Schools of Thought in Psychology

Schools of Thought in Psychology

Different emotions in one frame

Every academic discipline, including sociology, theology, literature, and history, has competing theories or schools of thought that present various points of view. When psychology originally became a study apart from biology and philosophy, there was debate about how to classify and explain the human mind and behaviour. The primary theories in the area of psychological science are represented by the several schools of psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt, the creator of the first psychology lab is largely considered the father of psychology as a result of this crucial action. Additionally, he was the first to identify himself as a psychologist. Other hypotheses quickly started to develop and compete for supremacy.


This kind of view emphasises dissecting mental operations into their most fundamental parts. Wilhelm Wundt and Edward Titchener are two influential theorists who are related to structuralism.

The word “structuralism” relates to the movement’s aim, which is to examine the composition of the mind. Wundt’s primary approach in his quest to understand the inner workings of the mind was introspection. So that the researcher might understand the contents of consciousness, events or experiences are into their tiniest possible components for analysis.

Though at the time this school of thinking advanced psychology, it was eventually criticised for the subjective character of introspection. The same stimulus is rarely interpreted the same way by different people.


The notion of functionalism stood in opposition to the prevalent structuralism of late 19th-century psychology. Psychology was first described as a field that investigates mental experience and consciousness via trained introspection by the key structuralist Edward Titchener. Functionalism was greatly impacted by William James’ writings. It used the capacities and modifications of the mind.

In a functionalist approach, for instance, the emphasis would be on comprehending the purpose that those states serve rather than trying to understand the underlying mechanisms that lead to mental states. Psychologists could better grasp how the mind enables individuals to respond to and adapt to their situations if they had a greater knowledge of the goal.


The psychiatric school known as psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud. This school of thinking gave significant weight to the unconscious mind’s ability to influence conduct. Neo-Freudians such as Erik Erikson, Alfred Adler, and Karen Horney, as well as Anna Freud, Otto Rank, and Anna Freud, were among the other significant psychoanalytic thinkers. According to Freud, the human mind is of three parts: the id, ego, and superego.

It focused on how the unconscious mind operates in order to comprehend human behaviour. Everyone possesses unconscious memories, desires, and thoughts that result in suppressed emotions, claims this school of thinking. Psychoanalysis aims to bring these unconscious elements to consciousness in order to attain catharsis.

The need to experience pleasure, which Freud saw as having a sexual component, lies at the heart of human development, according to him. Freud thought that essential activities like nursing and defecating—moments in a child’s discovery of this pleasure—were crucial to that child’s development. He dealt with adult aberrant behaviour by attending to these phases.


The behaviourist school of thinking gained popularity in the 1950s. It was established on the theories advanced by thinkers like John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B. F. Skinner.

According to behaviourism, external causes rather than internal factors explain all behaviour. The fundamental focus of behaviourism is on observable behaviour.

This school of thinking holds that the two main techniques for teaching behaviour are operant and classical conditioning. A conditioned stimulus and an unrelated unconditioned stimulus are combined to induce behaviour in classical conditioning.

Behaviourists believe that behaviour rather than trying to understand how the mind works inside holds the key to psychology. Psychological experiments are just as susceptible to replication as those conducted in other scientific disciplines.

Gestalt psychology

A psychological school known as “gestalt psychology” was founded on the notion that humans perceive the world as cohesive wholes. In the late 19th century, this method of studying psychology emerged in Germany and Austria as a reaction to structuralism’s molecular approach.

Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, and Kurt Koffka are some of the intellectuals who affiliates with the Gestalt school of thought.

Gestalt psychologists advocated considering the complete experience rather than breaking down thoughts and actions into their individual pieces. The theorists subscribe to the holism theory, which holds that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt psychologists believed that rather than breaking down thoughts and behaviours into their smallest parts, you must evaluate the complete experience. Our comprehension of visual phenomena, such as optical illusions shows Gestalt thinking.


Psychoanalysis and behaviourism prompted the development of humanistic psychology. Humanist intellectuals like Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Clark Moustakas had a significant impact on the growth of this school of psychology.

Humanistic psychology diverged significantly from early schools of thought in that it placed a strong focus on assisting individuals in realising and fulfilling their potential. Instead, humanistic psychology concentrated on issues like:

  • Becoming a fully functioning person
  • Individual free will
  • Hierarchy of needs
  • Peak experience
  • Self – actualization
Cognitive psychology

The branch of psychology known as cognitive psychology focuses on the study of mental processes, such as how individuals think, perceive, remember, and learn. This area of psychology connects to other fields including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics since it is a component of the broader subject of cognitive science.

Cognitive psychology developed in the 1950s in part as a response to behaviourism. Behaviourism’s detractors pointed out that it neglected to take into consideration how interior processes influenced behaviour.

Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which focuses on how social and cultural influences interact to influence cognitive development, and Jean Piaget’s thesis on the “phases of cognitive development,” which claimed that children went through a series of progressive stages of intellectual development, are examples of ideas that emerged from the cognitive school of thought.

This psychological viewpoint had a significant impact on cognitive-behavioural treatment (CBT). CBT is a therapeutic strategy that concentrates on how unhelpful habitual thinking habits affect behaviour and psychological issues.

Psychologists used to frequently associate themselves with one particular school of thought in the past. Nowadays, the majority of psychologists have a diverse perspective on psychology. Rather than adhering to a single viewpoint, they frequently include concepts and theories from other schools.

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