Schools of Psychology - 5 Scientific Foundations of Psychology - STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

5 Steps to a 5: AP Psychology - McGraw Hill 2021

Schools of Psychology
5 Scientific Foundations of Psychology
STEP 4 Review the Knowledge You Need to Score High

By the late 1800s, psychology was beginning to emerge as a separate scientific discipline. Biologist Charles Darwin applied the law of natural selection to human beings, forwarding the idea that human behavior and thinking are subject to scientific inquiry. Physiologists Ernst Weber and Gustav Fechner showed how physical events are related to sensation and perception. Hermann von Helmholtz measured the speed at which nerve impulses travel. Should their studies be considered under the heading of biology or psychology? There are many people and fields that will be explained in detail in the pages to come, please see the table 5.1 for a summary reference of these.

Table 5.1 Leading Psychologists


“Knowing definitions is half the battle for a 5 [on the AP exam].”

—Jen, AP student



Schools of psychology aren’t schools the way we think of them but early perspectives or approaches.

Wilhelm Wundt is generally credited as the founder of scientific psychology because in 1879 he set up a laboratory in Leipzig, Germany, specifically for research in psychology, dedicated to the scientific study of the immediate conscious experiences of sensation. Using careful methodology, he trained his associates and observers to objectively analyze their sensory experiences systematically through introspection (inward-looking). He required that results be replicated, which means tested repeatedly under different conditions to produce similar results.

Wundt focused on the structure of the mind and identification of the basic elements of consciousness (sensations, feelings, and images) using trained introspection. G. Stanley Hall set up a psychology lab employing introspection at Johns Hopkins University, helped found the American Psychological Association, and became its first president. Edward Titchener brought introspection to his own lab at Cornell University, analyzed consciousness into its basic elements, and investigated how these elements are related. Wundt, Hall, and Titchener were members of the School of Structuralism.

Margaret Floy Washburn was Titchener’s first graduate student and the first woman to complete her PhD in psychology.


American psychologist William James thought that the structuralists were asking the wrong questions. James was interested in the function or purpose of behavioral acts. He viewed humans as more actively involved in processing their sensations and actions. James and other psychologists, such as James Cattell and John Dewey, who studied mental testing, child development, and educational practices, exemplified the School of Functionalism. Functionalists focused on the application of psychological findings to practical situations and the function of mental operations in adapting to the environment (stream of consciousness) using a variety of techniques. Their goal was to explain behavior. Functionalism paved the way for behaviorism and applied subfields of psychology.

Mary Whiton Calkins, who studied psychology under James at Harvard, became the first woman president of the American Psychological Association. She viewed her psychology of selves as a reconciliation between structural and functional psychology.