PSYA02H3 Lecture Notes - Wilhelm Wundt, Construct Validity
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Topic 2: History & Methods
History of Psychology
Science has always been contextualized in a larger set of societal/historical/political/
E.g., Theological/religious barriers impeded the progress of physiological sciences (and
-Direct study of human body was forbidden
-Doctrines regarding human exemptionalism (i.e., therefore, impossible to learn about
human biology through animal studies)
The Rise of Mechanism
-An extremely intense, unbalanced, driven personality
-Proposed a systematic account of the body as a machine; physiological processes described in terms
of mechanistic interactions, controlled by hydraulics (fluids) and mechanics (levers)
-Thus, human and animal bodies were complicated machines, consistent with the mechanistic
zeitgeist of the time; e.g., water statues, clocks
-however, what set humans apart from animals was the MIND, which was non-physical but able
(somehow…..) to interact with the body
-Descartes believed the mind-body nexus was the pineal gland
-this splitting of the mind & body still plagues us. We either have to accept that the body (brain) IS
the mind, in which case humans are just (soulless) animals, i.e., bio-gunk; or we have to figure out
how it is that a more-than-physical mind could exist, what its substrate is, and how it could interact
with a physical body
Much of the rest of the history of psychology can be described as a struggle to answer questions that
emerge from this dualism.
-e.g., Is the Mind simply a complicated, but deterministic machine, or do we have free will? Can we
do anything creative, or are we merely stimulus-response machines?
-How can we study the mind scientifically? How does it work? What are the connections between
mind and body? Can we learn to control the mind and use it more effectively?
-How does the brain give rise to the mind? How does ‘objective’ biological matter produce subjective
How to Study an Immaterial Mind?
Because the MIND was usually thought of as non-physical, it took a very long time before
people realized that you could study the MIND using scientific, experimental techniques, and
prominent philosophers (e.g., Kant) argued that it was impossible to empirically study the
The turning point that lead to the scientific study of mind really came from studies of
physiology, using reaction times to measure nerve conduction (Helmholtz, 1800s).
People started realizing you can study nervous system processes via objective measures
such as time.
-Carefully calculated the distance traveled by the pendulum, and the time as 1/10th of a second
-Reasoned that it took humans 1/10th of a second to reorient their attention
-Possibly the biggest influence on subsequent psychology was Darwin’s theory of evolution
-Built on previous ideas of evolution (vs. creationism theories): Erasmus Darwin; Lamarck
-Interestingly, Darwin’s ideas were influenced by the geological debate on “uniformitarianism” vs.
-He was incredibly curious and observant
-On Beagle voyage, collected THOUSANDS of specimens, many from species never before known, and
he generated countless notebook observations.
-Wondered, why do animals do the things they do? What was the FUNCTION of their behaviours?
The Geological Debate of the Times
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-Catastrophism: reigning theory of the day, consistent with Church dogma (e.g., age of the Earth, the
Flood, etc.); argued that geological formations were the result of major catastrophes
-uniformitarianism: Lyell: argued that geological formations were the result of gradual changes over
extremely long periods of time
-essay on population, described that species would, in struggle for survival against environment,
make maximal use of food sources. Without sufficient predation or disease, populations would
boom, outstrip food supply, and collapse (which is generally true!)
-Studied medicine, and then went through major emotional crisis RE: determinism vs. free will
-His resolution was to decide, by an act of faith, that there was free will.
-“My first act of free will, shall be to believe in free will.”
-To be a scientist, he would approach the human as though it were deterministic.
-But to be a human, he would assume that he had free will.
-Coupled with emerging Darwinian thought, James’ pragmatism gave birth to the functionalist
approach in psychology.
-Described thinking as a dynamic relationship between organism & environment, focused on
problems of adaptation
-This is the foundation upon which we are still building today:
- Functionalism: adaptation of organism to env.
- Consciousness as a mixture of deterministic processes, and free will (although we still don’t
know how free will is possible...)
- The matrix in which consciousness exists is the physiology of the central nervous system
The 20th Century
-Psychology begins to fracture into many different paradigms and schools of thought, each battling it
out for supremacy.
-E.g., behaviorism (Watson, Skinner, Pavlov), gestalt, psychodynamic theories (Freud, Jung, neo-
Freudians), existential/humanistic (Maslow, Rogers)
-Cognitive revolution - 1960s-80s
-Biological revolution - 1980s - now
-Neuroscience - 1990s - now
Adopting a Scientific Perspective on People
-In recent years, Psychology has become a very integrated discipline, where phenomena are being
understood at multiple levels of analysis.
-Right now, you are participating in a new phase in science, moving towards multi-factor causal
models that require people to think more holistically, systemically, integratively
-E.g., “multiple levels of analysis” discussed in text
Multi-factor, multi-leveled thinking has many consequences for our understanding...
-For example, how do you help someone with a troubled mind?
A person’s well-being, and indeed, entire psyche, is shaped by social relationships. Helping a
person is usually dependent, to a large degree, on helping to improve the larger social
relationships and contexts that influence the individual.
Eating dinner together: The key to happy families. The National Center on Addiction and
Substance Abuse at Columbia University (2005)
Third Variable Explanations
You want to know whether A B
E.g., smoking cancer?
E.g., violent media violent behavior?
E.g., relationship conflict physical illness?
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