Foundations of Psychology

The foundations of psychology were based on philosophy. Because of this, many of the psychological views are based on philosophical practices. In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt created the first laboratory dedicated to psychology. His hope was to use scientific methods to study and understand human behavior. Wundt was under the impression that evaluations and studies of culture, language, and religions, among other things including experimentation were the true methods to determine human behavior. From his work, came a new set of thoughts and ideas of how psychology could be understood. Wundt’s student’s need for a deeper understanding lead to the creation of the schools of thought in psychology.

School of Thought – Structuralism


     A student of Wundt named Edward Titchener created structuralism, the first school of thought, in order to incorporate Wundt’s introspection in the experiments that were performed in order to “uncover the basic elements of consciousness and the way they combine with each other into ideas” (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). The underlying assumptions are that structuralism can help psychologists based on the vision, hearing, and touch of the subject. It was thought that the subject could shed light on the deepest of human emotion and behavior by being trained to recollect and speak of what they had experienced in auditory tones, visual stimuli, and optical illusions. If the subject could relate the sensations, images, and feelings experienced during the experiments, the psychologists would be able to connect the behaviors, reactions, and thought processes that the subjects exhibited. Other schools of thought take different directions when analyzing psychology, such as the school of thought rationalism.

School of Thought – Rationalism

Descartes I think

     Rationalism is said to be traced back to early Greece. It was once thought that the mind and body acted as separate entities; however, was later established that the body acts on the mind and vice versa. Rene Descartes (1596-1690) focused on the self and the self’s cognitive powers. He is famous for stating, “I think; therefore, I am.” It was thought that there must first be experience in order for there to be knowledge. Descartes believed that the mind and body needed to be studied apart from one another because they performed individual tasks that did not relate to each other. Descartes focused on one individual instead of a group of people because he rationalized that what could be learned from one subject could be applied to many others. However, not all philosophers and psychologists believed the same and other schools of thought were developed, such as the school of thought functionalism.

School of Thought – Functionalism

School of Thought – Functionalism

     Mental processes or functions were said to be the basis for functionalism. Functionalism is the contrast or protest against structuralism. Structuralism is the study of the contents of the consciousness; whereas, functionalism is the study of, or focus on, commonsense issues. It was believed that the mental functions could be studied and understood if the proper methods were used. There were several psychologists who believed in functionalism. John Dewey is considered to be the founder of functionalism and was said to be the first philosopher/psychologist to correlate functionalism into the study of social issues and education. Other psychologists felt that psychology would be understood better if they focused more on the behaviors of the subjects and created the school of thought behaviorism.

School of Thought – Behaviorism


     According to Kowalski & Westen (2009), behaviorism “focuses on the way objects or events in the environment (stimuli) come to control behavior through learning” (p. 14). The study of a subject is geared towards answering the questions how and why certain behaviors are exhibited by the subjects. Many times, the studies of animal behavior in different situations were compared to the behaviors of humans in the same situations. It was said that behavior can tell the psychologists what stimuli caused certain actions or reactions. This concept was then used to determine how the subjects adapted and survived the environment in which they were placed into. Sigmund Freud was said to be interested in behavior patterns that could be predicted. B.F. Skinner believed that the behaviors of the subjects would depend on the rewards or reinforcers. Skinner used a model called the S-R-C (Stimulus, Response, and Consequence) to determine that all subjects behaved based on the consequence of the experiment. This behavior of stimulus and consequence is used in modern day life when a parent punishes a child for improper behavior. It is said that the child would eventually learn not to perform the inappropriate behavior because he or she did not want the undesired consequence of being punished. Sigmund Freud was said to lean more toward the school of thought psychoanalysis.

School of Thought – Psychoanalysis


     Although psychoanalysis is said to be more of a technique used in psychotherapy, Freud believed that there were six assumptions of psychoanalysis that brought to light the psychoanalytic theory. These six included the existence of unconscious mental processes, human behavior is motivated and purposeful, past influences are directly related to current changes and reactions, personality functioning includes the Id, the Ego, and the Superego, thinking processes involved energy, strength, and force, and lastly the environment influences human behavior. Freud often related issues that were happening in subjects’ lives to the past experiences they had in vitro, in childhood, and how they were raised by the parents. Freud strongly believed that most, if not all, of the behaviors and personality traits exhibited by the subjects were created by the subjects’ unconscious. Although there are many schools of thought, there are primary biological foundations of psychology that are linked to behavior.

Biological Foundations

Biological Foundations

     Some say that without the brain, the body would be a shell. In the brain, there are millions of neurotransmitters that are said to be the major influences of human behavior. According to Charles Darwin, the process of natural selection plays a major role in the development and evolution of the brain and human behavior. There are three main sections on the brain; the hindbrain, the midbrain, and the forebrain. The hindbrain is further broken down to contain the Medulla, Pons, Reticular Formation, and the Cerebellum. The forebrain is made up of the Thalamus, Hypothalamus, Limbic System, Pituitary Gland, and the Cerebral Cortex. Each of the components of the brain work together to create unique behaviors, thought processes, and personalities of humans and creates individuality. It is said that without each of these components, the human body would not be animated, think for the self, or be able to perform duties with any kind of cohesiveness.


There are many schools of thought. From the beginning, philosophers and psychologists have studied psychology and human behaviors from different perspectives, which created the different schools of thought. As early as ancient Greece, people have been fascinated with human behavior and have created ways to study philosophy and psychology, which have played roles in the development of the psychology that is studied in current times. The way the human brain is formed and all of the components work together to create individual personalities, behaviors, and emotions.


Kowalski, R. & Westen, D. (2009). Psychology (5th ed.). Retrieved from University of Phoenix, PSY300 website.

Image source for behaviorism café: Stivers. (2003). Behaviorism – cognitive revolution. Retrieved from

Image source for cartoon person in chair: Sandiford, A. (Posted: April 23, 2012). Peticanoe. Retrieved from

Image source for I think: Denning, S. (2001). Descartes’ Error (from Antonio Damasio). Retrieved from

Image source for structuralism: Fakhori, M. (n.d.). Functionalism and structuralism. Retrieved from–mary-fakhori/functionalism-and-structuralism

Image source for skull with rainbow brain: StudyBlue Inc. (2015). Chapter 3 biological foundations of behavior. Retrieved from


Foundations of Psychology