Lecture: Perspectives of Psychology
Reading Assignment 1:
Boundaries and Boarders of Psychology
Click for the Objectives for Reading Assignment 1.

The first reading assignment introduces students to the discipline of Psychology, individuals that made significant contributions to the field, and the boundaries and boarders that influence it. Psychology has been defined many ways. One thing is for certain, however, defining it as “the study of the mind” is no longer acceptable. The “mind” is a concept that modern psychologists have abandoned, as it can often leads to explaining human Behavior in a nonscientific manner. No longer do we focus on the mind, which no amount of scientific evidence can ever prove that it exist or not. Rather, the current definition of Psychology is described as the scientific investigation of Mental Processes and Behavior. Mental Processes include many of our Brain processes that we cannot directly observe with the naked eye, such as thinking, remembering, feelings, and dreams. Behavior includes anything that an organism does, which we often can easily observe in ourselves and others.

Although Psychology is considered a science, it evolved from Philosophy. As a result, many important philosophical debates are also relevant to Psychology. The first philosophical debate, the Mind-Body Problem, is rooted in the distinction between Behavior and Mental Processes. Behaviors are easily observed with the naked eye, while Mental Processes are not. Early philosophers speculated that Mental Processes did not truly exist in the physical world and might represent a spiritual entity. Technology has since shown us that these Mental Processes occur in the Brain, are correlated with electrical activity in the Brain, and can thus be considered scientific. This, however, has not satisfied everyone as some believe that the mind is distinct from the electrical activity observed in the Brain. The Nature-Nurture Controversy and the Free-Will Versus Determinism debate are both similarly relevant to Psychology. In fact, these three philosophical debates in many ways serve to distinguish the modern Perspectives of Psychology.

Several individuals played significant roles in the early stages of Psychology as it established itself as a distinct discipline. A German researcher by the name of Wilhelm Wundt, pronounced Vil•helm Voont, is referred to as the Father of Psychology. He founded the first psychological laboratory and introduced the term Introspection. One of the many goals of establishing Introspection was to overcome an obstacle still faced today: to accurately assess the thought processes within the individual. Establishing a laboratory was essential for Psychology to become a science, as it represented an effort to progress from philosophical speculation to scientific investigation. The need for Psychology also same from a desire to end philosophical debates about human behavior that rested only on the strength of one’s argument. It was time that the many debates about human behavior relied on evidence to support one’s claims.

Edward Titchener and William James were two of the most noteworthy pupils that worked in the first psychological laboratory. They developed two different approaches to investigate human behavior, which became further established and solidified as a result of their many discussions with one another. Their views served to establish the first two schools of psychological thought: Structuralism and Functionalism. Edward Titchener proposed Structuralism, while William James proposed Functionalism. The differences between them are best described by a discussion of how they would approach the investigation of the same psychological process. Imagine that they were both interested in investigating jealousy. Edward Titchener and Structuralism might want to identify Brain structures responsible for jealousy, while William James and Functionalism would rather investigate its function in our everyday lives. Even today, these two schools of psychological thought can be seen in the four modern Perspectives of Psychology (Will be discussed later; See Reading Assignment 2).

Boundaries and Boarders
Although Psychology is a creative science, it is limited by two factors: Biology and Culture. Culture influences what behaviors are considered appropriate, which can differ greatly across different groups of people and settings. It is important to note that Culture can be "descriptive" and "prescriptive" at times. It can be descriptive in that it describes how groups of people behave; however, it can also be prescriptive in that it can dictate how one should behave and may also serve to establish what is right, wrong, or inappropriate. Cross-Cultural Psychology is a hybrid discipline that evolved from the obvious similarities between Psychology and Anthropology. Many researchers today, including that of Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, refer to their selves as Psychological Anthropologist. Their research focuses on how Culture impacts human Behavior.

Biology limits Psychology by establishing the scope of possible behaviors and processes that an organism is able to perform. The Brain and human body permit us to do a lot and understanding how we do them at the biological level is, more times than not, relevant to Psychology. Behavioral Neuroscience or Biopsychology is a sub-discipline of Psychology in which researchers focuses almost exclusively on the role of Biology on human Behavior. Many Behavioral Neuroscientists identify the parts of the Brain responsible for various aspects of human Behavior. This is referred to as Localization of Function, which has proven to be as frustrating as it is rewarding. Technology permits us to observe many complex psychological processes at work in real time. With such technology, it became apparent that the functions of the Brain are not as distinct as we would have liked. Simple tasks are not limited to precise Brain structures nor do they always display similar patterns in the same individual when repeated. Researchers had hoped that we would learn exactly how the Brain works. However, instead we have learned more about how wonderfully complex the Brain is.


A. Lefton, L. A., & Brannon, L. (2002). Psychology (8th Edition). pp. 2-36, 405. (Chapters 1 and 12).

Internet Sources:
A. Unknown, A. (2005). Demystifying John Edward of Crossing Over. Internet URL: http://www.re-quest.net/entertainment/movies-and-tv/tv/john-edward/
B. Unknown, A. (2001). The Institute of Intercultural Studies: Margaret Mead - Hilary Rodham-Clinton Statement. Internet URL: http://www.interculturalstudies.org/Mead/clinton-statement.html/
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