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Psychology History, Subdisciplines, and Careers Research Paper

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Updated: Feb 12th, 2021

Behaviorist Perspective

Psychology is a field of study with several viewpoints regarding the subject matter and the method. It is considered a field of study because it has developed its subject matter, methods, and theories. Each perspective has a set of beliefs regarding human nature and the mind. Moreover, a field of study should always have adequate ideas concerning the content, and the method. All perspectives have limitations since they do not explain the subject matter of any field and methods used in psychology in detail.

This section of the paper discusses the behaviorist perspective as one of the psychological perspectives. Compared to other perspectives, behaviorism is very different since it notes the environment controls human beings. The major concepts related to this perspective include classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning means that human beings learn behavior through association while operant conditioning suggests that human beings learn behavior through experience.

These are the two major sets of beliefs according to the behaviorist perspective. Regarding the method, the behaviorist perspective believes in scientific methodology whereby experiments should be taken to ascertain the behavior of an individual. In this regard, it advises psychologists to study only observable behavior, as opposed to speculative behavior. In other words, only variables that can be measured should be studied. It goes against the popular belief suggesting that individuals have the freedom to do as they wish (free will) since the environment controls the actions of individuals. Therefore, behaviorism defines psychology as the study of observable behavior, with suggestions that human behavior could better be understood by reducing it to learned stimulus-response units (Schultz, & Schultz, 2012).

Regarding the subject matter, quite a several scholars have offered their suggestions on classical conditioning, with Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov, being the first to talk about the idea. He experimented with dogs whereby he studied the innate impulses and neutral stimuli. Through his study, he succeeded in conditioning dogs to respond to certain stimuli. His study established that dogs tend to secrete saliva whenever they are conditioned to follow a certain timetable whereby a bell is rung when offered something to eat.

In real life, the idea of classical conditioning has been applied successfully in systematic desensitization for phobias and some aversion therapies. In methodical desensitization, for example, classical conditioning could take away the panic reaction of an irrational trepidation while at the same time replacing a repose response to the condition of motivation. This is done by employing contradictory habituation. This therapy is usually conducted by developing a hierarchy of fear, which entails conditioned stimuli. Individuals are lined up from the most afraid to the less apprehensive. The spider could be used as a stimulus.

The patient is instructed to work his or her way by practicing relaxation techniques. One client may perhaps consider a spider five meters away as less intimidating whereas another might perceive a quickly moving spider as extremely frightening. Through the process, the client would be exposed to a deep relaxation state whereby he would be urged to envisage the less intimidating condition about fear rank. When the imagined threatening situation does not threaten the patient, the therapy would be viewed as successful. Since the therapy has worked in several experiments, it means that classical conditioning is a valid idea in psychology. In the process, the patient is usually equipped with relaxation techniques, such as controlling the rate of breathing and muscle dimensioning.

BF Skinner conducted an investigation that resulted in the development of a different concept known as operant conditioning. The concept suggests that there is usually involuntary and voluntary behavior, which means that human beings do some things out of their effort while others are imposed on them. Based on this, Skinner was of the view that some human intentions could be understood easily since they are readily described by an individual’s intention.

This suggests that human behavior can be controlled through three major processes. One of the techniques through which human behavior could be controlled is positive reinforcement whereby good human behavior is encouraged. This entails rewarding an individual for good action. Society would therefore come up with mechanisms that will always support good human behavior. Before an individual engages in any form of behavior, he or she will always measure the consequences of such behavior using set principles.

The mind is conditioned to reason in a certain way, which will be consistent with societal rules and regulations. Negative reinforcement is another technique utilized to control human behavior. This involves coming up with certain measures that would prevent the occurrence of negative behavior. A different behavior control technique is punishment whereby an individual is subjected to a certain form of suffering, either physical or emotional, whenever he or she is found engaging in unwanted behavior (Schultz, & Schultz, 2012).

Skinner underscored the fact that human beings have the brain, but it is just an organ since its study becomes prolific when considered a visible action as opposed to an interior cerebral affair. In this regard, the excellent method to explain any human situation or action is to appreciate its causes and effects. Therefore, a behavior that is often reinforced develops while the one that is discouraged would never develop.

From the descriptions of various scholars supporting the behaviorist perspective, at least three definitions of psychology could be developed. One of them is that psychology should always be perceived as science and should therefore be studied using scientific techniques. Skinner went ahead to confirm this assertion by conducting a scientific study on rats with controlled laboratory conditions. As a major perspective in psychology, behaviorism is concerned with human behavior that can be observed.

Based on this, psychology should only conduct studies on observable human behavior. Internal events, such as thinking and emotional states, should never be considered major variables in psychology. Finally, behavioral psychologists confirmed through research that a small difference between animals and human beings exist. Both animals and human beings can be subjected to a learning process and both can master the concept. In this regard, classical conditioning is a process that applies to both animals and humans. Pavlov utilized the process effectively on dogs while Little Albert carried out triumphant research on people.

Several psychology scholars criticize the views of behaviorists because they seem to underestimate the complex nature of human beings. Human beings are complex to an extent that their actions cannot be understood by simply conducting a laboratory test. In particular, a majority of studies on behavior utilized animals meaning that animals are exactly similar to human beings, which is not the case.

Human beings have different characteristics that make their behavior more advanced. The speed at which human beings pick a language is not similar to that of animals since human beings are advanced in almost everything. It is therefore concluded that the study of human beings should be separated from animals for the perspective to be allowed in psychology. This is because human beings have different biological factors as compared to animals. These factors must be taken into consideration when understanding the learning process.

Sub-Disciplines of Psychology

Developmental Psychology

Psychology is a field of study with quite a several sub-branches, with developmental psychology being one of these sub-disciplines. Developmental psychology entails the scientific exploration of changes that usually take place in the lives of individuals, right from infancy to old age. This branch of psychology was initially concerned with analyzing the changes that take place in children and infants, but it currently looks at changes in the entire life of an individual.

The new areas of focus include the adolescence stage, adult development, and aging. The changes that take place at these stages are critical to psychologists since they present new ideas. The changes analyzed include motor skills, physiological processes, and cognitive changes. Scholars specializing in developmental psychology observe through research that development in human beings is a gradual process that entails the accumulation of knowledge. Individuals are usually born with innate mental structures. Through the learning process, individuals can acquire specific skills and experiences that help them in resolving the many issues that affect human beings.

Scholars in this field are interested in exploring the relationship between individual characteristics and behavior. Moreover, they seek to comprehend the interaction between ecological factors and human actions. It is established that human behavior is greatly influenced by environmental facts. Through the study of developmental psychology, psychologists are in a position to understand educational psychology, child psychology, and forensic psychology (Schultz, & Schultz, 2012).

Structuralism is a psychological theory that was formulated by Wilhelm Wundt. The theory supports the study of human behavior in a laboratory setting. It focuses on breaking down human mental processes for easy analysis meaning that human behavior cannot be understood in groups. For human behavior to be comprehended extensively, it has to be broken down into manageable units. Just like natural scientists, structural scholars divided the human mind into sections that would be subjected to laboratory tests. It influenced the works of developmental psychologists since they held the view that human behavior could only be understood in stages.

Developmental psychologists aspire to analyze human behavior in stages, just like structural scholars who suggested the division of the human mind into small elements for easy understanding. Structural scholars believed in the systematic study of observable events and recommended that only such study could be validated. Developmental psychologists have borrowed heavily from the ideas of structural scholars regarding the mind and consciousness.

Titchener was of the view that psychology should always place much attention on the study of the mind and self-awareness. According to him, the mind is simply the sum of the mental experience hence the behavior of an individual is simply understood through the study of the mind. Understanding the behavior of an individual entails understanding the structure of the mind. Developmental psychologists understand human growth in terms of behavior meaning that behavior change is the most important.

As per the views of functionalists, mental life and behavior are very important whereby the adaptation of the individual matters. An individual’s behavior is determined by his or her coping strategies. An individual with the ability to cope well with environmental factors can behave in a manner that would be pleasant while the other that is unable would face challenges. However, this school of thought never developed a solid perspective that would be relied upon in defining human behavior. Developmental psychologists employed the views of functionalists in formulating their ideas, particularly the idea that the ability of an individual to cope plays a role in development.

Social Psychology

Social psychology is a different school of thought explaining any psychological dispensation should be based on science. It entails the study of people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, but in a social context. This field of psychology entails empirical investigation meaning that behavior can be understood only about others. As per the views of social psychologists, human actions are the products of cerebral processes, as well as social conditions.

Scholars holding this view suggest that laboratory tests should always be conducted to ascertain the reasons for human behavior. Human beings behave the way they do mainly because of certain reasons. In other words, human behavior is always influenced by specific behaviors, which must be understood before explaining any behavior. Human feelings and actions are controlled by certain special factors. These factors are always explored in detail to understand the reasons for any behavior.

The idea of introspection, as discussed by structural theorists, played a key role in the development of social psychology. Introspection entails the evaluation of conscious thoughts and personal feelings as far as understanding of human behavior is concerned. Introspection depends on the analysis of the mental state. In other words, it means checking an individual’s memory, awareness, and cognitive processes.

This plays a critical role in explaining human behavior in daily life. Several factors determine the behavior of an individual. For instance, the social status of an individual, his or her educational level, and age would determine the behavior largely. Social psychologists draw on this concept to comment that people behave differently under different situations. Functionalists influenced the development of social psychology in the sense that the adaptation of environmental factors has a role to play in determining the behavior of individuals (Schultz, & Schultz, 2012).

Influence of Experiences on an Individual’s Career

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund was an Austrian neuroscientist who conducted extensive studies on psychoanalysis. He was a trained doctor, which inspired him to conduct extensive research in the field of cerebral palsy and aphasia. He developed one of the psychoanalytic methods referred to as psychopathology whereby the problems of the patient could be understood through the process of free association. This entails allowing the patient to give his views without interfering in the dialogue. He formulated a psychoanalytic theory referred to as the Oedipus complex, which was a result of his own experiences and those of his parents.

He noted that dreams entail the fulfillment of individual wishes. He was of the view that a clinical model formulated through the process of repression could perfectly define an individual’s dreams. His theory of unconscious discussed the idea behind the state of mind. All body processes take place due to the presence of the libido, which is an energy that is responsible for the generation of erotic attachments. Having been brought up by Jewish Galician parents, Freud published his works of culture and religion criticizing the role of religion in an individual’s life. Freud’s mother got married to a very young person who was twenty-years younger, something that inspired the works of Freud on the libido.

Carl Rodgers conducted extensive studies on the humanistic theory, which advocated for the interests of the client. He suggested that all practitioners ought to understand the interests of the client and try as much as possible to fulfill their interests instead of discriminating against them. He hailed from a God-fearing family since her mother was a staunch Pentecost and the father was a renowned civil engineer. At one point, he was an altar boy whereby he learned many things at a tender age, one of them is respecting people. He was given adequate skills that would him relate with various individuals in society while attending church classes.

He proceeded to the university to study agriculture and switched to religion later in life. He attended various Christian conferences, one of them being the famous 1922 trip to Peking, China. The conference was critical to his life since it helped him in redefining his career. He decided to quit preaching and joined teaching. He proceeded to become one of the known scholars of psychology give the skills that he acquired while at the seminary.

He always respected other people’s views since religion did not allow a section of society to subjugate or oppress others. He criticized cultural beliefs that were exploitative mainly because the church taught him to advocate for modernity. His counseling techniques were based on modern techniques, which were mainly client cantered. This proves that the church shaped his career in several ways (Schultz, & Schultz, 2012).

Effects of Darwinian Theory on Behavioural and Psychoanalytic Theory

Darwin had earlier predicted that through his works, psychology would be based on a new foundation meaning that his ideas could contribute to the mental capabilities and capacity gradation of other scholars. Indeed, his prediction was accurate since several scholars, including those believing in behaviorism and psychoanalysis, employed his ideas adequately in describing human behavior. For behaviorism, Darwinian Theory provided a logical framework through which new reaches in the field are based. The idea that human behavior is always evolving sheds more light as regards the expression of emotions.

The behavioral approach employs empirical tests in conducting studies, which are usually borrowed from the writings of Darwin. Darwin conducted tests on various species to explain how they evolve with time. He was of the view that the process of natural selection determines the survivability of the species. Behavioral scientists have also employed similar studies to prove that human behavior can be conditioned. For psychoanalysts, they can understand human sexuality through the process of natural selection.

Freud’s analysis borrowed heavily from the works of Darwin, particularly regarding the idea of reproduction. Generally, the idea that species evolve through the process of natural selection has helped many psychologists in answering questions related to the traits of human beings. For instance, developmental psychologists are interested in the way a trait develops among individuals.


Schultz, D. P., & Schultz, S. E. (2012). A history of modern psychology. Australia: Thomson/Wadsworth.

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