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Psychological Approaches – The History of Psychology

3. Functionalism

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This third lecture introduces functionalism, starting with Darwin’s original theories of evolutionary psychology, stating that human behaviours serve an adaptive function. This brought about the idea that researchers might learn about human psychology by studying animals. Mr Fairholm then uses the example of the human hand and arm to compare the structuralist and functionalist approaches. The former approach would learn about its operation through the bones, muscles and tendons that make up the physical structures. The latter would consider why we have hands and arms and what evolutionary advantages might come from having them. Functionalism, when applied to consciousness, could explain why humans have it and animals do not, by function of it being an advantage which aided with survival. William James was 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) walks through the history of psychology and its evolution from philosophical beginnings to modern science. The first lecture describes the evolution of psychology as a philosophical entity, as it develops prior to Wundt opening the first psychology laboratory in 1879. The second lecture explores the scientific practices enabled by the technological developments of the 19th century, which provided the basis for the early psychological theory of structuralism. Lecture three introduces functionalism, a key development in psychology supported by Darwin’s theory of evolution. Lecture four brings to light early psychology as we know it today, in the form of behaviourism. The fifth and final lecture works through three key perspectives which developed on from or responded to 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. Mr Fairholm’s recent publications have included investigations into the female autistic profile, treating anxiety and depression with and without addiction, adults grieving the death of a pet, and Sigmund Freud’s research on religion. He has also published papers in the fields of parapsychology, neuropsychoanalysis, perception and neuropsychology.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

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

MLA style

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

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