Major Schools of Thought in Psychology- in simple words

Schools of Thought in Psychology

Learn about the major Schools of Thought in Psychology with ease. Psychology is a diverse and complex field that has evolved over the centuries.

Psychology has its origins in philosophy and was first studied by philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes. They were interested in the study of human nature, the soul, and mental processes.

Modern-day psychology has been greatly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis theory which focuses on understanding unconscious forces within the mind that drive behavior.

This article discusses the impact that major schools of thought in psychology have had on our knowledge and understanding of this field.

Also Read: Know about the origin of psychology in detail.

WUNDT AND STRUCTURALISM [First Schools of Thought in Psychology]

Wilhelm Wundt was Germany’s first person to be referred to as a psychologist, and his scientific contributions are renowned. This is shown in his famous book entitled ‘Principles of Physiological Psychology’ which was released in 1873. Wundt was a scientist who believed that the goal of psychology was to identify components of conscious experience and how they are combined together (consciousness).

Wilhelm Wundt is credited with establishing the first experimental psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany in 1879. The lab’s focus was on exploring the components of consciousness and how they combined to produce experience.

Wundt used introspection, a process where someone examines their own conscious experience as objectively as they can. In this way, the human mind was made to mimic any other natural aspect that scientists observe. Wundt’s version of introspection used only very specific experimental conditions, where an external stimulus is designed to produce a scientifically observable and repeatable experience of the mind.

Structural Schools of Thought in Psychology

The first requirement was the use of skilled observers that could, in a fraction of a second, observe and report their reactions,

The second requirement was the use of repeatable stimuli, which always produced the same experience in the subject and allowed them to focus on what they were feeling.

The experimental requirements for this study were put in place to make sure what people are reporting about their thoughts and feelings during a mind-wandering experiment is accurate. It was also so we could counter the argument that there’s no way to know if you can accurately report on your own thoughts or observations when your mind has wandered.

Structuralism was an approach to understanding mental processes that emphasized the importance of the hidden, deep-level connections between the mind’s parts. In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt set up his psychology lab at Leipzig University and conducted experiments similar to those in this presentation.

A subject would be put in a controlled environment and exposed to stimuli such as lights, images, or sounds. The subject may be in an isolated room from the scientist. Every time the subject is exposed to a stimulus, he/she presses a button and an apparatus would record the time for responding to it. Wilhelm Wundt could measure the reaction time of a person to the one-thousandth of a second.

Despite his efforts to teach people about introspection, it is highly subjective. With the passing of Wundt, structuralism fell out of favor.

JAMES AND FUNCTIONALISM ( Second School of Thought in Psychology)

Functionalism Schools of Thought in Psychology

Functionalism is a School of Thought in Psychology which believes that the mind and body are separate. It believes that mental states are not physical in nature, but rather they are the result of functional interactions among mental states.

The theory was introduced by William James in 1890, who believed that mental phenomena were nothing but the result of their function in relation to one another and to external objects.

Functionalism has been criticized by other schools of thought because it is difficult to measure or observe mental phenomena with no physical properties.

William James was introduced to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and accepted it as an explanation of the physical characteristics of an organism.

There is a key part of the theory that stresses the importance of organisms behaving in ways that are suitable for their environment, including natural selection. By adapting to their environment, species are able to survive and reproduce more successfully.

As James saw it, psychology’s purpose was to study the function of behavior in the world. Therefore, his perspective was known as functionalism. Functionalism focused on how mental activities helped an organism fit into its environment by allowing them to fit in with its surroundings.


The main idea of Freudian theory is that the unconscious mind, which includes all the thoughts and feelings that are not currently conscious, has a great influence on how we behave.

psychoanalytical  Schools of Thought in Psychology
The basic goal of psychoanalysis is to achieve insight into one's condition by bringing to light the conflicts and desires of the unconscious. Psychoanalytic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud, who coined the term "psychoanalysis."

Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis, a School of Thought in Psychology that is still very influential today. His work is based on the idea that human behavior is determined by unconscious impulses and desires.

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Freud believed that in order to understand people, we need to understand their past. He also thought that dreams are a window into the unconscious mind and can be used to help us understand what we are trying to repress or hide from ourselves.

The psychoanalytic theory posits that all people are born with an id, ego and superego.

  • The id contains our instincts and desires which can never be satisfied
  • The ego is the part of the personality that handles reality.
  • The superego tries to mediate between these two forces.

The interaction of these three elements is what leads to all of the complex, human behaviors

Other important theories within the psychoanalytic school include the idea of the conscious and unconscious, Freud’s psychosexual approach to personality development, and the concept of life and death instincts.

The Conscious and Unconscious

The conscious happens to be the thoughts and feelings that we can be aware of at any given moment. The unconscious is a reservoir of all the thoughts and feelings that we are not aware of at any given moment.

Freud’s Psychosexual Approach to Personality Development

Freud believed that personality development followed a set of predetermined stages, which he labeled psychosexual stages. He believed that at each stage of development, the child’s libido (sexual drive) is focused on a different erogenous zone.


Gestaltism school of thought

The Gestalt schools of Thought in Psychology were a group of German psychologists who shared a common theoretical framework. They sought to understand the laws of the mind and human experience by examining how the mind organizes sensory input into meaningful patterns.

In the early 1920s, Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka and Wolfgang Köhler were all interested in the topic of perception. They all used a Gestalt approach to study how people perceive things and how they are organized.

The Gestalt approach is a way of looking at the world that is based on seeing things as unified wholes rather than as individual pieces. It is also about understanding how these parts work together to create meaning for humans.

All the theorists had their own unique perspectives on Gestalt theory, but they all agreed on some fundamental principles. For example, they all believed that humans have an innate tendency to organize incoming information into patterns and that these patterns are more than just random perceptions.

Gestalt psychologists believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, they describe that rather than breaking down thoughts or behaviors to their smallest elements, we should view experience holistically.


Gestaltism school of thought

The behaviorism theory was developed by Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner. Behaviorism is the idea that human behavior is a result of stimulus-response associations. These associations are made through the process of classical conditioning and operant conditioning.

Behaviorism is a theory of psychology that focuses on the external observable behavior of humans and animals. Behaviorism was one of the first psychological theories to be used in understanding learning and memory. The key idea behind this theory is that observable behavior can be explained as a result of external stimuli and responses to those stimuli. Behaviorists believe that all behaviors are learned, either by association or imitation, and not inherited genetically. This means that we learn through our environment, through the responses we receive from our environment, and through the rewards or punishments we receive from our environment. And behaviorism is very influential Schools of Thought in Psychology.

Behaviorism is a theory of psychology that says people's actions are determined by their environment. The behaviorists believed that all human behavior, both mental and physical, can be explained in terms of external stimuli and the organism's response to those stimuli.

Pavlov was the first to formally study the phenomenon of classical conditioning, which is when a person learns to associate one stimulus with another, usually through repetition. He would ring a bell before feeding his dogs and eventually they would salivate at just the sound of the bell.

Watson & Skinner were pioneers in this field who studied operant conditioning and reinforcement schedules. Operant conditioning is when someone learns to associate an action with a consequence. This type of conditioning is often used in teaching students new skills or behaviors (like eating vegetables) because it rewards desirable behaviors with positive reinforcement (e.g., praise).


Humanism is the idea that human beings are the measure of all things, and that people should be treated as rational, autonomous individuals. In psychology, humanism was a branch of thought that argued for a focus on understanding what motivates people and what it means to be a person. Humanistic psychology was developed by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

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The humanistic perspective in psychology is based on the belief that humans have an inherent tendency to grow toward self-actualization. This theory is based on the idea that we all have inherent needs for growth, belongingness, and self-esteem. Self-actualization is the process of fulfilling one’s potential as a human being. It is considered to be a positive goal because it increases our chances of happiness and mental health.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid depicting the levels of human needs, psychological, and physical. The most basic and important needs are at the bottom such as food, water, sleep etc. The higher up the pyramid one goes, the less important the need becomes.

The hierarchy can be divided into five main categories: Physiological Needs (food), Safety Needs (shelter), Social Needs (love), Esteem Needs (respect), and Self-actualization Needs (self-fulfilment).

Carl Rogers’ Schools of Thought in Psychology focus on empathy and unconditional positive regard. Rogers believed that people have an innate tendency to want to become self-actualized individuals who strive for independence and personal growth.

Rogers thought that people are naturally empathetic creatures who want to help others reach their full potential.

Carl Rogers was one of the first psychologists who studied humanism. He believed that each person is intrinsically valuable and has the ability to shape their own growth and happiness. Rogers’ work focused on interpersonal relationships, which he believed were characterized by unconditional positive regard and acceptance.

The Behaviorist Schools of Thought in psychology.

Behaviorism became a dominant school of thought during the 1950s. It was based upon the work of thinkers such as John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and B. F. Skinner.

Behaviorism suggests that all behavior can be explained by environmental causes rather than by internal forces. Behaviorism is focused on observable behavior. Examples of behavioral theories that emerged during this time include:

  • Classical conditioning: This is a type of learning that involves associating a previously neutral stimulus with a stimulus that naturally and automatically triggers a response. For example, pairing the sound of a bell with the presentation of food. After an association is formed, the previously neutral stimulus will produce the same response as the natural stimulus.
  • Operant conditioning: This type of learning involves using rewards and punishments to create an association between the behavior and the consequences of that behavior.

The behavioral school of psychology significantly influenced the course of psychology. Many ideas and techniques that emerged from this school of thought are still widely used today. Behavioral training, token economies, aversion therapy, and other methods are frequently used in psychotherapy and behavior modification programs.

The Cognitive Schools of Thought in psychology

The cognitive school of thought is a school of psychology that deals with the study of mental processes. Mental processes are the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that one experiences. The cognitive school of thought focuses on how these mental processes are stored and retrieved from memory.

The cognitive School of Thought in Psychology has three main concepts:

1) The information-processing paradigm

The information-processing paradigm is the way in which we process and store information. The human brain is constantly processing information and making connections between concepts. The cognitive school of thought takes this idea and uses it to explain the brain’s abilities.

2) The representational theory

The representational theory of mind states that thoughts are like mental representations. In other words, it is the idea that our mental processes and actions are like simulations or images of things that aren’t actually present.

3) The language-based theory

The language-based theory of cognitive school is a theory that proposes that how the brain processes language determines how we think. It suggests that our thoughts are determined by the way we process language and it is not possible to understand the meaning of words without understanding their relation to other words.

Cognitive psychology is a scientific discipline that studies the nature and the operations of mental processes, including thoughts, judgments, reasoning and language. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch looks at how people think, perceive, remember and learn.

The emergence of cognitive psychology in the 1950s offers a new perspective on how people learn, think, and behave. A major criticism of behaviorism is that it failed to account for important mental processes that influence behavior. Behaviorism focused only on external stimuli (things like rewards and punishments) and ignored internal mental processes (thoughts, feelings, beliefs). Cognitive psychology responds to this criticism by looking at both the external and internal influences on behavior.

An example of a theory that came from the cognitive school of thought is:

  • Stages of cognitive development: According to Piaget’s theory, the stages of cognitive development are divided into four distinct categories and children go through a series of progressive stages of intellectual development.
  • Sociocultural theory: This theory, introduced by Lev Vygotsky, looked at how the interaction of environmental factors and social interactions with the individual contributed to cognitive development.
  • Informational processing theory: this theory suggests that the mind works much like a computer to process and interpret information about the world.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was heavily influenced by this psychological perspective. CBT is an approach to treatment that focuses on how automatic negative thought patterns influence behavior. In order to overcome destructive habits, the patient must learn new ways of thinking and behaving to help them cope with their condition.

This period is sometimes referred to as the “cognitive revolution” as a wealth of research on information processing, language, memory, and perception began to emerge.