In order to understand psychology we must imagine a giant mental map where we find, in broad terms, two central concepts or backbones: applied psychology (the practical part of psychology) and basic psychology (the theoretical part).

Basic psychology studies the psychic processes and behaviours of the human being , as well as the laws that govern such processes and behaviours. At the same time, it is nourished by different historical currents that we will know in this article.

On the other hand, applied psychology gathers the contributions of basic psychology to put them into practice and solve people’s problems.

Basic and applied psychology

Basic psychology is, in a way, the most fundamental part of psychology. That is, applied psychology is based on basic psychology as a basic science . But what is applied psychology?

Broadly speaking, applied psychology is a concept that refers to the practical side of psychology; it uses the knowledge obtained and the methods developed by basic psychology. That is, it puts into practice the knowledge obtained not only by basic psychology, but also by different branches of psychology (for example, social, experimental, evolutionary, developmental psychology…).

The aim of applied psychology is to solve problems of daily life , increasing the quality of life of people and making their functioning more positive and adaptive.

In addition, the different branches of applied psychology are concerned with the functionality of the above-mentioned processes in the different environments of the individual.

General Psychology

But to talk about basic psychology, we must also understand what general psychology is; this is the part of basic psychology that studies the mental processes and behavior in the individual considered normal and mature .

That is why the specific contents of general psychology do not exactly coincide with all the knowledge of basic psychology.

Basic psychology: what is it?

For its part, basic psychology is a fundamental part of psychology, which deals with the study of the psychic processes and behaviors of human beings, as well as the laws that govern such processes and behaviors . It attempts to explain the processes underlying behaviour, which the organism develops or carries out.

In other words, basic psychology encompasses all of that knowledge of the mind and behavior that is not applied. Basic psychology focuses on a number of areas of knowledge or research.

Research areas

The areas investigated by basic psychology, mainly, are 6:

  • Memory.
  • Learning.
  • Sensation.
  • Reasoning.
  • Perception.
  • Motivation.

Psychological currents

Basic psychology draws on and supports different psychological currents to develop its explanations and theories . At a historical level, the main currents that have nourished basic psychology were -and are- (in chronological order) a total of 9:

1. Structuralism

Initiated by Wundt at the beginning of the 19th century, it attempts to scientifically study consciousness (considered an object of psychology).

2. Functionalism

Developed by William James a little later, also in the 19th century. It is concerned with the functional and pragmatic approach to consciousness.

3. Psychoanalysis

Promoted by Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century. Freud began his studies of neurosis through psychoanalysis, as opposed to the traditional anatomical or physiological model.

4. Russian Reflexology

Developed by Ivan Pavlov . Pavlov discovers a procedure (the conditioned reflex) to study the dynamics of psychic activity which he calls “higher nerve activity”.

5. Behaviorism

Initiated in the United States in the early 20th century by John Watson. Watson, faced with the failure of introspection, seeks a method whose results are absolutely objective . He studies behaviour and its genesis, and uses techniques that can control and change it.

6. Gestalt

It appears in Germany in the early twentieth century, by the hand of Wertheimer . He considers that “the whole is more than the sum of the parts”, and therefore does not intend to break down the psychological phenomenon into parts.

7. Neoconductism

It originated in the 1930s by three main authors: Hull, Tolman and Skinner. It is based on the experimental analysis of behavior , and its doctrine is based on operant conditioning (stimulus – response – reinforcer).

8. Cognitivism

It appears in the 50’s and 60’s, promoted by Piaget and Neisser, as behaviourism is beginning to be questioned for its excessive reductionism, and cognitive variables are beginning to be taken into account in the study of human activity.

9. Humanism

It also originates in the 1950s and 1960s, a little later than cognitivism, with authors such as Rogers, Allport and Maslow . It represents a conception of man close to the most traditional philosophical currents, and includes concepts such as self-realization and human motivation.

Bibliographic references:

  • Arias, M. F. and Fernández, F. (2000). Basic psychology, applied psychology and research methodology: the paradigmatic case of experimental and applied analysis of behaviour. Latin American Journal of Psychology, 32(2), 277-300.
  • García Vega, L. (2007). Brief history of psychology. 2nd edition. Siglo XXI. Madrid.