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According to the pioneering text Alhazen's Book of Optics, the first known psychological

experiments may date back as early as 1021; however, many of the most prominent
breakthroughs in psychology have happened, only recently, in the last 150 years or so.
In order to gain a proper understanding of how psychology got to where it is today it is
important to know a little about the roots of the academic discipline and the people that
devoted their lives to helping humankind gain a better understanding of how the mind
The following is a timeline of historically significant contributions made to psychology
by some of the most influential people in the field:
Descartes' Distinction Between Mind and Body in 1649
In his written works The Description of the Human Body and Passions of the Soul, Rene
Descartes describes his famous theory of mind-body duality. He proposed that the
material body functions much like a machine and follows the laws of physics, whereas
the mind, which he equated with the soul, was an immaterial entity that did not follow the
laws of physics. Descartes also suggested that the mind was able to interact with the body
through the brain's pineal gland, which he often referred to as "the seat of the soul".
Though psychology did not emerge as a separate field of study until years later, many of
the topics that are still being debated in the field today, such as the argument of nature vs.
nurture, are rooted in the early philosophical conventions of Descartes.
The First Psychology Lab Established in 1875
Although William James is credited with establishing the first psychology lab in the
United States, it was Wilhelm Wundt who, in 1879, set up the first lab truly devoted to
original psychological research at Leipzig University in Germany.

The First Psychology Textbook is Published in 1890

Wundt and James also made great written contributions to psychology, as Wundt
published Principles of Physiological Psychology (translated from German). This was the
first experimental psychology textbook. James published Principles of Psychology, which
was widely recognized for its elegant and perceptive descriptions of human nature and
Both men are largely regarded as the fathers of psychology having laid the foundations in
experimental psychology that paved the way for other schools like behaviorism.
Freud and the Rise of Psychoanalysis in 1899
Perhaps one of the most controversial and influential thinkers of the twentieth century,
Sigmund Freud helped shape our views of childhood, sexuality, personality, memory and
therapy with his analytical theories. Much of the work Freud did in his life explored the
unconscious mind and, in his Interpretation of Dreams, Freud argued that dreams were
windows to an otherwise unapproachable mind or, as he liked to call them, "the royal
road to the unconscious."
Even though Freud's theories have received considerable criticism both now and during
his time, it is important to remember that many new theories were developed simply out
of opposition to his ideas. In fact, Freud's work had such an impact that it led to an
entirely new school of thought called psychoanalysis which involves clinical observation
and introspection on the part of the patient.
Today, organizations like the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center located in New
York, demonstrate that psychoanalysis still has an influence on both psychology and
Pavlov's Dogs and the Theory of Conditioned Response in 1903
Ivan Pavlov, in a famous experiment involving dogs and dinner bells, studied animals
involuntary reaction to stimuli by presenting dogs with a neutral stimulus paired with a

stimulus of some significance. The neutral stimulus, in this case a dinner bell, can be
anything that does not evoke an overt behavioral response from the dog.
The significant stimulus must be something that is designed to illicit some kind of
observable behavioral response, such as a piece of meat that causes the dog to salivate.
By repeatedly pairing the two stimuli together, they become closely associated and the
animal will begin to illicit a behavioral response to the the unpaired neutral stimulus, an
effect Pavlov referred to as the "conditioned response."
Pavlov's research has had a strong influence on behaviorism and his methods of
conditioning have been utilized by other researchers, like John B. Watson, as a form of
learning. Pavlov also demonstrated techniques that could be used to study a subject's
reaction to the environment in an objective and scientific manner.
Skinner's Theory of Positive and Negative Reinforcement in 1938
Building on the work of Pavlov, B.F. Skinner illustrated how an animal's behavior can be
manipulated through positive and negative reinforcement, what he called "operant
Having been a prolific writer, Skinner published 21 books over his career and has had a
tremendous influence on modern psychological practices. His book Verbal Behavior is
still getting a lot of attention for its insightful analysis of human behavior and relevance
pertaining to experiments and observation in an applied setting.