Victorian Era Psychology Facts

Psychology is a field of study that focuses on human mind, behaviour, and experiences. It both an academic discipline and applied science which pursues to interpret a group or individual by means of founding principles through case study and research.

Victorian Era Psychology at the Crack of Dawn

Victorian Psychology

The emergence of psychology, as a distinct discipline, is one of the highlighted successes of Science during the Victorian era. Initial studies on the human mind involved more abstract speculations than scientific approaches. Philosophical discussions greatly revolved around the belief that the mind and the body were two distinct entities – the separation of mind and body. It was only until the mid-19th century when the relationship between mental health, the human body and external/environmental factors were recognised to be in need of scientific methodology.

19th-century Psychology

During the early period of the 1800s, mental illnesses from Victorian era were usually attended by amateur physicians through punitive actions, like restraining the mental patients with chains and locks. However, approaching the turn of the century, Victorian psychology started to advance into a deeper and more complex understanding the human brain. Hence, the common mental illness such as hysteria, hypochondria, and neurasthenia, were replaced by simple psychiatric thinking into specific clinical and scientific approaches.

Victorian Psychology
Victorian Psychology

Even before the prominence of the celebrated psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and psychologist Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) various psychologists have already marked up the advent of scientific Psychology during the Victorian era. Among the first and notable 19th century psychologists were Thomas Brown, Alexander Bain and Herbert Spencer.

19th Century Victorian Psychologists

Psychologist Thomas Brown
Psychologist Thomas Brown

Thomas Brown proposed that for most scientific efforts, the study of the mind should be the basic structure, or framework, of analysis. In his 1820’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Mind, Brown promoted the field of Psychology to be the central framework of every scientific speculation. It was in this episode when Psychology was associated with science after centuries of confining it under philosophical suppositions.

Psychologist Alexander Bain
Psychologist Alexander Bain

From this beginning, Alexander Bain’s The Senses and the Intellect in 1985 marked the dawn of modern Psychology. A new form of reality-based Psychology emerged as a culmination of Bain’s extensive study on everyday human behavior and experiences – associationism.

Associationsm is the idea that sensations and experiences – consciousness – are correlated with the subject’s patterns of actions. This concept further branched out in modern psychology as behavioral psychology under the principle of conditioning.

Psychologist Herbert Spencer
Psychologist Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer’s Principle of Psychology in 1885 brought the blooming field of psychology beyond scientific basis as his accounts were rather grounded on both theoretical approach and philosophical speculation. Although Spencer lacked scientific basis, his subsequent hypothesis was astonishingly groundbreaking as his concept of the nervous system and adaptation were proven to be true by future psychologists and scientists. In fact, the iconic phrase of the Social Darwinism – a branch of science and psychology – “survival of the fittest” was originally from Spencer.

Indeed, there was a great leap of intellect and discovery on the discipline of Psychology during the Victorian era.

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