when was psychology first taught as a science in university

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i was wondering if anyone could tell me when psychology was first taught at universities as a science? it has a long history behind it but as far as most universities are concerned it is still regarded as a new course and subject. i was just wondering if anyone had a date when it became a science subject and started being taught at university level?

-- lisa sartori (lisa_sartori@hotmail.com), January 04, 2002


It depends on what you mean. William James had a lab at Harvard he used for classroom demonstrations as early as 1875. Wundt set up his research lab in Leipzig, which he also used to train new scientific psychologists in 1879. G. Stanley Hall set up the Johns Hopkins lab in 1883, and the Clark lab in 1889. J. McKeen Cattell set up the U. Penn lab in 1887. Many early American scientific psychologists were trained in those places.

-- Christopher Green (christo@yorku.ca), January 04, 2002.

But universities do not offer it as science, even now: it's social science or something like that, right? Prior to the courses mentioned by Chris Green, psychology would have been included as a topic in a course on mental philosophy or moral philosophy or perhaps in philosohical theology or theological anthropology. But I don't think it's historically accurate to say that in most universities it is still regarded as a new course and subject: it's been a major for many, many years, although not every liberal arts college (and not even every university) has a department. The transition is really from psychology in the context of philosophy or theology to psychology as an independent discipline, which may or may not emphasize psychology as science.

-- Hendrika Vande Kemp (hendrika@earthlink.net), January 07, 2002.

For a potentially helpful book on this topic, see Puente,A. E., Matthews, J. R., & Brewer, C. L. (Eds.)(1992). Teaching psychology in America : A history. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Also, the first chapter of E. R. Hilgard's book, "Psychology in America: A historical survey," has some nice material on university psychology and the nature of the German university system that made Germany the most likely nation to give rise to scientific psychology.

One difficulty in dating a first university course in scintific psychology is that the role of the professor in the European system was to perform scholarly research, give lectures to the university community, and supervise and evaluate individual student reading and scholarship. Courses, in the contemporary American style, weren't part of the European picture in the mid-nineteenth century. IF the first university instruction in scientific psychology was in Germany, it won't be, say, a 3-credit 10:00 -10:50 MWF lecture/discussion course. This is not to say that the European style was recognized as superior: Hilgard describes American discontent with German standards for the PhD, for example.

As a starting point, though, I offer a date I received from Wolfgang Bringmann, who specializes in Wilhelm Wundt's career: On November 20, 1875, Wundt delivered his first lecture at the University of Leipzig, where he was later (1879) to establish the first working laboratory of experimental psychology. The title of the lecture was "The influence of philosophy on the experimental sciences."

1875 was also the year in which William James gathered a set of experimental apparatus at Harvard University for purposes of instructional demonstrations, so we can assume that a scientific approach to psychology was being taught there at about the same time as Wundt's lecture.

-- Warren Street (warren@cwu.edu), January 08, 2002.

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