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Psychology Essay, Research Paper
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. 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,
Behaviourism 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 organised
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 configurational, 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 that 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
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
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 a 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, fo r example, are psychological scalings 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 behavioural attitude of not only humans but animals,
and establish more relevant theories as the science of psychology advances.
Methods of Psychology.
Psychologists use a number of research methods to study behaviour. These
include surveys, observation, case studies, correlation method and experimental
Performing a survey is one of the most widely used methods of
psychological research. Representative groups are questioned either face to face
or by being given formal questionnaires to complete. There are limitations to
surveys. There can easily be a bias within the groups questioned. For example,
gender, social or economic differences etc. This can give a limited insight as
to the true attitude of the group surveyed. It can also make considerable
difference as to how the questions are composed. Any question can be written
with a critical or creative style which can determine the way the person taking
part in the survey will answer. The only way to take a poll or survey is to
guarantee that the individuals surveyed (a sample) will be representative of the
whole group you are interested in. In a random sample, every individual in the
population has an equal chance to be in the sample.
Observational research methods can either be in a controlled environment
or subjects can be observed in their normal day to day habitat, known as
naturalistic observation. The most critical feature of naturalistic observation
is that ‘the act of observing someone must not interfere with how the person
behaves’. When people know they are being watched , they are likely to try and
look as good as they can. The advantage of naturalistic observations is that
they are made under real life conditions. The main disadvantage is that we can
seldom say with certainty why people behaved as they did because we do not have
any control over the circumstances in which they were behaving.
Most data-gathering procedures in psychology collect a limited amount of
information from a large number of people, the aim of a case study is to obtain
large amounts of information about an individual or small group. Detail of this
kind can help the psychologist understand complex relationships and behavioral
patterns. Among the disadvantages of case studies is the potential for observer
bias and the lack of proper sampling opportunities.
A list of facts and figures of the kind that may be obtained from any of
the previous research methods can only provide a limited insight into the nature
of behaviour. A useful strategy is to look for relationships among the various
measures obtained. Studies with this purpose are described as correlational.
Correlational studies may use a number of different research methods to obtain
the data. The distinctive feature of a correlational study is not the method
used to gather the data but the questions the data is designed to answer.
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