What are the important Perspectives of Psychology?

First we need to understand the meaning of perspective. Perspective means a point of view or a particular attitude towards or a way of regarding something.

Psychology means The study of human behavior and mental processes. 

When we have a particular attitude or view point to study the discipline of psychology, we can call it a perspective of psychology.

In the beginning of psychology, Dr. Wilhelm Wundt established a laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879 to study the human mind. He believed that consciousness could be broken down into thoughts, experiences, emotions, and other basic elements. To study the consciousness, Wundt used a process called ‘objective introspection‘, the process of objectively examining and measuring one’s own thoughts and mental activities. Because of his contribution, Wundt is known as the father of psychology.




What is Structuralism?

First perspective of psychology given by Edward Titchener, a student of Wilhelm Wundt. Structuralism is a theory of consciousness. Titchener gave this name structuralism because the focus of study is on the structure of the mind. Titchener believed that every experience could be broken down into its individual emotions and sensations. He gave 3 elementary states of consciousness:

  1. Sensations – sights, sounds, tastes
  2. Images -components of thoughts
  3. Affections- components of emotions

As per dictionary of American Psychological association (APA), structuralism defines psychology as the study of mental experience and sought to investigate the structure of such experience through a systematic program of experiments based on trained introspection. Also called ‘structural psychology.’

Titchener’s student Margaret F. Washburn, first woman to receive a Ph.D. in psychology, published The Animal Mind (1908).


This American perspective is based on theories of evolutionist Charles Darwin & William James. To explain mental processes in a more systematic & accurate manner. It focused on the purpose of consciousness. They emphasized on individual differences.

As per dictionary of American Psychological association (APA),  Functionalism is a general psychological approach which views mental life and behavior in terms of active adaptation to environmental challenges and opportunities. Functionalism emphasizes the causes and consequences of human behavior; the union of the physiological with the psychological; the need for objective testing of theories; and the applications of psychological knowledge to the solution of practical problems, the evolutionary continuity between animals and humans, and the improvement of human life. Also called Functional Psychology.

William James (1842–1910) of  Harvard University, which was the first school in America to offer classes in psychology. His book Principles of Psychology  focused on how people function in the real world—how people work, play and adapt to their surroundings, a viewpoint he called functionalism.

Important functionalists – Edward Thorndike, John Dewey, Mary Whiton Calkins, Harvey Carr, Hermann Ebbinghaus and John Angell. etc

Wundt criticized it as,  “It is literature. It is beautiful, but it is not psychology,


A psychological approach that focuses on the dynamic organization of experience into patterns or configurations (from German Gestalt [pl. Gestalten]: “shape,” “form,” “configuration,” “totality”). This view was espoused by German psychologists Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka and Max Wertheimer in the early 20th century as a revolt against structuralism, which analyzed experience into static, atomistic sensations, and also against the equally atomistic approach of behaviorism, which attempted to dissect complex behavior into elementary conditioned reflexes. (APA)

Max Wertheimer, believed that psychological events such as perceiving & sensing could not be broken down into any smaller elements and still be properly understood.

Gestalt, a German word meaning “an organized whole” or “configuration,” which fit well with the focus on studying whole patterns rather than small pieces of them. Therefore the slogan, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”


Sigmund Freud proposed that there is an unconscious (unaware) mind into which we push, or repress, all of our threatening urges and desires. He stressed the importance of early childhood experiences, believing that personality was formed in the first 6 years of life.

It is an approach to the mind, personality, psychological disorders, and psychological treatment originally developed by Sigmund Freud at the beginning of the 20th century. The Basic assumption -that much mental activity is unconscious and that understanding people requires interpreting the unconscious meaning underlying their overt or manifested behavior.

Psychoanalysis focuses primarily on the influence of such unconscious forces as repressed impulses, internal conflicts, and childhood traumas on the mental life and adjustment of the individual. The foundations on which classical psychoanalysis based on –

  1. the concept of infantile sexuality;
  2. the Oedipus complex;
  3. the theory of instincts or drives;
  4. the pleasure principle and the reality principle
  5. the threefold structure of the psyche into idego, and superego
  6. the central importance of anxiety and defense mechanisms in neurotic reactions.

 The specific methods used – free associationdream analysis, analysis of resistances and defenses, and working through the feelings revealed in the transference and countertransference process. Also called Freudian approach; Freudianism.

Important Psychologist associated with this school are Carl Jung’s analytic psychology; Alfred Adler’s individual psychology;  neo-Freudian  of Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Karen D. Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan.


It is a systematic approach to do scientific study of behavior of organism. It ignores Soul, Mind and other mental processes and focus only on behavior.

John B. Watson (1913) formulated this school, based on the study of objective, observable facts rather than subjective, qualitative processes, such as feelings, motives, and consciousness. To make psychology a naturalistic science, Watson proposed to limit it to quantitative events, such as stimulus–response relationships, effects of conditioning, physiological processes, and a study of human and animal behavior, all of which can best be investigated through laboratory experiments that yield objective measures under controlled conditions.

Historically, behaviorists held that mind was not a proper topic for scientific study since mental events are subjective and not independently verifiable. With its emphasis on activity as an adaptive function, behaviorism is seen as an outgrowth of functionalism

Ivan Pavlov (Russian physiologist) with his Dog Salivation Experiment proved ‘Classical Conditioning’.

Edward Thorndike- The law of effect -states that “responses that produce a satisfying effect in a particular situation become more likely to occur again in that situation, and vice versa .”

John B. Watson’s “Little Albert’ on phobia and his focus on scientific enquiry of psychological event lead to behaviorism 

B. F. Skinner’s descriptive behaviorism; experiment on Rat and Pigeon proved ‘Operant / instrumental conditioning’

Humanistic Approach-

Humanistic perspective in psychology assume that  that people are essentially good and constructive, that the tendency toward self-actualization is inherent, and that, given the proper environment, human beings will develop to their maximum potential.

The humanistic perspective arose from the contributions of Gordon W. Allport, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers, who advocated a personality theory based on the study of healthy individuals as opposed to people with mental disorders.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow described his hierarchy of needs in “A Theory of Human Motivation”.In 1962, Maslow published “Toward a Psychology of Being,” in which he described humanistic psychology as the “third force” in psychology.

Humanists emphasized the free will of human beings and their natural striving to grow and unfold their inner potential. 

The major ideas and concepts that emerged as a result of the humanistic psychology movement 

They argued that behaviourism with its emphasis on behaviour as determined by environmental conditions
undermines human freedom and dignity and takes a mechanistic view of human nature.

These different approaches filled the history of modern psychology and provided multiple perspectives to its development. Each of these perspectives has its own focus and draws our attention to the complexity of psychological processes. There are strengths as well as weaknesses in each approach. Some of these approaches have led to further.

Cognitive Approach

Aspects of Gestalt approach and structuralism were combined and led to the development of the cognitive perspective. This perspective focuses on how we know about the world.

Cognition is the process of knowing. It involves thinking, understanding, perceiving, memorising, problem solving and a host of other mental processes by which our knowledge of the world develops, making us able to deal with the
environment in specific ways.

The major ideas and concepts-

1. Sensation, Attention and Perception
2 Learning- Classical and Operant conditioning, observational learning
3 Memory-processes, information processing model(s)
4 Forgetting: Theories of forgetting

Some cognitive psychologists view the human mind as an information processing system like the computer. Mind, according to this view is like a computer and it receives, processes, transforms, stores and retrieves information.

Modern cognitive psychology views human beings as actively constructing their minds through their exploration into the physical and the social world.

This view is sometimes called constructivism.

Piaget’s view of child development which will be discussed later is considered a constructivist theory of
development of the mind.

Russian psychologist Vygotsky went even further to suggest that the human mind develops through social and cultural processes in which the mind is viewed as culturally constructed through joint interaction between adults and children. 

In other words, while for Piaget children actively construct their own minds, Vygotsky took a view that mind is a joint
cultural construction and emerges as a result of interaction between children and adults.

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MCQ test – Schools of Psychology- Easy

MCQ test – Schools of Psychology- Tough




Saundra K. Ciccarelli. J. Noland White, Georgia College & State University. ©2017 |Pearson |



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