When Psychology first became a Science and how it Began

Many of its clinicians and researchers believe that psychology first became a science in the late 1800’s when Wilhelm Wundt[1] emancipated it from the schools of philosophy and anthropology.  In 1879, Wundt established the Psychologisches Institut (Psychological Institute), and opened the doors to experimentation as a means of describing internal feelings and sensations.  He is frequently thought of as the founder of the School of Psychology because he moved the study of the human mind from a philosophical or metaphysical realm into an experimental one.   Wundt’s experiments were largely restricted to trying to understand how the human mind worked.  He did not attempt to apply the result of his experimentation to treatment protocols. 

Prior to the 1800’s the study of human behavior was primarily relegated to the fields of philosophy, anthropology and religion and was not recognized as its own science. For the most part, these disciplines respected one another and did not see each other’s worldviews as oppositional to their mutual fields of study.  This changed, however, in the late 19th century when men like Sigmund Freud and Jean Martin Charcot[2] began to address psychopathology and use experimentation as a tool for diagnosing and treating the mind.  

Although many twenty-first century scientists in the field of psychology view religion as a non-scientific and therefore not a reliable means of understanding human behavior, psychological thought was born in the hearts of 19th century clerics who sought to understand elements of human behavior that the scriptures did not seem to address. Philosophers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries embraced both religion and philosophy as schools of thought that both had their origins in a belief in God.  Clerics, philosophers, and early psychologists all viewed God as the preeminent being presiding over both disciplines. Theology was seen as the study of God’s supernatural involvement in humanity and psychology as the study of His most significant creation, the human mind.

Prior to Wundt’s introduction of the field of psychology as a discipline, the church was also instrumental in recognizing mental illness and trying to address how to care for the soul.  Clerics like Phillipe Pinel [4]

Wundt’s work was viewed as highly peculiar, but not threatening to the predominant worldview of the day in which he lived. Wundt began his experiments by focusing on the sensations that he experiencing internally and then recording his data in a journal.  He valued the use of introspection in his work and looked at qualitative rather than quantitative results.  He came to believe that a human being’s sensory responses and internal feelings about the world around him were what shaped the workings of his mind.  Together with like minds such as that of Edward Titchener, his work to pool his observations and find their collective significance with respect to human behavior later earned both he is his colleague the distinctive label of  “Structuralist.”[5]

Wundt’s work has been rejected or at least viewed as minimalistic in light of the development of psychology into a field that now focuses on both the unconscious and conscious, even encompassing neurology and brain chemistry. However,  he is credited with having created a distinction between mere philosophy and the first attempts to test and qualify human thought.  For this reason, he has been dubbed the father of experimental psychology.[6]

[1] http://www.wilhelmwundt.com/

[2] http://www.enotes.com/gale-psychology-encyclopedia/jean-martin-charcot

[3] http://www.faqs.org/health/bios/87/Philippe-Pinel.html

[4] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/diseases/note.html#kirkbride

[5] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/569652/structuralism

[6] http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/mental-imagery/founders-experimental-psychology.html