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Psychological Approaches – The History of Psychology

3. Functionalism

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In this lecture, we think about functionalism, focusing in particular on: (i) Darwin’s original theories of evolutionary psychology, stating that human behaviours serve an adaptive function; (ii) the idea that researchers might learn about human psychology by studying animals; (iii) the example of the human hand and arm to compare structuralist and functionalist approaches – the former approach would learn about its operation through the bones, muscles and tendons that make up the physical structures, while the latter would consider why we have hands and arms and what evolutionary advantages might come from having them; (iv) functionalism, when applied to consciousness, explaining why humans have it and animals do not, by function of it being an advantage which aided survival; (v) William James as a proponent of the functionalist over the structuralist approach, a view important in enabling psychological theory and findings to be applied to the real world.


Functionalism – Focuses on the purpose of behaviour and consciousness, rather than on its elements. Its emphasis on individual differences informed future practices in the field of education.


In this course, Mr Ian Fairholm (University of Bath) explores the history of psychology and its evolution from philosophical beginnings to modern science. In the first lecture, we think about the evolution of psychology as a philosophical entity, as it develops prior to Wundt opening the first psychology laboratory in 1879. In the second lecture, we explore the scientific practices enabled by the technological developments of the 19th century, which provided the basis for the early psychological theory of structuralism. In the third lecture, we think about functionalism, a key development in psychology supported by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Next, we bring to light early psychology as we know it today, in the form of behaviourism. In the fifth and final lecture, we work through three key perspectives which developed on from behaviourism: humanistic psychology, cognitive psychology, and social learning theory.


Mr Ian Fairholm is a senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath. One of his research areas of interest is the history of psychology and the issues, debates and approaches that surround the subject. Some of Mr Fairholm’s recent publications include 'Looking back: Freud, the libido and oxytocin' (2014) and 'Issues, debates and approaches in psychology' (2012).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Fairholm, I. (2022, January 05). Psychological Approaches – The History of Psychology - Functionalism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Fairholm, I. "Psychological Approaches – The History of Psychology – Functionalism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 07 Jan 2022,

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