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Introduction To Psychology: History And Emergence

History of Psychology and Development in India

By Abhija Chatterjee, Aishwarya Kalra



In this concept-driven article, an attempt is taken at tracing the historic- philosophical origins of the very vast discipline of Psychology. Some of the major areas of focus to look out for in this piece would be the 3 most influential approaches in the history of the discipline- Gestalt, Psychoanalysis, and Behaviourism; some classic experiments which lead to path-breaking revelations and a brief outline of the historical development of this fascinating discipline in the Indian subcontinent.



  1. Definition of Psychology
  2. Origins of Psychology
  3. Emergence of Psychological Schools of Thoughts

            o Structuralism, Functionalism, Behaviorism

            o Influential Approaches

  1. Significant Events 
  2. Significant Experiments
  3. Development of Psychology in India

o History

o Major Events

  1. References

Definition of Psychology: What is Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, Psychology is “... the study of mind and behavior”.  It is the study of behavior and mental processes, wherein the former refers to all our overt or outward actions and reactions and the latter refers to covert or internal workings of the mind such as thinking, feeling, and remembering. 

If we break the word “Psychology” into its constituent psyche & logos, ‘psyche' means ‘soul’ and ‘logos' means ‘to study/ discourse.’ Psychology, therefore, literally means the study of the soul. 

Although, now the most popular and accepted definition of psychology is "a scientific study of human behavior and the mental processes involved in this behavior ". To attain this definition, psychology had to go through many such definitions like, 'study of the soul', 'study of the mind', 'study of consciousness '. But all these were accepted by some and then contradicted due to the lack of empirical pieces of evidence for these definitions.

If we’re to talk about the birth and development of Psychology, the need is inevitable to talk of Psychology's parents- Philosophy & Physiology. 


Origins of Psychology: How did it Come into Being? 

By the late 19th century, philosophers were engaging themselves in questions around the mystery of the human mind; questions such as “Do we have free will?” or, “what is the link between mind and body?” This was the time of debate between Descartes’s dualism ( that is, the mind and body are distinct entities interacting through the pineal gland) and interactionism (that is, the mind and body both can influence each other). 


In the midst of all this, by the end of the 19th century, philosophers concluded that questions about the human mind could not be solely through careful reasoning or rationalism but required careful observation or an empirical approach. This is the point where Physiology entered the scene. 


Physiologists such as Johannes Müller had been using the scientific method during 1860-80 to talk about how electrical signals were conducted by nerves within the body. Hermann von Helmholtz showed how receptors in the eyes and ears receive and interpret sensations from the outside world. With the knowledge of these studies, there was increasing agreement and conviction among philosophers that the human mind could be studied through empirical means. This is exactly the realization that led to the birth of Psychology. 


Emergence of Psychological Schools of Thoughts

In the late 19th century when Psychology was being established, there were initially debates on what should be Psychology’s area of concern. Three competing views were at war with each other to become the disciplines' central concern. These are:

  • Structuralism: An early view of psychology proposed by Wilhelm Wundt suggesting that Psychology should focus on the contents of consciousness to determine its basic elements and the relationship between them. Wundt made use of a technique called introspection in which trained research participants were to report, in detail, their conscious experience in response to specific stimuli e.g. optical illusions, visual stimuli, sounds, etc. 
  • Functionalism: Propounded by William James, this early view suggested that the focus of Psychology should be on the function rather than the structure of consciousness. By functions, what James meant was studying how consciousness helps humans cope with challenges and the changing world around them. 
  • Behaviorism: Proposed in 1913 by John B. Watson, this view suggested that Psychology should focus on observable, measurable behavior. 
Related Post: Structuralism: The First School of Thought in Psychology

Influential Approaches 


The three most influential early approaches in the study of Psychology are:

  • Gestalt Psychology: Propounded by Max Wertheimer, this perspective emerged in Germany as a reaction to structuralism. Gestalt psychologists are interested in the study of holistic perceptual experiences rather than looking at isolated elements of perception. 
  • Psychoanalysis: Sigmund Freud understood human behavior to be a dynamic manifestation of unconscious desires and conflicts. Psychoanalysis is an insight therapy based on the theory of Freud, in which a trained psychological professional helps a person gain insights into their unconscious and thereby help change their behavior. 
  • Behaviorism: This early perspective came into force in opposition to structuralism and functionalism and believed that the only way to cater to the initial aim of Psychology of being an empirical science was through dragging focus off the covert mental processes and focus entirely on measurable, observable, overt behavior. 
  Related Post: Behaviorism: An Influential Approach in Psychology

Significant Events 

Many events played an important role in the development of modern Psychology. In the table below, some of the most significant ones are shown.




Wilhelm Wundt established the first formal laboratory for research at the University of Leipzig, Germany


William James publishes Principles of Psychology



G. Stanley Hall founds APA


Ivan Pavlov studies Conditioning


Mary Calkins elected the first woman president of APA


Watson publishes a call for Behaviorism.


Freud published New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis.


Carl Rogers started the Humanistic Movement. 


BF Skinner published Science and Human Behavior: Radical Behaviorism


Atkinson and Shiffrin published their influential model of memory; kick-starting the “Cognitive Revolution”


Techniques for brain imaging in living individuals.


Significant Experiments 

Some of the most path-breaking experiments which have contributed to shaping Psychology into the discipline that it is today are: 

  1. Harry Harlow’s Rhesus monkey experiments
  2. Ivan Pavlov's Classical Conditioning experiments
  3. Solomon Asch's Conformity experiments
  4. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning experiments
  5. The Stanford Prison Experiment
  6. Milgram's Obedience Experiment.

Development of Psychology in India

In this section, a brief timeline of the emergence of Psychology in India will be provided. 

Although, there was no independent science of Psychology in ancient/ medieval India, according to Murphy & Murphy (1968), the vast literature of the Vedas, the Upanishads, epics (such as Mahabharata), etc comprised the ‘first great psychological system’. According to Rao & Pranjpe in ‘Psychology in the Indian Tradition', the study of the jiva (individual) constituting the body, mind, and consciousness falls within the purview of Indian Psychology. 


Psychology, as studied in the Euro-American Scholarly tradition, was first introduced at the University of Calcutta. Philosopher Dr. Brajendra Nath Seal drew the first syllabus for experimental psychology here, in 1905. Dr. Narendra Nath Sen Gupta was the first head of the department of experimental psychology. Girindra Shekhar Bose, who succeeded NN Sen Gupta, founded the Indian Psychoanalytic Society in 1922 and started the journal ‘Samiksha' in 1947. 

© Indian Psychoanalytical Society

To know more, watch this video.

Major Events in the Development of Psychology in India

Below attached is a table showing the major professional development of the field in India over the years.  




Indian Psychological Association was founded


Lumbini Park Mental Hospital developed in Calcutta


Psychology wing of Defense research established; became part of the Defense Science Organization of India later


National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences established in Bangalore


Indian Academy of Applied Psychology was established


The Indian Association of Clinical Psychology was formed


The National Academy of Psychology was founded.


National Brain Research Centre was established in Gurgaon, Haryana.


Pondicherry Manifesto of Indian Psychology adopted by NAOP


Conference of Asian Association of Social Psychology organized in Delhi


The Centre of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences was set up by the UGC at the University of Allahabad.



Psychology is the study of the human mind and behavior. The human mind has the power to make even simple things complex and complex things simple. But we hope this article helped your mind to learn about the origin of Psychology in the most simple way possible!   


Ciccarelli, S. K., White, J. N., & Misra, G. (2017). Psychology (5th ed.). Pearson India.

Rao, R. K., & Paranjpe, A. C. (2016). Psychology in the Indian Tradition (1st ed.). Springer.

VandenBos, G. R., & American Psychological Association. (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.



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