Definition of Psychology

Psychology is the study of mind and behavior. It uses methods from the biological and social sciences to systematically gather data and make sense of it as knowledge.

Psychology as a Discipline

  • Psychology is the study of behavior, experience, and mental processes.
    • Behaviors are responses or reactions we make or activities we engage in. They can be simple or complex, short or enduring, and overt (outwardly seen or sensed) or covert (internal). Behaviors are based on stimulus-response (S-R) relations, with the stimulus and response potentially being internal or external. There are individual differences in behaviors, as the same stimulus can elicit different responses due to individual uniqueness and variation.
    • Experiences are subjective learning acquired through everyday life situations. They are influenced by internal and external conditions and can only be understood by analyzing this complex set of conditions. Most of our learning is based on experiences.
    • Mental processes are the activities of the mind and brain related to cognition, such as reasoning, learning, thinking, problem solving, and perception. They are the result of our interactions and experiences being dynamically organized in the form of a system. There is overlap but distinctness between mental processes and neural processes.
  • The aim of psychology is to understand and explain how the mind works and how different mental processes result in different behaviors. Some psychologists use scientific and objective analysis, while others use the perspective of the experiencing person in order to minimize biases. Psychology has influences from neuroscience and computer science, and borrows from principles in these fields. It also uses brain imaging techniques such as MRI and ECG.
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Psychology as a Hybrid Science

  • Psychology is a hybrid science that draws influence from natural and social sciences. It has natural science aspects, such as using the scientific method, emphasizing systematic data that can be studied under controlled conditions, being quantitative and requiring analysis, taking influence from physics and biology, and using the hypothetico-deductive model to test hypotheses and advance theories. It also has social science aspects, such as studying the experiences and behaviors of individuals in relation to their environment. Examples of psychology’s influence from the natural sciences include theories of learning and memory influenced by upbringing.

Definitions of Psychology

  • Etymologically, psychology means “science of the soul.” Earlier psychologists believed in the existence of the soul and studied its nature, origin, and destiny. Modern psychologists doubt the existence of the soul due to lack of empirical evidence.
  • Different definitions of psychology as the science of the mind include William James’s definition as the “science of mental processes,” and Wilhelm Wundt’s definition as the science that studies “internal experiences.”
  • Definitions of psychology as the science of behavior include William McDougall and W.B. Pillsbury’s definition as the “science of behavior,” and J.B. Watson’s definition, which discarded concepts like “mind” and “consciousness,” and defined psychology as the “science of behavior.”
  • K. Koffka believed that psychology should focus on the study of behavior, even though the concept of consciousness cannot be completely discarded. R.S. Woodworth defined psychology as the “science of activities of the individual.”
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Four Goals of Psychology

  • The first goal of psychology is to describe behavior, distinguishing between normal and abnormal behavior, and gaining an accurate understanding and perspective on human and animal behavior.
  • The second goal is to explain behavior, providing answers for why people react a certain way, understanding how mental processes work, and identifying the factors that contribute to behavior.
  • The third goal is to predict behavior, using past data and understanding of mental processes to anticipate how individuals or groups will behave in the future.
  • The fourth goal is to control behavior, using the understanding and predictions of behavior to intervene and change behavior in desired ways. This can be done through therapy, education, and other means.

Branches of Psychology

Abnormal Psychology

  • Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that studies abnormal behavior or thinking. It aims to understand the causes of unusual behaviors and relates to the nature vs. nurture debate.

Behavioral Psychology

  • Behavioral psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the connection between the mind and subsequent behaviors. It treats patients with behavioral disorders and studies how habits form and how the mind plays a role in physical responses.

Clinical Psychology

  • Clinical psychology is the branch of psychology that provides healthcare to patients with mental illness. It uses psychoanalysis to delve into the emotions and experiences of patients.

Cognitive Psychology

  • Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes. It investigates how people obtain, process, and store information in the brain and conducts experiments on memory, perception, and learning.

Counseling Psychology

  • Counseling psychology is the branch of psychology that treats patients experiencing emotional strain from social or physical factors. It differs from clinical psychology, which treats mental disorders.

Developmental Psychology

  • Developmental psychology is the branch of psychology that studies how people mature emotionally and physically over the course of their lives. It looks at biological growth, cognitive expansion, and emotional maturity.

Educational Psychology

  • Educational psychology is the branch of psychology that studies factors that impact learning, including learning methods and how information is processed and absorbed.

Experimental Psychology

  • Experimental psychology is the branch of psychology that conducts investigations into basic psychological processes, such as attention, perception, memory, and reasoning.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology

  • Industrial/organizational psychology is the branch of psychology that studies the behavior of individuals and groups in workplace settings. It applies research to improve productivity and satisfaction in the workplace.

Personality Psychology

  • Personality psychology is the branch of psychology that studies personality and how it influences behavior. It investigates traits, attitudes, and individual differences.

Social Psychology

  • Social psychology is the branch of psychology that studies how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by others. It investigates social influences, social cognition, and group dynamics.

School Psychology

  • School psychology is a field that focuses on creating a safe and healthy school environment for students to learn in. School psychologists study various factors, such as social, behavioral, emotional, and academic, to determine the best learning environment for students. They also help teachers and students find their optimal learning space and conduct research on best practices for school policy. Their goal is to provide recommendations to school administrators to improve the overall school environment.

Sport Psychology

  • Sport psychology is the branch of psychology that applies psychological principles to enhance athletic performance and improve the overall well-being of athletes.
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