History of 21st Century Psychology: Major Developments & Contributions

Instructor: Sudha Aravindan

Sudha has a Doctor of Education Degree and is currently working as a Information Technology Specialist.

Did you know that forensic psychology is a branch of psychology? Let's take a tour through history to learn about the evolution of psychology through the ages, including fascinating developments in the 21st-century.

Psychology through the First Century

Ann is a forensic psychologist, and she has been called upon to create a psychological profile of a criminal. Psychology is a study of the human mind. Mankind has been fascinated with the mind, brain, and emotions from the beginnings of time.

Ann picked up a book for research, and she was fascinated by the history and timeline.

Timeline Contribution
700 BCE In Egypt, psychological experiments are done by Psamtik I.
700 to 800 BCE Homer introduces the concept that the heart is the origin of feelings and thoughts through his poems the Iliad and Odyssey.
550 BCE Pythagoras came to the conclusion that the physical world is materialized only through the soul.
469 to 399 BCE Socrates, the teacher of Plato, considered to be one of the founders of Western philosophy argued that the key to happiness is through the soul.
460 - 377 BCE Hippocrates was able to clinically establish that injuries to the head resulted in spasms, how the brain has an affect on movement and the brain's role in perception and physiological functions.
427 - 348 BCE Plato describes that a person should be able to control appetite and passion through reason. However, disabilities of the mind require therapy because ruling appetites or desires are not controlled through reason. The view of reason and appetite being opposing forces is valid in today's psychoanalytic theory.
120 - 201 CE Galen, the Greek physician, and philosopher that classified emotions and proposed a theory of personalities.

21st Century Trends in Psychology

In the 21st-century, the focus of psychology moved into the cognitive realm, where instead of strictly depending on empirical studies there was also an increased acceptance of rational thinking, and other mechanisms of acquiring information and knowledge, including reasoning, memory, attention, and language.


James volunteered for a research project that involves scanning the brain for reactions to emotional stimuli. Recent advances allow for the scan and study of the brain, while a complex task is performed. In the latter part of the 20th-century, the Psychological Association (APA), formed a multidisciplinary initiative, Decade of the Behavior. The APA acknowledged that understanding human behaviors are more important, than a study of the brain alone; since behaviors are responsible for problems, solutions, and accomplishments of mankind.

Computers and Psychology

Mary is a computer psychologist who is interested in learning about how computers function, and interact, with human beings and other computers. Computers, like people, can develop problems or ailments if they are unable to handle tasks they are asked to perform!

Katie's lab works with artificial intelligence where computers can do translations, work on speech recognition, and make decisions similar to human intelligence. In the next lab, Jamie is interested in computer modeling and working towards a multidisciplinary approach coordinating psychology, biology and computer science. Advances in computer technology are helping with computerized modeling, presentations, and analyzing complex statistical relationships.

Allen Brain Atlas

The Allen Mouse and Human Brain Atlas were initiated in September 2003, with a donation from Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.

This initiative aims to create atlases, or maps of the brain, to gain knowledge about the connections between genes and the functioning of the brain. This would help advancements in research about conditions that are neurological in nature, such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and Autism.

In order to complete the brain atlas, data has to be collected, and synthesized, from different sources including brain scans, medical information, and genetic and psychological data. A 3-D biochemical architecture of the brain is created to study how protein expresses itself in different parts of the brain. Using Brain Explorer software, you can view an interactive version of the brain in 3D, search for any gene, and view data from multiple images superimposed on each other.


As the 21st-century advances, we are learning more about the functions of the brain, and there are currently 54 different specializations within psychology listed by the APA. Some examples are:

  • Addictions
  • Behavior Analysis
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Criminal Justice
  • Developmental Disabilities,
  • Forensics,
  • Neuroscience,
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Trauma

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