Module code: PSYM095

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.  The course will introduce discourse analysis as a critical method for interrogating history.



Module provider


Module Leader

VIOLANTE Ines (Psychology)

Number of Credits: 15

ECTS Credits: 7.5

Framework: FHEQ Level 7

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

Overall student workload

Independent Learning Hours: 108

Lecture Hours: 22

Seminar Hours: 20

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. Critical examination of the representation of the history of psychology in psychology textbooks focused on the Little Albert experiment.

  2. Critical examination of power relationships between psychological research and institutions focusing on an interpretation of the Little Albert experiment via the life of its research subject.

  3. Introduction of discourse analysis as a means of critiquing assumptions in scientific texts drawing on the sociology of scientific knowledge.

  4. Critical examination of “disciplinary power” relationships in texts in the history of psychology drawing on Foucaultian discourse analysis. 

  5. Realism and relativism.  Introduction to debates about the limits of text-based understandings in the history of psychology. 

  6. Coherence and narrative. This session focuses on the importance of narrative in historical writing, and guides students toward the assessment. 

Assessment pattern

Assessment type Unit of assessment Weighting
Coursework QUALITATIVE REPORT (2,200 WORDS) 50
Examination WRITTEN EXAM 60 MINUTES 50

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.

The essay will be an account of the historiography of the Little Albert experiment that communicates its historic importance, differeing interpretations of the experiment over time, and which demonstrates understanding trhough implementation of critical resources for discourse analysis introduced through the seminar, cinluding the sociology of scientific knowledge, Foucaultian discourse analysis and metahistory.

The examination question will be a longer essay-style question. Here the students can demonstrate deer understanding and critical thinking skills based on the acquired knowledge.  MSc students will be expected to demonstrate an ability to apply the critical thinking skills learned in the tutorials to the material presented in the lectures.

Thus, the summative assessment for this module consists of:

·         50% Essay 2,200 word

·         50% 60 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.

-       Tutorials are group discussions that involve iterative feedback of students’ on-line and in-person interpretations of the readings and audio-visual material. Tutorial performances are not assessed.

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

Module aims

  • 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 discipline 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 KCPT

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 two hours 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 they will be assessed against Master’s level criteria. The differences of which will be made clear to them at the onset of their course

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.

In the tutorials, we emphasize the variance in the levels of the students who sit together during the lectures. For undergraduates, the tutorials aim to ensure understanding of basic ‘concepts’ in biology that have influenced the history of psychology. For the MSc students, the tutorials will engage more advanced critical thinking about the history of psychology.  For the MSc students, the tutorials will be organized around Watson and Rayner’s “Little Albert” experiment.  Across two workshops, MSc students will be guided through the process of opening up this experimental study to historical reinterpretation with the aim of increasing their ability to use historical thinking to critique the philosophy, ethics and politics of psychological research.  Throughout, additional examples will be used to scaffold students’ learning beyond the Little Albert study to more general issues.

For the first seminar, students will be required to read one original account of the experiment (Watson & Rayner, 1920), and Harris’s (1979) classic article that uses Thomas Kuhn’s history of science to describe the Little Albert study as a “textbook myth.” Students will also be invited to watch a short film of Watson and Rayner experimenting on Little Albert.  The seminar will consist of a guided reading of both papers, a short lecture linking Thomas Kuhn’s general theory with Harris specific argument, and recommendations for other papers on “textbook myths” on such topics as the Kitty Genovese murder, the Hawthorne studies, and Phineas Gage.  We will discuss strategies for reading historical material in psychology textbooks critically in light of these examples.  We will watch the video again as a group, and students will be lead to consider how such video materials might provide critical leverage for moving beyond ‘textbook’ understandings of the history of research in psychology.

The second seminar will focus on the interpretation of history “from below;” from the perspective of people ‘made subject’ by research rather than the perspective of psychologists. Students will be guided through pre-assigned articles on recent claims to have discovered the identity of the true ‘Little Albert.’  We will emphasize issues such as gender and class status and describe (1) how Watson and Rayner made use of institutionalized children in their research, and (2) how Watson’s behaviourism influenced the treatment of institutionalized children.  We will consider some other ways that psychological theories have influenced the ways that children are brought up, and students will be presented with Ian Hacking’s notion of ‘looping effects’ between human sciences and human experience.  This seminar will conclude with discussion of the ethics and politics of psychologists’ engagement with institutions for the purposes of subject recruitment, and the use of psychological theories within institutions.


A separate Surrey Learn discussion group – accessible only by MSc level students will support students’ engagement with this material beyond the two tutorials themselves.  Students will be encouraged to contribute their thoughts to the online discussion at three points in time (1) upon watching the Watson and Rayner video and before Tutorial 1 (2) after the discussion in Tutorial 1 and (3) after the discussion in tutorial 2. The module convenor will draw upon the material presented online prior to the tutorials in the tutorials themselves, and will leave final formative feedback on the online discussion board after the second tutorial.  

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: PSYM095

Programmes this module appears in

Programme Semester Classification Qualifying conditions
Psychology (Conversion) MSc(CORE) 2 Core Each unit of assessment must be passed at 50% 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.