Week 1 – the Science of Psychology:
Early Ways Psychologists analyzed behaviour:
• Rationalism – using logic and reason to determine why people act he way they do.
• Empirical psychophysics – using quantitative methods to examine the relationship between
physical stimuli and the resulting sensations and perceptions.
• Empirical structuralism – analyzing sensation and perception with an emphasis on how basic
sensory information combines to create complex perceptions.
• Empirical functionalism – studying thought and behaviour as adaptive functions of survival and
maintenance of the species.
Psychology has roots in Western philosophy (Greeks). They examine similar questions such as
“do people have free will”?And “are people inherently good or evil?” The ancient Greeks examined
these questions through rationalism – the pursuit of truth through reason and logic.
Reason and logic cannot solve everything, however, and so the empirical approach was adopted.
A19 century approach. Empiricism is the belief that people can describe the world through
rules generated by observation, quantification and the principle of “parsimony” - or accepting the
simplest testable solution that accounts for all available evidence.
How does the body combine experiences or elements to produce this behaviour?
What possible function could this behaviour have?
Wundt, von Helmholtz, Fechner and other 19 century German psychologists are now
considered to have followed the structuralist viewpoint. This emphasizes the elemental constituents of
experience. They thought that, like bricks in a wall, human experience was built up of elemental
sensation. They attempted to understand perception by dissecting it into its constituent elements
sensations and then cataloguing and exploring these sensations. Introspection was one of their tools,
but the importance of introspection to structuralism is over-emphasized in the textbook (p. 20-21). The
really important element of the structuralist view is analysis – according to the,. If we can break things
down into simpler parts and understand these, then we can understand the whole.
William James was a medical doctor, philosopher and physiologist who studied many aspects of
psychology. His book The Principles of Psychology was published in 1890. Many of his descriptions
are still used today. His broter was Henry James, the novelist. It is said that “William James was the
psychologist who wrote like a novelist, and Henry was the novelist who wrote like a psychologist. In
contrast to the structuralist approach of Wundt, James and his students took a functionalism approach,
influence by Charles Darwin and his theory of natural selection. This emphasizes not the elemental
structure of processes, but their purposes – what are they for?
e.g., a structuralist would think that you don't perceive an apple, but the red, roundness and
sweetness. Al these elemental sensations put together are what is meant by “perceiving an apple”. In
contrast, a functionalist would think of why we perceive apples. How does perceiving apples
contribute to the ability to survive and reproduce? The Science of Behaviour
Philosophy is both inquiry and scientific study. It wrestles the issues such as determinism vs
free will. Psychology is the science of behaviours, thought and experience. What causes behaviour?
Behaviour is generated by the brain, so the science of behaviour is also the science of the brain
and mental process. It is based on what we attend to and how we process this information using our
senses and our perceptions to create our understanding of the info at hand. The result of all these
processes then guide our behaviours.
What is Science?
Science is a process or method, a way of asking and answering questions. Isaac Newton: “our
business is with the causes of sensible effects”. Science attempts to explain the causes of things. A
cause is the necessary and sufficient condition for something to occur. In our everyday experience,
oxygen is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the occurren