History’s 5 Most Famous Psychologists

Compared to biology and physics, psychology is a relatively young science. Despite its youth, psychology includes many facets and a wide range of areas of study. As the importance of psychology became widely accepted, world-renowned psychologists emerged shaping the landscape and development of how we study the mind and its behaviors.

Through the course of history, several psychologists have made tremendous contributions to the study of psychology. We’ve compiled a list of the 5 most important people in the history of psychology.

1. Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)

Wilhelm Wundt

Often referred to as the father of experimental psychology, Wilhelm Wundt is largely credited with making psychology recognized as a separate science. Wundt was the first psychologist to operationalize the process of self-examination, also known as introspection, for experimental use.

After publishing the first psychology textbook in 1874, Principles of Physiological Psychology, Wundt opened the Institute for Experimental Psychology at the University of Leipzig in 1879. His institute included the world’s first laboratory dedicated solely to researching and investigating psychological phenomena. Prior to opening the institute, psychology had been studied under the umbrella of biology and philosophy.

2. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Sigmund Freud

Throw a stone in the world of psychology, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was not familiar with the name Sigmund Freud. An Austrian neurologist, Freud is considered to be the founding father of psychoanalytic psychology and was the first to investigate the processes of the unconscious mind. The inventor of talk therapy, his work hypothesized that the mind’s structure was made up of the id, ego, and superego. Freud’s work set the stage for all of psychotherapy.

3. Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930)

Mary Whiton Calkins

Considered a pioneer for female psychologists, Mary Whiton Calkins was the second woman in the world to complete all of the requirements for a Ph.D. at Harvard. Despite having passed her requirements with distinction, Harvard refused to award her an official Ph.D., as at the time they did not formally admit female students.

Aside from paving the trail for female psychologists, Calkins’s scientific contributions were very impressive. In addition to inventing the paired association technique of memory, she was one of the first psychologists to believe psychology should be based on the conscious self as seen in relation to its environment. Calkins later became the first woman to serve as the president of the American Psychological Association (APA).

4. Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Jean Piaget

A pioneer in child psychology, Jean Piaget developed the first theory of child cognitive development. Before Piaget’s groundbreaking research, children were thought to share the same cognitive processes as adults. A native of Switzerland, his theory of cognitive development explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world. Piaget’s theory suggests children move through four stages of mental development:

  • Sensorimotor stage: birth to 2 years
  • Preoperational stage: ages 2 to 7
  • Concrete operational stage: ages 7 to 11
  • Formal operational stage: ages 12 and up

Moreover, Piaget’s theory disagreed with the idea that intelligence was a fixed trait. He believed cognitive development was an active process that occurs “due to biological maturation and interaction with the environment.” In addition to his contributions to the study of psychology, Piaget was a fierce child advocate. He believed that the education of children was vital to forming a successful society.

5. B.F. Skinner (1904-1990)

B.F. Skinner

Perhaps one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist best-known for his influence on behaviorism. Skinner referred to his own philosophy as ‘radical behaviorism’ and suggested the concept of free will was simply an illusion. Instead, he believed that all human action was the direct result of conditioning.

Through the course of his research, Skinner distinguished between two different types of behaviors, respondent behaviors and operant behaviors.

  • Respondent behaviors occur reflexively and automatically, such as pulling your hand back from a flame.
  • Operant behaviors occur under our conscious control, either spontaneously or on purpose.

Based on these two behaviors, Skinner theorized the human brain could be conditioned through operant conditioning (positive and negative reinforcement).

BE Psychology Center

Over the past century, psychology has continued to grow and evolve as we learn more about the human brain and its behaviors. At BE Psychology Center for Emotional Wellbeing, our team of professional psychologists in Dubai is dedicated to helping you achieve your therapeutic goals to live a happier and healthier life. Our custom-tailored consulting services are designed to empower individuals to overcome their struggles, so they can become the best version of themselves.

Contact a member of our team to learn more about how counseling can improve your life.


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Reem Shaheen – LMHC