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Psychology is an academic and applied field involving the study of the human mind, brain, and behavior. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including problems of individuals' daily lives and the treatment of mental illness.

Psychology differs from anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology in seeking to capture explanatory generalizations about the mental function and overt behaviour of individuals, while the other disciplines rely more heavily on field studies and historical methods for extracting descriptive generalizations. In practice, however, there is quite a lot of cross-fertilization that takes place among the various fields. Psychology differs from biology and neuroscience in that it is primarily concerned with the interaction of mental processes and behavior, and of the overall processes of a system, and not simply the biological or neural processes themselves, though the subfield of neuropsychology combines the study of the actual neural processes with the study of the mental effects they have subjectively produced.

The word psychology comes from the ancient Greek ψυχή, psyche ("soul", "mind") and -logy|logy, study).


Main article: History of psychology
Rudolph Goclenius
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Rudolph Goclenius, a German scholastic philosopher, is credited with inventing the term 'psychology' (1590). The root of the word psychology (psyche) means "soul" in Greek, and psychology was sometimes considered a study of the soul (in a religious sense of this term). Psychology as a medical discipline can be seen in Thomas Willis' reference to psychology (the "Doctrine of the Soul") in terms of brain function, as part of his 1672 anatomical treatise "De Anima Brutorum" ("Two Discourses on the Souls of Brutes").

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Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.
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Philosophical and scientific rootsEdit

The study of psychology in philosophical context dates back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China and India. Psychology began adopting a more clinical[1] and experimental[2] approach under medieval Muslim psychologists and physicians, who built psychiatric hospitals for such purposes.[3]

In 1802, French physiologist Pierre Cabanis helped to pioneer biological psychology with his essay Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme (On the relations between the physical and moral aspects of man). Cabanis interpreted the mind in light of his previous studies of biology,arguing that sensibility and soul are properties of the nervous system.

Though the use of psychological experimentation dates back to Alhazen's Book of Optics in 1021,[2][4] psychology as an independent experimental field of study began in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory dedicated exclusively to psychological research at Leipzig University in Germany, for which Wundt is known as the "father of psychology".[5] The year 1879 is thus sometimes regarded as the "birthdate" of psychology. The American philosopher William James published his seminal book, Principles of Psychology[6] in 1890, laying the foundations for many of the questions that psychologists would focus on for years to come. Other important early contributors to the field include Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), a pioneer in the experimental study of memory at the University of Berlin; and the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) who investigated the learning process now referred to as classical conditioning.


Main article: Psychoanalysis

From the 1890s until his death in 1939, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud developed a method of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. Freud's understanding of the mind was largely based on interpretive methods, introspection and clinical observations, and was focused in particular on resolving unconscious conflict, mental distress and psychopathology. Freud's theories became very well-known, largely because they tackled subjects such as sexuality, repression, and the unconscious mind as general aspects of psychological development. These were largely considered taboo subjects at the time, and Freud provided a catalyst for them to be openly discussed in polite society. While Freud is perhaps best known for his tripartite model of the mind, consisting of the id, ego, and superego, and his theories about the Oedipus complex, his most lasting legacy may be not the content of his theories but his clinical innovations, such as the method of free association and a clinical interest in dreams.

Freud had a significant influence on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology became an alternative form of depth psychology. Other well-known psychoanalytic thinkers of the mid-twentieth century included Sigmund Freud's daughter, psychoanalyst Anna Freud; German-American psychologist Erik Erickson, Austrian-British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, English psychoanalyst and physician D. W. Winnicott, German psychologist Karen Horney, German-born psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, and English psychiatrist John Bowlby. Contemporary psychoanalysis comprises diverse schools of thought, including ego psychology, object relations, interpersonal, Lacanian, and relational psychoanalysis. Modification of Jung's theories has led to the archetypal and process-oriented schools of psychological thought.

Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper argued that Freud's psychoanalytic theories were presented in untestable form.[7] Psychology departments in American universities today are scientifically oriented, and Freudian theory has been marginalized, being regarded instead as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact, according to a recent APA study.[8] Recently, however, South African neuroscientist Mark Solms and other researchers in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis have argued for Freud's theories, pointing out brain structures relating to Freudian concepts such as libido, drives, the unconscious, and repression.[9]


Main article: Behaviorism

Behaviorism arose partly due to the popularity of laboratory-based animal experimentation and partly in reaction to Freudian psychodynamics, which was difficult to test empirically because, among other reasons, it tended to rely on case studies and clinical experience, and dealt largely with intra-psychic phenomena that were difficult to quantify or to define operationally. Moreover, in contrast with early psychologists Wilhelm Wundt and William James, who studied the mind via introspection, the behaviorists argued that the contents of the mind were not open to scientific scrutiny and that scientific psychology should only be concerned with the study of observable behavior. There was no consideration of internal representation or the mind. Founded in the early 20th century by American psychologist John B. Watson, behaviorism was embraced and extended by Americans Edward Thorndike, Clark L. Hull, Edward C. Tolman, and later B.F. Skinner.

Behaviorism differs from other perspectives in a number of ways. Behaviorists focus on behavior-environment relations and analyze overt and covert (i.e., private) behavior as a function of the organism interacting with its environment.[10] Behaviorists do not reject the study of covert or private events (e.g., dreaming), but rather reject the proposition that an autonomous causal entity inside the organism causes overt (e.g., walking, talking) or covert (e.g., dreaming, imagining) behavior. Concepts such as "mind" or "consciousness" are not used by behaviorists because such terms do not describe actual psychological events (such as imagining) but are used as explanatory entities hidden somewhere in the organism. By contrast, behaviorism treats private events as behavior, and analyzes them in the same way as overt behavior. Behavior refers to the concrete events of the organism, overt or private.

American linguist Noam Chomsky's critique of the behaviorist model of language acquisition is regarded by many as a key turning point in the decline of behaviorism's general prominence.[11] But Skinner's behaviorism has not died, perhaps in part because it has generated successful practical applications.[11] The ascendancy of behaviorism as an overarching model in psychology, however, gave way to a new dominant paradigm: cognitive approaches.[12]

Humanism and existentialismEdit

Main article: Humanistic psychology

Humanistic psychology was developed in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. By using phenomenology, intersubjectivity and first-person categories, the humanistic approach seeks to glimpse the whole person--not just the fragmented parts of the personality or cognitive functioning.[13] Humanism focuses on uniquely human issues and fundamental issues of life, such as self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. There are several factors which distinguish the humanistic approach from other approaches within psychology. These include the emphasis on subjective meaning, a rejection of determinism, and a concern for positive growth rather than pathology. Some of the founding theorists behind this school of thought were American psychologists Abraham Maslow, who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, and Carl Rogers, who created and developed client-centered therapy; and German-American psychiatrist Fritz Perls, who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy. It became so influential as to be called the "third force" within psychology, along with behaviorism and psychoanalysis.[14]

Influenced largely by the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, psychoanalytically-trained American psychologist Rollo May developed an existential breed of psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. Existential psychologists argued that people must come to terms with their mortality and that, in so doing, people will be obligated to accept that they are free—that they possess free will and are at liberty to defy expectations and conventions in order to forge their own, meaningful paths through life. May believed that an important element of the meaning-making process is the search for myths, or narrative patterns into which the individual may fit.[15]

From the existential perspective, not only does the quest for meaning follow from an acceptance of mortality, but the attainment of meaning can overshadow the prospect of death. As Austrian existential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed,[16] "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way".[17]

May helped to pioneer the development of existential therapy, and Frankl created a variety of it called logotherapy. In addition to May and Frankl, Swiss psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger and American psychologist George Kelly may be said to belong to the existential school.[18] Both existential and humanistic psychologists argue that people should strive to reach their full potential, but only humanistic psychologists believe that this striving is innate. For existential psychologists, the striving only follows an anxiety-producing contemplation of mortality, freedom, and responsibility.[19]


Main article: Cognitive psychology

Behaviorism was the dominant paradigm in American psychology throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, the modern field of psychology largely came to be dominated by cognitive psychology. Noam Chomsky's 1959 review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior challenged the behaviorist approaches to studies of behavior and language dominant at the time and contributed to the cognitive revolution in psychology. Chomsky was highly critical of what he considered arbitrary notions of 'stimulus', 'response' and 'reinforcement' which Skinner borrowed from animal experiments in the laboratory. Chomsky argued that Skinner's notions could only be applied to complex human behavior, such as language acquisition, in a vague and superficial manner. Chomsky emphasized that research and analysis must not ignore the contribution of the child in the acquisition of language and proposed that humans are born with a natural ability to acquire language.[20] Work most associated with psychologist Albert Bandura, who initiated and studied social learning theory, showed that children could learn aggression from a role model through observational learning, without any change in overt behavior, and so must be accounted for by internal processes.[21]

With the rise of computer science and artificial intelligence, analogies were drawn between information processing by humans and information processing by machines. This, combined with the assumptions that mental representations exist and that mental states and operations could be inferred through scientific experimentation in the laboratory, led to the rise of cognitivism as a popular model of the mind. Research in cognition was also backed by the aim to gain a better understanding of weapons operation since World War II.[22]

Cognitive psychology differs from other psychological perspectives in two key ways. First, it accepts the use of the scientific method, and generally rejects introspection as a method of investigation, unlike symbol-driven approaches such as Freudian psychodynamics. Second, it explicitly acknowledges the existence of internal mental states—such as belief, desire and motivation—whereas behaviorism does not. In fact, like Freud and depth psychologists, cognitive psychologists are even interested in unconscious phenomena, including repression; but cognitive psychologists prefer to explore these phenomena in terms of operationally-defined components, such as subliminal processing and implicit memory, that are amenable to experimental investigation. Moreover, cognitive psychologists have questioned the very existence of some of these components. For example, American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has used empirical methods to demonstrate ways in which apparent memories can be brought to light via fabrication rather than through the elimination of repression.

Preceding the cognitive revolution by several decades, Hermann Ebbinghaus had pioneered the experimental study of memory, arguing that higher mental processes are not hidden from view, but instead could be studied using experimentation.[23] Links between psychological activity and brain and nervous system function also became understood, partly due to the experimental work of people such as English neuroscientist Charles Sherrington and Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, and partly due to studies of people with brain injury. These mind-body links are explored at length by cognitive neuropsychologists. With the development of technologies for measuring brain function, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience have become increasingly active areas of contemporary psychology. Cognitive psychology has been subsumed along with other disciplines, such as philosophy of mind, computer science, and neuroscience, under the umbrella discipline of cognitive science.

Principles of psychologyEdit

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Mind and brainEdit

Psychology (literally, the study of the human mind) describes and attempts to explain consciousness, behaviour and social interaction. Empirical psychology is primarily devoted to describing human experience and behaviour as it actually occurs. In the past 20 years or so psychology has begun to examine the relationship between consciousness and the brain or nervous system. It is still not clear in what ways these interact: does consciousness determine brain states or do brain states determine consciousness - or are both going on in various ways - or is consciousness some sort of complicated 'illusion' which bears no direct relationship to neural processes? An understanding of brain function is increasingly being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

Schools of thoughtEdit

Various schools of thought have argued for a particular model to be used as a guiding theory by which all, or the majority, of human behavior can be explained. The popularity of these has waxed and waned over time. Some psychologists may think of themselves as adherents to a particular school of thought and reject the others, although most consider each as an approach to understanding the mind, and not necessarily as mutually exclusive theories.

Scope of psychologyEdit

Psychology is an extremely broad field, encompassing many different approaches to the study of mental processes and behavior. Below are the major areas of inquiry that comprise psychology. A comprehensive list of the sub-fields and areas within psychology can be found at the list of psychological topics and list of psychology disciplines.

Biological basis: the brainEdit

Image of the human brain. The arrow indicates the position of the hypothalamus.
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Main articles: Behavioral neuroscience, Cognitive neuroscience, Evolutionary psychology, Neuropsychology, Physiological psychology

Because all behavior is controlled by the central nervous system, it is sensible to study how the brain functions in order to understand behavior. This is the approach taken in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and neuropsychology. Neuropsychology is the branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relate to specific behavioral and psychological processes. Often neuropsychologists are employed as scientists to advance scientific or medical knowledge. Neuropsychology is particularly concerned with the understanding of brain injury in an attempt to work out normal psychological function.

The approach of cognitive neuroscience to studying the link between brain and behavior is to use neuroimaging tools, such as fMRI, to observe which areas of the brain are active during a particular task.

Information processing: the mindEdit

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Neural network with two layers.
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Main articles: Cognitive psychology, Cognitive science

The nature of thought is another core interest in psychology. Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes underlying behavior. It uses information processing as a framework for understanding the mind. Perception, learning, problem solving, memory, attention, language and emotion are all well researched areas. Cognitive psychology is associated with a school of thought known as cognitivism, whose adherents argue for an information processing model of mental function, informed by positivism and experimental psychology.

Cognitive science is very closely related to cognitive psychology, but differs in some of the research methods used, and has a slightly greater emphasis on explaining mental phenomena in terms of both behavior and neural processing.

Both areas use computational models to simulate phenomena of interest. Because mental events cannot directly be observed, computational models provide a tool for studying the functional organization of the mind. Such models give cognitive psychologists a way to study the "software" of mental processes independent of the "hardware" it runs on, be it the brain or a computer.

Change over time: developmentEdit

Baby thinking Sofia SERRES
A baby thinking
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Main articles: Developmental psychology, Educational psychology, Evolutionary developmental psychology

Mainly focusing on the development of the human mind through the life span, developmental psychology seeks to understand how people come to perceive, understand, and act within the world and how these processes change as they age. This may focus on intellectual, cognitive, neural, social, or moral development. Researchers who study children use a number of unique research methods to make observations in natural settings or to engage them in experimental tasks. Such tasks often resemble specially designed games and activities that are both enjoyable for the child and scientifically useful, and researchers have even devised clever methods to study the mental processes of small infants. In addition to studying children, developmental psychologists also study aging and processes throughout the life span, especially at other times of rapid change (such as adolescence and old age). Urie Bronfenbrenner's theory of development in context (The Ecology of Human Development - ISBN 0-674-22456-6) is influential in this field, as are those mentioned in "Educational psychology" immediately below, as well as many others. Developmental psychologists draw on the full range of theorists in scientific psychology to inform their research.

Educational psychology largely seeks to apply much of this knowledge to understanding how learning can best take place in educational situations. Because of this, the work of child psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner has been influential in creating teaching methods and educational practices..


Main articles: Personality psychology, Depth psychology, Self psychology

Personality psychology studies enduring psychological patterns of behavior, thought and emotion, commonly called an individual's personality. Theories of personality vary between different psychological schools. Trait theories attempts to break personality down into a number of traits, by use of factor analysis. The number of traits have varied between theories. One of the first, and smallest, models was that of Hans Eysenck, which had three dimensions: extraversionintroversion, neuroticismemotional stability, and psychoticism. Raymond Cattell proposed a theory of 16 personality factors. The theory that has most empirical evidence behind it today may be the "Big Five" theory, proposed by Lewis Goldberg and others.

A different, but well known, approach to personality is that of Sigmund Freud, whose structural theory of personality divided personality into the ego, superego, and id. Freud's theory of personality has been criticized by many, including many mainstream psychologists.

Interaction with othersEdit

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A crowd of people in Shibuya, Tokyo.
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Main articles: Social psychology, Community psychology, Cross cultural psychology

Social psychology is the study of the nature and causes of human social behavior, with an emphasis on how people think towards each other and how they relate to each other. Social Psychology aims to understand how we make sense of social situations. For example, this could involve the influence of others on an individual's behavior (e.g., conformity or persuasion), the perception and understanding of social cues, or the formation of attitudes or stereotypes about other people. Social cognition is a common approach and involves a mostly cognitive and scientific approach to understanding social behavior.

A related area is community psychology, which examines psychological and mental health issues on the level of the community rather than using the individual as the unit of measurement. "Sense of community" has become its conceptual center (Sarason, 1986; Chavis & Pretty, 1999).

Study of nonhuman animals in psychologyEdit

Psychology as a science is primarily concerned with humans, although the behavior and mental processes of animals is also an important part of psychological research, either as a subject in its own right (e.g., animal cognition and ethology), or with strong emphasis about evolutionary links, and somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology by means of comparison (including comparative psychology) or via animal models of emotional and behavior systems as seen in neuroscience of psychology (e.g., affective neuroscience and social neuroscience).

Mental healthEdit

Main articles: Clinical psychology, Health psychology

Clinical psychology is the application of psychology to the understanding, treatment, and assessment of psychopathology, behavioral or mental health issues. It has traditionally been associated with counselling and psychotherapy, although modern clinical psychology may take an eclectic approach, including a number of therapeutic approaches. Typically, although working with many of the same clients as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists do not prescribe psychiatric drugs. Some clinical psychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with brain injury. This area is known as clinical neuropsychology.

In recent years and particularly in the United States, a major split has been developing between academic research psychologists in universities and some branches of clinical psychology. Many academic psychologists believe that these clinicians use therapies based on discredited theories and unsupported by empirical evidence of their effectiveness. From the other side, these clinicians believe that the academics are ignoring their experience in dealing with actual patients. The disagreement has resulted in the formation of the American Psychological Society by the research psychologists as a new body distinct from the American Psychological Association.

Whereas clinical psychology focuses on mental health and neurological illness, health psychology is concerned with the psychology of a much wider range of health-related behavior including healthy eating, the doctor-patient relationship, a patient's understanding of health information, and beliefs about illness. Health psychologists may be involved in public health campaigns, examining the impact of illness or health policy on quality of life or in research into the psychological impact of health and social care.

The majority of work performed by clinical psychologists tends to be done inside a Cognitive-Behaviorial therapy (CBT) framework. CBT is an umbrella term that refers to a number of therapies which focus on changing cognitions and/or behaviors, rather than changing behavior exclusively, or discovering the unconscious causes of psychopathology (as in the psychodynamic school). The two most famous CBT therapies are Aaron T. Beck's cognitive therapy and Albert Ellis's rational emotive behaviour therapy (with cognitive therapy being, by far, the most extensively studied therapy in contemporary clinical psychology).

Applied psychologyEdit

Main articles: Applied psychology, Industrial and organizational psychology, Ecological psychology, Environmental psychology, Forensic psychology, Human factors, Traffic psychology, health psychology

The basic premise of applied psychology is the use of psychological principles and theories to overcome practical problems in other fields, such as business management, product design, ergonomics, nutrition, and clinical medicine. Applied psychology includes the areas of industrial/organizational psychology, human factors, forensic psychology, health psychology as well as many other areas.

Industrial and organizationalEdit

Industrial and organizational psychology focuses to varying degrees on the psychology of the workforce, customer, and consumer, including issues such as the psychology of recruitment, selecting employees from an applicant pool which overall includes training, performance appraisal, job satisfaction, work behavior, stress at work and management.

Applications of industrial psychology include improving human performance and satisfaction in the workplace, as well as the improvement of organizational performance. The primary purpose of industrial psychologists is integration of psychometric research into applications that achieve these ends. (Bradberry and Greaves, 2005)

Forensic psychologyEdit

Forensic psychology is the area concerned with the application of psychological methods and principles to the legal arena. Most typically, forensic psychology involves a clinical analysis of a particular individual and an assessment of some specific psycho-legal question. Typically, referrals to forensic practices constitute assessments for individuals that have ostensibly suffered neurologic insult(s). These patients have sought legal recourse, and the job of the forensic psychologist is to demonstrate that there is or is not (depending on their employ by either the prosecution or defense) a cause-and-effect relation between the accident and the subsequent (again, ostensible) neurologic change. A job required of the forensic psychologist in any case is the detection of malingering, although this is not exclusive to forensics. Malingering, or the detection of 'faking' (this term is used somewhat liberally) is particularly germane to a forensic assessment, for obvious reasons. In addition to such applied practices, it also includes academic or empirical research on topics involving the relationship of law to human mental processes and behavior (see also: Legal Psychology).

Health psychologyEdit

Health psychology is the application of psychological theory and research to health, illness and health care.

Human factorsEdit

Human factors is the study of how cognitive and psychological processes affect our interaction with tools and objects in the environment. The goal of research in human factors is to better design objects by taking into account the limitations and biases of human mental processes and behavior.

School PsychologyEdit

School Psychology is the area of discipline in order to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. They collaborate with educators, parents, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments for all students that strengthen connections between home and school (, 2006).

Research methodsEdit

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt was a German psychologist, generally acknowledged as a founder of experimental psychology.
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Research in psychology is conducted in broad accord with the standards of scientific method, encompassing both qualitative ethological and quantitative statistical modalities to generate and evaluate explanatory hypotheses with regard to psychological phenomena. Where research ethics and the state of development in a given research domain permits, investigation may be pursued by experimental protocols. Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing on scientific knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand psychological phenomena. Qualitative psychological research utilizes a broad spectrum of observational methods, including action research, ethography, ethnography, exploratory statistics, structured and unstructured interviews, and participant observation, to enable the gathering of rich information unattainable by classical experimentation. Research in humanistic psychology is more typically pursued by ethnographic, historical, and historiographic methods.

The testing of different aspects of psychological function is a significant area of contemporary psychology. Psychometric and statistical methods predominate, including various well-known standardised tests as well as those created ad hoc as the situation or experiment requires.

Academic psychologists may focus purely on research and psychological theory, aiming to further psychological understanding in a particular area, while other psychologists may work in applied psychology to deploy such knowledge for immediate and practical benefit. However, these approaches are not mutually exclusive and most psychologists will be involved in both researching and applying psychology at some point during their work. Clinical psychology, among many of the various discipline of psychology, aims at developing in practicing psychologists knowledge of and experience with research and experimental methods which they will continue to build up as well as employ as they treat individuals with psychological issues or use psychology to help others.

When an area of interest requires specific training and specialist knowledge, especially in applied areas, psychological associations normally establish a governing body to manage training requirements. Similarly, requirements may be laid down for university degrees in psychology, so that students acquire an adequate knowledge in a number of areas. Additionally, areas of practical psychology, where psychologists offer treatment to others, may require that psychologists be licensed by government regulatory bodies as well.

Controlled experimentsEdit

Main article: Experimental psychology

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist and pioneer of experimental psychology and behaviorism.
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The majority of psychological research is conducted in the laboratory under controlled conditons. This method of research relies completely on the scientific method to determine the basis of behavior. Common measurements of behavior include reaction time and various psychometric measurements. Experiments are conducted to test a particular hypothesis.

As an example of a psychological experiment, one may want to test people's perception of different tones. Specifically, one could ask the following question: is it easier for people to discriminate one pair of tones from another depending upon their frequency? To answer this, one would want to disprove the hypothesis that all tones are equally discriminable, regardless of their frequency. (See hypothesis testing for an explanation of why one would disprove a hypothesis rather than attempt to prove one.) A task to test this hypothesis would have a participant seated in a room listening to a series of tones. If the participant would make one indication (by pressing a button, for example) if they thought the tones were two different sounds, and another indication if they thought they were the same sound. The proportion of correct responses would be the measurement used to describe whether or not all the tones were equally discriminable. The result of this particular experiment would probably indicate better discrimination of certain tones based on the human threshold of hearing.

Correlational studiesEdit

A correlational study uses statistics to determine if one variable is likely to co-occur with another variable. For example, one might be interested in whether or not a person's smoking is correlated with that individual's chance of getting lung cancer. One way to answer this would simply be to take a group of people who smoke and measure the proportion of those who get lung cancer within a certain time. In this particular case, one would probably find a high correlation. (Tobacco is already known to have a deleterious effect on the lungs). Based on this correlation alone, however, we cannot know for certain that smoking is the cause of lung cancer. It could be that those more prone to cancer are also more likely to take up smoking. A third alternative is that some other variable caused both conditons. This is a major limitation of correlational studies, exemplified by the fact that correlation does not imply causation.

Longitudinal studiesEdit

A longitudinal study is a research method which observes a particular population over time. For example, one might wish to study specific language impairment (SLI) by observing a group of individuals with the condition over a period of time. This method has the advantage of seeing how a condition can affect individuals over long time scales. However, since individual differences between members of the group are not controlled, it may be difficult to draw conclusions about the populations.

Neuropsychological methodsEdit

Neuropsychology involves the study of both healthy individuals and patients, typically who have suffered either brain injury or mental illness.

Cognitive neuropsychology and cognitive neuropsychiatry study neurological or mental impairment in an attempt to infer theories of normal mind and brain function. This typically involves looking for differences in patterns of remaining ability (known as 'functional dissociations') which can give clues as to whether abilities are comprised of smaller functions, or are controlled by a single cognitive mechanism.

In addition, experimental techniques are often used which also apply to studying the neuropsychology of healthy individuals. These include behavioural experiments, brain-scanning or functional neuroimaging - used to examine the activity of the brain during task performance, and techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can safely alter the function of small brain areas to investigate their importance in mental operations.

Computational modelingEdit

Main article: Mathematical psychology

Computational modeling is a tool often used in cognitive psychology to simulate a particular behavior using a computer. This method has several advantages. Since modern computers are extremely fast, many simulations can be run in a short time, allowing for a great deal of statistical power. Modeling also allows psychologists to visualise hypotheses about the functional organization of mental events that couldn't be directly observed in a human.

Several different types of modeling are used to study behavior. Connectionism uses neural nets to simulate the brain. Another method is symbolic modeling, which represents different mental objects using variables and rules. Other types of modeling include dynamic systems and stochastic modeling.

Criticisms of psychology Edit

Although modern mainstream psychology largely attempts to be a scientific endeavor, the field has a history of controversy. Some criticisms of psychology have been made on ethical and philosophical grounds. Some have argued that by subjecting the human mind to experimentation and statistical study, psychologists objectify persons; because it treats human beings as things, as objects that can be examined by experiment, psychology is sometimes portrayed as dehumanizing, ignoring or downplaying what is most essential about being human.

Another common criticism of psychology concerns its fuzziness as a science. Since some areas of psychological research rely on "soft" methods such as surveys and questionnaires, some have said, those areas of psychology are not as scientific as they claim to be. Furthermore, methods such as introspection and so-called expert analysis are commonplace, methods which are open to subjectivity and rely on speculation have caused many to dispute whether psychology should even be classified as a science, since objectivity, validity, and rigour are key attributes one rule for empiricism and science.

Many believe that the mind is not amenable to quantitative scientific research, and as support for their criticism cite the vast theoretical diversity of psychology, a discipline that involves significant disagreement about how the mind works.

One approach calling itself critical psychology takes almost an opposite approach. Rather than scientific validity being the standard against which psychology research should be judged, critical psychology uses philosophical, analytical, political, economic and social theories such as Marxism, constructionism, discourse analysis and qualitative approaches to criticize mainstream psychology, claiming among other things that it serves as a bulwark of an unjust or unsatisfying status quo when it should, instead, use its methods and knowledge base to critique and change societal norms.

Another criticism levelled at psychology and cognitive science is that the philosophical underpinnings of research are flawed. See Functionalism (psychology) and Pragmatism for more.

Another criticism of modern psychology is that it ignores spirituality, the soul, and spiritual concepts such as original sin. Not surprisingly, these arguments are made mostly by pious individuals, religious leaders (such as the Pope) and evangelists. These groups agree with the functionalists and pragmatics, in saying that the philosophical underpinnings of research are flawed, but they believe that the error of psychology is in its failure to acknowledge the crucial role that the soul plays in human behavior.

There is also a criticism from empirical psychology researchers concerning the gap between research and practice in psychology. A recent trend has seen the growth of dubious or unvalidated therapies such as NLP, Rebirthing, and Primal Therapy being promoted by some psychotherapy bodies. Psychologists are concerned about this and bodies such as the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices have been set up to raise awareness and research in this area [1].


  • Aristotle, Joe Sachs (translator). (350 BCE / 2001) On Memory and Recollection (De Memoria et Reminiscentia). Santa Fe, NM : Green Lion Press. ISBN 1888009179
  • Chavis, D.M., and Pretty, G. (1999). Sense of community: Advances in measurement and application. Journal of Community Psychology, 27(6), 635-642.
  • Sarason, S.B. (1986). Commentary: The emergence of a conceptual center. Journal of Community Psychology, 14, 405-407.

See alsoEdit

Related areasEdit

Related topicsEdit

Introductory textbooksEdit

  • Atkinson, R. L., Atkinson, R. C., Smith, E. E., Bem, D. J., & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2000). Hilgard’s introduction to psychology (13th ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.
  • Baron, R. A. (2001). Psychology (5th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Baucum, D., Smith, C., Kagan, J., Segal, J., & Havemann, E. (2004). Kagan and Segal's Psychology: An introduction (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.*
  • Bernstein, D. A., Penner, L. A., Clarke-Stewart, A., & Roy, E. J. (2003). Psychology (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.
  • Coon, D. (2001). Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
  • Davis, S. F., & Palladino, J. J. (2004). Psychology (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
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Key reference sources in psychologyEdit

External links Edit

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