Psychology 185: The History of Psychology

Dr. Dean Keith Simonton, Distiguished Professor of Psychology

aristotlaquinas  descartes freud2wundt  Skinner


Course Goals: Our aim is to review the progression of psychological thought and inquiry. We will examine all major theories, methods, and substantive issues. We will also discuss these historical developments in the context of the metasciences, especially the psychology of science.

Prerequisite: Psychology 1; upper division standing or consent of instructor.  In general, the more upper-division courses you have taken, the more you’ll gain from this class.

The Details

Assigments and Grading | Textbooks | Course Schedule | Paper Guidelines |

Final Exam Questions | Contact Information | Final Word

Assignments and Grading

Cliinical Lectures of Jean Martin Charcot

Your grade in the course will be based on the following three assessments:

  1. Objective midterm exam (25%) – A 50-question multiple-choice “Who Am I” test regarding your knowledge of the central figures and ideas in the history of the discipline, from the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century.  For sample midterm, click here. Please note that your own midterm will not have the exact same figures, albeit all of the major figures will be identical. But even for them the questions will seldom if ever be the same.
  2. Essay final exam (35%) – An “open book, open notes”take-home essay exam that will require you to trace some key issue or debate in psychology from the ancient Greeks to the current day. For the issues or debates, click here.
  3. Term paper (40%) – A psychobiography of a major figure in psychology. Specifically, you will address the theme “was ___ a scientific genius?” from the standpoint of what we know about creativity in science.
    • For a sample paper, click here.
    • For specific guidelines, click here.
    • For grading criteria that will be applied to the paper, click here.
    • For the most critical sections of Creativity in Science, click here.

The weighted average of the percentage scores will then be graded according to the following straightforward cutoffs: 97-100 = A+, 93-96 = A, 90-92 = A-, 87-89 = B+, 83-86 = B, 80-82 = B-, 77-79 = C+, 73-76 = C, 70-72 = C-, 67-69 = D+, 63-66 = D, 60-62 = D-. Please note that we do not round the final weighted score up to the next highest grade. Given the very nature of the grade intervals and the usual distribution, a very large percentage of students will be a point or less away from the next grade. 

To download a copy of the syllabus as a pdf, please click here.

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1. B. M Thorne & T. B. Henley, Connections in the History and Systems of Psychology (3rd ed., Houghton Mifflin, 2005) – This is the main text on which the midterm and final exam will be largely based (with the lectures!). But also observe that this text includes “Suggested Readings” at the end of each chapter that can prove useful to your paper

2. D. K. Simonton, Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist (Cambridge University Press, 2004) – This will be your major resource for learning the characteristics of a scientific genius, which provide the criteria for evaluating the psychologist you select as the subject of your term paper. Please note: Although the book contains some mathematics, that mathematics does not have to be understood for the purposes of the paper.  The emphasis is on concepts.

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Course Schedule


Lecture Topic (and pages in main text plus link to lecture notes): For general introduction to notes, go here.

Roots in Philosophy

1 Introduction (pp. 2-4, 8-14, 16-18; notes)

2 The Ancients (pp. 22-39; notes)

3 Medieval & Renaissance (pp. 46-62, 64-69; notes)

4 Descartes (pp. 69-76; notes)

5 British Empiricists (pp. 82-100; notes)

6 Continental Rationalists (pp. 76-81, 92, 120-125; notes)

7 Pseudo-Sciences (pp. 114-115, 156-164, 422-424; notes)

Becoming a Science

8 French Clinicians (pp. 420-422, 424-427; notes)

9 British Evolutionists (pp. 228-240; notes)

10 Galton (pp. 240-248; notes)

11 German Physiologists (pp. 148-153, 155-156, 168-174; notes)

12 Wundt (pp. 180-193, 222-223; notes)

13 James (pp. 253-262; notes)

14 Multiple-Choice “Who Am I?” SCANTRON (UCD 2000) Midterm on Friday, February 5
Subject for Term Paper due same day

Emergence of Schools

15 Associationism (pp. 100-109, 211-216, 301-306, 318-323, 336-337; notes)

16 Structuralism (pp. 193-202; notes)

17 Functionalism (pp. 263-285, 288-298, 486-497; notes)

18 Behaviorism I (pp. 327-335, 337-350; notes)

19 Behaviorism II (pp. 362-374, 378-386; notes)

20 Gestalt Psychology (pp. 392-408, 413-416; notes)

21 Psychoanalysis I (pp. 428-440; notes)

22 Psychoanalysis II (pp. 440-444, 446-456; notes)

Modern Viewpoints

23 Metasciences (pp. 4-8, 14-16, 125-127; notes)

24 Scientific Genius [Creativity in Science; notes]

25 Humanistic Psychology (pp. 466-469, 508-510; notes)

26 Cognitive Science (pp. 532-556; notes)

27 Contemporary Psychology (notes)

28 Conclusion: Review for Final Exam/Term Paper Due (Monday, March 14; notes)

Take Home Essay Exam Due (Saturday, March 19, 5:30 pm)

Complete lecture notes for the course are available here.

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Paper Guidelines


I. The paper should be no more than 10 pages, double-spaced 12-point typescript, Times Roman font, with 1-inch margins all around, and printed on just one side of the page.  This page count includes the title page, text, and references. In its pages you will discuss whether a major figure in psychology’s past can be considered a scientific genius.

A. To the extent permitted by the available data, the paper should analyze the subject chosen in terms of thought processes, personality, developmental experiences in both childhood and adulthood, the productive career, the zeitgeist, and the ultimate influence on the discipline of psychology. The precise order in which these topics are discussed is left to you.

B. The reference section should include all sources actually employed, whether encyclopedias, biographical dictionaries, biographies, autobiographies, anthologies, etc. All references and citations should be in standard “APA format,” as presented in either the official publication guide or the pamphlet on writing papers in psychology (see below). Special care should be taken for giving the sources for quotes and information not well known. There will be no abstract. Headings are required to help indicate the structure of your paper.

II. You must decide who your subject is by the midterm exam. But we prefer that you inform us of your choice as soon as possible prior to that deadline. You probably should not read Creativity in Science until you have begun your research on a particular individual, so you will know what to look for.

III. To help you decide whom to pick, you can look at the list of those individuals who have received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association.  A complete list is available here.

For less recent individuals, you can consult the following Web pages

Encyclopedia of Psychology: People and History
History of Psychology Archives
Women in Psychology
Psychology’s Feminist Voices
Classics in the History of Psychology
Archives of the History of American Psychology

Please note that if you decide to examine someone who cannot really be considered a psychologist in even the most inclusive sense (e.g., Copernicus or Newton), you should spend some time discussing how that person contributed to the history of psychology.

IV. Please consult with either me or a TA (or both) about your progress and problems. Remember: The paper is due on the last lecture day. There will be a penalty for papers turned in late (namely, three percentage points per day).

V. Below is a bibliography of sources and materials that you might find useful.  This reference list should also provide an idea of what APA format looks like (except that they really should be double-spaced):

American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association (6th. ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Connery, B. A. (1988). Writing psychology at UC Davis. Davis, CA: Campus Writing Center.

Gillespie, C. C. (Ed.) (1970-1980). Dictionary of scientific biography. New York: Scribner.

Murchison, C. et al. (Eds.). (1930- ). A history of psychology in autobiography. New York: Russell & Russell.

O’Connell, A. N., & Russo, N. F. (Eds.). (1983-1988). Models of achievement: Reflections of eminent women in psychology. New York: Columbia University Press.

O’Connell, A. N., & Russo, N. F. (Eds.). (1990). Women in psychology: A bio-bibliographic sourcebook. New York: Greenwood Press.

Russo, N. F., & O’Connell, A. N. (1980). Models from our past: Psychology’s foremothers. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 5, 11-54.

Scarborough, E., & Furumoto, L. (1987). Untold lives: The first generation of American women psychologists. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sheehy, N., Chapman, A. J., & Conroy, W. (Eds.). (1997). Biographical dictionary of psychology. New York: Routledge Reference.

Stevens, G., & Gardner, S. (1982). The women of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman.

Watson, R. I. (Ed.) (1974-1976). Eminent contributors to psychology (2 vols.). New York: Springer.

Zusne. L. (1984). Biographical dictionary of psychology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Zusne, L. (1987). Contributions to the history of psychology: XLIV. Coverage of contributors in histories of psychology. Psychological Reports, 61, 343-350.

Table 1 in the last article lists the 190 contributors who were most frequently mentioned in 24 history of psychology textbooks, providing the number of texts in which each is discussed. Clearly, those cited most often will tend to have more information available about them. The list is available here.

Useful articles on a particular individual can often be found in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences and the History of Psychology. Moreover, whenever an individual receives the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from APA, a brief biography will be published in the American Psychologist, which journal also publishes obituaries that are sometimes helpful as well.

Obviously, you may have to do a little scrounging around for some subjects. So be resourceful, and good luck!

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Final Exam Questions


Below are listed some of the major issues that have dominated the history of psychological thought since the times of the ancient Greek philosophers. On the last day of class we will select some of these for discussion. Your essay final will address one of these issues:

  1. The nature of human nature
  2. The relation between humans and nonhuman animals
  3. The relationship between the mind and the body
  4. The origins and status of human knowledge
  5. Rationalism versus irrationalism
  6. Consciousness versus unconsciousness
  7. Reductionism versus nonreductionism
  8. Atomism versus holism
  9. Objective versus subjective reality
  10. Mechanism versus vitalism
  11. Determinism versus freedom
  12. The foundation of human happiness

Whichever issue becomes the subject of your final, you should make sure your essay includes the following: (a) an introduction in which you defined the issue and say why it is important; (b) a historical narrative that traces the history of various positions taken on this question and the key figures that represent those positions; and (c) a conclusion in which you discuss the current status of the debate in contemporary psychology.

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Contact Information

Instructor: Dean Keith Simonton
Office Hours: MWF 3:10 – 4:00 pm (or by appointment)
Office: 102D Young Hall
Phone: 752-1677

TA: Benjamin Kubit
Office Hours: WF 11:30 am to 12:30 pm (or by appointment)
Office: 245 Young Hall

TA: Amber Sanchez
Office Hours: Thursdays 10 am-Noon (or by appointment)
Office: 275 Young Hall

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Final Word


In many ways this class is unlike any other upper-division course you have taken in psychology. First, not since you took introductory psychology did you have a course cover the full range of psychology’s many subdisciplines, from clinical to cognitive, from physiological to personality, from comparative to social. Second, this is the only course that adopts an expanded historical perspective, following the development of our discipline from the ancient Greek philosophers to the 20th century. Third, in line with this historical breadth, you will here encounter a great deal of philosophy, especially in the first half of the course. Fourth and last, the history of psychology is integrated with the psychology of science to produce a course that advances a truly metascientific view of our discipline. In short, during this quarter we shall appreciate all of psychology from historical, philosophical, and scientific points of view. As a result, 185 might be considered a “capstone course” that is essential to a complete understanding of what psychology fully represents as a continually evolving, intellectually rich human science. At the quarter’s end, I hope you agree.