Module code: PSY1022

Module Overview

This course will examine classic and recent work in the history of psychology. This course is a general introduction to the thinking of important figures, intellectual movements and kinds of critical ideas that have structured the history of psychology: the modern science of mind and behaviour. Students will learn about the theories developed by major figures in the history of psychology such as Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, William James, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Donald Hebb, and will become familiar with the conceptual approaches developed within such movements as psychoanalysis, evolutionary psychology, social psychology, intelligence testing, cognitive psychology and clinical psychology. Students will also be introduced to a range of critical resources for interrogating psychological theory including feminist criticism, the philosophies of science of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn, feminism, and the move to internationalize the history of psychology.  

Module provider


Module Leader

VIOLANTE Ines (Psychology)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 4

Module cap (Maximum number of students): N/A

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 126

Lecture Hours: 22

Tutorial Hours: 2

Module Availability

Semester 2

Prerequisites / Co-requisites


Module content


Introduction to the Course: orientation to aims and objectives, readings and assignment. Is psychology a science and can there ever be a unified view about this?

The Scientific Revolution, Nativism and Empiricism

Debates About Brain Localization

The sensing and perceiving mind in 19th century Germany

Wilhelm Wundt and the Leipzig Institute for Experimental Psychology

Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution

Galton and the Study of Individual Differences in the UK

William James and the Beginnings of American Psychology

The IQ testing movement in France and the United States

The Rise and Fall of Behaviourism

How Social Psychology Became an Experimental Science

Personality Theories in the History of Psychology

The Philosophies of Science of Karl Popper and Thomas Kuhn

The Origins of Cognitive Science.

Jean Piaget and Genetic Epistemology

The Long-Neglected Work of Lev Vygotsky

The History of Classifying Psychological Distress in Psychology and Psychiatry

The Rise of the Contemporary Neuroscience

Gender, Race, and Culture in the History of Psychology

Consolidation and Course Feedback


  1. Demonstration of classic 19th century psychology experiments.

  2. Exercise on discovery, falsification and paradigm shift in the history of science.

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework 4 PAGE ESSAY 25
Examination 90-MINUTE EXAMINATION 75

Alternative Assessment


Assessment Strategy

The assessment strategy is designed to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and critical thinking and transferable skills.

Historians of psychology communicate in books - which are long and time-consuming to read. Consequently, they often read and write book reviews, which communicate a summary of a book's argument, an assessment of its quality, and a statement about its relevance for other readers (who might be historians, psychologists, or lay people).  Accordingly, book reviews need to be short and to-the-point, while also drawing on essay writing skills. 

For this assignment you will write a book review of one of the following five "classic" texts in psychology. 

1) Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (224 pages).

2) Freud, S. (1962). Five lectures on psychoanalysis. In J. Strachey (Ed.), Two short accounts of psychoanalysis. London: Harmondsworth. (175 pages). [note:  You do not need to review Freud’s essay on “The question of lay analysis” which is also in this volume].

3) Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. Harmondsworth: Penguin. New York: Harper Colophon. (224 pages).

4) Piaget, J. (1970). Genetic epistemology. New York: Columbia University Press. (84 pages).

5) Skinner, B.F. (1972). Beyond freedom and dignity. Cape: London. (227 pages).

For the essay, write a book review of one of the following five ‘great books’ in psychology. Your book review will include (1) a summary of the book’s key arguments (supported by direct quotations), (2) communicate your understanding of the historical context in which the book was written and read (3) communicate your understanding of the conceptual impact of this book on the field - both within its own 'school of thought' and beyond, and (4) critically evaluate the book’s relevance for psychology and 21st century life.

The examination question will include MCQs as well as 1 longer essay question from a choice of 5.

Here the students can demonstrate their understanding and critical thinking skills based on the acquired knowledge.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

·         25% Book Review (4 pages).

·         75% 90 min exam

Formative assessment and feedback

-       An example exam question is provided midway through the course and students are encouraged to hand in an answer. Formative feedback is provided on this question to students who respond.

-       One lecture session in Week 5 is devoted to taking stock of the content covered, and reminding students of the learning aims and objectives.

-       One lecture in Week 11 is devoted entirely to exam preparation and is organized around getting students to understand different levels of attainment recognized in the marking guidelines by guiding them to write questions that will assess them.

-        Essays are returned with written formative feedback provided prior to the onset of the examination period. 

Module aims

  • This module aims to: provide students with a knowledge and critical understanding of the approaches to examining human nature that has led to our understanding of psychology today. To ensure students can demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the discipline and are able to critically assess the impact of the historical roots of the dicipline upon contemporary thought

Learning outcomes

Attributes Developed
1 An ability to describe major events and figures in the history of your chosen field of university study: psychology K
2 An ability to evaluate and systematically assess the similarities and differences between major movements and major theorists in psychology CT
3 An ability to narrate the history of influence between past and present 'schools of thought' in psychology KC
4 An ability to evaluate and critique the philosophical assumptions of intellectual movements in psychology with particular concern for their epistemology of science and their ontology of the mind, their ethics and politics, and their relationship to behaviour, bodies, societies and cultures CT
5 An ability to articulate how historical, cultural and biographical contexts may affect psychologists' theories in the past and the present KCP

Attributes Developed

C - Cognitive/analytical

K - Subject knowledge

T - Transferable skills

P - Professional/Practical skills

Methods of Teaching / Learning

The 22 lectures will each be of one-hour duration and the two group tutorials will each be one hour in duration. The lectures will be delivered concurrently to undergraduate and MSc students. Master’s students and undergraduate students will be taught in separate tutorial groups and follow different assessment patterns.

Learning and teaching strategies.

The strategy is to narrate the history of the study of psychology from Descartes’ dualism to the present.  The lectures are organized mostly around key individuals (e.g., Wundt, Darwin, Galton, Freud, James, Piaget, Vygotsky), sometimes around schools of thought or debates (e.g., localization debates, behaviourism, social psychology), and critical thinking (e.g., philosophy of science, representation of gender, ‘race,’ and culture). Guest lecturers with particular knowledge are featured, and the convenor leader communicates the aims and objectives of the course and is responsible for its coherence, through office hours, review sessions, and management of SurreyLearn.  The module leader explains to students that there are different and divergent viewpoints on history that are valid and that the guest lecture format reflects and models that diversity. 

Learning and teaching methods.

Lectures follow a standard lecture format.

The tutorials aim to ensure understanding of 19th century psychology experiments through direct witnessing, and an understanding of how observation affects theory discovery in the history of science.  Both are highly practical, and draw on experiential learning in the classroom.   

Indicated Lecture Hours (which may also include seminars, tutorials, workshops and other contact time) are approximate and may include in-class tests where one or more of these are an assessment on the module. In-class tests are scheduled/organised separately to taught content and will be published on to student personal timetables, where they apply to taken modules, as soon as they are finalised by central administration. This will usually be after the initial publication of the teaching timetable for the relevant semester.

Reading list
Upon accessing the reading list, please search for the module using the module code: PSY1022

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Psychology BSc (Hons) 2 Compulsory A weighted aggregate mark of 40% is required to pass the module

Please note that the information detailed within this record is accurate at the time of publishing and may be subject to change. This record contains information for the most up to date version of the programme / module for the 2020/1 academic year.