The question is perhaps not so much what psychology will be in 2100 as whether it will exist as we know it.
By Rand B. Evans, PhD
Predicting future history is a fool's task at best. How could we predict the psychology of today from that found in 1900? Fortunately, neither I nor my readers will be around 100 years from now to challenge these predictions.
There are some trends, however, that if left unchecked may well lead to the future suggested here. These ideas are given as food for thought.
The question is perhaps not so much what psychology will be in 2100 as whether it will exist as we know it. It is unlikely, for instance, that the subject matters that make up psychology today will be found together in the same academic departments. Psychology, as with many academic disciplines, is made up of a group of subject matters that grew together over this past century largely by historical accident. In the next century, many disciplines, including psychology, will be overhauled.
Addressing mental health challenges
Clinical psychology will be altered fundamentally by the conclusion of the human genome project and in the applied disciplines that will derive from that work. Much of mental illness will be prevented through those discoveries, and the more profound human psychological ailments will be dealt with through gene therapy.
Advances in the knowledge about the brain will lead to precise biochemical and noninvasive techniques to correct chemical imbalances and neural ailments. This knowledge will also lead to designer drugs that will reshape personality patterns. Both the legitimate and illegitimate use of such drugs will occupy the time of many psychologists.
Clinical psychologists will merge more with counseling fields, or they will leave psychology entirely and become a therapeutic field along with what remains of psychiatry. Training in clinical psychology will emphasize the retraining of formerly mentally ill individuals so they can be integrated into normal life.
Clinical psychology will also continue to deal with substance abuse. The drug addictions we know of today will be largely a thing of the past--due to inoculation against their effects on the brain. However, innovative criminals will invent new drugs that addict at different levels. Alcohol will continue to be an addictive problem.
We'll also see more addictions of a social nature, including information addiction. People will increasingly withdraw from direct social interaction with others due to the escalating dispersion and decentralization of the workplace. People will seek to satisfy their need for human interaction with secondary social interactions through virtual interactive liaisons and groups, all mediated by the Internet or its replacement. This will produce addictive and psychologically based obsessive behavior, with emotional consequences brought about by the poor development of interpersonal skills in a society of increasingly isolated individuals--and provide clients for counseling/clinical psychologists.
As mental illness and emotional problems are dealt with more commonly through biochemistry, a strong spiritual and mental counter-movement will arise, dedicated to coping in the world without chemical or mechanical aids. These movements will develop radical therapies and group cultures, rejecting all but the most primary and personally human relationships. They will deal with hope, self-actualization, self-worth and spirituality. Such movements will be looked on with disdain by the biomedical "establishment" but they will gain strength as the 21st century ends.
Meanwhile, a vast amount of human behavior will be modeled with high-level computers by the end of the century. Much experimentation in the fractured fields once the core of psychology will be carried out by manipulating these models. Much will remain to be modeled, however. A new behaviorism will arise based on the attempt to completely specify human and animal behaviors to a level not dreamt of in the 20th century. The attempt will fail, however, and by the end of the next century, the possibility of attaining the modeling of human behavior with any sort of meaningful result will be questioned. The totality of human behavior will be modeled about the same time as will precise weather prediction for a given city block a year in advance.
A reorganization of psychology subfields
Cognitive psychologists will leave psychology for programs in cognitive science, where their language is more fluently spoken. With them will go much of the psychology of human learning, memory, language and thought. Physiological psychologists will depart into programs of brain science, neurobehavior and other such new clusters. Psychology will be left as a social science, without its natural science components of today, if the name continues to be used at all.
Social psychology will become an independent member of the human sciences of the 21st century, along with aspects of social anthropology, social criminology and sociology--at least, that is, the remnants of those fields, after an academic reorganization in mid-century. Interpersonal relationships will be studied, and abnormal interpersonal groups will become a major subject matter. Gangs and social revolutionaries will not disappear in the next century. If anything, the isolation and alienation of individuals in an increasingly mechanized society will increase antisocial behavior and with it its study.
Life-span developmental psychology will likely become a field of its own, separate from psychology, or it may become the core of psychology itself by mid-century, with the other present-day subfields dispersing elsewhere. The problems of aging, and coping with aging, will be a major focus of 21st century psychology. As more people live longer and remain healthier, the question of what to do with increased spare time and longer retirement expectancies will occupy many in the field.
APA may still exist, though more likely as an umbrella organization for a loose confederation of fields once represented by the name "psychology." Or, if psychology splinters and scatters, APA could cease to exist altogether, but will have died of success, as will have the psychology we now know at the end of this century.