Introduction to Psychology/Introduction

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Psychology is the scientific study of behavior, cognition, and emotion.

Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including relating to individuals' daily lives and the treatment of mental illness.

Psychology differs from the other social sciences — anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology — in that psychology seeks to explain the mental processes and behavior of individuals. Whereas biology and neuroscience study the biological or neural processes and how they relate to the mental effects they subjectively produce, psychology is primarily concerned with the interaction of mental processes and behavior on a systemic level. The subfield of neuropsychology studies the actual neural processes while biological psychology studies the biological bases of behavior and mental states.

Psychology is an academic and applied field involving the study of behavior, mind and thought and the subconscious neurological bases of 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. It is largely concerned with humans, although the behavior and mental processes of animals can also be part of psychology research, either as a subject in its own right (e.g. animal cognition and ethology), or somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology by means of comparison (including comparative psychology). Psychology is commonly defined as the science of behavior and mental processes.

Psychology does not necessarily refer to the brain or nervous system and can be framed purely in terms of phenomenological or information processing theories of mind. Increasingly, though, an understanding of brain function is being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience.

Psychology describes and attempts to explain consciousness, behavior and social interaction. Empirical psychology is primarily devoted to describing human experience and behavior 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? Perhaps to understand this you need to know the definition of "consciousness" and "brain state" - or is consciousness some sort of complicated 'illusion' which bears no direct relationship to neural processes? The late 19th century marks the start of psychology as a scientific enterprise. The year 1879 is commonly seen as the start of psychology as an independent field of study, because in that year German scientist Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory dedicated exclusively to psychological research in Leipzig, Germany.

Wundt combined philosophical introspection with techniques and laboratory apparatuses brought over from his physiological studies with Helmholtz, as well as many of his own design. This experimental introspection was in contrast to what had been called psychology until then, a branch of philosophy where people introspected themselves.

Introspection is the direct observation or rumination of one's own heart, mind and/or soul and its processes, as opposed to extrospection, the observation of things external to one's self.

Early Systems of Psychology[edit]

Wundt's form of psychology is called structuralism. It is in a class called systematic interpretations because It attempted to explain all behavior with reference to one systematic position. Some other systems of psychology are functionalism, behaviorism, gestalt psychology, and psychodynamic psychology.

Functionalism is concerned with the reason for behavior and not the structure of the brain. It allowed the study of new subjects including children and animals.

Behaviorism is an approach to psychology based on the proposition that behavior can be studied and explained scientifically without recourse to internal mental states. Psychologists that use behaviorism are concerned mainly with muscular movements and glandular secretions.

Gestalt Psychology is a theory of mind and brain that proposes that the operational principle of the brain is holistic, parallel, and analog, with self-organizing tendencies. It has a particular interest in perceptual problems and how they can be interpereted. A Gestaltist believes that the whole is greater than or different than the sum of all of the parts. Trying to break up behavior into seperate parts is simplistic because everything affects everything else.

Psychodynamic psychology was first practiced by Sigmund Freud, although he didn't intend it to be a system.


While the use of one system to solve all problems has been abandoned by most psychologists, these early systems were important in the development of new systems and ideas. There are eight major perspectives that psychologists usually take, although many use an eclectic approach instead of confining themselves to just one.

The psychodynamic perspective emphasizes unconscious drives and the resolution of conflicts, the behavorial emphasizes the acquisition and alteration of observable responses, and the humanistic approaches attempt to achieve maximum human potential as set in Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

The biological perspective is the scientific study of the biological bases of behavior and mental states, very closely related to neuroscience.

Evolutionary psychology is a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain certain mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language as evolved adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural or sexual selection.

Cognitive psychology accepts the use of the scientific method, but rejects introspection as a valid method of investigation. It should be noted that Herbert Simon and Allen Newell identified the 'thinking-aloud' protocol, in which investigators view a subject engaged in introspection, and who speaks his thoughts aloud, thus allowing study of his introspection.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (Allport, 1985).

Wundt argued that "we learn little about our minds from casual, haphazard self-observation...It is essential that observations be made by trained observers under carefully specified conditions for the purpose of answering a well-defined question."

Many scientists threw away the idea of introspection as part of psychology because the observation of stimulation was speculative without an empirical approach. However the case, an opposite to introspection called extrospection has been created with a relation to Psychophysics. Psychophysics is the branch of psychology dealing with the relationship between physical stimuli and their perception.

The important distinction is that Wundt took this method into the experimental arena and thus into the newly formed psychological field. Other important early contributors to the field of psychology include Hermann Ebbinghaus (a pioneer in studies on memory), the Russian Ivan Pavlov (who discovered the learning process of classical conditioning), and the Austrian Sigmund Freud.

The mid-20th century saw a rejection of Freud's theories among many psychologists as being too unscientific, as well as a reaction against Edward Titchener's abstract approach to the mind.

Edward B. Titchener (1876-1927) was an Englishman and a student of Wilhelm Wundt before becoming a professor of psychology at Cornell University. He would put his own spin on Wundt's psychology of consciousness after he emigrated to the United States.

At the turn of 19th century the founding father of experimental psychology Wilhelm Wundt tried to experimentally confirm his hypothesis that conscious mental life can be broken down into fundamental elements which then form more complex mental structures. Wundt's structuralism was quickly abandoned because it could not be tested in the same way as behavior, until now, when the brain-scanning technology can identify, for example, specialized brain cells that respond exclusively to basic lines and shapes and are then combined in subsequent brain areas where more complex visual structures are formed. This line of research in modern psychology is called cognitive psychology rather then structuralism because Wundt's term never ceased to be associated with the problem of observability.

The majority of mainstream psychology is based on a framework derived from cognitive psychology, although the popularity of this paradigm does not exclude others, which are often applied as necessary. Psychologists specialising in certain areas, however, may use the dominant cognitive psychology only rarely if at all.

Cognitive psychology is the psychological science which studies cognition, the mental processes that are hypothesised to underlie behavior. This covers a broad range of research domains, examining questions about the workings of memory, attention, perception, knowledge representation, reasoning, creativity and problem solving.

Cognitive psychology is radically different from previous psychological approaches in two key ways.

Regardless of the perspective adopted there are hundreds of specialities that psychologists practice. These specialities can usually be grouped into general fields.

  • Clinical and Counseling Psychology: Over half of all psychologists work in this field. Clinical psychologists are more likely to treat or conduct research into the causes of abnormal behaviors, while counseling psychologists more often work with mild social or emotional problems. Typically people seeking the help of a counselor are not classified as abnormal or mentally ill.
  • Educational and School Psychology: Educational psychologists are concerned with the use of psychology to increase the effectiveness of the learning experience, including facilities, curriculum, teaching techniques, and student problems. A school psychologist works in a school environment to evaluate the structure and effectiveness of the learning environment. A school psychologist assesses, counsels or guides students who have academic,behavioral,emotional,and/ or guidance needs. A school psychologist consults with teachers,staff, and parents to help students adjust and learn most effectively in their learning environment.
  • Industrial/Organizational Psychology(also known as I/O psychology, work psychology, occupational psychology, or personnel psychology) is the study of the behavior of people in the workplace. Industrial and organizational psychology applies psychological knowledge and methods to aid workers and organizations. I/O psychologists who work for an organization are most likely to work in the HR (human resources) department.
  • Consumer Psychology:Consumer behaviour is the study of how people buy, what they buy, when they buy and why they buy.
  • Engineering Psychology: See link
  • Forensic Psychology: Forensic psychology is the application of psychological principles and knowledge to various legal activities involving child custody disputes, child abuse of an emotional, physical and sexual nature, assessing one's personal capacity to manage one's affairs, matters of competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility & personal injury and advising judges in matters relating to sentencing regarding various mitigants and the actuarial assessment of future risk.
  • Sport Psychology: Sport psychology is a specialization within psychology that seeks to understand psychological/mental factors that affect performance in sports, physical activity and exercise and apply these to enhance individual and team performance.
  • Environmental Psychology: Environmental psychology is an interdisciplinary field focused on the interplay between humans and their surroundings. Areas of study include pollution effects, recycling efforts, and the study of stress generated by different physical settings.


Early development[edit]

The first use of the term "psychology" is often attributed to the German scholastic philosopher Rudolf Goeckel (Latinized Rudolph Goclenius), published in 1590.[1] More than six decades earlier, however, the Croatian humanist Marko Marulić used the term in the title of a work which was subsequently lost.[2] This, of course, may not have been the very first usage, but it is the earliest documented use at present.

The term did not fall into popular usage until the German idealist philosopher, Christian Wolff (1679-1754) used it in his Psychologia empirica and Psychologia rationalis (1732-1734). This distinction between empirical and rational psychology was picked up in Diderot's Encyclopedie and was popularized in France by Maine de Biran.

The root of the word psychology (psyche) is very roughly equivalent to "soul" in Greek, and (ology) equivalent to "study". Psychology came to be considered a study of the soul (in a religious sense of this term) much later, in Christian times. 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"). Until about the end of the 19th century, psychology was regarded as a branch of philosophy.

Early modern era[edit]

In 1879, Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920), known as "the father of psychology", founded a laboratory for the study of psychology at Leipzig University in Germany. The American philosopher William James published his seminal book, Principles of Psychology, 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.

Meanwhile, during the 1890s, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud, who was trained as a neurologist and had no formal training in experimental psychology, had developed a method of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. Freud's understanding of the mind was largely based on interpretive methods and introspection, and was focused in particular on resolving mental distress and psychopathology. Freud's theories became very well-known, largely because they tackled subjects such as sexuality and repression 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. Although Freud's theories are only of limited interest in modern academic psychology departments, his application of psychology to clinical work has been very influential.

Partly in reaction to the subjective and introspective nature of Freudian psychology, and its focus on the recollection of childhood experiences, during the early decades of the 20th century behaviorism gained popularity as a guiding psychological theory. Championed by psychologists such as John B. Watson and Edward Thorndike (and later, B.F. Skinner), behaviorism was grounded in studies of animal behavior. Behaviorists argued that psychology should be a science of behavior, not the mind, and rejected the idea that internal mental states such as beliefs, desires, or goals could be studied scientifically. In his paper "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It" (1913), Watson argued that psychology "is a purely objective [emphasis added] experimental branch of natural science," that "introspection forms no essential part of its methods", and that "the behaviorist recognizes no dividing line between man and brute."

Behaviorism reigned as the dominant model in psychology through the first half of the 20th century, largely due to the creation of conditioning theories as scientific models of human behavior, and their successful application in the workplace and in fields such as advertising.

Modern era[edit]

However, it became increasingly clear that although behaviorism had made some important discoveries, it was deficient as a guiding theory of human behavior. Noam Chomsky's review of Skinner's book Verbal Behavior (that aimed to explain language acquisition in a behaviorist framework) is considered one of the major factors in the ending of behaviorism's reign. Chomsky demonstrated that language could not purely be learned from conditioning, as people could produce sentences unique in structure and meaning that couldn't possibly be generated solely through experience of natural language, implying that there must be internal states of mind that behaviorism rejected as illusory. Similarly, work by Albert Bandura showed that children could learn by social observation, without any change in overt behavior, and so must be accounted for by internal representations.

Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1950s and has continued as a reaction to positivist and scientific approaches to the mind. It stresses a phenomenological view of human experience and seeks to understand human beings and their behavior by conducting qualitative research. The humanistic approach has its roots in existentialist and phenomenological philosophy and many humanist psychologists completely reject a scientific approach, arguing that trying to turn human experience into measurements strips it of all meaning and relevance to lived existence.

Some of the founding theorists behind this school of thought were Abraham Maslow who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, Carl Rogers who created and developed client-centered therapy, and Fritz Perls who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy.

The rise of computer technology also promoted the metaphor of mental function as information processing. This, combined with a scientific approach to studying the mind, as well as a belief in internal mental states, led to the rise of cognitivism as the dominant model of the mind.

Links between brain and nervous system function were also becoming common, partly due to the experimental work of people such as Charles Sherrington and Donald Hebb, and partly due to studies of people with brain injury (see cognitive neuropsychology). With the development of technologies for accurately measuring brain function, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience have become some of the most active areas in contemporary psychology. With the increasing involvement of other disciplines (such as philosophy, computer science and neuroscience) in the quest to understand the mind, the umbrella discipline of cognitive science has been created as a means of focusing such efforts in a constructive way.

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