Applied History of Psychology/Introduction

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Although psychology is one of the youngest sciences, emerging as a formal discipline in the late 19th century, its history is vast and extends to the ancient past. In general, studying history leads us to incredible resources to answer specific questions. One guiding question for people interested in applied psychology includes: What can the past teach us about how to improve human lives...?

This question motivates the study of history because it seems likely that those most successful at improving lives in the past might have had better (or at least different) ideas about how to do it and how to evaluate that success. This is particularly true if we no longer believe in a view of progress in which 'newer is better'. Returning to historical figures and movements often shows that they had more sophistication than commonly remembered, raising issues that might not have seemed important then, but that can be useful or insightful to us today.

In this project, we consider a few historical attempts to improve human lives: Some attempts aim to refine or accelerate spontaneous human development through education (especially through accommodations for atypical students), others look at ways to alleviate human suffering through clinical intervention (both biological—pharmacological or surgical—and psychological). Knowing how best to intervene and whether that intervention was successful also requires assessment and evaluation, which is also very different in different times and places.

The book is organized in a manner respective of this concern with how to use psychology to improve human lives. It begins with the development of our field, before progressing more specifically to the development of each human life and its relationships (attachment). We then move on to how to analyze and assess these lives, before finally looking at how we decide when something has gone awry ("mental disorder") and how we actually help, which is the culmination of the efforts of psychology which came before. The book closes by examining some psychological difficulties in detail and then we look at some special interests of our contributors. Specifically:

The first section of Applied History of Psychology focuses on the early contributions to the field, from the work of influential Greek philosophers to a discussion of Wundt's laboratory work.

The second section examines various models of human development from the development of relationships with parents in infancy through personality development, cognitive development, social development, and finally moral development. Controversies within conceptualizations of development are also discussed.

The third section looks at models of learning (behaviour theory), views of intelligence, and different forms and purposes of psychological assessment from intellectual to vocational.

The fourth section looks at the application of psychology to "mental disorder" or mental distress. In this section issues of diagnosis and treatment are discussed and a few disorders are discussed in detail.

The fifth section looks at the history of attention in detail as it represented a special interest for the participants in this project.

Overall, this book represents a history of psychology representative of the various interests of a specific group of graduate students in psychology. Although gaps are certainly present, we have tried to provide a history relevant to psychology as we experience it and use it in our work.