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Psychology Theories

Psychology Theories

Many different psychology theories have emerged to explain various aspects of human thought and behavior. Some of these theories are more historical in nature and not supported by current research. In other cases, these theories still play an important role in our understanding of different aspects of psychology.

In either case, learning more about these theories can help you better understand psychological history and current perspectives on psychology.

What Is a Psychology Theory?

A psychological theory acts as a framework to help understand and explain different aspects of the human mind and behavior. Such theories also serve an important role in that they can help researchers and mental health professionals make predictions about how people might respond in certain situations or under specific conditions.

Types of Psychology Theories

Five of the main theories in psychology are behaviorist theory, psychoanalytic theory, humanist theory, cognitive theory, and biopsychological theory. Specific theories within each of these main areas are often one of two different types:

  • Grand theories: This type of psychological theory strives to present an overarching framework that explains virtually all aspects of human behavior.
  • Mini-theories: This type of psychological theory is much more focused and seeks to explain a much more specific aspect of human behavior.

Examples of Psychology Theories

Psychoanalytic Theories

Psychoanalysis was the school of thought founded by Sigmund Freud. This approach suggested that the human mind comprises the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. The conscious mind consists of everything we are aware of, while the unconscious mind is all the thoughts, feelings, memories, and urges that are kept out of awareness.

Behavioral Theories

Behaviorism is a theory of learning that suggests that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner were among the prominent psychologists who advocated this approach.

For the first half of the 20th century, behaviorism became the dominant school of thought. While other theories eventually took precedence, techniques rooted in behavioral therapy are still used today to treat mental health conditions such as substance use, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Cognitive Theories

Cognitive theories of psychology focus on explaining mental processes that influence behavior. These theories often center on topics such as memory, language, problem-solving, motivation, decision-making, thinking, and attention.

Developmental Theories

Developmental theories seek to explain the course of development throughout life. Such theories offer a way to think about human growth and change. Such theories allow us to better understand some important influences that can shape development at different points in life. 

Humanist Theories

During the 1950s, another approach called humanistic psychology emerged and became known as the “third force” in psychology. While psychoanalysis and behaviorism focused primarily on problems, humanism took a more positive approach to explaining and understanding human behavior.

Humanists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow focused on individual strengths and the innate goodness of people. Many psychology theories that emerged from the humanist perspective continue to have an impact today, particularly in the field of positive psychology.

Personality Theories

Personality theories focus on understanding the patterns of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that make each person unique. Such theories try to explain how personality develops and how it may change over life.


Psychological research has inspired many theories to explain how and why people think, act, and feel the way they do. Understanding these theories can help provide insight into how the field of psychology came to be where it is today. It can also help professionals better understand some of the factors that affect mental health.