the Evolution of Psychology

By , Mayetta, KS
Psychology and mental illness have always been around. From Sigmund Freud to Abraham Maslow, famous psychiatrists known for their enhancements in the field, to experiments and studies like Pavlov’s Dog and Allen and Beatrice Gardner’s attempts to teach sign language to the chimpanzee Washoe during the 1970’s. Psychology has been around forever. But it hasn’t always been a science.

In the beginning, psychology it was described as the study of the human mind. Using things like introspection, people were asked to talk about their thoughts and feelings on a subject. Something as simple as a persons feelings towards a flower or a mechanics magazine were said to show great insight into their mental state. However, the definition of psychology has changed over time. As have it’s methods.


Behaviorism, like the name says, studies human behaviors. The methods were founded by several psychologists, most of whom rejected the introspective methods. Instead, they found other ways, through experiments and operant conditioning. Instead of studying their opinions, they studied people’s thoughts and how they behaved. Instead of asking how they felt about a flower, they asked questions like ‘why do you feel that way about the flower?’

Psychology itself seemed to be doing well in the 60’s and 70’s. This is around the same time that cognitive and evolutionary psychology came into play. Evolutionary psychology studies psychological traits, while cognitive psychology focuses on a persons perceptive skills and how the mind works. Cognitive psychology is what brings up the question of the difference between treating the brain vs. treating the mind. But is there really a difference?


The brain is a physical object. It’s an organ, part of the central nervous system. The mind however, is not. The mind is a thing. Something that’s on a higher plane than the brain. It’s what controls your conscious; your personality, your thoughts, your emotions, your reasoning and your memories. The brain is what allows you to feel and experience these things.


When a psychiatrist hands out a prescription, he’s playing with the function of a persons brain. Turning up the serotonin, blocking the dopamine. When a psychologist studies a persons thoughts and their feelings, they’re studying the mind, something that seems much more difficult than playing with hormone levels.

Although psychology itself seemed to be making great strides during the later half of the century, the patients didn’t seem to be. The Vietnam War ended in 1973, leaving many of the veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), suffering delusions and hallucinations, not to mention the effects of Agent Orange, a chemical used in herbicidal warfare, that left many afflicted with various cancers, type II diabetes, B-cell lymphomas, just to name a few.

Mental illness has always carried a sense of stigma with it, it’s always been too out of bounds for most people. This is a likely a product of the media’s bias, showing lunatics murdering small children and cute little bunnies, creating a strong stereotype that’s hard to break. But current studies show that mental illness is on the rise. In the 1980’s researchers showed that depression rates were growing very quickly. According to the Clinical Psychology Review, 85% of college students have a relatively worse mental health than college students from the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The influence on these rates isn’t a secret either. Society has changed in an unquestionable sense. With influences like the internet and the media growing every day, there’s a reason kids are depressed. With the evolution of social networking sites, they have almost no reason to leave their house. Send a text message, send an e-mail, it’s easier and quicker than talking face to face. Social disconnection has risen more than 250% since the 1980’s already. With rates like that, society will be forced to deal with it, sooner or later.

Crazy is as crazy does; but that notion isn’t as crazy as it used to be. Depression and anxiety rates have skyrocketed in the last thirty years, and they’re only going to keep rising. Now that it’s something so common, the stigma attached to mental illness seems to have faded a great deal. But as society and people continue to evolve, so do the studies of them. This only leaves room for progression.





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