Psychological Foundation of education:

Psychological Foundation of education

By Miss Nazneen

Psychological Foundation of education:

Meaning and Historical background of Psychology:
            The word ‘Psychology’ comes from the Greek words Psycho-logos. While
‘Psycho’ means ‘Soul’ and ‘logos’ means ‘Science’. Thus the meaning of
Psychology is the ‘Science of Soul’.
                        We know that Psychology as an independent discipline acquired separate status very recently. Formerly it was studies as a sub-branch of philosophy.

1)         The arm-chair philosophers were interested in the nature of soul. Democritus was the first Greek philosopher who argued that everything is composed of indivisible, unitary material atoms in constant motion. People  are constituted of soul atom and body atom. The nature of soul was not  defined in definite terms. Therefore his views were opposed by other contemporary philosophers; hence the definition of psychology as a science of soul was given up.

2)         The philosophers evolved another definition of psychology as the ‘science of mind’. This definition remained in vogue for a long time but the same controversy arose on the nature of mind and ultimately this definition was too discarded by philosophers.
3) we see that a human being engages himself in a number of activities from morning till evening. He is conscious of external environmental influences. Psychology was defined as the science of consciousness or immediate experiences. But later on psychologists rejected this definition too on the ground that consciousness is very negligible portion of our personality. We can not study an individual by observing his conscious activities.

            All these definitions were given by philosophers-psychologists prior to the beginning of experimental psychology.

4) a great revolution occurred during and after the Renaissance in the field of Psychological thoughts which helped in developing a science of psychology. Psychology was brought out from the warfare of mentalistic-mechanistic point of view. It was defined as science of behavior

Psychology is the ‘Science of Behavior’.

Meaning of ‘Science’:
             Science maybe defined as a systematic body of knowledge which maybe verified at any time by any number of individuals under given conditions.
             Science is engaged in discovering those conditions and factors that determine or cause the occurrence of a particular event using scientific method of experimentation and observation.

            In the same way psychology as a science uses the scientific methods to collect data about individuals and groups to analyze and predict their behavior. We try to find out new truth in psychology. We deal with the observable behavior and establish facts by objective proof or evidences.

            Psychology as a science helps us to understand, control and predict behavior. It uses experimental method, by controlling variable, checking and rechecking findings and stating its results in objective terms which can be verified and understood by any one in a given condition.

            It is established beyond doubt that psychology is a science but question arises, is it a biological science or behavioral science?

            Psychology as a biological science began with the study of physiology in Germany during later half of nineteenth century. In modern times psychologists are engaged to search biological determinants of motivation, memory, learning and mental disorders. We can draw the conclusion that psychology is biological science.

            Psychology as a behavioral science aims to study the behavior in groups. Human beings are by nature social they live in social situation from birth to death. Their personality is shaped by the interaction of external social environment. In modern psychology we study how society influences the behavior of an individual and vice versa. How individual learns in group. We know that the behavior of an individual is studied in terms of social interaction. Psychology as a social science studies scientifically cultural and social problems of the society. Psychology has successfully collected enormous data on problems of minority groups, group dynamics etc, and has devised measured to solve social problems. Thus we see that psychology is a behavioral science.

                        Meaning of Behavior
The term behavior is popularized by J.B Watson, an American psychologist who defined behavior as an action which can be seen and observed in an objective way. The meaning of behavior includes internal and external stimulation both. Behavior is observed and also measured in an objective manner.

Science can be divided into two broader categories.
Normative science.
Positive science.

In which category should psychology be included?
            Psychology studies facts and describes ‘what is’. It does not concern with ‘ought to’ as emphasized by Normative sciences like Ethics, logic and philosophy etc. therefore it is quite proper to describe psychology as a Positive science.

What kind of positive science is psychology?

It is not as perfect as the sciences like physics, mathematics, chemistry etc, is. It is a behavior science which deals with the behavior of organisms.
This behavior is quite dynamic and unexpected. We are not consistent in our behavior. On the other hand, physical reactions which are studied by the natural sciences are always predicted. This makes the study in natural sciences more exact, accurate and objective. Psychology has not yet attained this status of these sciences although it is trying hard to be more objective, exact and accurate. Therefore it is better to name it as developing positive science.

Definition of Psychology:

“Psychology is a developing positive science which enables us to study the behavior of a living organism in relation to his environment”.

The History of Psychology:

The Roots of Psychology:
            Philosophical Roots of Psychology
            Scientific Roots of Psychology

The Roots of Psychology:

Psychology’s roots are in philosophy and science. When physiologists of the late nineteenth century began to use scientific methods to study the mind, psychology became an independent scientific discipline. As a science, psychology relies on objective, systematic observation as its primary source of knowledge. Philosophy relies more on reasoning. While philosophers argue about reality, scientists make predictions called hypotheses and test them in the physical world, fully accepting the possibility of being wrong.

The Philosophical roots of Psychology

The philosophical roots of psychology reach back to the philosophers of ancient Greece, most notably Plato (427-347 B.C) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C): who were especially interested in the origin of knowledge. Plato, who was renowned for both his physical and mental prowess, excelling as both a soldier and an intellectual, was suspicious of the senses as a source of knowledge. He believed that our senses can deceive us, as in illusions such as the bent appearance of a straight stick that has been partially inserted into a pool of water. Plato also believed that human beings enter the world with an inborn knowledge of reality, a position called nativism. He believed that reasoning provided access to this knowledge, a philosophical approach to knowledge called rationalism. Plato used reason to study a variety of psychological topics, including- dreams, perception and mental illness. Yet, when using reasoning to retrieve supposedly inborn knowledge, even Plato and other philosophers were sometimes wrong. For example, Plato reasoned incorrectly that we see objects because they are illuminated by beams of light emanating from our eyes.

Though Aristotle accepted the importance of reasoning, he was more willing than Plato to accept sensory experience as a source of knowledge___a philosophical approach called empiricism. But Aristotle, like Plato, reached some erroneous calculations. For example, because the heart seemed more responsive than the brain during emotional experiences, he believed the heart was the site of mental processes. Aristotle contributed to psychology by being one of the first thinker to speculate formally on psychological topics, as indicated by the title of his works, including “On Dreams”, “On Sleep and Sleeplessness”, and “On the Senses and the Sensed”.

Following the decline of the ancient Greece, the early Christians and Medieval eras were given answers to psychological questions more often by theologian philosophers than by secular philosophers like Plato or Aristotle. The dominant western authority was Saint Augustine (354-430). As a young man, Augustine sowed his wild oats as a flower of epicurean philosophy, which proclaimed, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. He pursued the life style until he experienced a religious conversion at age 33_but not before making his famous plea, “lord make me pure, but not right now!”. Augustine wrote of his views concerning memory, emotion, and motivation in the self analysis he conducted in his classic autobiographical work Confessions. He provided insights into the continual battle between our human reason and our animal passions. Though Augustine contemplated about psychological processes, neither he nor his contemporaries used the scientific method to study them (Pratt, 11962)

During the middle ages, when the Christian west was guided largely by religious dogma and those who dared to conduct empirical studies risked punishment, scientific investigations became almost the sole province of Islamic intellectuals. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these was Abu Ibn Sina (980—1037), better known as Avicenna, who kept alive the teaching of Aristotle. With the reemergence of western intellectual activity in the late Middle Ages scholars who had access to Arabia translations of the Greek philosophers rediscovered Aristotle. But most of these scholars limited their efforts to reconciling Aristotle’s ideas and Christian teachings. One brave exception was the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon (1220—1292). Bacon was influenced by his contact with Arab scientists who stressed the importance of gaining knowledge through the senses. As a consequence, Bacon urged philosophers to favor empiricism over authority.

With the coming of Renaissance, extending from fourteenth through the sixteenth centuries, western authorities relied less on theology and more on philosophy, once again, to provide answer to psychological questions. The spirit of the Renaissance inspired Rene Descartes (1596—1650), the great French philosopher-mathematician scientist. Descartes had broad interests, including gambling, traveling, and inventing. Among his inventions were wheelchair and a method of dying gray hair.

Descartes, the first of the modern rationalists, insisted that we should doubt everything unless proved self-evident by our own reasoning. In fact, in his famous statement “I think therefore, I am”, Descartes went to the extreme of using reasoning to prove to his own satisfaction that he existed. Descartes contributed to the modern intellectual outlook, which places skepticism above blind acceptance of dogma put forth by authority that his works were put on its list of banned books.

Other intellectuals, though favoring empiricism instead of rationalism, joined Descartes in rejecting the authority of theologians to provide answers to scientific questions. Chief among them was the English politician-philosopher-scientist Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626). Bacon inspired the modern scientific attitude that favors skepticism, systematic observation, and verification of claims by independent empirical observations. He was also a founder of applied science, which holds that science should have practical applications. According to Bacon, “to be useless is to be worthless”. But his interest in the application of scientific findings cost him his life. In studying the possible use of refrigeration to preserve food, he experimented by stuffing chickens with ice. This led to a fatal case of pneumonia.

Following in Francis Bacon’s empiricist footsteps was the English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704).according to Locke (borrowing from Aristotle), each of us is born a black slate_ or tabula rasa_ on which are written the life experiences. We acquire through our senses. While rationalist like Descartes believe our knowledge primarily inborn, empiricists like Locke believe knowledge is acquired primarily through life experiences. Thus, Descartes attributed intellectual abilities chiefly to heredity, and Locke attributed them chiefly to educational experiences. This concern with the relative importance of heredity and life experiences is known as the nature versus nurture controversy. This issue, which is a recurring theme in psychological theory and research, appears throughout this textbook in discussions about a host of topics, including language, intelligence, personality, and psychological disorders.

A compromise between strict rationalism and strict empiricism was offered by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724—1804). Kant was the ultimate “ivory tower” intellectual. He never married, never traveled more than 50 miles from his home, and maintained a strict scheduled, eating lunch everyday at exactly 1:00p.m. He was so renowned that he had fans from many countries who visited his hometown just to catch a glimpse of him eating lunch. To avoid them, Kant continually had to change restaurants.

Kant taught that knowledge is the product of inborn mental faculties that organize and interpret sensory input from the physical environment. For example, though the kind of language we speak (whether English or otherwise) depends on experience with your native tongue, your ability to learn a language depends on inborn mechanism. If not, other animals that can hear speech and that have a vocal apparatus would also develop language. Despite studying psychological topics, Kant denied that psychology was a science, assuming that psychology studies the mind. He believed that the mind is not tangible, it can not be observed, manipulated, or measured directly. Moreover, its contents are in a state of flux. This, according to Kant makes it impossible to study the mind objectively.

Scientific Roots of Psychology

By the nineteenth century, psychologists were making more progress than philosophers in answering questions about the nature of psychological processes. As a consequence, intellectuals began to look more and more to physiology for guidance. For example, in the mid-nineteenth century, popular belief, based on reasoning, held that nerve impulses travel the length of a nerve as fast as electricity travels along a wire---- that is, almost instantaneously. This claim was contradicted by research conducted by the German physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821—1894), arguably the greatest scientist of the nineteenth century. Helmholtz also made important contributions to our knowledge of vision and hearing, including the ophthalmoscope, which is used to examine the inside of the eye.

In studying nerve impulses, Helmholtz found that they took a measurable fraction of a second to travel along a nerve. He demonstrated this in experiments on animal and human subjects. In one experiment he had human subjects press a button as soon as they felt a touch on the foot or thigh. A clock recorded their reaction times. Subjects reacted slower to a touch on the foot than a touch on the thigh. Helmholtz attributed this difference in reaction time to the longer distance that the nerve impulse must travel from the foot to the spinal cord and then to the brain. This indicated that nerve impulses are not instantaneously.

Other physiologists were making important discoveries about brain functions. The leading brain researcher was the French physiologist Pierre Flourens (1794—1867) who studied the effects of damage to specific brain structures on the behavior of animals. For example, he found that damage to the cerebellum, a large structure protruding from the back of the brain, caused motor in-coordination. His fellow Frenchman, Paul Broca (1624-1880), a surgeon and anthropologist, conducted similar research on brain damage in human beings. He found that patients with damage to a region on the left side of the front of the brain would lose their ability to speak.

In his research, Fechner used a technique called psychophysics which had been invented by his colleague, the German physiologist Ernest Weber (1795—1878). Psychophysics enabled Fechner to quantify the relationship between physical stimulation and mental experience. This accomplishment would have surprised his predecessor Immanuel Kant, who had failed to devise a way to study the mind scientifically. Psychophysics considers questions such as, “How much change in the intensity of a light is necessary for a person to experience a change in its brightness?” and “How much change in the intensity of a sound is necessary for a person to experience a change in its loudness?” Psychophysics contributed to psychology’s maturation from a child of philosophy and science to an independent discipline with its own subject matter. Psychophysics has also had important application during the past century. For example, the scientists who perfected television relied on psychophysics to determine the relationship between the television picture and the viewer’s mental experience of qualities such as color and brightness (Baldwin, 1954)

Early psychologists were also influenced by the theory of evolution, put forth by the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809—1882). Darwin announced his theory in The Origin of Species (Darwin, 1859/1975). Which described the results of research he conducted while studying the plants and animals he encountered during a five-year voyage around the world on the H.M.S. Beagle. Though other thinkers as far back as ancient Greece had proposed the possibility of animals having evolved from common ancestors, Darwin was the first to propose a process that could account for it. According to Darwin, through natural selection physical characteristics that promote the survival of the individual are more likely to be passed down to offspring, because individuals with these characteristics are more likely to live long enough to reproduce.

Darwin’s theory had its most immediate impact on psychology through the work of his cousin, the English nobleman Sir Francis Galton (1822—1911). Galton was an eminent scientist and a man of many interests. He explored Africa and drew some of the first maps of it; he studies meteorology and invented the concept oh highs, lows, and fronts; and he invented the practice of fingerprinting, which helped Scotland Yard solve crimes. In applying Darwin’s theory of evolution, Galton argued that natural selection could account for the development of human abilities. Moreover, he claimed that individuals with the most highly developed abilities would be most likely to survive. This led him to found the field differential psychology, which studies variations among human beings in intellectual, personality and physical characteristics.

Differential psychology was introduced to America by the psychologist James Mckeen Cattell (1860—1944), who had studied with Gilton. Cattell coined the term mental test, which he used to describe various tests of vision, hearing and physical skills that he administered to his students at the University of Pennsylvania. Cattell was a leading psychologist of his time. He served as president of the American Psychological Association in 1895 and became the first psychologist to be elected to the National Academy of science. But Cattell fell into disrepute after being fired by Columbia University for opposing American’s entrance into World War 1. This led him to start his own business, The Psychological Corporation, which to this day is active in the development of tests that assess abilities, intelligence, and personality.
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