aims of the functionalists : LUSENET : History & Theory of Psychology : One Thread

What are the aims of the fnctionalists?

-- Rosalind Gildea (, October 09, 2001


They are hard to summarize succinctly because a great many people characterized themselves as functionalists at the turn of the 19th century. One of the aims was to work mental life, especially consciousness, into the naturalistic, evolutionary worldview. You might have a look at:

Angell, James Rowland. (1907). The province of functional psychology. Psychological Review, 14, 61-91.

which you can find on-line at:

-- Christopher Green (, October 10, 2001.

In James Brennan's History and Systems of Psychology ( 1998)p 339., he mentions that there were two periods best described as functional, one before and one after the 20th Century systems of American psychology (eg the Gestalt movement,psychoanalysis, early behaviorism, and the "Third FOrce movement including American humanistic psychology and eexistential-phenomenological psychology). THe latter period of functionalism he describes as "neo- functionalism. The later include transfer of control studies,which demonstrate that stimuli with associative value from Pavlovian conditioning can modify instrumentally maintained responses. This implies that organisms ar learning relationships among environmental stimuli.

A second ara of neofunctionalism is proposed by Bindra (1972-1974) who abandoned Hullian constructs of habit and drive, and moved into an interprestaton of incentive motivation as being based upon anticipation of contingent stimuli. This eliminates the need for drive and focuses on relattionships in the stimuli.

A third example of the neofunctionalists is in Bolles (1967, 1970) who followed the earlier tradition of Tolman, in developing contemporary formulations of learning processes. Bolles integrated both acquired and innate activites within a motivational model, based upon expectantcies.

All of these approaches consider the importance of relationship in understanding human learning. I find it interesting that the empahsis on personal relationships within the therapeutic setting a la Carl ROgers from the humanistic school , has such a parallel.

Bolles, R.C.,(1967) A Theory of Motivation New York: Harper and ROw. Bolles, R.C. (1970) Species-specific defebse reactuibs abd avoidance learning. Psychological Review, 77,32-48.

( All references are in Brennan ( 1998).

-- Sheila McQuinn (, November 26, 2001.

As the previous answers show the term functionalism has had a variety of meanings. I take the original question to be about the school of psychology deriving from American pragmatism, often called "functional psychology." The issue is confused because behaviorists like Skinner considered themselves functionalists and symbol processing theoriests, like Herbert Simon, do as well, although in a somewhat different way.

The original functional psychologists, meaning Dewey, Angell, and Carr at Chicago, focused primarily on the adaptive functions of mind. As a previous note pointed out they were heavily influenced by Darwin (as well as James), viewing thinking as primarily for the purpose of reorgnizing conflicted activity rather than for passively contemplaing things as they are. Their agenda was to treat mind as a verb, as "minding" or as a dynamic process, rather than as a noun or as an entity. This view of a person as a participant in life rather than a spectator gave a pschological approach consistent with social activism.

-- Eric Bredo (, March 07, 2002.

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