Exploring the Origins of Psychology: Who Discovered it First?

Griffith Littlehale
3 min readSep 20, 2023

Psychology, the scientific study of the human mind and behavior, is a field that has intrigued and fascinated scholars and thinkers for centuries. But who can claim the title of being the first to discover and delve into the depths of psychology? The history of psychology is a complex and fascinating journey, filled with the contributions of numerous philosophers, scientists, and scholars. In this article, we will explore the origins of psychology and attempt to shed light on the question of who discovered it first.

Ancient Roots of Psychological Inquiry

The roots of psychology can be traced back to ancient civilizations. The origins of psychology can be found in the works of philosophers and scholars from various cultures who were curious about the workings of the human mind and behavior. The earliest contributors to psychological thought were the ancient Egyptians, who recorded their observations about dreams and the human psyche on papyrus scrolls.

However, it was in ancient Greece that we find some of the most significant developments in early psychology. Thales of Miletus, often considered one of the first philosophers, pondered the nature of the soul and its connection to the body. His ideas laid the groundwork for later philosophical inquiries into the mind.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, three of the most influential Greek philosophers, contributed substantially to studying the mind and behavior. Socrates explored the concept of self-knowledge and the idea that “knowing thyself” was the path to wisdom. Plato’s dialogues often delved into questions of knowledge, perception, and the nature of the soul, while Aristotle’s work on the natural world included extensive discussions of the human psyche.

Early Psychological Traditions in the East

While the Western world was making strides in understanding the human mind, the East also had its rich traditions of psychological inquiry. Ancient Indian texts, such as the Vedas and Upanishads, explored the nature of consciousness, meditation, and the self. Chinese philosophers, including Confucius and Laozi, contemplated the workings of the mind and the cultivation of virtue.

Buddhism, in particular, significantly contributed to understanding the mind. The Buddha’s teachings emphasized the importance of introspection and mindfulness in gaining insight into the nature of suffering and the human psyche. The Buddhist tradition of meditation, which continues to be studied and practiced today, is a testament to the profound psychological insights of ancient Eastern thinkers.

The Birth of Modern Psychology

While the ancient philosophers and scholars laid the groundwork for psychology, it was during the 19th century that psychology emerged as a distinct scientific discipline. Wilhelm Wundt, a German philosopher and psychologist, is often credited with being the father of modern psychology. In 1879, he established the first psychology laboratory at the University of Leipzig, marking the birth of experimental psychology.

Wundt’s approach focused on systematically studying conscious experience through controlled experiments. He believed psychology should be a science of introspection, where individuals observe and report their thoughts and feelings. While more objective and empirical approaches have mainly replaced Wundt’s methods, his contributions to establishing psychology as a scientific discipline are undeniable.

Simultaneously, in the United States, William James was making significant strides in the development of psychology. His book, “The Principles of Psychology,” published in 1890, is considered one of the foundational texts of American psychology. James explored the functions of consciousness, the stream of thought, and the adaptive nature of human behavior.

The Influence of Sigmund Freud

A discussion of the early pioneers of psychology would only be complete with mentioning Sigmund Freud. The Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst revolutionized the field with his theories on the unconscious mind, psychosexual development, and the importance of childhood experiences. Freud’s work profoundly impacted the development of clinical psychology and psychotherapy, and it introduced the idea that hidden layers of the mind influenced behavior.

In determining who discovered psychology first, it becomes clear that the field has profound and diverse roots across cultures and centuries. Ancient philosophers in Greece, India, and China grappled with questions about the human mind and behavior. However, in the 19th century, psychology emerged as a formal scientific discipline, with Wilhelm Wundt and William James playing pivotal roles.

While these early pioneers made significant contributions to the field, it’s essential to acknowledge that psychology’s development has been a collective effort. It has evolved and grown, incorporating insights from various cultures, disciplines, and perspectives. Today, psychology continues to be a dynamic and multifaceted field, shaped by the contributions of countless individuals who seek to unravel the mysteries of the human mind and behavior.

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Griffith Littlehale

Griffith Littlehale is a typical Midwest Americana person because he was born and raised in Toledo, OH. He went to high school