The History of Psychology: Functionalism

Functionalists are concerned with the question of brain function. The main idea of functionalism is that an organism has the power to adapt to its environment.

Forerunners of functionalism: Charles Darwin and Francis Galton.

Charles Darwin theory “Survival of the Fittest” states that only those organisms or species survive that best adapted to their environmental forces. The ones that survive were “naturally” selected. By the time of Darwin publishing his theory, there was a huge interference with the church’s and other academic Bible supporters. The “Theory of Evolution” has been used widely in almost any field of science; for example, in social psychology and even mechanics (-> the evolution of machines).

Being inspired from Darwin’s theory, Galton concern was mental inheritance. He set up statistical methods to verify scientifically his thesis. One of these methods was correlation, a very important statistical tool for today. He also introduced the idea of mental testing; an approach to measure individual differences in mental capacities. His tests were measuring motor skills and sensory capacities. Additionally, he measured the diversity of subjects’ associations of ideas and the time they required. Later, he investigated mental imagery on a psychological basis attempting to demonstrate hereditary similarities.

The first doing studies in animal intelligence was George Romanes. He introduced the Anecdotal Method and the Introspection by Analogy. The anecdotal method is observational reporting of an animal’s behavior, whereas introspection by analogy means that the observer’s thoughts are assumed to be analog to the animal’s mental processes.

Conwy Morgan recognized the weakness of Romanes’ methods and proposed the Law of Parsimony instead. He suggested that an animal’s behavior must be explained in lower mental processes rather than higher level processes since the higher level processes are though to be usually attributes of the human mind.

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On this site you will find about a dozen essays on the history of psychology, see links below.
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