Psychology | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Psychology [Greek psyche, "spirit," and logos, "study"] is literally "the study of the spirit or soul." The term seems to have been used for the first time by Melanchthon in the 16th century. Originally, the subject was part of PHILOSOPHY and its roots can be traced to antiquity.


Psychology [Greek psyche, "spirit," and logos, "study"] is literally "the study of the spirit or soul." The term seems to have been used for the first time by Melanchthon in the 16th century. Originally, the subject was part of PHILOSOPHY and its roots can be traced to antiquity. Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), a half-cousin of Charles Darwin, is generally acknowledged as the founder of individual psychology as a branch of science, while Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), a German physiologist who established the first laboratory dedicated exclusively to psychological research at the University of Leipzig in 1879, is considered to be the founder of modern experimental psychology. Whether psychology should be classified as a biological or social science was a contentious issue among scholars until 1960, after which time it was increasingly described as a behavioural science; ie, the science of the behaviour of organisms.

It is considered a science because it seems to constitute, by means of the scientific method, a body of organized knowledge, the purpose of which is to describe, explain, predict and in some cases influence behaviour. "Behaviour" includes conduct and internal processes (thoughts, emotional reactions, feelings, etc) that may be inferred from external actions.

Psychology is an Applied Science

because it attempts to solve concrete problems. Because it is so inclusive, it encompasses many specialities. These include experimental psychology, characterized by laboratory experiments in the investigation of areas such as sensation and perception, learning and memory; physiological psychology (now referred to as neuropsychology), the study of the physical basis of behaviour, particularly how the brain and the rest of the nervous system (which is affected by a wide variety of factors; eg, heredity, diet, drugs, etc) function in activities perceived as characteristic of man and other animals; developmental psychology, the study of factors influencing the development of behaviour from infancy to old age (see GERONTOLOGY); social psychology, which studies the relations between the group and the individual; clinical psychology, which is concerned primarily with the diagnosis and treatment of emotional disorders; counselling psychology, which, although similar to clinical psychology, is primarily concerned with helping emotionally balanced individuals having difficulty deciding vocational and educational goals, etc; clinical neuropsychology, concerned with the appraisal of the emotional, cognitive and behaviourial consequences of neurological problems; educational psychology, concerned with behavioural problems in school; industrial psychology, the study of human factors in industry and organization; personality psychology, the study of personality traits; and cognitive psychology, the study of the higher mental processes (eg, processes of perception, language, intelligence, imagery and creativity).

It is generally believed that psychology belongs to the family of behavioural sciences which includes SOCIOLOGY, ANTHROPOLOGY, etc, but in its research and application maintains close ties with BIOLOGY and the health sciences.

Psychology in Canada

The development of psychology in Canada parallelled that in Europe and the US. Courses were taught during the first half of the 19th century in moral and mental philosophy. Thomas MCCULLOCH apparently taught the first psychology course in eastern Canada in 1838 at Dalhousie University, but the field did not really grow until the last half of the 19th century. In 1855, William LYALL, who taught in Halifax, wrote the first basic psychology text to be published in Canada.

In 1879 Wundt opened the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig, and psychology distinguished itself from philosophy and became a science. Ten years later one of Wundt's students, James Mark Baldwin, who taught in Toronto, founded the first psychology laboratory in Canada. In the 1920s, independent departments of psychology began to appear: one at McGill, directed by W.D. Tait, and one at Toronto, led by E.A. Bott. After 1940, other departments of psychology began to separate from philosophy and take on independent stature. The same process occurred somewhat later in western Canada. J.M. McEachran, who in 1909 became professor of philosophy at the University of Alberta, may be called the first psychologist in a western university. After that, teaching and research in psychology developed in the other universities, but once again it was not until the 1940s that many of the psychology departments became autonomous and were truly separated from philosophy.

Although psychology in the francophone universities followed a similar path, it was the result of different influences. The anglophone universities based their view of man on a mixture of Scottish realism and British idealism, but the francophone universities were dominated by Catholic Thomist philosophy. Of the first francophone psychology departments, one was founded in 1941 in Ottawa by R.H. Shevenel and the other in 1942 in Montréal by N. Mailloux. These departments retained a Roman Catholic orientation for some time and stressed clinical and applied research. Basic research began to develop at the end of the 1950s and is today as well developed as that of the anglophone universities. Psychology has developed very rapidly in Canada in the last 3 decades and departments of psychology now exist in most Canadian universities. A 1990 study showed there were 88 graduate programs in psychology offered in Canada.

Psychology and Its Applications

Parallel with its development as an academic discipline, psychology, since the beginning of the 20th century and especially since the 1950s, has grown dramatically as an applied science. At the beginning of the century, A. Binet in France developed the first intelligence test. The development in the US of tests to select soldiers during WWI established psychology's credibility as a science with practical applications. Today, psychology is applied in every field of human activity.

Contrary to widespread belief, psychologists do not work exclusively with people suffering from mental illness or from serious problems of adaptation. Generally, psychologists apply their knowledge to solve or prevent behavioural, cognitive and affective problems. For example, some psychologists concentrate on the design of control panels for sophisticated equipment to ensure machines are well adapted to the characteristics of their users; some are concerned with problems of adaptation in school, the workplace, etc, and, with the people involved, try to establish organizational structures and ways of interaction that will facilitate study or work; others try to alter behaviours and lifestyles that cause or accompany the development of psychosomatic problems; eg, ulcers and allergies.

Scientific and Professional Associations

Like many other disciplines in Canada, psychology owes much of its development and vitality to various scientific and professional associations. In Canada the most influential, the Canadian Psychological Association, was established in 1939 to bring Canadian psychologists together, a role previously filled by the American Psychological Association, founded in 1892 as a continental organization. The imminence of a war in which Canada was likely to be involved much sooner than the US sparked the establishment of the Canadian organization. During WWII, the CPA was instrumental in legitimizing psychology as an applied science.

In 1941 the NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL was the first federal organization to give a research grant in psychology for one of a long series of projects undertaken by the CPA. With its annual conference, its various study committees, its political lobbying and its 3 publications,The Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, The Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science and Canadian Psychology, the CPA is still the most important of all national organizations of psychologists.

Provincial associations, however, also play an important role. Under the Canadian Constitution the provinces are responsible for the standards of accreditation and practice in the professions. One or more associations exist in each province. The 2 oldest are the BC Psychological Association, established in 1938, and the Ordre du Québec, established in 1944 and since transformed into the Corporation professionnelle des psychologues du Québec.

There are now more than 12 000 registered psychologists in Canada who are offering services in the traditional domains of applied psychology as well as in developing fields like health psychology and forensic psychology.

Further Reading