Timeline of Schools of Thought


Rationalism     Structuralism     Functionalism     Behaviorism     Psychoanalysis




            This school of thought takes on various philosophical positions that rely on the function of reason when searching for truth.  It can be contrasted with empiricism, which believes that experience is necessary to acquire knowledge.  For rationalists, ideas are innate.  For empiricists, ideas are acquired.  Concepts of rationalism can be traced back to early Greece where Plato believed reason was something internal, one of the four faculties of the soul. 


Rene Descartes  


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               Descartes has been a major influence on philosophical psychology in several ways.  He was known for focusing on the self and its cognitive powers.  Often, he was found stating "cogito, ergo sum” or “I think, therefore I am”. Next he focused on his theory that the mind and body are separate substances, stating that thoughts and emotion are to be studied apart from the bodily mechanisms.  He felt each perform their own tasks.  Finally, Descartes paved the way for the psycho physiological approach we know today by accepting that mind acts on body as well as body on mind.  Descartes would emphasize on the individual thinker, unlike Plato and Aristotle.  Instead of wondering what men as a whole knew, he wondered what a particular man may know.   As a rationalist, he defined knowledge as judgments or statements that can be said to be certain, and denied that sensory experience can lead to knowledge.





            This school of thought was based on the notion that the object of psychology is to analyze consciousness into its basic elements and investigate how these elements are related.  Structuralism explores many aspects of the mind, though research is mainly concerned with sensation and perception in vision, hearing and touch.  Through the method of introspection, or the systematic observation of one's own conscious experience, subjects were trained and the exposed to different visual stimuli, optical illusions and auditory tones.  They were then asked to analyze what they experienced.   During the first two or three decades of psychology, structural psychology was the psychology.  It provided psychology with a strong scientific identity within the academic community.  .Structuralism was the dominant school of psychology in Germany and the U.S. between 1890-1920, and was led by Wundt and Titchener.    



Edward Bradford Titchener


            Titchener studied under Wundt in Leipzig then took his teachings to America.  In 1895 he became a professor of psychology at Cornell University.  He had great admiration for Wundt's work, but brought his own version of Wundt's psychology to America.  Titchener liked to  emphasize the use of introspection to uncover the elements of experience, such as sensations, images, and feelings.  He also developed experimental techniques that were more fully accepted than his atomistic approach.



Wilhelm Wundt



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            Wundt became the founder of experimental psychology* when he established the first official psychological laboratory in Leipzig, in which introspective and psychophysical methods were applied to a wide range of subjects.  Wundt felt that psychology should be a science modeled after fields such as physics and chemistry.  What would be the subject matter of this new science?  Well, consciousness, of course, or the awareness of immediate experience.  In 1881, Wundt established the first journal devoted to publishing research on psychology.  Wundt is known for thinking that there are three main tasks of psychology; one, to analyze the conscious processes into basic elements; two,  to discover how these elements become connected; finally to determine the laws of connection. 

            *Experimental psychology is the scientific study of behavior, motives or cognition in a laboratory setting in order to predict, explain or control behavior.





       According to functionalism  the subject matter of psychology is mental processes or in other words, “functions”.   Functionalism was a protest against structuralism.  Structuralism was the study of the contents of consciousness.  Functionalism was utilitarian and concerned with commonsense issues.  Structuralists said that mental functions were not subject to introspective analysis, it was the make up of the mind that could be analyzed.  Functionalists disagreed, saying they could study mental function if correct methods were used.  There were many men responsible for the development of functionalism.  Here are just a few important contributors.  


John Dewey


  John Dewey is the main person credited as the founder of functionalism. He was both a psychologist and philosopher.  He was chair of philosophy at the University of Chicago.  He was also a pragmatist. He was the first functionalist to apply functionalism to social problems and education. He was responsible for, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” ~ 1896.  This explained the processes of natural continuous flow.  First there is a sensory perception then a process fallows and then that is preceded by a response.

(S)ensory -> process -> (R)esponse

For example, a flame is the sensor and then reach is a response.  After that burning is a sensor and moving away is another response.



James Rowland Angell


            James Angell was a student under John Dewey.  He never got his Ph.D. but did manage to get two M.A.s. He was interested in what the mind was doing.  He was interested in how mental functions of the mind help for survival.  He thought the body and the mind worked together to survive.



Harvey Carr


            Harvey Carr studied under James Angell.  His main focus was on learning.  He thought learning happened when needs for survival were accomplished .  He demonstrated this through something called the, “adaptive act”.  There are three interrelated parts.  First, there was a motivating stimulus, which would stick around until there was an act to satisfy it.  Second, a sensory stimulus, which was the goal.  Lastly there was an activity which lasted until the motivating stimulus was satisfied.  The adaptive act was a function of the situation as a whole.  It is like saying there would be different reactions to seeing a grizzly bear in a zoo compared to the wild.



Mary Calkins

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            Mary Calkins was one of the few females involved with Psychology.  She attended seminars even though she was discriminated against.  She invented the paired-associate technique.  She was also interested in short-term memory.  Another area she pursued was Self-Psychology, which then led her into personality theory.





            According to behaviorism the subject matter of psychology is behavior including how and why is happens.  Psychology through a behaviorists eye is an experimental extension of natural science.  The goal of behaviorism is the prediction and control of behavior.  The behaviorist uses animals responses and compares them to man.  The behavior of man is only part of the total investigation of behaviorism.  There are also many individuals responsible for the development a behaviorism.  Here are just a few important contributors.



Pavlov and Watson

            These psychologists studied behaviorism experimentally.





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            Darwin studied animals and behavior.  He was interested in how they adapted to the environment.  He wanted to know the sorts of behaviors that survived and the kinds that did not survive.  His studies in animals can be related to humans and their survival behaviors.







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            Freud looked at the individual and the outcomes of their behaviors.  He was interested in behavior that could be predicted.



B.F. Skinner


            Skinner thought all animal and human behavior was linked to rewards or reinforcers.  He came up with the S-R-C (Stimulus- Response- Consequence) model.  He thought all behavior was guided by consequences.  He thought behavior was objective and could be chosen by the individual.  He also thought rewarding someone when they acted in a favorable manner that was close to the desired act could shape behavior.  A way to achieve this is through positive reinforcers and punishment.  A positive reinforcer would be telling someone thank you or perhaps a hug or kiss when a child does a desirable behavior.  Punishment would be given when a child misbehaves.  The negative reinforcer maybe cleaning their room or doing the dishes.





            This school of psychology was rejected by many as a true science.  It was thought of as a kind of technique in psychotherapy.  It is a general psychology of human behavior.  There are six assumptions that show the main ideas of psychoanalytic theory.  One is that unconscious mental processes exist.  The second is all human behavior is motivated and purposeful.  Third, past experiences influence current changes and reactions.  Forth, personality functioning is very complex and can be understood through the Id, Ego, and Superego.  Fifth, thinking processes involve energy, strength and force.  Finally human behavior is influenced by interaction with the environment.

            One of the main people involved with the development of psychoanalysis was Sigmund Freud.




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            Freud discovered that a lot of the thoughts and feelings that influenced personality were operating in the unconscious.  He started recording his dreams at a very young age.  He even did psychoanalysis on himself at one point in his life.  He discovered the talking treatment, after meeting a troubled young woman named Ana.  She traced back her problems to childhood abuse, as did many of his patients.  This is where he came up with a lot of his ideas about sexuality and the Oedipus complex.