Progress in Modern Psychology: The Legacy of American Functionalism

By D. Alfred Owens; Mark Wagner | Go to book overview

2
The Role of the Functionalist School in the Growth of Psychology

HERSCHEL W. LEIBOWITZ

The approach of early functionalism was quite distinctive, and highly eclectic. Unlike other early approaches to scientific psychology, the functionalists were not inclined toward strict theoretical formulations that might narrow their range of inquiry. Rather, they were persuaded that psychological processes in general reflect behavioral and cognitive adaptations to the organism's environment. Such modes of adaptation are as varied as the world around us and the species that share it. This broad view of psychology was looser than more formal theoretical systems. It was also particularly harmonious with the American approach to science at large, which traditionally emphasized the role of research in solving societal problems. In this chapter, Herschel Leibowitz presents a perceptive overview of how the functionalist approach fit the spirit of American science and thus launched the diversification of scientific psychology. In the process, functional psychology has rejected the common distinction between pure and applied research, finding solutions to challenging problems of modern technology and pointing toward future developments in behavioral and cognitive science. DAO

The development of psychology in the past 110 years has been extraordinarily successful. There were only a few psychologists working in the first laboratory founded by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, Germany, in 1879. Today we find psychologists in literally every academic institution in the United States if not the world. The American Psychological Association, the second largest scientific organization in the world, has more than 108,000 members. Psychologists are contributing actively to national defense, industry, transportation safety, the space program, education, sports, health, government,

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