Psychology Timeline


Mankind has studied medicine for thousands of years. The study of psychology is relatively new, and extremely young. One might say psychology actually started back in ancient Greece with Philosophers such as Plato, Socrates, or Aristotle. With all that considered, I personally believe the formal study of what is now psychology started with the research of Wilhelm Wundt.

The Birth of Psychology

The first actual experiment in a lab setting took place in 1879. This experiment was led by scientist Wilhelm Wundt, the father of psychology. Wundt was the first scientist to separate the discipline of philosophy, and psychology. Wundt’s main aim was to study the structure of the mind, via introspection. This frame of thought was coined structuralism.

Psychology in the United States

William James is largely credited with bringing psychology to the United States (1883). He differed than Wundt in his views of the subject. James believed in functionalism. Functionalism differs from structuralism by the concern with the capacity of the mind as opposed to the process of thought. The American Psychology Association was founded in 1892 by psychologist G. Stanley Hall. The APA was the first organization that allowed psychologists to test, and publish their findings. This led to a more standardized study of psychology.

Sigmund Freud

Freud is a champion of the Psychodynamic approach to psychology. He believed largely in the psychoanalysis of dreams. He published over 24 books expanding on his basic thoughts that, unconscious, sexual drives cause humans to act. This was an important basis in the history of psychology. His first work, The Interpretation of Dreams, was published in 1900. Up to this point, functionalism and structuralism largely dominated the academic aspect of psychology.


From 1900 until 1913 psychoanalysis was the “hot” topic in psychology. In 1913, John Watson published work titled “Psychology as Behavior.” This was the first thought that contrasted psychoanalysis. Behaviorism studies observable, and measureable behaviors. Behaviorism is largely analytical. This school of thought really became more popular in 1938, after Skinner published his work, “The Behavior of Organisms.” This work really encouraged others to start researching the concept os conditioning.

Personality Tests

Psychologists Herman Rorschach, is largely credited for creating the first personality test in 1921. This test is named after him, the Rorschach test. It basically is based off patient’s interpretations of inkblots. This practice is still used clinically today, almost 100 years later.

Controversial Procedures in Psychology

As the academic study of psychology became medical, controversial procedures began to increase in practical procedures. The first lobotomy in the United States was performed in 1936. A lobotomy is the practice of cutting, or scraping areas on the frontal lobe. This can lead to significant brain damage, leading to decreased functionality.

Standards of Study

In 1953, the APA published the first edition of Ethical Standards of Psychologists. This publication helped to structure the research of psychology. This was monumental in that, up to this point, ethics were largely overlooked in the young field of psychology.

Humanistic Psychology

In 1954, Maslow published “Motivation and Personality.” The humanistic approach largely emphasizes that behavior is guided by convictions to internal, and ethical values. Psychologists that use this approach emphasize that the way we perceive ourselves, and the world is essential of personality.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology emphasizes the mind is structured into an information processor similar to a computer. This figure found on gives a great image of this approach. Cognitive Psychology really began to revolutionize the study in the late 1950s and 60s.

PET Scans

In 1974, a revolutionary technique called Position Emission Topography, made mapping images of the brain exponentially more efficient than the modern x-rays. The PET combined images from multiple angles to give a more dimensional analysis of the brains structure.

The Evolutionary Approach

In 1976, Richard Dawkins began to popularize the evolutionary approach to psychology. The evolutionary approach uses ideas such as adaptation, reproduction, and natural selection as the basis for explaining human behaviors.

Cultural Psychology

In 1990, Bruner formulated that culture has the largest impact on human behavior. Sociocultural psychologists believe that it is imperative to understand individual’s actions in a cultural context to truly understand why humans behave the way they do.

Psychology as a whole is a young science. Articles are published almost daily that revolutionize the way scientists study behaviors. As we become more technologically efficient, we can only assume the study of psychology will continue to modernize.