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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

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 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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