There have been several decades of research in psychology and the number of investigations about our way of thinking, feeling and behaving has grown in number and complexity. Waves of experiments, publications and scientific papers have been sedimented to create a mass of theories and knowledge about psychology and neuroscience that is intimidating to approach from scratch, but that does not mean that during these years there have not been relevant researchers with special importance.
This little Top 10 with some of the most famous psychologists can give you an idea about the times that research in psychology has gone through.
A totally questionable list with the most important and famous psychologists
Psychologists are listed here more or less according to the period to which they belong, not because of the magnitude of their works and discoveries. It is a list of the most important and influential psychologists in which, obviously, there will always be those who believe that we have forgotten someone. Although it is possible that not all of them are there, we can affirm that they are all the ones who are
1. Wilhelm Wundt
Wundt (August 16, 1832 – August 31, 1920) is considered by many the first psychologist in history . This is debatable, since psychology has its roots in philosophy and, depending on how we understand what the study of mental processes and human behavior should be, we can go back to the time of the pre-Socratic philosophers in search of its origins.
However, it is less debatable that Wilhelm Wundt deserves to be on any podium of the most famous and relevant psychologists for his role as a pioneer in scientific psychology . It was he who opened, in the Leipzig of 1879, the first laboratory focused exclusively on experimental psychology, a symptom that psychology was becoming consolidated as an independent discipline. To Wundt we owe, at least, the recognition of being the promoter of psychology as a systematic study of behavior and mental processes.
- Wundt’s biography, at this link
2. William James
Something similar to what Wundt did in Europe was also achieved by William James (January 11, 1842, in New York, United States – August 26, 1910, in New Hampshire, United States) in America, emphasizing the need to study psychology applying methods typical of the natural sciences .
In his book The Principles of Psychology , the American William James adopted some of the ideas that the English naturalist Charles Darwin made public a few years earlier with The Descent of Man about the instincts that were supposedly expressed in human behaviour.
For all these reasons, James is one of the most influential psychologists in the early stages of science.
- Know his biography, through this link
3. Sigmund Freud
Possibly, the personality that has most clearly shaped the stereotypes of the classic psychologist. As the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Pribor, May 6, 1856-London, September 23, 1939), is not part of the history of scientific psychology, but he is a reference in psychology in its broadest sense .
Freud was one of the pioneers in theorizing about the unconscious aspects of our behavior and the role that culture and social relations with others play in them.
Sigmund Freud is, because of his contributions and his groundbreaking theories, the most cited and famous psychologist in history. His personal biography, moreover, is full of curiosities and polemics. It is probable that if you ask an acquaintance with no links to the academic world, he will not be able to tell you anything about Vygotsky, James, Bandura… But about Freud everyone has heard about
4. Lev Vygotsky
The Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (November 17, 1896, Orsha, Russian Empire, present-day Belarus – June 11, 1934, Moscow, Soviet Union), is one of the great references of evolutionary psychology .
Vygotsky was one of the first researchers to emphasize the importance of cultural context and human relationships in the cognitive development of humans from early childhood.
And all this at a time when it was usual to consider that the mind emerged spontaneously from the individual, regardless of the living conditions in which he was immersed. Vygotsky broke with the tradition of genetics and determinism.
- You can read more about Vygotsky, here
5. Jean Piaget
Another of the most famous psychologists who have contributed most to the study of the science of behaviour and mental processes is the Swiss Jean Piaget (Neuchâtel, August 9, 1896 – Geneva, September 16, 1980). Together with Vygotsky, he is one of the great figures of developmental psychology .
His constructivist approach to pedagogy is very topical even today, decades after his death. Most educational psychologists and pedagogues take the theories and teachings of the Swiss psychologist as a reference.
- Here is more information about his Theory of Learning
6. B.F. Skinner
One of the great references, together with John B. Watson, of behavioural psychology .
Bhurrus Frederic Skinner (Susquehanna, March 20, 1904 – Cambridge, August 18, 1990) took the findings of the line of research initiated by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and adapted them to experimental psychology.
His approach to investigating behavior involved isolating behavioral variables in a laboratory to study the conditioning processes that he believed shaped the repertoire of human actions, beyond the influence of cultural differences, historical processes, and subjective states of consciousness.
- You can find out more about his life and theories, here
7. Abraham Maslow
Abraham Harold Maslow (Brooklyn, New York, April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970 Palo Alto, California) is one of the most famous psychologists in the history of Humanist Psychology.
In addition, its hierarchy of human needs (today presented graphically in the form of the Pyramid of Needs), in which the satisfaction of the most essential or subordinate needs allows access to the higher, more complex links of needs.
In addition to its influence on the field of human motivation and desire, its theories on self-actualization and self-realization can be considered foundational pieces of Positive Psychology
8. Albert Bandura
Albert Bandura (Mundare, Canada, December 4, 1925) is the creator of the Theory of Self-Efficacy and one of the researchers who most contributed to the development of the Theory of Learning Social , as well as in the field of Personality Psychology.
This author is especially recognized for his contributions regarding learning styles and the relationship between social relations and human cognition . Furthermore, in a survey conducted in 2002, thousands of psychology professionals and students placed Bandura in the fourth position of the most influential psychologists in history, behind Skinner, Piaget and Freud. Bandura has the honor of being the most cited psychologist alive .
You can read more about this psychologist in the two articles dedicated to the Ukrainian-Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura:
- “Albert Bandura’s Theory of Social Learning”
- “Albert Bandura’s Self-Efficacy: Do You Believe in Yourself”
9. Daniel Kahneman
This Israeli psychologist is known for his contributions in the field of behavioral economics and decision making . Together with other researchers, Daniel Kahneman (Tel Aviv, Israel. March 5, 1934) has contributed to questioning the assumption that human beings behave rationally in those contexts in which a cost-benefit logic should govern, such as the purchase of products or voting.
He also has the privilege of being one of the very few psychologists to have won a Nobel Prize.
- By the way, a few months ago we recommended one of your books in this article
10. Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker (Montreal, September 18, 1954) is known for his theories about language as a mechanism of adaptation to the environment carved out by evolution and for being one of the most famous psychologists among those who subscribe to evolutionary psychology .
A brilliant writer, Pinker is a professor at the prestigious Harvard University, being an eminent in the fields of perception and language development in childhood. In this respect, the Canadian defends the controversial idea that human language is a biological adaptation modelled by natural selection.
- You can read more about his ideas in The Clean Slate or The Language Instinct.