Introduction to Psychology

Introduction to Psychology :

The study of the way people think and behave is called psychology. The field of psychology has a number of sub-disciplines devoted to the study of the different levels and contexts of human thought and behavior. Social psychology, for example, deals with human thought and action in a social context, while physiological psychology is concerned with thought and behavior at the level of neurology. Another division of psychology, comparative psychology compares the thought and behavior of humans with that of other species. Abnormal psychology studies atypical thought and action.

Psychology is an interdisciplinary science. Social psychology, for example, involves both sociology and anthropology. Abnormal psychology has much in common with psychiatry, while physiological psychology builds on the techniques and methods of neurology and physiology. It is evident that psychological methods are being increasingly used in daily events. Employment for example, in Europe more companies are subjecting potential personnel to psychological profile checks and psychological tests during interviews. Even our social lives are becoming affected. People who are seeking the right partner are using psychological techniques to establish the emotional state of their potential partners. As psychology becomes more and more accessible and understandable to more people, I feel that it will begin to influence our lifestyles more.

From a personal stand point, this has been a very difficult exercise. This is a new area for me, so I have been unable to write from a professional or work experience perspective only from a purely academic view.


Psychology literally means study of the mind. Psychology as a separate discipline is usually dated from 1879 when Wundt opened the first psychology laboratory, devoted to the analysis of conscious thought into its basic elements, structuralism. It is understood that structuralism was founded by Wilhelm Wundt. What made this new psychology different from philosophy was the emphasis on measurement and control and the application of some of the basic scientific method to the study of the mental process.

For psychology to become a natural science it must confine itself to what is observable and measurable by more than one person, namely behaviour, Behaviorism was established. This movement was formally initiated by John Broadus Watson in a famous paper PSYCHOLOGY AS THE BEHAVIOURIST VIEWS IT published in 1913.

At the time when behaviourism was becoming prominent in America a group of German psychologists began to discredit the principles of structuralism and behaviourism. They argued that it was not possible to break down psychological processes. This theory, demonstrated that our perceptions are highly organized and have immediate, vivid qualities that cannot be explained in terms of piecing together basic elements. The psychologists had the opinion that our perceptions are inherently configurationally meaning that the elements making up the perception could not be separated from the way in which those elements were combined as a whole. This now popular theory is known as Gestalt taken from the German word for configuration. The expression of the third force movement known as humanistic psychology is an eclectic grouping of American psychologists who advocated various interpretations of human personality. The term humanistic reflects the focus on defining a human psychology with emphases on individual existence, focusing on the role of free choice and our ability to make rational decisions on how we live.

During the 1950s and 1960s, many psychologists began to look to the work of computer scientists in trying to understand the more complex behaviour which, they felt, learning theory or conditioning had oversimplified. This behaviour was referred to by early psychologists as mind or mental processes, which has become cognition or the cognitive process. The cognitive psychologist sees the person as an information processor and cognitive psychology along with artificial intelligence, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology and neuroscience now form part of cognitive science, which emerged in the late 1970s.

How can we divide up the work that psychologists do? There is much more under the heading of 'psychology' than the theories and principles of famous and leading psychologists of our time. There are psychologists in all areas, specialising in a number of fields. Physiological psychology is concerned with the neurological and physiological events that underlie human thought and action. Some physiological psychologists are concerned with mapping the functions of various parts of the brain. Others study both the transmission of electrical information in the brain and the neurotransmitters that facilitate or inhibit such transmissions. Physiological psychologists study the effects of drugs on human behavior.

Conditioning and learning are concerned with how experience modifies thought and behavior. Initially devoted to the investigation of principles of learning among all species, the field now includes specific types of learning for different species. Other areas of interest in the field include maladaptive learning, such as learned helplessness and learning in traditional settings such as in the classroom and on the job.

Cognitive psychology applies to the study of thinking, concept formation and problem solving. Work in this field has been much influenced and aided by the use of computers. Computers are used to present problems and tasks to subjects and to model the thinking and problem-solving processes. The impact of computers on cognitive psychology is also evident in the theories used to describe human thought. For example, such terms as short-term memory and long-term memory parallel the two types of memory those are available on computers.

Social psychology looks into all facets of human social interaction. Among the problems studied by social psychologists are such matters as the development of friendship, the nature of romantic attachment and the relative effectiveness of cooperation and competition on achievement. In recent years social psychology has included the study of attribution.

Attribution theory recognizes that psychological perceptions of events do not always correspond to objective realities. Abnormal psychology is the study of maladaptive behaviors. Such behaviors range from the simple habit disorders (thumb sucking, nail biting), to the addictions (alcohol, gambling and so on) to the most severe mental disturbances the psychoses. Abnormal psychology investigates the causes and dynamics of mental and behavioral disorders and tests the effectiveness of various treatments.

Vocational psychology is the study of how specific personality traits contribute to success in different vocations. In one approach the characteristics of people already working in a specific vocation are studied. If a personality pattern emerges, tests can then be constructed to measure the traits and interests of people in the field. Other individuals who exhibit the same traits and interests can be counseled to consider the field as a possible vocational choice. Vocational psychologists also look for traits and aptitudes that contribute to success in a vocation.

Industrial psychology concerns the physical and psychological conditions of the workplace and how these factors contribute to an efficient work environment. Industrial psychologists are also concerned about the design of manufactured products. Some industrial psychologists, for example, are involved in the design of such items as dashboards which are used in airplanes and automobiles. Their aim is to apply knowledge of human capabilities and limitations to the design of instrumentation that is to be used by humans.

Business psychology, a relatively recent branch of psychology, is the study of the effectiveness of interpersonal relations in the workplace. Some business psychologists set up training workshops to improve executives' management skills. They also evaluate prospective job applicants and evaluate individuals being considered for promotion. They employ the full range of psychological tests as well as interview procedures. Instruments are often designed for specific types of evaluations. Experimental psychology encompasses many different fields of psychology that employ experimental procedures. Traditionally it has been regarded as the study of the basic sensory mechanisms…vision, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. The classical problems of experimental psychology are determining reaction times and reaction thresholds (the amount of stimulation needed to produce a response for any given sense) as well as developing psychological scales for physical stimuli, called psychophysics. Hot and cold, for example, is psychological scaling of temperature stimuli for which such physical measures as degrees Fahrenheit provide only physical units. Much experimental psychology today is closely tied with physiological psychology.

Animal psychology includes several different disciplines. One is comparative psychology which explores animal behavior in comparison to human behavior. Comparative psychologists, for example, might present different species with comparable tasks, to see how their performances differ. Animal psychologists also study animals to gain insight into human behavior. For example, the effects of drugs and tobacco on animals are observed to determine the effects these substances have on humans.

Developmental psychology is concerned with the growth and development of individuals. Once concerned primarily with the growth and development of children, the field has expanded to include the growth and development of individuals throughout their lives. Developmental psychologists explore changes associated with mental, social and emotional development. They also look at the evolution of friendships and parent-child relationships. How children learn both in and outside school is another focus of developmental research.

Clinical psychology has undergone rapid growth in recent years and is now the largest sub-discipline within psychology. Clinical psychologists work in hospitals, in clinics and in private practice. Their main concerns are the diagnoses and treatment of learning and emotional problems. Many conduct psychological research along with their applied work.

The goal of psychology must be to further understand behaviour. This has to be done through theories. Good psychological theories generate hypotheses about how human behaviour should respond to given conditions. Psychology has to develop and comprehend the behavioral attitude of not only humans but animals and establish more relevant theories as the science of psychology advances.

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