Foundations: History - Part V: Content Review for the AP Psychology Exam

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Foundations: History
Part V: Content Review for the AP Psychology Exam


You may need to come back to the following content chapters more than once. Your goal is to obtain mastery of the content you are missing, and a single read of a chapter may not be sufficient. At the end of each chapter, you will have an opportunity to reflect on whether you truly have mastered the content of that chapter. In addition to our review, we strongly urge you to study your textbook and class notes, as well. If there is a topic that you don’t fully understand or is not covered here, be sure to go through your textbook and ask your teacher about it well before test day.

Foundations: History


Psychology is the study of behavior and the mind. Behavior, a natural process subject to natural laws, refers to the observable actions of a person or an animal. The mind refers to the sensations, memories, motives, emotions, thoughts, and other subjective phenomena particular to an individual or animal that are not readily observed.

Psychology today is a science because it uses systematic observation and the collection of data to try to answer questions about the mind, behavior, and their interactions. Psychology seeks to describe, predict, and explain behavior and the mental processes underlying behavior. In psychology, as in science in general, people tend to accept one theory and proceed under the assumptions of that theory until sufficient data inconsistent with the theory is collected. At this point, the prevailing theory is replaced by another theory. Many theories are simply elaborations or revisions of previous ones. As you read over the history of psychology, pay attention to how theories relate to and influence one another.

The ancient Greeks’ speculations on the nature of the mind heavily influenced the pre-history of psychology as a science. Socrates and his student, Plato, argued that humans possess innate knowledge that is not obtainable simply by observing the physical world. Aristotle, by contrast, believed that we derive truth from the physical world. Aristotle’s application of logic and systematic observation of the world laid the basis for an empirical, scientific method.

The questions raised by the early Greeks pertain to the concept of dualism. Dualism divides the world and all things in it into two parts: body and spirit. Dualism is a theme that recurs often in early psychology, but the distinction between body and spirit prefigures current debates around the difference between the brain (that is, the command center of the central nervous system) and the mind (that is, the sensations, memories, emotions, thoughts, and other subjective experiences of a particular individual).

After the heyday of the Greek philosophers, there was a long period of time during which relatively little systematic investigation of psychological issues was conducted. This dearth of investigation was due, in part, to religious beliefs that said that the “spirit” portion of human nature could not be studied scientifically. These same prevailing theological views indicated that studying the natural world was only useful for what it demonstrated about God. These views changed with the advent of the scientific revolution (c. 1600—1700) when great discoveries were being made in biology, astronomy, and other sciences. These discoveries, along with corresponding movements in philosophy and art, made it clear that human nature was indeed subject to scientific inquiry.

René Descartes (1596—1650), an early modern philosopher, continued the dualist view of the human being. He believed that the physical world and all of the creatures in it are like machines, in that they behave in observable, predictable ways. However, Descartes believed that humans were the exception to this rule because they possess minds. The mind, according to Descartes, is not observable and is not subject to natural laws. Descartes hypothesized that the mind and body interact, and the mind controls the body while the body provides the mind with sensory input for it to decipher.

John Locke (1632—1704), another philosopher, extended Descartes’s application of natural laws to all things, believing that even the mind is under the control of such laws. Locke’s school of thought is known as empiricism—the acquisition of truth through observations and experiences. In his book, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke proposed that humans are born knowing nothing; Locke used the term tabula rasa (Latin for “blank slate”) to describe the mind of an infant. Almost all knowledge we have must be learned; almost nothing is innate. Locke felt that all knowledge must derive from experience. Like the future psychologist, B. F. Skinner, Locke emphasized nurture over nature as the greater influence on development.

Thomas Hobbes (1588—1679) believed that the idea of a soul or spirit, or even of a mind, is meaningless. Hobbes’s philosophy is known as materialism, which is the belief that the only things that exist are matter and energy. What we experience as consciousness is simply a by-product of the machinery of the brain. In addition to Locke, Hobbes greatly influenced behaviorism, which will be discussed later.

The 19th century was a time of great discovery in biology and medicine. One new theory in particular revolutionized science—the theory of natural selection. In On the Origin of Species (1859), Charles Darwin (1809—1882) proposed a theory of natural selection, according to which all creatures have evolved into their present state over long periods of time. This evolution occurs because there exists naturally occurring variation among individuals in a species, and the individuals that are best adapted to the environment are more likely to survive and then reproduce—and are likely to produce more successful offspring. Their offspring, in turn, will probably have some of the traits that made their predecessors more likely to survive. Over time, this process ’selects’ physical and behavioral characteristics that promote survival in a particular environment. Evolutionary theory affected psychology by providing a way to explain differences between species and justifying the use of animals as a means to study the roots of human behavior.

Darwin in a Nutshell

Behavior evolves just like physiology: both function to help individuals survive.

Many credit Wilhelm Wundt (1832—1920) as the founder of the science of psychology. In 1879 in Leipzig, Germany, Wundt opened a laboratory to study consciousness. Wundt was trained in physiology and hoped to apply the methods that he used to study the body to the study of the mind. Edward Titchener (1867—1927) was a student in Wundt’s laboratory and was one of the first to bring the science of psychology to the United States. Titchener sought to identify the smallest possible elements of the mind, theorizing that understanding all of the parts would lead to the understanding of the greater structure of the mind. This theory, known as structuralism, entails looking for patterns in thought, which are illuminated through interviews with a subject describing his or her conscious experience. This interview process is known as introspection. For example, the experimenter could present stimuli to subjects, ask them to describe their conscious experience, and then work to identify commonalities among various participants’ conscious descriptions.

William James (1842—1910), an American psychologist, opposed the structuralist approach. Instead, he argued that what is important is the function of the mind, such as how to solve a complex problem. James, heavily influenced by Darwin, believed that the important thing to understand is how the mind fulfills its purpose. This function-oriented approach is appropriately called functionalism.

A number of major historical figures in psychology are discussed in the following chapters, as their work informs the units of study in AP Psychology. But other figures also play an important role in the history of psychology, due to both their individual accomplishments as well as the light they shed on the gender biases that affected their careers in particular and the field as a whole.

Dorothea Dix was crucial in advocating for the rights of mentally ill poor people, and she was instrumental in founding the first public mental hospital in the United States. Mary Whiton Calkins was the first female graduate student in psychology, although she was denied a PhD because of her gender. (She outscored all of the male students in her qualifying exams.) Margaret Floy Washburn was not only the first female PhD in psychology, she also served as the second female president of the American Psychological Association (APA), an organization formed in 1892. (G. Stanley Hall was its first president.) Although Washburn’s thesis was the first foreign study published by Wilhelm Wundt, she was not allowed to join the official organization of experimental psychologists because of her gender.

Today, about two-thirds of doctorates in psychology are held by women, and about half of the presidents of the Association for Psychological Science have been women.


The theories discussed above laid the groundwork for modern psychology as a science. This next section will deal with nine of the most prominent approaches to modern psychology. The roots of these approaches are in the theoretical perspectives we discussed above.

Approach 1: Biological

Biological psychology is the field of psychology that seeks to understand the interactions between anatomy and physiology (particularly, the physiology of the nervous system) and behavior. This approach is practiced by directly applying biological experimentation to psychological problems, for example, in determining which portion of the brain is involved in a particular behavioral process. To accomplish this, researchers might use CAT scans, MRIs, EEGs, or PET scans.

Approach 2: Behavioral Genetics

Behavioral genetics is the field of psychology that explores how particular behaviors may be attributed to specific, genetically based psychological characteristics. This perspective takes into account biological predispositions as well as the extent of influence that the environment had on the manifestation of that trait. For example, a person studying behavioral genetics might investigate to what extent risk-taking behavior in adolescents is attributable to genetics.

Approach 3: Behavioralist

Behaviorism posits that psychology is the study of observable behavior. The mind or mental events are unimportant as they cannot be observed. Classical conditioning, first identified by Ivan Pavlov (1849—1936), was one of the behaviorists’ most important early findings. Classical conditioning is defined as a basic form of learning in which a behavior comes to be elicited by a formerly neutral stimulus. John Watson (1878—1958) and his assistant Rosalie Rayner applied classical conditioning to humans in the famed Little Albert experiment: they made loud sounds behind a 9-month-old whenever he would touch something white and furry, and voila: he was afraid of everything white and furry afterwards. B. F. Skinner (1904—1990), through the development of his Skinner Box, described operant conditioning, in which a subject learns to associate a behavior with an environmental outcome. Although behaviorism is no longer the prevailing approach in psychology, many behavioral principles are still used in behavior modification—a set of techniques in which psychological problems are considered to be the product of learned habits, which can be unlearned by the application of behavioral methods.

Approach 4: Cognitive

Cognitive psychology is an approach rooted in the idea that to understand people’s behavior, we must first understand how they construe their environment—in other words, how they think. This approach combines both the structuralist approach of looking at the subcomponents of thought and the functionalist approach of understanding the purpose of thought. The cognitive approach, sometimes called the cognitive-behavioral approach, largely replaced the purely behavioral approach as the predominant psychological method used in the United States.

Approach 5: Humanistic

The humanistic approach is rooted in the philosophical tradition of studying the roles of consciousness, free will, and awareness of the human condition. This is a holistic study of personality that developed in response to a general dissatisfaction with behaviorism’s inattention to the mind and its function. Humanistic psychologists emphasize personal values and goals and how they influence behavior, rather than attempting to divide personality into smaller components. Abraham Maslow (1908—1970) proposed the idea of self-actualization, the need for individuals to reach their full potential in a creative way. Attaining self-actualization means accepting yourself and your nature, while knowing your limits and strengths. Carl Rogers (1902—1987) stressed the role of unconditional positive regard in interactions and the need for a positive self-concept as critical factors in attaining self-actualization.

Approach 6: Psychoanalytic/Psychodynamic

While laboratory psychology was passing through its various theories, Sigmund Freud (1856—1939) developed a theory of human behavior known as psychoanalytic theory. Freud was concerned with individuals and their mental problems. Freud drew a distinction between the conscious mind—a mental state of awareness that we have ready access to—and the unconscious mind—those mental processes that we do not normally have access to but that still influence our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Psychoanalytic theory stresses the importance of early childhood experiences and a child’s relationship with his or her parents to the development of personality. The psychoanalytic approach to therapy focuses on the resolution of unconscious conflicts through uncovering information that has been repressed, or buried in the unconscious.

Approach 7: Sociocultural

Those subscribing to the sociocultural approach believe that the environment a person lives in has a great deal to do with how the person behaves and how others perceive that behavior. According to this approach, cultural values vary from society to society and must be taken into account if one wishes to understand, predict, or control behavior.

Approach 8: Evolutionary

The evolutionary approach draws upon the theories of Darwin. Behavior can best be explained in terms of how adaptive that behavior is to our survival. For example, fear is an adaptive evolutionary response; without fear, our survival would be jeopardized.

Approach 9: Biopsychosocial

As the name implies, the biopsychosocial approach emphasizes the need to investigate the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors as contributing to a behavior or a mental process.

The distinctions among the different approaches in psychology are absolutely some of the most essential ideas for you to understand for the AP Psychology Exam. Let’s use the common example of risk-taking in adolescence and explore that using each of the nine different approaches.



Cause of Behavior



How is the physiology of high risk-takers different from that of non-risk-takers?


Brain scans

Behavioral genetics

Which genes contribute to the development of risk-taking?


Genetic analysis


How does rewarding or punishing a risk-taker affect his or her behavior?

Learning and reflexes

Behavior modification


How do risk-takers think and solve problems?


Computer models of memory networks


How does the adolescent’s self-esteem encourage or discourage risk-taking behavior?


Talk therapy

Psychoanalytic/Psycho dynamic

How might a child’s early experiences affect risk-taking in adolescence?

Unconscious mind

Dream analysis, talk therapy


How might an adolescent’s culture lead to risk-taking?

Cultural environment

Cross-cultural studies


Is risk-taking an evolutionary adaptive trait?

Natural selection

Species comparison


What factors predict risk taking?

Interaction of biology with individual psychological and social factors

Combination of the above


Broad areas of psychological research are also known as domains. A question that concerns the effect of drugs on behavior refers to the biological domain. But a question that deals with relationships between drug users and their families refers to the social domain. And a question that considers treatment options for someone addicted to drugs deals with the clinical domain.

Other domains include: cognitive (What thoughts might someone entertain to justify their drug use?), counseling (How might a school counselor talk to a student about drugs?), developmental (At what ages might someone be more susceptible to peer pressure?), and educational (How effective are school-based programs?).

Yet other domains include: experimental (dealing with experiments, as discussed in the next chapter), industrial-organizational (dealing with workplaces), personality (dealing with—you guessed it!—personality), psychometric (dealing with how to measure things in psychology), and the positive domain (which focuses on positive aspects and strengths of human behavior).





mind and brain

René Descartes and dualism

John Locke and empiricism

tabula rasa

Thomas Hobbes and materialism

Charles Darwin and evolutionary theory

natural selection

Edward Titchener and introspection

Wilhelm Wundt and structuralism

William James and functionalism

Mary Whiton Calkins

Dorothea Dix

Margaret Floy Washburn

G. Stanley Hall


biological psychology

behavioral genetics


John Watson and classical conditioning

B. F. Skinner and operant conditioning

behavior modification

Cognitive psychology

Humanistic approach

Abraham Maslow and self-actualization

Carl Rogers and unconditional positive regard

psychodynamic/psychoanalytic approach

Sigmund Freud

conscious mind vs. unconscious mind


Sociocultural approach

Evolutionary approach

Biopsychosocial approach














Chapter 5 Drill

See Chapter 19 for answers and explanations.

1.A cognitive psychologist would likely be most interested in

(A)concentration of neural transmitters in the spinal cord

(B)unconditional positive regard in the therapeutic setting

(C)token economies in prisons

(D)perceptual speed on word-association tests

(E)development of fine motor skills in toddlers

2.The concept of tabula rasa, or “blank slate” (the idea that human beings come into the world knowing nothing, and thereafter acquire all of their knowledge through experience) is most closely associated with

(A)David Hume

(B)Charles Darwin

(C)John Locke

(D)Sigmund Freud

(E)Erich Fromm

3.The concept of dualism refers to the division of all things in the world into

(A)thought and action

(B)body and spirit

(C)structural and functional

(D)theoretical and practical

(E)dependent and independent

4.The humanistic approach to psychology emphasizes the importance of

(A)childhood experiences

(B)biological predispositions

(C)maladaptive thoughts

(D)free will and conscious awareness

(E)cultural experiences

5.Psychologists who emphasize the importance of repressed memories and childhood experiences subscribe to which of the following perspectives?




(D)Social cultural


6.Psychologists who believe behaviors are learned most likely ascribe to the philosophy of

(A)Abraham Maslow

(B)B.F. Skinner

(C)Carl Rogers

(D)Sigmund Freud

(E)Wilhelm Wundt

7.According to the psychoanalytic perspective, a person who does not remember a painful event experiences which defense mechanism?






8.Carl Rogers is most closely associated with which psychological approach?

(A)Unconditional positive regard

(B)Cognitive psychology




9.According to Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the most basic of human needs is






10.Which approach would most likely involve the study of identical twins separated at birth?


(B)Behavioral genetics





Respond to the following questions:

· Which topics in this chapter do you hope to see on the multiple-choice section or essay?

· Which topics in this chapter do you hope not to see on the multiple-choice section or essay?

· Regarding any psychologists mentioned, can you pair the psychologists with their contributions to the field? Did they contribute significant experiments, theories, or both?

· Regarding any theories mentioned, can you distinguish between differing theories well enough to recognize them on the multiple-choice section? Can you distinguish them well enough to write a fluent essay on them?

· Regarding any figures given, if you were given a labeled figure from within this chapter, would you be able to give the significance of each part of the figure?

· Can you define the key terms at the end of the chapter?

· Which parts of the chapter will you review?

· Will you seek further help, outside of this book (such as a teacher, Princeton Review tutor, or AP Students), on any of the content in this chapter—and, if so, on what content?