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A 200 year selection of psychologies greatest minds

Psychology is the study of behavior and mental processes. Its main goals are to understand, explain, and predict human behavior. Psychology has helped us in many ways, such as improving our ability to communicate with others, learning and remembering information, and controlling our emotions and behavior.

“Like all science, psychology is knowledge, and like science Again, it is knowledge of a definite thing, the mind”

  • James Mark Baldwin

Modern psychology began in 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt, known as the father of modern psychology, established the first experimental psychology lab. From that moment forward, the study of psychology would evolve, as it still does today (Cherry, 2022) [1]. The field of psychology seems to be around 200 years old, which, compared to the different and older sciences like physics, seems to be in its infancy. Despite the small age of psychology, many great psychologists have had numerous breakthroughs which have allowed us to gain a new perspective of ourselves.

The Greatest Psychologists

These are just a few influential psychologists who have contributed to our understanding of human behavior. Psychology has come a long way in the past 200 years, and it will continue to evolve as we learn more about the complexities of the human mind.

1.    William Wundt (1832-1920)

William Wundt was a German physician, physiologist, and philosopher widely considered one of modern psychology’s founders. He is credited with establishing the first formal laboratory for psychological research in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. Wundt’s work was highly influential in developing psychology as a distinct scientific discipline. His major contribution was his theory of introspection, which proposed that the human mind could be studied scientifically by observing and reporting on one’s conscious experience. This approach to psychology helped to establish it as a respectable science distinct from other disciplines such as philosophy and physiology. Wundt’s work also contributed to experimental and cognitive psychology development. His textbook, Principles of Physiological Psychology, published in 1874, was one of the first comprehensive psychology textbooks and helped spread his ideas about the scientific study of the mind to a wider audience. There is no doubt that William Wundt was one of the most important figures in the history of psychology, and his work continues to be highly influential today.

2.    Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

He is an Austrian neurologist considered to be the founder of psychoanalysis. He developed many ideas still used in psychology today, such as the unconscious mind, defense mechanisms, and repression. Freud is considered the father of psychoanalysis, and his work revolutionized our understanding of the human mind. His theories on the workings of the subconscious have shaped our understanding of human psychology.

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”                                                                                                 -Sigmund Freud

One of Freud’s greatest works was the theory of human consciousness. He theorized that the human consciousness was divided into three parts: Id, Ego, and Superego. He divided the human consciousness into three parts, Id which is the uncontrolled human desire in its rawest form, Ego which is the part of the consciousness that presents the Id in socially acceptable ways, and the Superego, which operates on the morality principle and motivates us to behave in socially appreciable ways (Nain) [2]. He gave therapeutic concepts like free association, transference, and the human unconscious. He theorized that the root cause of mental illnesses lies in past experiences; these principles and theories are still in use today by modern psychologists to help people overcome their traumas.

3.    William James (1842-1910)

An American philosopher and psychologist considered to be the father of American psychology. He wrote one of the most influential books in psychology, “The Principles of Psychology,” published in 1890. James is considered the father of American psychology, and his work on topics like consciousness and attention has had a lasting impact on the field. James taught many students throughout his 35-year teaching career who no doubt helped many people and pushed the boundaries of psychology.

4.    Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936)

A Russian physiologist who is best known for his work on classical conditioning. He showed that animals (and humans) could learn to associate certain stimuli with certain responses, such as salivating at the sound of a bell. Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1904 for his work on digestive secretions. His experiment regarding the association of stimuli to a certain response was used to explain the relationship between human behavior and the nervous system, which can be “trained” to give a certain response, regardless of whether the response is related to the stimuli.

5.    Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

A Swiss psychologist who is best known for his work on child development. He showed that children think differently than adults and go through different cognitive development stages. His theory of cognitive development differentiated between the thinking of adults and children. Before his theory, children were considered mini, untrained, undisciplined adults, but Piaget’s theory showed the fundamental differences between children and adults. He provided four stages of development for a child:

  • The sensorimotor stage lasts approximately from birth to 2 years of age, where the child primarily learns through motion and senses.
  • The preoperational stage lasts from 2 to 7 when the child develops speech and understanding of language and emerges in symbolic play.
  • The concrete operational stage lasts from 7 to 11 years of age when the child starts to engage in logical reasoning.
  • The formal operation stage lasts from 11 years to adulthood, where the child becomes adept at abstract thought and deductive reasoning.

Piaget’s work created the sub-field of developmental psychology, and his theories greatly help guide the educational strategies we use for children today. He is also responsible for the idea of ‘Genetic Epistemology’, which is a way of understanding the validity of our knowledge based on the strength of the construct informing that knowledge.

6.    B. F. Skinner (1904-1990)

An American psychologist who is best known for his work on operant conditioning. He showed that behavior is controlled by its consequences and that positive reinforcement (rewards) can increase the likelihood of the desired behavior. These are just a few influential psychologists who have contributed to our understanding of human behavior. Psychology has come a long way in the past 200 years, and it will continue to evolve as we learn more about the complexities of the human mind. Skinner is considered the father of behaviorism, and his work on operant conditioning has helped us better understand how we learn and behave.

7.    Melanie Klein (1882-1960)

Melanie Klein was an Austrian-British psychoanalyst who practiced in the United Kingdom. She was a leading innovator in child psychoanalysis and made significant contributions to object relations theory. Klein first worked as a nurse before training as a psychiatrist. She initially studied under Sigmund Freud but later developed her theories and methods. She was a controversial figure in psychoanalysis, and her work was often met with criticism from her contemporaries.

“The root of creativity is found in the need to repair the good Object destroyed during the depressive phase”                                                                                                             -Melanie Klein

 

 8.    Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)

Lewin is a renowned psychologist whose field theory of behavior advocates that an individual’s psychological environment determines human behavior. He is recognized as the founder of social psychology and has pioneered work in studying group dynamics and organizational development. A general psychology survey published in 2002 ranked him as the 18th-most cited psychologist of the 20th century. While working at MIT in 1946, Lewin received a phone call from the director of the Connecticut State Inter Racial Commission requesting help to find an effective way to combat religious and racial prejudices. He set up a workshop to conduct a “change” experiment, which laid the foundations for what is now known as sensitivity training. In 1947, this led to the National Training Laboratories at Bethel, Maine. Carl Rogers believed that sensitivity training is “perhaps the most significant social invention of this century.” [3]

 “Our behavior is purposeful; we live in a psychological reality or living space that includes not only those parts of our physical and social environment that are important to us but also imagined states that do not currently exist.”                                                                     -Kurt Lewin, Resolving Social Conflict

 

9.    George Elton Mayo (1880-1949)

George Elton Mayo is an esteemed name in human resource management. His innovative work in industrial psychology has revolutionized how employees are perceived within an industrial hierarchy. Mayo’s research showed that employees are not merely cogs in a machine but rather complex individuals with needs that must be considered if businesses hope to achieve productivity and efficiency. This employee understanding has led to more humane and effective workplace policies and practices. Richard Trahair, in his book Elton Mayo: The Humanist Temper, acknowledged Mayo’s contributions by saying that.

“ (he) is known for having established the scientific study of what today is called organizational behavior when he gave close attention to the human, social, and political problems of industrial civilization.” [4]

 

10. Anna Freud (1895-1982)

Anna Freud was an Austrian-born British psychoanalyst known for her contributions to the field of child psychoanalysis. She presented excellent theories for understanding how the ego functions to fend off painful ideas, memories, feelings, and impulses. Her work has helped improve our understanding of children’s development and growth. After Anna and her family fled Nazi-led Austria, they settled in London, UK. She opened Hampstead War Nursery in London during World War ll. This nursery specialized in looking after kids affected by war. The staff at the nursery were trained to make meticulous observations, and Anna herself analyzed every move analytically. This allowed for a better understanding of how children cope with traumatic events and ultimately helped shape our modern childcare approach.

Sometimes the most beautiful thing is precisely the one that comes unexpectedly and unearned, hence something given truly as a present.                                                                                            -Anna Freud

 

11. Fritz Perls (1893-1970)

Fritz Perls, also known as Friedrich (Frederick) Salomon Perls, was a German-born psychotherapist and psychiatrist. He is mainly known for his work on Gestalt Therapy. Perls felt that Freudian principles had limitations and that a more holistic psychoanalytic approach was needed. This approach was present-centered, focusing on the present rather than the past. He combined some of Freud’s principles with Gestalt Theory to create this approach. Gestalt Therapy is not just about resolving a patient’s problem. The goal is to remove any psychological obstacles that might restrict their personal growth and productivity. This involves looking at the whole person and not just the individual symptoms. By understanding how the mind and body work together, therapists can help patients achieve their greatest potential.

“Man transcends himself only via his true nature, not through ambition and artificial goals.” ― Frederick Salomon Perls, The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy

 

 Conclusion

Famous psychologists have made a significant impact on the world today. Their theories and research have helped to shape our understanding of human behavior and have provided valuable insights into the workings of the human mind. Some of the most influential psychologists of the past 200 years include Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and B.F. Skinner, and Abraham Maslow. Each of these renowned thinkers has contributed greatly to our understanding of human behavior and profoundly impacted the field of psychology. These are just a few of the many famous psychologists who have significantly impacted the world today. Without them and their work, the world as we know it today might not have been so invested in people’s mental health, nor would we have therapeutic ways of overcoming past trauma.

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References

[1]: Kendra Cherry, 17th May 2022, A Historical Timeline of Modern Psychology

[2]: Astha Nain, 10 Famous Psychologists and Their Contributions

[3]. Kurt Lewin, 5th January 2021, the Editors of Wikipedia Encyclopedia

[4].  Elton Mayo: The Humanist Temper, Richard C.S. Trahair, 1984 The Humanist Temper

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