Functional Psychology - History

History

See also: History of psychology#Early American Psychology

Functionalism was a philosophy opposing the prevailing structuralism of psychology of the late 19th century. Edward Titchener, the main structuralist, gave psychology its first definition as a science of the study of mental experience, of consciousness, to be studied by trained introspection.

William James is considered to be the founder of functional psychology. Although he would not consider himself as a functionalist, nor did he truly like the way science divided itself into schools. John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, Harvey A. Carr, and especially James Rowland Angell were the main proponents of functionalism at the University of Chicago. Another group at Columbia, including notably James McKeen Cattell, Edward L. Thorndike, and Robert S. Woodworth, were also considered functionalists and shared some of the opinions of Chicago's professors. Egon Brunswik represents a more recent, but Continental, version. The functionalists retained an emphasis on conscious experience.

Behaviorists also rejected the method of introspection but criticized functionalism because it was not based on controlled experiments and its theories provided little predictive ability. B.F. Skinner was a developer of behaviorism. He did not think that considering how the mind affects behavior was worthwhile, for he considered behavior simply as a learned response to an external stimulus. Yet, such behaviorist concepts tend to deny the human capacity for random, unpredictable, sentient decision-making, further blocking the functionalist concept that human behavior is an active process driven by the individual. Perhaps, a combination of both the functionalist and behaviorist perspectives provides scientists with the most empirical value, but, even so, it remains philosophically (and physiologically) difficult to integrate the two concepts without raising further questions about human behavior. For instance, consider the interrelationship between three elements: the human environment, the human autonomic nervous system (our fight or flight muscle responses), and the human somatic nervous system (our voluntary muscle control). The behaviorist perspective explains a mixture of both types of muscle behavior, whereas the functionalist perspective resides mostly in the somatic nervous system. It can be argued that all behavioral origins begin within the nervous system, prompting all scientists of human behavior to possess basic physiological understandings, something very well understood by the functionalist founder William James.

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