Psychology: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Psychology (lit. "study of the soul" or "study of the mind")[1] is an academic and applied discipline which involves the scientific study of human (or animal) mental functions and behaviors. In this field, a professional practitioner or researcher is called a psychologist, and is classified as a social or behavioral scientist. Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behavior, while also exploring the underlying physiological and neurological processes.

Psychologists study such topics as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, motivation, personality, behavior and interpersonal relationships. Some, especially depth psychologists, also consider the unconscious mind.a In addition or opposition to employing empirical and deductive methods, psychologists sometimes rely upon symbolic interpretation and other inductive techniques.

Psychological knowledge is applied to various spheres of human activity, including the family, education, and employment; and to the treatment of mental health problems. Psychology includes many sub-fields that span areas as diverse as human development, sports, health, industry, media and law. Psychology incorporates research from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.

The word psychology is from Greek: ψυχή (psukhē: "breath", "spirit", "soul"); and -λογία (-logia: "study of").[1]



Auguste Rodin's The Thinker.

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

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,[3][4] psychology as an independent experimental field of study began in 1879, when the German physician 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 and psychologist William James published his seminal book, Principles of Psychology[6] in 1890, laying the foundations for many of the questions on which psychologists would focus for years to come. Other important early contributors to the field include the German psychologist 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.

Starting in the 1950s, the experimental techniques set forth by Wundt, James, Ebbinghaus, and others would be reiterated as experimental psychology became increasingly cognitive (concerned with information and its processing) and, eventually, constituted a part of the wider cognitive science.[7] In its early years, however, this development was seen as a "revolution",[7] as it both responded to and reacted against strains of thought—including psychodynamics and behaviorism—that had developed in the meantime.


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. Clinically, he helped to pioneer the method of free association and a therapeutic 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 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, English psychiatrist John Bowlby and Sigmund Freud's daughter, psychoanalyst Anna Freud. Throughout the 20th century, psychoanalysis evolved into diverse schools of thought, most of which may be classed as Neo-Freudian.c

Psychoanalytic theory and therapy were criticized by psychologists such as B. F. Skinner and Hans Eysenck, and by philosophers including Karl Popper. Skinner and other behaviorists believed that psychology should be more empirical and efficient than psychoanalysis, although they frequently agreed with Freud in ways that became overlooked as time passed.[8] Popper, a philosopher of science, argued that Freud's, as well as Alfred Adler's, psychoanalytic theories included enough ad hoc safeguards against empirical contradiction that the theories fell outside the realm of scientific inquiry.[9] By contrast, Eysenck maintained that although Freudian ideas could be subjected to experimental science, they had not withstood experimental tests. By the 21st century, psychology departments in American universities had become experimentally oriented, marginalizing Freudian theory and regarding it as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact.[10] Meanwhile, however, researchers in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis defended some of Freud's ideas on scientific grounds,d while scholars of the humanities maintained that Freud was not a "scientist at all, but ... an interpreter."[10]


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 reflected a belief that the methodology behind laboratory-based animal experimentation, which was increasing in popularity as physiology grew more sophisticated, could provide useful psychosocial understanding of a type that comparatively subjective inquiries, such as psychodynamic analysis as employed by Freud or introspection as used by Wundt and James, could not.

The behaviorists shared with their predecessors a philosophical inclination toward positivism and determinism.[8] With Skinner, however, they entered into a line of thought, extending back to Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach, which held that the research methods most faithful to their scientific orientation would yield "the pursuit of tools for the control of life problems rather than a search for timeless truths".[8] The behaviorists argued that many contents of the mind were not open to scientific scrutiny and that scientific psychology should emphasize the study of observable behavior. Behaviorists focused on behavior-environment relations and analyzed overt and covert (i.e., private) behavior as a function of the organism interacting with its environment.[11] Therefore, they often rejected or deemphasized dualistic explanations such as "mind" or "consciousness"; and, in lieu of probing an "unconscious mind" that underlies unawareness, they spoke of the "contingency-shaped behaviors" in which unawareness becomes outwardly manifest.[8]

Among the behaviorists' most famous creations are Watson's Little Albert experiment, which applied classical conditioning to a human being, and Skinner's notion of operant conditioning, which acknowledged that human agency could affect patterns and cycles of environmental stimuli and behavioral responses. American linguist Noam Chomsky's critique of the behaviorist model of language acquisition is regarded by many as a key factor in the decline of behaviorism's prominence.[12] But Skinner's behaviorism has not died, perhaps in part because it has generated successful practical applications.[12] The fall of behaviorism as an overarching model in psychology, however, gave way to a new dominant paradigm: cognitive approaches.[13]

Humanism and existentialism

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 sought to glimpse the whole person—not just the fragmented parts of the personality or cognitive functioning.[14] Humanism focused on fundamentally and uniquely human issues, such as self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. The humanistic approach was distinguished by its emphasis on subjective meaning, rejection of determinism, and concern for positive growth rather than pathology. Some of the founders of 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 co-founded Gestalt therapy. It became so influential as to be called the "third force" within psychology, along with behaviorism and psychoanalysis.[15] Later, positive psychology opened up humanistic themes to scientific modes of exploration.

Influenced largely by the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, psychoanalytically-trained American psychologist Rollo May pioneered an existential breed of psychology, which included existential therapy, in the 1950s and 1960s. Existential psychologists differed from others often classified as humanistic in their comparatively neutral view of human nature and in their relatively positive assessment of anxiety.[16] Existential psychologists emphasized the humanistic themes of death, free will, and meaning, suggesting that meaning can be shaped by myths, or narrative patterns,[17] and that it can be encouraged by an acceptance of the free will requisite to an authentic, albeit often anxious, regard for death and other future prospects. Austrian existential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl drew evidence of meaning's therapeutic power from reflections garnered from his own internment,[18] and he created a variety of existential psychotherapy 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.[19]


Noam Chomsky helped to ignite a "cognitive revolution" in psychology when he criticized the behaviorists' notions of "stimulus", "response", and "reinforcement", arguing that such ideas—which Skinner had borrowed from animal experiments in the laboratory—could be applied to complex human behavior, most notably language acquisition, in only a vague and superficial manner. Chomsky emphasized that research and analysis must not ignore the innate contribution of the child to such behavior,[20] while social learning theorists such as Albert Bandura argued that the child's environment could make contributions of its own to the behaviors of an observant subject.[21] The notion that behavior could be precipitated only by the functioning of an internal device or by the perception of external surroundings posed a challenge to the behaviorist position that behavior is contingent upon the prior associations that individuals have made between behavioral responses and pleasurable or painful stimuli.

Meanwhile, accumulating technology helped to renew interest and belief in the mental states and representations—i.e., the cognition—that had fallen out of favor with behaviorists. English neuroscientist Charles Sherrington and Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb used experimental methods to link psychological phenomena with the structure and function of the brain. With the rise of computer science and artificial intelligence, analogies were drawn between the processing of information by humans and information processing by machines. Research in cognition had proven practical since World War II, when it aided in the understanding of weapons operation.[22] By the late 20th century, though, cognitivism had become the dominant paradigm of mainstream psychology, and cognitive psychology emerged as a popular branch.

Assuming both that the covert mind should be studied and that the scientific method should be used to study it, cognitive psychologists set such concepts as "subliminal processing" and "implicit memory" in place of the psychoanalytic "unconscious mind" or the behavioristic "contingency-shaped behaviors". Elements of behaviorism and cognitive psychology were synthesized to form the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy modified from techniques developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis and American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive psychology was subsumed along with other disciplines, such as philosophy of mind, computer science, and neuroscience, under the umbrella discipline of cognitive science.

Schools of thought

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. On the basis of Tinbergen's four questions a framework of reference of all fields of psychological research can be established (including anthropological research and humanities).

In modern times, psychology has adopted an integrated perspective towards understanding consciousness, behavior, and social interaction. This perspective is commonly referred to as the biopsychosocial approach. The basic tenet of the biopsychosocial model is that any given behavior or mental process affects and is affected by dynamically interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors.[23] The psychological aspect refers to the role that cognition and emotions play in any given psychological phenomenon—for example, the effect of mood or beliefs and expectations on an individual's reactions to an event. The biological aspect refers to the role of biological factors in psychological phenomena—for example, the effect of the prenatal environment on brain development and cognitive abilities, or the influence of genes on individual dispositions. The socio-cultural aspect refers to the role that social and cultural environments play in a given psychological phenomenon—for example, the role of parental or peer influence in the behaviors or characteristics of an individual.


Psychology encompasses a vast domain, and includes many different approaches to the study of mental processes and behavior. Below are the major areas of inquiry that comprise psychology.


MRI depicting the human brain. The arrow indicates the position of the hypothalamus.

Biological psychology is the scientific study of the biological substrates of behavior and mental states. Seeing all behavior as intertwined with the nervous system, biological psychologists feel 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. Neuropsychology is particularly concerned with the understanding of brain injury in an attempt to work out normal psychological function. Cognitive neuroscientists often use neuroimaging tools, which can help them to observe which areas of the brain are active during a particular task.


Clinical psychology includes the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists may also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration.[24] Some clinical psychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with brain injury—this area is known as clinical neuropsychology. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

The work performed by clinical psychologists tends to be influenced by various therapeutic approaches, all of which involve a formal relationship between professional and client (usually an individual, couple, family, or small group). The various therapeutic approaches and practices are associated with different theoretical perspectives and employ different procedures intended to form a therapeutic alliance, explore the nature of psychological problems, and encourage new ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Four major theoretical perspectives are psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, existential-humanistic, and systems or family therapy. There has been a growing movement to integrate the various therapeutic approaches, especially with an increased understanding of issues regarding culture, gender, spirituality, and sexual-orientation. With the advent of more robust research findings regarding psychotherapy, there is evidence that most of the major therapies are about of equal effectiveness, with the key common element being a strong therapeutic alliance.[25][26] Because of this, more training programs and psychologists are now adopting an eclectic therapeutic orientation.[27][28][29][30][31]


Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes underlying mental activity. Perception, learning, problem solving, reasoning, thinking, memory, attention, language and emotion are areas of research. Classical 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 functionalism and experimental psychology.

On a broader level, cognitive science is an interdisciplinary enterprise of cognitive psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, researchers in artificial intelligence, linguists, human–computer interaction, computational neuroscience, logicians and social scientists. Computational models are sometimes used to simulate phenomena of interest. Computational models provide a tool for studying the functional organization of the mind whereas neuroscience provides measures of brain activity.


Comparative psychology refers to the study of the behavior and mental life of animals other than human beings. It is related to disciplines outside of psychology that study animal behavior such as ethology. Although the field of psychology is primarily concerned with humans the behavior and mental processes of animals is also an important part of psychological research. This being 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. This is achieved by means of comparison or via animal models of emotional and behavior systems as seen in neuroscience of psychology (e.g., affective neuroscience and social neuroscience).


Consulting psychology is a specialty area of psychology addressing the applications of psychology to such areas as assessment and interventions at the individual, group and organizational levels. The Handbook of Organizational Consulting Psychology provides an overview of specific areas of study and application within the field. The major journal in the field is Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. Consulting psychologists typically work in business or not-for-profit organizations, in private consulting firms, or in their own private practices. Consulting psychologists are typically professionally licensed as psychologists.


Counseling psychology seeks to facilitate personal and interpersonal functioning across the lifespan with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Counselors are primarily clinicians, using psychotherapy and other interventions in order to treat clients. Traditionally, counseling psychology has focused more on normal developmental issues and everyday stress rather than psychopathology, but this distinction has softened over time. Counseling psychologists are employed in a variety of settings, including universities, hospitals, schools, governmental organizations, businesses, private practice, and community mental health centers.


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). Developmental psychologists draw on the full range of theorists in scientific psychology to inform their research.


Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. The work of child psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Bernard Luskin and Jerome Bruner has been influential in creating teaching methods and educational practices. Educational psychology is often included in teacher education programs, at least in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.


Industrial and organizational psychology (I-O) applies psychological concepts and methods to optimize human potential in the workplace. Personnel psychology, a subfield of I-O psychology, applies the methods and principles of psychology in selecting and evaluating workers. I-O psychology's other subfield, organizational psychology, examines the effects of work environments and management styles on worker motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.[32]


Personality psychology studies enduring patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion in individuals, commonly referred to as personality. Theories of personality vary across different psychological schools and orientations. They carry different assumptions about such issues as the role of the unconscious and the importance of childhood experience. According to Freud, personality is based on the dynamic interactions of the id, ego, and super-ego.[33] Trait theorists, in contrast, attempt to analyze personality in terms of a discrete number of key traits by the statistical method of factor analysis. The number of proposed traits has varied widely. An early model proposed by Hans Eysenck suggested that there are three traits that comprise human personality: extraversion-introversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Raymond Cattell proposed a theory of 16 personality factors. The "Big Five", or Five Factor Model, proposed by Lewis Goldberg, currently has strong support among trait theorists.


Quantitative psychology involves the application of mathematical and statistical modeling in psychological research, and the development of statistical methods for analyzing and explaining behavioral data. The term "Quantitative psychology" is relatively new and little used (only recently have Ph.D. programs in quantitative psychology been formed), and it loosely covers the longer standing subfields psychometrics and mathematical psychology.

Psychometrics is the field of psychology concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits. Measurement of these phenomena is difficult, and much research has been developed to define and analyze such phenomena. Psychometric research typically involves two major research tasks, namely: (i) the construction of instruments and procedures for measurement; and (ii) the development and refinement of theoretical approaches to measurement.

Mathematical psychology is the subdiscipline that is concerned with the development of psychological theory in relation with mathematics and statistics. Basic topics in mathematical psychology include measurement theory and mathematical learning theory as well as the modeling and analysis of mental and motor processes. Psychometrics is more associated with educational psychology, personality, and clinical psychology. Mathematical psychology is more closely related to psychonomics/experimental and cognitive, and physiological psychology and (cognitive) neuroscience.


School psychology combines principles from educational psychology and clinical psychology to understand and treat students with learning disabilities; to foster the intellectual growth of "gifted" students; to facilitate prosocial behaviors in adolescents; and otherwise to promote safe, supportive, and effective learning environments. School psychologists are trained in educational and behavioral assessment, intervention, prevention, and consultation, and many have extensive training in research.[34] Currently, school psychology is the only field in which a professional can be called a "psychologist" without a doctoral degree, with the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recognizing the Specialist degree as the entry level. This is a matter of controversy as the APA does not recognize anything below a doctorate as the entry level for a psychologist. Specialist-level school psychologists, who typically receive three years of graduate training, function almost exclusively within school systems, while those at the doctoral-level are found in a number of other settings as well, including universities, hospitals, clinics, and private practice.


Social psychology studies the nature and causes of social behavior.

Social psychology is the study of social behavior and mental processes, with an emphasis on how humans think about each other and how they relate to each other. Social psychologists are especially interested in how people react to social situations. They study such topics as the influence of others on an individual's behavior (e.g. conformity, persuasion), and the formation of beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes about other people. Social cognition fuses elements of social and cognitive psychology in order to understand how people process, remember, and distort social information. The study of group dynamics reveals information about the nature and potential optimization of leadership, communication, and other phenomena that emerge at least at the microsocial level. In recent years, many social psychologists have become increasingly interested in implicit measures, mediational models, and the interaction of both person and social variables in accounting for behavior.

Research methods

Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt (seated) was a German psychologist, generally acknowledged as a founder of experimental psychology.

Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing on knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand psychological phenomena. Additionally, psychologists make extensive use of the three modes of inference that were identified by C. S. Peirce: deduction, induction, and abduction (hypothesis generation). While often employing deductive-nomological reasoning, they also rely on inductive reasoning to generate explanations. For example, evolutionary psychologists propose explanations of human behavior in terms of such behaviors' advantages for hunter-gatherers.

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. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, and many psychologists will be involved in both researching and applying psychology at some point during their career. Many clinical psychology programs aim to develop in practicing psychologists both knowledge of and experience with research and experimental methods, which they may interpret and employ as they treat individuals with psychological issues.

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, governing agencies in places where psychologists offer treatment to others may require that psychologists be licensed by government regulatory bodies.

Qualitative and quantitative research

Research in most areas of psychology is conducted in accord with the standards of the scientific method. Psychological researchers seek the emergence of theoretically interesting categories and hypotheses from data, using qualitative or quantitative methods (or both).

Qualitative psychological research methods include interviews, first-hand observation, and participant observation. Qualitative researchers[35] sometimes aim to enrich interpretations or critiques of symbols, subjective experiences, or social structures. Similar hermeneutic and critical aims have also been served by "quantitative methods", as in Erich Fromm's study of Nazi voting or Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority.

Quantitative psychological research lends itself to the statistical testing of hypotheses. Quantitatively oriented research designs include the experiment, quasi-experiment, cross-sectional study, case-control study, and longitudinal study. The measurement and operationalization of important constructs is an essential part of these research designs. Statistical methods include the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, the analysis of variance, multiple linear regression, logistic regression, structural equation modeling, and hierarchical linear modeling.

Controlled experiments

Experimental psychological research is conducted in a laboratory under controlled conditions. This method of research relies on the application of the scientific method to understand behavior. Experimenters use several types of measurements, including rate of response, reaction time, and various psychometric measurements. Experiments are designed to test specific hypotheses (deductive approach) or evaluate functional relationships (inductive approach). They allow researchers to establish causal relationships between different aspects of behavior and the environment. In an experiment, one or more variables of interest are controlled by the experimenter (independent variable) and another variable is measured in response to different conditions (dependent variable). Experiments are one of the primary research methods in many areas of psychology, particularly cognitive/psychonomics, mathematical psychology, psychophysiology and biological psychology/cognitive neuroscience.

Experiments on humans have been put under some controls, namely informed and voluntary consent. After World War II, the Nuremberg Code was established, because of Nazi abuses of experimental subjects. Later, most countries (and scientific journals) adopted the Declaration of Helsinki. In the US, the National Institutes of Health established the Institutional Review Board in 1966, and in 1974 adopted the National Research Act (HR 7724). All of these measures encouraged researchers to obtain informed consent from human participants in experimental studies. A number of influential studies led to the establishment of this rule; such studies included the MIT and Fernald School radioisotope studies, the Thalidomide tragedy, the Willowbrook hepatitis study, and Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority.

Survey questionnaires

Statistical surveys are used in psychology for measuring attitudes and traits, monitoring changes in mood, checking the validity of experimental manipulations, and for a wide variety of other psychological topics. Most commonly, psychologists use paper-and-pencil surveys. However, surveys are also conducted over the phone or through e-mail. Increasingly, web-based surveys are being used in research. Similar methodology is also used in applied setting, such as clinical assessment and personnel assessment.

Longitudinal studies

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, such studies can suffer from attrition due to drop-out or death of subjects. In addition, since individual differences between members of the group are not controlled, it may be difficult to draw conclusions about the populations. Longitudinal study is a developmental research strategy that involves testing an age group repeatedly over many years. Longitudinal studies answer vital questions about how people develop. This developmental research follows people over years and the outcome has been an incredible array of findings, especially relating to psychological problems.

Some longitudinal studies are experiments, called repeated-measures experiments. Psychologists often use the crossover design to reduce the influence of confounding covariates and to reduce the number of subjects.

Observation in natural settings

In the same way Jane Goodall studied the role of chimpanzee social and family life, psychologists conduct similar observational studies in human social, professional and family lives. Sometimes the participants are aware they are being observed and other times it is covert: the participants do not know they are being observed. Ethical guidelines need to be taken into consideration when covert observation is being carried out.

Qualitative and descriptive research

Research designed to answer questions about the current state of affairs such as the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals is known as descriptive research. Descriptive research can be qualitative or quantitative in orientation. Qualitative research is descriptive research that is focused on observing and describing events as they occur, with the goal of capturing all of the richness of everyday behavior and with the hope of discovering and understanding phenomena that might have been missed if only more cursory examinations have been made.

Neuropsychological methods

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 disassociations') which can give clues as to whether abilities are composed of smaller functions, or are controlled by a single cognitive mechanism.

Artificial neural network with two layers, an interconnected group of nodes, akin to the vast network of neurons in the human brain.

In addition, experimental techniques are often used to study the neuropsychology of healthy individuals. These include behavioral 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 reveal their importance in mental operations.

Computational modeling

Computational modeling[36] is a tool often used in mathematical psychology and cognitive psychology to simulate a particular behavior using a computer. This method has several advantages. Since modern computers process extremely quickly, many simulations can be run in a short time, allowing for a great deal of statistical power. Modeling also allows psychologists to visualize 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 networks to simulate the brain. Another method is symbolic modeling, which represents many different mental objects using variables and rules. Other types of modeling include dynamic systems and stochastic modeling.

Animal studies

One of Pavlov’s dogs with a surgically implanted cannula to measure salivation.

Animal learning experiments aid in investigating the biological basis of teaching, memory and behavior. In the 1890s, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously used dogs to demonstrate classical conditioning. Non-human primates, cats, dogs, rats and other rodents are often used in psychological experiments. Ideally, controlled experiments introduce only one independent variable at a time, in order to ascertain its unique effects upon dependent variables. These conditions are approximated best in laboratory settings. In contrast, human environments and genetic backgrounds vary so widely, and depend upon so many factors, that it is difficult to control important variables for human subjects.[37]



Criticisms of psychology often come from perceptions that it is a "fuzzy" science. Philosopher Thomas Kuhn's 1962 critique implied psychology overall was in a pre-paradigm state, lacking the agreement on overarching theory found in mature sciences such as chemistry and physics. Psychologists and philosophers have addressed the issue in various ways.e

Because some areas of psychology rely on research methods such as surveys and questionnaires, critics have asserted that psychology is not scientific (due to the largely correlational nature of survey research). Other phenomena that psychologists are interested in, such as personality, thinking, and emotion, cannot be directly measured and are often inferred from subjective self-reports, which may be problematic.

Misuses of hypothesis-testing occur in psychology, particularly by psychologists without doctoral training in experimental psychology and statistics. Research has documented that many psychologists confuse statistical significance with practical importance. Statistically significant but practically unimportant results are common with large samples.[38] Some psychologists have responded with an increased use of effect size statistics, rather than sole reliance on the Fisherian p < .05 significance criterion (whereby an observed difference is deemed "statistically significant" if an effect of that size or larger would occur with 5% (or less) probability in independent replications, assuming the truth of the null-hypothesis of no difference between the treatments).

Sometimes the debate comes from within psychology, for example between laboratory-oriented researchers and practitioners such as clinicians. In recent years, and particularly in the U.S., there has been increasing debate about the nature of therapeutic effectiveness and about the relevance of empirically examining psychotherapeutic strategies.[39] One argument states that some therapies are based on discredited theories and are unsupported by empirical evidence. The other side points to recent research suggesting that all mainstream therapies are of about equal effectiveness, while also arguing that controlled studies often do not take into consideration real-world conditions.


Some observers perceive a gap between scientific theory and its application—in particular, the application of unsupported or unsound clinical practices. Critics say there has been an increase in the number of mental health training programs that do not instill scientific competence.[40] One skeptic asserts that practices, such as "facilitated communication for infantile autism"; memory-recovery techniques including body work; and other therapies, such as rebirthing and reparenting, may be dubious or even dangerous, despite their popularity.[41] In 1984, Allen Neuringer had made a similar point regarding the experimental analysis of behavior.[42]

See also



  1. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary. (2001). "Psychology".
  2. ^ a b Ibrahim B. Syed, "Islamic Medicine: 1000 years ahead of its times", Journal of the Islamic Medical Association, 2002 (2), p. 2-9.
  3. ^ a b Omar Khaleefa (Summer 1999). "Who Is the Founder of Psychophysics and Experimental Psychology?", American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 16 (2).
  4. ^ Bradley Steffens (2006). Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist, Chapter 5. Morgan Reynolds Publishing. ISBN 1599350246.
  5. ^ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2006). "Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt".
  6. ^ The Principles of Psychology (1890), with introduction by George A. Miller, Harvard University Press, 1983 paperback, ISBN 0-674-70625-0 (combined edition, 1328 pages)
  7. ^ a b Mandler, G. (2007). A history of modern experimental psychology: From James and Wundt to cognitive science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  8. ^ a b c d Overskeid, G. (2007). "Looking for Skinner and finding Freud". American Psychologist 62(6), 590-595.
  9. ^ Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge and Keagan Paul, 1963, pp. 33-39; from Theodore Schick, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Science, Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 9-13. [1]
  10. ^ a b June 2008 study by the American Psychoanalytic Association, as reported in the New York Times, "Freud Is Widely Taught at Universities, Except in the Psychology Department" by Patricia Cohen, November 25, 2007.
  11. ^ Skinner, B.F. (1974). About Behaviorism. New York: Random House
  12. ^ a b Schlinger, H.D. (2008). The long good-bye: why B.F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior is alive and well on the 50th anniversary of its publication. 
  13. ^ George A. Miller. The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol.7, No.3, March 2003
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Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. Psychologists study such phenomena as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. 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 health problems.



  • Despite the burgeoning technologies in the field of "helping", on many levels psychotherapy is still a crapshoot. Some of the goal of training, I think, is to help students accept that fact. The work is part science, part art, and part luck. Learning to tolerate the anxiety inherent in that recipe is critical for any clinician.
    • Martha Manning Undercurrents (1st edition ed.). HarperCollins. 1995. pp. p. 9. ISBN 0-06-251183-1.  

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Welcome to the study of psychology.
Psychology is a social science which focuses on the human mind, brain, and behaviour.

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Psychology is the study of the mind and of thought, feeling, and behavior. It deals mainly with humans but also sometimes with animals. Because psychology is difficult to study as a whole, psychologists often only look at small parts of it at a time. Psychology overlaps with many other fields including Medicine, Biology, Computer Science, and Linguistics.



Because people are complicated to study as a whole, psychology has been split up into smaller parts called branches. These are subjects in psychology that try to answer a particular group of questions about how people think. Common branches:

  • Cognitive psychology is interested in how people think, use language, remember and forget, and solve problems.
  • Perceptual psychology asks questions about how people make sense of what they see and hear and how they use that information to get around.
  • Social psychology looks into how groups of people work together and how societies build and work.
  • Developmental psychology is interested in how people develop and change through their lives.
  • Evolutionary psychology studies how evolution may have shaped the way people think and do things.
  • Neuropsychology looks at the brain and how it works to make people the way they are.
  • Abnormal psychology tries to work out what differences there are between people who are healthy and people who have a mental illness.
  • Clinical psychology is about finding the best way to help people to recover from mental illness.
  • Child psychology looks at babies, children, and youth, and at their families.
  • Geriatric psychology looks at aging people, especially over 60 years old.
  • Cross-cultural psychology looks at different ways of living and views of the world.
  • Educational or school psychology tests and helps students to learn and make friends.
  • Industrial/organizational psychology looks at jobs and workers to help business do well.


Scientific approaches

Psychology is often treated as a type of science, and a lot of psychologists use many of the same types of methods that researchers from other natural and social sciences use.

Psychologists will make theories to try to explain a behavior or pattern they see. Based on their theory they will make some predictions. They may then carry out an experiment or collect other types of information that will tell them whether their predictions were right or wrong.

Some types of experiments cannot be done on people because the process would be too lengthy, expensive, dangerous, unfair, or otherwise unethical. There are also other ways psychologists study the mind and behavior scientifically, and test their theories. Psychologists might wait for some events to happen on their own; they might look at patterns among existing groups of people in natural environments; or they might do experiments on animals (which can be simpler and more ethical to study).

Psychology shares other things with natural sciences, as well. For example, a good psychological theory may be possible to prove wrong. Just like in any natural science, a group of psychologists can never be completely sure that their theory is the right one; but if a theory can be proven wrong, and yet other psychologists do not successfully prove it wrong, then it is more likely that the theory is accurate. This is called falsifiability.

Scientific psychologists use a lot of different tools as part of their daily work and to carry out their studies. Psychologists use surveys to ask people how they feel and what they think. They may use special devices to look at the brain and to see what it's doing. Psychologists also often use computers so that they can carefully measure when and how people behave, usually in response to pictures, words, symbols, or other stimuli. Psychologists use statistics, too, to help them analyze the data that they get from their experiments.

Symbolic and subjective approaches

Not all psychology is scientific psychology. Psychodynamic psychology and depth psychology do things like interpreting people's dreams to understand the unconscious mind, as in older approaches to psychology begun by Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.

Humanistic psychology and existential psychology also believe that it is more important to understand personal meaning than to find causes and effects of mental processes and behaviors.


Psychologists are people who work in the field of psychology. A psychologist may work in either basic research or applied research, or if he or she is a clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist they may be a therapist. Basic research is the study of people or animals to learn more about them. Applied research is using what was learned from basic research to solve real-world problems.

To become a psychologist, a person must first get a basic degree at a university and then go to graduate school. A Master's degree, either M.S. (Master of Science) or M.A. (Master of Arts) allows beginning work, like a school psychologist. A Doctorate degree takes a longer time because it includes studying more material and writing a research paper called a dissertation. The doctoral graduate uses the initials Ph.D. or D.Phil (Doctor of Philosophy) after his or her name. Some clinical psychologists earn a Doctor of Psychology degree and use the initials Psy.D. after their name. The American Psychological Association says that a person needs a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to call himself or herself a psychologist.

The words psychologist and psychiatrist may be confused with each other. A psychiatrist has graduated from medical school and uses the initials M.D. Usually a psychologist cannot prescribe drugs for a patient; only a psychiatrist or another MD can.

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