Pablo Briñol, Richard E. Petty, and Joshua J Guyer
The history of attitudes research can be organized into three main sections covering attitude definition and measurement, attitude-behavior relationships, and attitude change. First, an evaluation of the history of attitude measurement reveals three relatively distinct phases: an early phase in which the classic direct self-report procedures were developed, a middle phase focused on “indirect” assessment devices, and a modern phase in which various measures designed to capture people’s automatic or “implicit” attitudes have flourished. Second, the history of attitude-behavior correspondence can be organized also around three broad themes: an early period in which the presumed close association between attitudes and behaviors was largely an article of faith; a middle period in which some researchers concluded that little, if any, relationship existed between measures of attitudes and overt behaviors; and a more recent period in which the resolution of prior issues stimulated an explosion of research focused on identifying the moderators and psychological mechanisms responsible for attitude-behavior correspondence. Finally, the history of research and ideas regarding attitude change and persuasion can be organized around several prominent theories focused on distinct single processes, dual processes, or multiple processes, each of which are still used by contemporary attitudes researchers.
Gabriel Ruiz and Natividad Sánchez
Transnational historiography, which emerged in the 1990s, covers historical phenomena that transcend the boundaries of the nation-state, analyzing the processes of circulation, transformation and hybridization of scientific ideas and practices across national frontiers. When scientific knowledge flows between different countries, the ideas that emerge in one particular national context adapt to the new local contexts of their hosts, with their particular cultural, social, political and scientific traditions. In psychology, the transnational approach provides a productive theoretical framework capable of going beyond the traditional US-centered perspective that has dominated the historiography of psychology since the mid-20th century. This US-based historiography has, for example, interpreted the historical influence of I. P. Pavlov in terms of two main factors: his methodological contribution—the conditioned reflex—and the existence of a behaviorist tradition in the receptor psychology community. However, a more global analysis questions the need for these two elements and, at the same time, offers insights into the conditions that facilitated or hindered the flow of Pavlovian science beyond the United States. Thus, for example, between 1903 and 1970 the dissemination and appropriation of the Pavlovian science of conditioned reflexes took two different routes: in America, scientific aspects and factors dominated; whereas elsewhere, politics prevailed over science. This happened in countries such as China, Cuba, and Spain, with dictatorial regimes at different ends of the political spectrum, where Pavlov’s work arrived under the auspices of government programs to modernize scientific and clinical institutions. Once Pavlov’s ideas had been introduced through reform programs in each country, they were accepted or rejected depending on whether the sign of the regime in question converged with the ideology prevailing in the Soviet Union, which it did in China and Cuba, but not in Spain. In these countries, where psychology did not have strong institutional roots and behaviorism was not a dominant approach, Pavlovian ideas found a receptive audience among health professionals-doctors, psychiatrists, and clinical psychologists - keen to embrace new ideas and treatments for mental disorders. Thus, from a transnational perspective, the global repercussion of Pavlov’s ideas went far beyond the strictly methodological sphere.
This historical overview of the concepts of harmony in Chinese culture situates the topic in the ecological context of a strong-ties society that fosters a type of rationality that privileges symmetry over asymmetry. Analysis of the discourse of harmony focuses on the texts of two native schools of thought—Confucianism and Taoism—and briefly mentions Buddhism (a religion imported from India). The modern history of harmony has just begun but is already portentous. The turbulent course of China’s rapid modernization suggests the possibility that as China transitions from a strong-ties society to the weak-ties global market, harmony may be encountering, for the first time, contradictions that defy harmonization. Whatever the future holds for the Chinese legacy of harmony, its contribution to the happiness and well-being of the individuals in their intimate relationship with self and others is likely to remain unchallenged.
Erika Dyck and Emmanuel Delille
Alternative therapies are sometimes associated with non-biological approaches, or practices that do not undergo rigorous testing or produce consistently repeatable results. In the 1970s, some alternative therapies also openly embraced spiritual dimensions that directly conflicted with a Western bio-medical paradigm, placing them within a category of new age medicine, suggesting that such therapies were both eclectic and outside the boundaries of orthodox clinical care. The timing and location of these therapies reveals a particular context that gave rise to treatments seeking non-orthodox approaches, and arguably for a set of conditions that also emerged out of a Cold War context of affluence, dissatisfaction, and cultural anxiety. Some of these alternative therapies overlapped, with founders and consumers borrowing principles from different therapies to produce an approach that itself might be considered alternative to orthodox or mainstream western bio-medical practice. Situated predominantly on the American west coast, in California, these alternative therapies are illustrative of a regional culture of therapy. One, in particular, that embraced elements of radicalism alongside a collision of individualistic and collective approaches to care and responsibility. This article examines four such therapies: psychedelics, primal scream, nude therapy, and sociodrama. It is argued that beyond the inherent differences among them and their common flirtations with orthodox biomedicine, these four sets of practices are also historically significant for what they reveal about the place of psychology as a discipline after the Second World War. With each of these therapies, their history reveals a tension with psychoanalysis that attempts to redefine the relationship between the therapist and the patient. Although none of these therapies endured in their original form into the 21st century, revisiting this history offers insight into the changing state of psychotherapy in the latter half of the 20th century, and a focus on alternative therapies helps to elucidate some of the professional and cultural tensions that fuelled subsequent changes in the therapeutic landscape.
Marcia E. Holmes
From the end of World War II until roughly 1989, global leaders feared that cataclysmic war would break out between the world’s two superpower states, the Soviet Union and the United States. Though such a confrontation did not occur, the stalemate between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the United States—with its simmering fears, proxy battles, and psychological warfare—became known as the Cold War. Psychological expertise played an important role in the Cold War, especially within Western democracies like the United States, Great Britain, and Canada. In these countries, citizens tended to view the Cold War as a “battle for minds”: a fight against communist political ideology, totalitarianism, social conformity, and other threats to individual mental freedom. Anglo-American psychology flourished within this intellectual environment by finding new topics and applications for research, new sources of funding, and a new image as essential to the functioning of healthy democracy.
Historians continue to debate how the Cold War influenced the field of psychology. Overall, the strategic partnership between psychology and the “military-industrial complex” was limited to certain initiatives. In some cases, Anglo-American psychologists who used their expertise to fight the Cold War were led into questionable pursuits, resulting in greater public scrutiny and even scandals for themselves and their profession. Nonetheless, the Cold War had a significant impact on Anglo-American psychology by making the relationship between psychological knowledge and democratic values a continual subject of public concern.
Sarah Krichbaum, Adam Davila, Lucia Lazarowski, and Jeffrey S. Katz
The contemporary field of animal cognition began over 150 years ago when Charles Darwin posed questions regarding the abilities of the animal mind. Animal cognition is a science dedicated to understanding the processes and mechanisms that allow nonhumans to think and behave. The techniques that are used and the species that are studied are diverse. The historical questions originally proposed by ethologist Nikolas Tinbergen as a framework for studying animal behavior remain at the core of the field. These questions are reviewed along with the domains and methods of animal cognition with a focus on concept learning, memory, and canine cognition. Finally, ideas on how a field rich in tradition and methodological strength should proceed in the future are presented.
Michael D. Beecher
Among Darwin’s brilliant ideas was his (1871) conception of animal communication signals as adaptive characteristics of a species. The idea was subsequently taken up by the ethologists of Europe in the 1930s (Lorenz, Tinbergen, and von Frisch in particular) in their studies of animal signaling systems in nature. For many subsequent researchers, human language was the implicit model for an animal communication system. Although not expecting the same level of complexity, these researchers assumed that animal signals transmitted information from sender to receiver that was honest, and that benefitted them both. However, the honest signaling/mutual benefit view was challenged by new researchers steeped in the sociobiology and behavioral ecology movement of the 1960s. The emphasis on competition in this new field inspired these researchers to reconceive the animal signaling process as one in which the sender manipulates the receiver to the sender’s advantage. This view was challenged in turn when researchers recognized that the receiver was not a passive party in the interaction, but fully capable of manipulating the sender to its advantage. The communication interaction can be viewed as an arm’s race. The handicap principle—the idea that honesty in signaling can be maintained if signals are costly—is one way the receiver may gain an edge in this competition. Eventually, game theory considerations led to the development of a revised perspective in which signals evolve only when both the sender and the receiver benefit on average, and where signals are honest on average. Researchers examining a particular signaling system’s signals these days ask not are the signals honest, but how reliable are the signals.
Michael J. Beran
Comparative psychology is the study of behavior and cognition across species. In recent decades, much of this research has focused on cognitive capacities that are well studied in humans. This approach provides comparative perspectives on the evolution of these cognitive capacities. Although in many areas humans shows distinct aspects of various cognitive processes, it is clear that for most major topics in human cognition, important and illustrative data are available from studies with other animals. Moreover, these areas of investigation increasingly show continuities between the behavior of other species and human behavior. Several of these cognitive processes, including concept and category learning, numerical cognition, memory, mental time travel and prospective cognition, metacognition, and language learning, highlight these continuities and demonstrate the richness of mental lives in other animals. Nonhuman animals can discriminate between categories of perceptual and conceptual classes, they can form concepts, and they can use those concepts to guide decision making and choice behavior. Other species can engage in rudimentary numerical cognition, and more importantly share with humans certain core quantitative abilities for the approximate representation of magnitude and number. Nonhuman animals share many phenomena of memory that are well-recognized in humans, and in some cases may even share the capacity to mentally re-experience the past and to anticipate and plan for the future. In some cases, some species may even reflect on their own knowledge states, memory accessibility, and perceptual acuity as they make metacognitive judgments. And, studies of animal communication provided the basis for intensive assessments of language-like behavior in certain species. Taken together, these results argue much more for continuity than discontinuity. This should not be seen as a challenge to the uniqueness of human minds, but rather as a way to better understand how we became the species we are through the process of evolution.
In psychology, the term “attachment” has been made popular by British psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s theory about the adaptive value of the mother–infant bond. Bowlby was not the first to use the term “attachment” or to study the significance of close emotional relationships for infants and young children. Anna Freud and other psychoanalysts had used the term to refer to the mother–child relationship. Bowlby’s views, however, departed from psychoanalysis because he appealed to the science of ethology, the biological study of behavior, for support. According to Bowlby, the mother–infant attachment has a biological basis.
The operationalization of the ethological theory of attachment through the work of American- Canadian child psychologist Mary Ainsworth played a key role in the rise of the ethological theory of attachment to paradigmatic status toward the end of the 20th century. Ainsworth carried out observational studies of the attachment between mothers and infants. She also designed an experiment, the strange situation procedure (SSP), to measure and categorize attachment relationships between infants and mothers. Ainsworth and her students argued that their experimental work in the SSP supported Bowlby’s views about the instinctual nature of the child’s attachment to the mother and the importance of a secure attachment in infancy for a person’s adequate emotional development.
Attachment theory has become one of psychology’s most influential theories about early child development and its impact on an individual’s subsequent emotional life and adult relationships. Supporters claim its universal validity and its prescriptive character. For them, attachment theory establishes the norm of what is considered healthy emotional and psychological childhood development, and it sets the standards for good parenting. In the Western world, attachment theory has an impact in various realms, including childcare, adoption policies, education, and therapy. Many schools of early childhood education identify children at risk for poor learning in the classroom as a result of attachment problems at home. Pediatricians often rely on attachment theory to encourage specific practices in parent–child interactions. Therapeutic approaches for children, families, and couples are sometimes based on attachment theory, as are decisions about adoption, parental rights, and child custody. Furthermore, some intervention programs in family and educational practices implemented by international NGOs rely on attachment theory.
The ethological theory of attachment, however, has also been contested since its inception. Several psychologists critiqued the empirical studies about maternal deprivation on which it was erected. Other scholars challenged the notion that biological science supports its claims. Finally, numerous cross-cultural psychologists and anthropologists challenged the universality of several of its central tenets. They call for recognizing the cultural assumptions embedded in attachment theory, in the instruments and constructs used to measure it, and in the expectations it promotes about good parenting.
Ananiev’s approach shares the Activity Theory (AT) paradigm, dominant in Soviet psychology. Ananiev builds on the main fundamentals of the AT paradigm, considering psyche as a special procreation of the matter, engendered by the active interaction of the individual with the environment. The unique feature of his approach to AT is that he turned it “toward the inside,” focusing on the relation of the human individual to his own physicality, to his own bodily substrate. Ananiev sought by his intention to keep a holistic vision of a human being, considering the latter in the context of his real life, that is, the bodily substrate in its biological specificity in context of the concrete sociohistorical life course of the personality. Like no other psychologist, Ananiev did not limit his research to the sphere of narrowly defined mental phenomena. He conducted a special kind of research, labeled as “complex,” in the course of which characteristics of the same subjects: sociological, socio-psychological, mental, physiological, and psychophysiological indicators—life events of the subjects—were monitored for many years. He focused on ontogenetic development in adulthood, which he, ahead of his time, considered as a period of dynamic changes and differentiated development of functions. The focus of his attention was on individual differences in the ontogenetic development of mental and psycho-physiological functions, especially those deviations from general regularities that resulted from the impact of the life course of the individual. Individualization, the increase of individual singularity, is the main effect of human development and its measure for Ananiev.
Ananiev developed a number of theoretical models and concepts. The best-known of Ananiev’s heritage is his theoretical model of human development, often named the “individuality concept.” According to this model, humans do not have any preassigned “structure of personality” or “initial harmony.” The starting point of human development is a combination of potentials—resources and reserves, biological and social. The human creates himself in the process of interaction with the world. Specialization, individually specific development of functions, appears here not as a distortion of the pre-set harmony of the whole but as the way of self-determining progressive human development. The most important practical task of psychology he viewed as psychological support and provision in the process of developing a harmonious individuality, based on the individual potentials.
The first 30 years after the end of World War II saw marked changes in the discipline of psychology: in ideas and institutions, problems and practices, funders and philosophies. These changes can be grouped together and described as a new, “high modern” style of psychological science, a new style grounded in a new model of “man.” This new model of “man” cast humans as fundamentally forward-looking prediction machines rather than as past-governed stimulus-response machines or creatures of habit, instinct, or drives. According to this view, the past still matters to our decision-making, but in a new way: it informs our expectations—the futures we imagine—rather than determining our behavior or saddling us with half-remembered traumas. From this perspective, we use mental representations of the world to generate predictions about future states of that world, especially states that are contingent upon our actions. Even more, we are finite prediction machines in an infinite world. Our mental representations of the world, therefore, must simplify it, and since we have neither perfect knowledge nor perfect cognitive abilities nor unlimited time, our fundamental state is one of uncertainty. We are problem-solvers that depend upon information to adapt, survive, and thrive, but we live in a world in which that information, and the time necessary to make sense of it, is expensive.
The Cold War took place between 1948 and 1991 and centered on the antagonism between the two great superpowers, the US and the USSR, each with its allies and areas of influence. If the US had a significant influence in the West, the USSR dominated the countries of Eastern Europe. The USSR violently imposed communist totalitarian regimes after the end of the Second World War in the countries behind the Iron Curtain: the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and Albania. The psychological traditions consolidated up to that time were in many of these countries eradicated, meaning the restructuring or abolition of higher education, the abolition of scientific societies and journals. Many psychologists with connections to the Western academic world were purged and persecuted. There was the will to build a new socialist psychology, based strictly on Marxist ideology and Pavlovian physiology. Theories or approaches that did not reflect official ideology were forbidden and labeled as bourgeois pseudoscience. Authorities severely punished psychological practice based on such theories. There were similarities between what happened in these countries, especially in the first decade of the imposition of communism. However, after the death of Joseph Stalin, things developed somewhat differently in each country. Although in some places ideological policies in science had a progressive tendency toward liberalization, in other places there was significant negative interferences throughout the communist period. Due to this diversity, it is somewhat challenging to frame the development of psychology in Eastern Europe during the Cold War from a unitary perspective.
Creativity is perhaps what most differentiates humans from other species. Understanding creativity is particularly important in times of accelerated cultural and environmental change, such as the present, in which novel approaches and perspectives are needed. The study of creativity is an exciting area that brings together many different branches of research: cognitive psychology, social psychology, personality psychology, developmental psychology, organizational psychology, clinical psychology, neuroscience, mathematical models, and computer simulations. The creative process is thought to involve the capacity to shift between divergent and convergent modes of thought in response to task demands. Divergent thought is conventionally characterized as the kind of thinking needed for open-ended tasks, and it is measured by the ability to generate multiple solutions, while convergent thought is commonly characterized as the kind of thinking needed for tasks in which there is only one correct solution. More recently, divergent thought has been conceived of as reflecting on the task from unconventional contexts or perspectives, while convergent thought has been conceived of as reflecting on it from conventional contexts or perspectives. Personality traits correlated with creativity include openness to experience, tolerance of ambiguity, impulsivity, and self-confidence. Evidence that creativity is linked with affective disorders is mixed. Neuroscientific research on creativity using electroencephalography (EEG) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) suggests that creativity is associated with a loosening of cognitive control and decreased arousal. It has been shown that the distributed, content-addressable structure of associative memory is conducive to bringing task-relevant items to mind without the need for explicit search. Tangible evidence of human creativity dates back to the earliest stone tools devised over three million years ago, with the Middle-Upper Paleolithic marking the onset of art, science, and religion, and another surge of creativity in the present. Past and current areas of controversy concern the relative contributions of expertise, chance, and intuition, whether the emphasis should be on process versus product, whether creativity is a domain-specific or a domain-general function, the extent to which creativity is correlated with affective disorders, and whether divergent thinking entails the generation of multiple ideas or the honing of a single initially ambiguous mental representation that may manifest as different external outputs. Promising areas for further psychological study of creativity include computational modeling, research on the biological basis of creativity, and studies that track specific creative ideation processes over time.
Deborah Brown and Brian Key
Few practitioners or researchers in psychology would think of the 17th-century French philosopher, René Descartes, as the founding father of their discipline. Yet, it is difficult to see how psychology could have emerged as a discipline in its own right without the contributions of Descartes. Descartes’ theoretical and experimental contributions to our understanding of rationality, consciousness, sensation, feeling, attention, psychological self-regulation and voluntary action, and indeed the very concept of mind that lies at the heart of his philosophy, have been pivotal to the evolution of psychology since its emergence as a special science in the 19th-century. These contributions tend to get overshadowed by the unpalatable aspects of his dualism of mind and body and his denial of animal consciousness, doctrines for which he was and still is much pilloried. However, both doctrines are relevant to understanding how from its inception the subject matter and scope of psychological investigation was framed, for underlying the Cartesian concept of mind is not one dualism but two: a dualism of mind and body and a dualism of life and mind. The mind, for Descartes, could not be theorized on its own terms without conceiving of it at least to some extent independently of the physiological processes of the human body, on the one hand, and the life functions of biological organisms, on the other. Descartes’ legacy for psychology as a discipline is thus twofold. It created the conceptual space for the concept of mind to emerge as a threshold concept in its own right, distinct from the concept of matter that defined mechanics, and it demarcated those uniquely human capacities that enabled psychology to differentiate itself from the newly emerging evolutionary biology of the 19th-century, even though it would remain more closely aligned with biology than physics thenceforth. Without both dualisms of mind and body and life and mind, it is difficult to envisage how psychology as a special science distinct from anatomy and the life sciences could have emerged, and for this the discipline of psychology owes Monsieur Descartes a considerable debt.
Trevor A. Harley
Research in the psychology of language has been dogged by some enduring controversies, many of which continue to divide researchers. Furthermore, language research has been riven by too many dichotomies and too many people taking too extreme a position, and progress is only likely to be made when researchers recognize that language is a complex system where simple dichotomies may not be relevant. The enduring controversies cover the width of psycholinguistics, including the work of Chomsky and the nature of language, to what extent language is innately determined and the origin of language and how it evolved. Chomsky’s work has also influenced our conceptions of the modularity of the structure of the mind and the nature of psychological processing. Advances in the sophistication of brain imaging techniques have led to debate about exactly what these techniques can tell us about the psychological processing of language. There has also been much debate about whether psychological processing occurs through explicit rules or statistical mapping, a debate driven by connectionist modeling, deep learning, and techniques for the analysis of “big data.” Another debate concerns the role of prediction in language and cognition and the related issues of the relationship between language comprehension and language production. To what extent is language processing embodied, and how does it relate to controversies about “embedded cognition”? Finally, there has been debate about the purpose and use of language.
W. Andrew Achenbaum
Edmund V. Cowdry’s Problems of Ageing (1939), the first U.S. handbook in gerontology, spurred efforts to systematize and communicate data and hypotheses in a “discouragingly difficult field,” as one of the volume’s contributors put it. Researchers, educators, and practitioners subsequently published handbooks of aging to share basic concepts, norms, and metaphors—and eventually to construct theories.
Compared to theoretical constructs that animate African American studies, paradigms that inform inquiries into sex and gender, and queer theory-building, research on aging is sustained by few evidence-based, methodologically robust, heuristic theories. No single construct yet seizes the gerontological imagination. Analyzing notable handbooks reveals that the modern history of ever-emerging gerontological theory building went through three phases.
First, attempts to formulate Big Theories of Aging resulted in more disappointments than scientific advances. In the second phase, researchers on aging set more modest aims, often giving priority to methodological innovation, but failed to promote consilience in a data-rich, theory-poor arena. Psychological theories, pertaining to lifespan development, merit special attention in the third phase, because they proved useful to biomedical and social scientists doing research on aging.
There is no explicitly defined field as feminist psychology(ies) in India. It is therefore necessary to look beyond the discipline of psychology and examine the scholarship available in other disciplines as well as in activist efforts to illumine questions that are of concern to feminist psychology(ies)—questions of how inequitable access to resources, disproportionate burden of care giving and gender stereotypical identities impact on gender relations and on women’s well-being and identity. From the interface of psychology with feminisms, three thematic areas emerge against the backdrop of past and contemporary socio-political developments in the country that have directly or indirectly influenced and informed the content and direction of research in these thematic areas. The three key themes are (a) mental health and well-being and the influence of the interlinked perspectives of gender, public health, human rights and social justice on this field, (b) gender-based violence and the evolution of psychosocial interventions for reduction and prevention of violence, and (c) the socio-historical construction of identities and the construction of masculinities in particular and that of the “modern Indian woman” in the conundrum of tradition and modernity.
First, the literature on gender and mental health emphasizes the need to connect mental health with social determinants, demonstrates the existence of gender bias in access to mental health services, shows that women are represented more in common mental disorders whose aetiology is associated with the social position of women, and highlights the relationship of gender-specific risk factors such as domestic violence to the occurrence of depression in women.
Second, the body of work on interventions for reducing and preventing gender-based violence shows services such as one-stop centers hinged on a psychosocial intervention model; and women’s collectives for alternate dispute resolution based loosely on feminist principles, serving as a platform for voicing and recognition of violence and connecting survivors to institutional services.
Third, the socio-historical context of identity construction reveals masculinity as a product of interplay of the colonizing and colonized cultures in the nationalist period of pre-independence India, the subsequent turn to “aggressive Hindu communalism” as a model for masculinity and the construction of femininity in the conundrum of tradition and modernity.
Thus, despite e some influence and infusion of perspectives on each other, feminisms and psychology in India continue to run parallel to each other, and feminist psychology(ies) in India remains an indistinct field as yet.
Forensic psychology in the 21st century entails the application of psychology to all aspects of the criminal justice process. Forensic psychologists, therefore, are engaged in the theorization of offending, offender profiling, the psychology of testimony, investigative interviewing, the psychology of juries and judges, and psychological approaches to the punishment and treatment of offenders. Historically, however, forensic psychology, has been narrower in scope.
Founded principally in Europe during the late 19th century as a response to the reform of criminal procedure and research on suggestion, which undermined confidence in witness credibility, forensic psychology was initially pursued by jurists and psychiatrists eager to understand the behavior of all those involved in the criminal justice process. While this ambition was pursued piecemeal by jurists throughout the early 20th century in their studies of guilty knowledge, judges, jurors, and investigators, the exigencies of the courtroom, soon saw the field become focused on the psychology of the witness, particularly the juvenile witness. Important, in this regard were the efforts of both European and American experimental psychologists, whose precarious position within universities at the fin de siècle saw them look for real-world applications for psychology and led them to campaign voraciously for the inclusion of psychological knowledge and psychological expertise in legal proceedings.
Competition between several disciplines, including law, psychology, psychiatry, and pedagogy, over the role of psychological expert made the professionalization of this field difficult up until the Second World War. During the late 1940s and 1950s, however, not only did forensic psychology increasingly become the exclusive purview of psychologists, but the discipline’s scope began to expand. Notable in this regard was offender profiling, which emerged from the psychological analysis of war criminals and the application of the insights gained here to several high-profile criminal cases in the United States.
Lawrence A. Shapiro
Philosophical functionalism, as distinct from the psychological school of functionalism that enjoyed popularity around the turn of the 20th century, is a theory about the nature of mental states. That is, functionalism offers an account of which conditions must be satisfied for something to count as a belief, or a desire, or a pain, or an itch, or a fear, or a memory. Functionalism is thus a metaphysical doctrine about mental states, that is, a doctrine concerning what makes something a mental state. “Metaphysical,” in this context, should not be taken to suggest anything mysterious. Chemistry is a metaphysical doctrine in just the same sense as functionalism: it is a theory that offers an account of which conditions must be satisfied for something to count as, say, a pure chemical substance rather than a mixture. As philosophical theories go, functionalism has been fantastically successful. Its contemporary form traces to seminal work that H. Putnam initiated in the 1960s, and it remains in early 21st century the most widely accepted theory of the nature of mental states among philosophers in the Anglo tradition.
According to functionalism, the conditions necessary and sufficient for something to be a mental state are specified in terms of functional role. Functionalists have disagreed about the correct basis on which functional descriptions of mental states should rest, with the result that functionalism is better conceived as a family of closely related theories about the nature of mental states rather than a single uniform view. Briefly, the idea of functional role can be usefully illustrated by consideration of an artifact, such as a corkscrew, the nature of which is defined in terms of the function of removing corks. What it is to be a corkscrew is to perform this functional role. Likewise, the functionalist claims, what it is to be a mental state is to perform the functional role characteristic of a belief, or a desire, or a pain, and so on.
The purpose of the article is to trace the intellectual history of the new postcolonial discipline of African psychology. African psychology as currently conceptualized in universities in the South and other regions of Africa is a proud heir to a vast heritage of sound and extensive intellectual traditions and psychological scholarship on Africa and its peoples found scattered in the multiple disciplines of the humanities (anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, religion, etc.). Even before and after the critical evolution that led to the emergence of African psychology as a new discipline situated in the departments of psychology in some forward-thinking African universities, the different fields of the humanities offered legitimate research and writings on the nature of the life of the mind and culture in pre- and postcolonial Africa. The article reviews the variety and changing psychological themes that occupied the attention of the African and Western humanists and intellectuals within and outside Africa.
However, the great limitation of all psychological research and writings which constitute psychological humanities is that they could not and, indeed, are not meant to replace the legitimate role being played by African psychology as a fledgling postcolonial discipline and center of thought and scholarship. This fledgling discipline came into being to argue against and partner with Western psychology and the black psychology popularized in North America, with a view toward the enrichment of both Western and black psychological knowledge with new perspectives for understanding the psychology of Africans in continental Africa. The purpose of the article is to elaborate on these issues.