What are the 7 major perspectives in psychology?

In this brief guide we are going to answer the question: ‘’What are the 7 major perspectives in psychology?’’ We will describe the main currents of psychology, their methods, objectives and contributions to modern psychology.

What are the 7 major perspectives in psychology?

The 7 major perspectives in psychology are: structuralism, functionalism, psychoanalysis, behaviorism, gestalt, humanism, and cognitivism.

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Psychology is ‘’the study of the mind and behavior. The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience — from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged.’’.

Psychology is a young science, but despite its short life history, it has had time to create several psychological perspectives that establish the way in which it is investigated, the concepts and methods that are used to work, and the objective that is pursued.

In fact, the variety of theoretical and practical proposals about the direction that psychology can take has been surprisingly large, which does not mean that they cannot be summarized.

Next we will see what these main perspectives of psychology are and what are or have been their characteristics.

Psychology as a separate discipline from philosophy appeared during the second half of the 19th century. Its birth is usually considered to coincide with the inauguration of Wilhelm Wundt’s psychology research laboratory in 1879.

From that moment on, different approaches to psychology began to emerge, many of which appeared as opponents to the rest. They are as follows:

1. Structuralism, the first of the psychological schools

This current that appeared around 1890 includes members of the tradition of psychological research inaugurated by Wilhelm Wundt. Edward Titchener was its main representative.

Titchener, who was characterized by having an academic rather than a pragmatic approach, had a very clear thought: the goal of Psychology must be to discover basic elements of human consciousness. In addition, he had a marked interest in studying the way in which mental processes interacted with each other.

The idea of determining the specific structure of something as abstract and dynamic as the mind may seem absurd to many today. However, the structuralists were confident that they could not only carry out this goal, but could also do it scientifically.

Wundt advanced the introspection technique as a “scientific” tool that would allow researchers to reveal the structure of the mind. Introspection involves looking within: analyzing and trying to make sense of our own internal experiences as they occur.

Using this technique, trained subjects were presented with various forms of stimuli and asked to describe as clearly and “objectively” as possible what they were experiencing at the time.

Structuralism played a very important role in shaping the field of psychology during the years in which it was developing. Wundt and his followers helped establish psychology as an independent experimental science, and their emphasis on the scientific method of inquiry remains a key aspect of the discipline today.

However, the structuralists could not escape criticism of their theories. Despite his noble attempts at scientific research, introspection was not ideal for this purpose, as no two people perceive the same thing in the exact same way. The reports of the subjects, in this way, tended to be subjective and conflicting.

Precisely because of its more academic than pragmatic approach, another current soon appeared that began to compete with it: functionalism

2.  Functionalism

One of the main currents of psychology that appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. Functionalism, which was born in the first decade of the 20th century, supposes a rejection of the structuralist approach;

Instead of focusing on studying the components of the mind, he aimed to understand mental processes. He did not focus on the “pieces”, but on the functioning, that is, the psychological functions that are carried out inside our head (and, by extension, inside our body).

Furthermore, while structuralism’s approaches had to do with very abstract and general questions, functionalism aspired to offer useful tools. The idea was to know how we function in order to use this knowledge in specific and everyday problems.

Although he himself disassociated himself from functionalism, it is considered that William James was one of the great historical figures in the development of psychology who best embodied the approaches and concerns of this school.

Regarding research methods, the functionalists expanded the existing repertoire using tests, questionnaires and physiological measures, in addition to introspection.

3. Psychoanalysis

Freud, an Austrian neurologist, is considered one of the greatest intellectual figures in human history, and the theoretical development of psychoanalysis is one of the reasons that led him to be so recognized.

The psychodynamic perspective appeared for the first time through the work of Sigmund Freud, in the last years of the 19th century. It was based on the idea that human behavior, both in its movements, thoughts and emotions, is the product of a struggle of opposing forces that try to impose themselves on the other. This struggle is unconscious, but according to the followers of this current it can be recognized through the interpretation of its symbolic manifestations.

In addition to therapeutic principles, psychoanalysis asserts that people’s personalities are largely determined by experiences during childhood. Specifically, it considers that these influence thinking, emotions and, above all, behavior.

According to the theoretical framework of this current, all those determining factors of childhood are housed within the unconscious material of the human mind. Precisely, the objective of psychoanalysis as therapy is that these experiences and memories pass from this place to consciousness.

There is no doubt that therapeutic methods were one of the great contributions of this trend, which have been put into practice by many specialists and, also, questioned by others.

4. Behaviorism

In fact, this movement arose to counter that of Freud and, consequently, raised different principles.

Behaviorism is a psychological school that was developed in the 1950s by thinkers such as John B. Watson, Ivan Pavlov, and BF Skinner. Behaviorists believe that observation of behavior is the key to psychology. That is, the functioning of the mind is not analyzed, but human behavior is observed.

B. Watson argued that the focus should be on overt and observable behavior and that human behavior can be understood by examining the relationship between stimuli and responses. Therefore, this psychological school holds that behavior is explained based on environmental causes and not based on internal forces.

Unlike biopsychologists, to do their job, behaviorists did not need to know details about what happens in our nervous system when performing certain tasks. Instead, they focused on studying the relationships that are created between stimuli and responses.

For example, to know whether a reward system works or not in a company, it is not necessary to know which neuron circuits are intervening in this process.

5. Gestalt

It emerged in Europe in the first third of the 20th century as a reaction to the elementalism and atomism of structuralism, focusing particularly on the realm of perception. The main current representations were: Wertheimer, Köhler and Koffka.

The term Gestalt translates literally as “form” and defines the approach taken by this school which focused on the problem of perceptual organization, developing ingenious experiments and original demonstrations of numerous perceptual phenomena.

The basic principle of perceptual organization is that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, that is, the properties of the whole do not result from the constituent elements, but rather from the spatial-temporal relationships of the whole. In other words, everything perceived is much more than information coming to the senses.

This group of researchers developed a series of rules, the so-called “Gestalt laws”, through which they described the processes by which our brain creates qualitatively different units of information from the data that comes to it through the senses.

6.  Humanistic

Technically, humanistic psychology is not characterized by proposing specific research or intervention tools, nor is it based on differentiated scientific presuppositions. What distinguishes it is the way in which psychology is linked with ethics and with a concept of the human being.

In this current it is believed that the function of psychology should not simply be to obtain information and analyze it coldly, but that it is necessary to make people happy.

In practice, this has meant that humanistic psychologists have relied heavily on phenomenology and have considered that the subjective and the not directly measurable must also have value for psychotherapy and research.

One of the best-known representatives of this current was Abraham Maslow, who theorized about the hierarchy of human needs. The 5 levels of Maslow’s pyramid are as follows:

5. Basic or physiological needs

4. Safety needs

3. Social needs

2. Esteem or recognition needs

1. Self-actualization needs

7. Cognitivism

Cognitive psychology or cognitivism focuses its study on cognitive processes: perceptions, attention, memory – memories, thinking, the mental aspects of people. Mind and learning is the core of cognitive approaches.

Unlike behaviorism that denied, especially in its beginnings, the existence of mental processes at least as an object of study of scientific psychology since they could not be observed, nor were they measurable as behavioral responses.

From the cognitive perspective, both development and learning are explained by internal factors that go beyond the Stimulus-Response proposed by behavioral models.

Cognitive theories use internal and mentalistic factors to explain development and learning, unobservable internal factors of the subject that explain how learning and human development occurs.

However, methodologically, this new trend was greatly influenced by behaviorism, and used many of its intervention and research tools. Currently, cognitivism is the dominant perspective.

Final words

Psychology, while considered a science with a short history, has been quite intense, and, at the same time, productive. With the emergence of each current or school, we have been able to realize that psychology has had an accelerated evolution, if we consider that it still does not comply, as a formal science, with two centuries.

Each human being is his behavior, his stimuli and responses, his perception of immediate experiences, his memories, his unconscious, his repressed desires, his dreams, his potentialities, his feelings, his capacities, his learning, his memory, his consciousness, his values, its virtues.

Each of these aspects is part of a school that helps us understand each other. Therein lies the importance of the history of psychology and its currents. They are tools to understand certain aspects of the human being, aspects that are very different from each other, but that coexist and form who we are as individuals.

Each of the psychological schools that have emerged over time have helped to complete this discipline. On the other hand, as we mentioned earlier, many psychologists nowadays do not only work with the ideas of one of the psychological schools, but rather combine several.

FAQS: What are the 7 major perspectives in psychology?

What are the seven perspectives of psychology?

7 perspectives of psychology: 

Psychodynamic Perspective. 
Behavioral Perspective.
Cognitive Perspective. 
Biological Perspective. 
Cross-Cultural Perspective. 
Evolutionary Perspective. 
Humanistic Perspective.

What are the major perspectives in psychology?

The five major perspectives in psychology are biological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive and humanistic.

What are the 6 psychological perspectives?

Six perspectives that have arisen: biological, psychoanalytical, behavioral, humanistic, cognitive, and evolutionary.

What are the four major perspectives in social psychology?

The perspectives used by social psychologists:

Sociocultural Perspective.
Evolutionary Perspective.
Social Learning Perspective.
Social-Cognitive Perspective.

What are the four goals of psychology?

The four major goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and change behavior.

In this brief guide we answered the question: ‘’What are the 7 major perspectives in psychology?’’ We described the main currents of psychology, their methods, objectives and contributions to modern psychology.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!


Brennan, J. F., & Houde, K. A. (2017). History and systems of psychology. Cambridge University Press.

Mcleod, S. (2020). Psychology Perspectives | Simply Psychology. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from Simplypsychology.org website: https://www.simplypsychology.org/perspective.html

The 7 Major Perspectives in Psychology. Retrieved October 18, 2020, from Verywell Mind website: https://www.verywellmind.com/perspectives-in-modern-psychology-2795595