations, to adapt equipment and machines to human possibilities, to improve ecological conditions (the external environment) in industry, and to improve personnel selection. Industrial or labor psychology, which under the conditions of capitalist production is directed primarily at intensifying the exploitation of the working people, has developed to deal with these problems. Automation has given prominence to a number of topics, including the perception and processing of information, decision-making, and other complex mental processes. The questions of the distribution and coordination of functions between man and machine call for special research. Engineering psychology, which is of great importance for the rationalization and design of automated control systems, has developed to meet these research needs. Space psychology, which studies the characteristics of human activity under the conditions of space flights, developed in the early 1960’s.

Industrial psychology and its specialized subdivisions, together with physiology, ecology, hygiene, and technological aesthetics, constitute a comprehensive field of knowledge about labor—biotechnology (ergonomics). Soviet research in industrial psychology and related disciplines is characterized chiefly by an approach that views man as an active subject of labor activity, which discloses his creative powers and abilities. This approach is the opposite of the typical attitude in capitalist society, which views man merely in a utilitarian way.

The study of the psychological characteristics of athletics is the subject of sports psychology.

One of the most important fields of psychology is social psychology, which studies the activity of man in different types of groups, including labor and educational groups, which vary in character (formal versus informal groups, for example) and internal structure. The subject matter of social psychology also includes problems of the formation of interpersonal relations within a group, differentiation of functions (roles), problems of psychological compatibility among participants in group activity, and the management of group activity. Social psychology is closely associated with the study of how the mass media affect man, as well as with the psychology of verbal communication, which is studied by psycholinguistics. Unlike many of the foreign schools of social psychology, which psychologize social phenomena, Soviet social psychology argues that these phenomena are determined by objective relations in society, which are governed by the laws of historical development. Certain problems of the psychology of education, as well as problems of criminal and forensic psychology, are closely connected with social psychology.

In addition to the development of research in physiological psychology, the 19th century saw the beginning of the study of the psychology of peoples at various historical levels of development (ethnopsychology). Once ethnological facts had been systematized, comparative experimental research on perception, memory, thought, and other processes in children and adults from different cultures became very popular among foreign psychologists. The results of this research are usually interpreted from an abstract sociological, “culturological” point of view, which uses as a standard the psychological characteristics of representatives of the European and American civilizations.

A specialized subdivision devoted to the psychology of technological, scientific, and artistic creativity has developed in general psychology, linking it with the science of science and with aesthetics.

History. The preconditions for a scientific view of the psyche emerged in antiquity in India, China, Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Georgia, as a counterweight to the religious mythological idea of the soul as a special essence externally and fortuitously connected with the body. The ancient Greek physicians Alc-maeon, Hippocrates, and Erasistratus discovered that the brain is the organ of the psyche. The doctrine of temperament emerged, according to which the mental properties of man depend on various mixtures of material processes (humors) in the body. This natural scientific trend was associated with the belief that the human soul is a material (fiery, ethereal) particle of the cosmos (for example, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, and Democritus). The difficulties of using these viewpoints as a basis for explaining the problems of epistemology and ethics (in particular, the origin of abstract concepts and moral norms) were among the reasons for the development of idealist concepts in psychology. The body, with its changeable quality, was counterposed to the immortal soul, which was capable of contemplating ideas and following ideals (Pythagoreanism, Platonism, and Neoplatonism, for example).

In antiquity, psychology reached its peak in the teaching of Aristotle (the treatises On the Soul and On the Origin of Animals), in which the soul is interpreted as a form of organization capable of corporeal life. Aristotle provided the first system of psychological concepts elaborated on the basis of objective and genetic methods. However, in explaining higher forms of intellectual activity in his doctrine of reason, Aristotle abandoned a natural scientific foundation and leaned toward dualism.

In the feudal epoch the development of specific scientific knowledge about the psyche was impeded but not completely brought to an end. The ideas of Arab physicians and thinkers (Avicenna [ibn Sina], ibn al-Haytham, and Averroës [ibn Rushd]) prepared for the future flowering of natural scientific psychology in Western Europe. With the development of bourgeois relations, there was a strengthening of the tendency toward experimental research on man as a natural being whose behavior is subject to natural laws. (Leonardo da Vinci, J. L. Vives, and J. Huarte exemplify this trend in Western European science.)

Based on strict determinism, a new theoretical approach to mental activity developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Psychological theory was enriched by a number of fundamental categories. Descartes discovered the reflexive character of behavior and transformed the concept of the soul into the concept of consciousness—direct knowledge by the subject of his own mental acts. A number of very important psychological doctrines developed, including the idea that an association is a lawlike connection between mental phenomena (Descartes and Hobbes), the concept of affects (Spinoza), the concepts of apperceptions and of the unconscious (Leibniz), and the idea that the source of knowledge lies in individual sensory experience (Locke).

In the 18th century the English physician D. Hartley provided a concrete scientific elaboration of the principle of association, which remained the fundamental concept in psychology for a century and a half. Despite the attempts of G. Berkeley and D. Hume to treat association as a purely spiritual bond, the idea that the association is inseparably connected with bodily mechanisms prevailed during the 18th century. Counterposed to the doctrine of associations was the teaching that abilities are the primary functions of the soul—a theory advanced by the Scottish school and the school led by the German philospher C. Wolff. In the 18th century, French materialism posed the problem of the various levels of neuropsychological organization (D. Diderot, P.-J.-G. Cabanis), as well as the problem of the influence of the social environment on the development of the individual’s interests and abilities (Diderot and Helvétius).

In the 19th century, research in physiology gave rise to experimental methods of investigating mental functions and to the first attempts to use quantitative methods to analyze these functions. In Germany, G. T. Fechner, using E. H. Weber’s work as a point of departure, elaborated methods of making psycho-physical measurements and established the law stating that the intensity of a sensation equals the logarithm of the intensity of the stimulus that produces it (1858; Weber-Fechner law). Reaction time was studied by H. C. F. von Helmholtz (Germany) and F. C. Donders (the Netherlands). In the physiological psychology of the sense organs, the classic works of Helmholtz showed the inadequacy of anatomical and physiological concepts for a scientific explanation of the formation of sensory images—a process in which the mental factor operates (”unconscious inferences”). The theory of reflexes revealed the role of mental (sensory) factors in an adequate reaction by the body to a stimulus (E. F. W. Pfluger [Germany] and I. M. Sechenov [Russia]). By emphasizing the specific role of mental functions, Darwin helped to weaken concepts that viewed the psyche as merely a shadow of nervous processes and denied that it could be the object of a concrete science, psychology.

Scientific research showed that the principles to which the psyche is subject do not coincide with anatomical and physiological principles. From the 1870’s and 1880’s, psychology developed a system of specific concepts, methods, and categories and became an independent discipline, distinct from philosophy and physiology. Several programs for the elaboration of the new discipline were advanced by outstanding scientists, including W. Wundt (Germany), Sechenov, F. Brentano (Austria), and H. Spencer (Great Britain). The main centers for the development of psychology were special experimental laboratories, the first of which was organized by Wundt in Leipzig in 1879. Laboratories modeled after Wundt’s were founded in Russia, Great Britain, the USA, France, and other countries.

A consistent program for constructing psychology on the basis of an objective method was advanced by Sechenov, whose ideas enriched research in experimental psychology in Russia, influencing V. M. Bekhterev, A. A. Tokarskii, and N. N. Lange. Later, the work of Bekhterev and I. P. Pavlov influenced the elaboration of objective methods in psychology throughout the world. The principal topics considered by experimental psychology were sensations, reaction time, and associations. The classic experiments of the German psychologist H. Ebbinghaus (1885) made possible the elaboration of general principles regarding the dependence of associations on the frequency of repetitions and on the intervals between them. Also of great significance was research on the attention span (J. Cattell, USA) and habits (W. L. Bryan and N. Harter, USA). A number of specialized areas of study developed parallel to experimental psychology, including comparative psychology (Darwin and C. Lloyd Morgan of Great Britain and V. Vagner of Russia), as well as research on the emotions (W. James of the USA, C. G. Lange of Denmark, and T. Ribot of France), perception and attention (N. N. Lange), and motor sensations (A. Bastian of France and H. Münsterberg of Germany). In addition to the quest for the general principles governing psychological processes, the late 19th century was marked by the development of differential psychology, which used quantitative methods to study individual differences (F. Galton of Great Britain, A. Binet of France, A. F. Lazurskii of Russia, and W. Stern of Germany, for example). Differential psychology was a timely development that attained broad popularity, owing to the needs of pedagogy, medicine, and criminology and later, the needs of capitalist production. Tests designed to measure intellectual abilities and personality traits were widely used.

At the turn of the 20th century a crisis signifying the breakdown of old concepts was coming to a head in psychology. The period was marked by the collapse of the idea that the consciousness is the totality of phenomena directly experienced by the subject. The emphasis shifted to man’s orientation in his environment and to behavioral factors hidden from the consciousness. New concepts and approaches took shape, although the view that the subject matter of psychology is limited to the “internal vision” of the individual continued to enjoy some influence (E. B. Titchener of the USA, T. Lipps of Germany, G. F. Stout of Great Britain, and G. I. Chelpanov of Russia).

Pavlov’s teaching on higher nervous activity contributed to the elaboration of major problems in behavioral psychology. Behaviorism, which asserts that psychology should study only external, bodily reactions to stimuli, became the main trend in American psychology. The dynamics of the bodily reactions of a living organism were thought of as a blind search leading by chance to a successful action that was reinforced by repetition (the “trial and error” method). This concept was accepted by E. Thorndike (1898), one of the pioneers of the study of animal behavior in experimental psychology. Subsequently, the trial and error principle became the basis of behaviorism, whose programmatic purposes were expressed by J. B. Watson (1913). Behaviorism promoted progress in psychology by giving a powerful impetus to experimental research on the problem of learning and by strengthening the objective approach to behavior. However, in the struggle against subjective psychology, behaviorism fell under the influence of views on the consciousness advanced by subjective psychology and therefore demanded the exclusion from scientific psychology of all concepts of mental phenomena, so that behavioral equivalents for them could be found. (For example, behaviorism viewed logical thought as reactions of the speech apparatus and feelings as reactions of the internal organs.) By denying the reflective character of the psyche and ignoring its neurophysiological mechanisms, behaviorism entered a methodological blind alley, which later led to its downfall.

Gestalt psychology, which is associated with the German psychologists M. Wertheimer, W. Kohler, K. Lewin, and K. Koffka, became an influential school of thought. The subject of experimental studies in this school of psychology was the integral and structural character of mental activity—a focus that was incompatible with the atomistic view of the consciousness and of behavior. Although the school discovered important psychological phenomena and relationships, it failed to provide an adequate theoretical framework for them.

Psychoanalysis, which was founded by the Austrian physician S. Freud, also took shape at the turn of the century. Its premises were based on the achievements of psychopathologists such as A. Liebault, H. Bernheim, and J.-M. Charcot (all of France), who showed clinically that the traditional interpretation of behavioral motives was unsound and exposed the role of unconscious motivation. Certain clinical data provided Freud with the grounds for the erroneous conclusion that all mental acts are determined by the energy of sexual desire. Owing to Freud’s emphasis on sexuality, the motive forces of human activity were incorrectly perceived. Psychoanalysis had pretensions to explaining not only individual psychological facts but also social phenomena and the entire history of civilization.

Dualism, or the concept of “two psychologies,” was the inevitable result of attempts to understand from an idealist standpoint the dependency of the human psyche on history, culture, and social life (Wundt, W. Dilthey, and H. Rickert of Germany). According to this concept, psychology cannot be a single science, because a natural scientific, experimental approach to the psyche is incompatible in principle with a cultural historical approach. Psychologists who attached primary importance to the role of social factors in regulating human behavior were also unable to elaborate a productive approach to the sociogenesis of the human personality and mental functions, because they regarded sociality as “pure” communication, separate from subjective activity (the Americans J. M. Baldwin, J. Dewey, and G. Mead).

After the victory of the October Revolution of 1917, Marxism became the methodological basis for concrete psychological research in the USSR. Psychology was restructured on the basis of Marxism in the course of sharp discussions with advocates of various concepts that were incompatible with Marxism. The idea of a restructuring of psychology was actively defended by K. N. Kornilov, P. P. Blonskii, and M. la. Basov. The Marxist principle of historicism became the determining factor in research by L. S. Vygotskii and his students. Progress in building Soviet psychology was closely connected with the development of research in physiological psychology by Pavlov, Bekhterev, A. A. Ukhtomskii, L. A. Orbeli, S. V. Kravkov, and N. A. Bernshtein. Overcoming idealist and mechanistic influences (reactology, reflexology), Soviet researchers affirmed the Marxist doctrine of activity and its sociohistorical determination, as well as Lenin’s theory of reflection. Soviet researchers became actively involved in solving current problems in education, upbringing, choice of occupation, and scientific organization of labor. The theoretical and experimental study of basic problems of psychology was reflected in the works of B. G. Anan’ev, N. F. Dobrynin, A. N. Leont’ev, A. R. Luriia, S. L. Rubinsh-tein, A. A. Smirnov, B. M. Teplov, and L. M. Shvarts.

During the 1930’s and 1940’s the major schools of psychology in the capitalist countries were in a state of decline. Behaviorist theories emphasized the concept of intermediate variables—factors that mediate a motor reaction (the dependent variable) and a stimulus (the independent variable). The logic of the development of science, as well as practical needs, oriented psychology toward the study of the “central processes” that develop between the body’s sensory input and motor output. This tendency won a definite victory in the 1950’s and 1960’s, particularly as a result of the impact of computer programming on the development of hypothetical models of mental activity. The work of the Swiss psychologist J. Piaget, who has studied the transformation of the internal structures of intellectual activity in ontogeny, is also of importance in contemporary psychology. There has also been a change in the viewpoint on the role of neurophysiological mechanisms, which are now regarded as an inseparable component of the total structure of behavior (D. O. Hebb and K. H. Pribram of the USA). Efforts are under way to extend the objective method to the study of sensory imagery, without reducing this aspect of life to motor functions (E. Brunswick and J. J. Gibson of the USA).

Psychoanalysis gave rise to neo-Freudianism, a trend that linked unconscious mental mechanisms with the effects of social and cultural factors (K. Homey, H. Sullivan, and E. Fromm of the USA). The neo-Freudians used psychotherapy not only to treat neuroses but also to help normal people to rid themselves of feelings of helplessness, fear, and dissatisfaction. There has been a sharp increase in the number of consulting psychologists, whose functions include helping the individual to achieve “optimal adaptation” to unfavorable social conditions. In addition to the new variants of behaviorism and Freudianism, “existential” (”humanistic”) psychology emerged, laying claim to the role of a third force in psychology in the capitalist countries. C. Rogers, A. Maslow, and G. All-port (USA) are among those associated with this school, which asserts that the use of scientific concepts and objective methods of investigating personality leads to the “dehumanization” and disintegration of the personality and obstructs its striving for self-actualization. Existential psychology is frankly irrationalis-tic.

Dissatisfaction with biological and idealist concepts has aroused interest in a dialectical materialist understanding of mental activity among progressive psychologists in the capitalist countries, including G. Politzer, H. Wallon, and L. Sev (France) and K. Holzkamp (the Federal Republic of Germany).

Soviet psychologists and their counterparts in other socialist countries are successfully working out contemporary problems of psychology, maintaining close ties between psychology and the tasks of socialist and communist construction and using Marxist methodology.


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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


The science that deals with the functions of the mind and the behavior of an organism in relation to its environment.
The mental activity characteristic of a person or a situation.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the scientific study of all forms of human and animal behaviour, sometimes concerned with the methods through which behaviour can be modified
2. Informal the mental make-up or structure of an individual that causes him or her to think or act in the way he or she does
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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