Ninth Edition CoverGraziano & Raulin
Research Methods (9th edition)


The history of psychology is largely that of the development of influential schools of thought in psychology. Schools of thought are reasonably consistent bodies of thinking that differ in some significant ways from each other and from previous and later thought. A “school” is not a collection of persons working together in the same place, but rather, is a set of prevailing ideas that individuals share, usually working independently in different places. 

Every scientific theory is rooted in its culture and time and is derived from the knowledge, beliefs, and values of that culture. So too are the schools of psychology. Each emerges as the surrounding environment of ideas – the zeitgeist – grows and changes and nourishes the backgrounds for science. 

In many ways, one school is a reaction to the prevailing or former school of thought. In time, new schools arise, replacing the previous schools’ ideas, but often maintaining some of their concepts. In this uneven step-wise fashion, the schools build on each other, taking new directions, making new discoveries, and creating new ideas.

The number of movements that are recognized as schools of psychological thought vary among scholars. We identify the eight schools on which most historians of psychology agree. The excellent books by Schultz and Schultz (2008) and Goodwin (2008) provided us with much of the information used in this section. These books are valuable resources for students who want to pursue historical issues in more detail. 

The schools included in this section are:

  • Structuralism

  • Functionalism

  • Gestalt Psychology

  • Behaviorism

  • Comparative Psychology (Animal Psychology)

  • Psychoanalysis

  • Humanistic Psychology

  • Cognitive Psychology

The first three Schools have pretty much made their contributions and have either passed into history or been absorbed by others so they can no longer be considered clearly differentiated major movements. However, they have been influential and many of their concepts still survive. The next three continue today, but not with the separateness, high visibility, force, and partisanship of their high points in history. There has been a blending, a softening of divisions among schools. 

Today, few psychologists would maintain - as did many psychologists in the past - that the proper focus for the study of psychology is found only in their particular school or area of interest. Humanistic psychology is one of the most recent schools to emerge, but it has had little impact on mainstream psychology. The final school listed, cognitive psychology, is our most recently developed school, and it is currently an active and influential area of research.

Contemporary psychology incorporates virtually all of the historical schools of thought. Today psychology includes pure researchers as well as applied psychologists, those who study animal behavior, and those who study human cognition. There are behavioral neuroscientists, clinical psychologists, developmental psychologists, cognitive psychologists, social psychologists, neuropsychologists, industrial psychologists, and so on. The American Psychological Association (APA) lists 56 specialties (APA Divisions). They are different facets of what is now considered to be a very wide area of science and application – so wide that specialization is now often necessary.

Preceding the emergence of psychology as a science were the extraordinary developments of the nineteenth century, and before that the many important scientific and philosophical developments over the previous 2000 years. We include those in our sections on Early Science and Nineteenth Century Science and Technology.

Our coverage is necessarily brief. Please refer to textbooks on the history of psychology or the history of science for additional information and discussion.

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