Psychology is the practice of studying, teaching or applying an understanding of the mind, thought and behaviour. It is largely concerned with psychology of humans, although the behaviour and thought of non-human animals is also studied; either as a subject in its own right (see animal cognition), or more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology by means of comparison (see comparative psychology).

Psychology is conducted both scientifically and non-scientifically. Mainstream psychology is based largely on positivism, using quantitative studies and the scientific method to test and disprove hypotheses, often in an experimental context. Not all psychological research methods are scientific, and some may involve qualitative or interpretive techniques more allied to the humanities. Some psychologists, particularly adherents to humanistic psychology, may go as far as completely rejecting a scientific approach. However, mainstream psychology has a bias towards the scientific method, which is reflected in the dominance of cognitivism as the guiding theoretical framework used by most psychologists to understand thought and behaviour.

Psychology does not necessarily refer to the brain or nervous system and can be framed purely in terms of phenomelogical or information processing theories of mind. Increasingly though, an understanding of brain function is being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience.

Psychology differs from sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science, in part, by studying the behavior of individuals (alone or in groups) rather than the behavior of the groups or aggregates themselves. While psychological questions were asked in antiquity (c.f., Aristotle's De Memoria et Reminiscentia or "On Memory and Recollection"), psychology emerged as a separate discipline only recently. The first person to call himself a "psychologist", Wilhelm Wundt, opened the first psychological laboratory in 1879.

1 History

2 Modern psychology

3 Famous psychologists

4 Topics in psychology

5 Divisions and approaches in psychology

6 Major nineteenth and twentieth century schools of thought

7 Some related disciplines

8 External links

Table of contents


The root of the word psychology (psyche) means "soul" or "spirit" in Greek, and psychology was sometimes considered a study of the soul (in a religious sense of this term), though its emergence as a medical discipline can be seen in Thomas Willis' reference to psychology (the "Doctrine of the Soul") in terms of brain function, as part of his 1672 anatomical treatise "De Anima Brutorum" ("Two Discourses on the Souls of Brutes").

Until about the end of the 19th century, psychology was regarded as a branch of philosophy.

In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt founded a laboratory at the University in Germany in Leipzig specifically to focus on general and basic questions concerning behaviour and mental states. William James later published his 1890 book, Principles of Psychology which laid many of the foundations for the sorts of questions which psychologists would focus on for years to come. Crucially, the approach of Wundt and James did not involve metaphysics or religious explantions of human thought and behaviour, freeing it from the realms of philosophy and theology, and in many people's eyes, founding the modern science of psychology.

Meanwhile, Sigmund Freud had invented and applied a method of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. Freud's understanding of the mind was largely based on interpretive methods and introspection (a technique also championed by Wundt), but was particularly focused on resolving mental distress and psychopathology. Freud's theories were wildly successful, not least because they aimed to be of practical benefit to individual patients, but also because they tackled subjects such as sexuality and repression 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. Although it has become fashionable to discredit many of Freud's more outlandish theories, his application of psychology to clinical work and his more mainstream work has been massively influential.

Partly as a reaction to the subjective and introspective nature of psychology at the time, behaviourism began to become popular as a guiding psychological theory. Championed by psychologists such as John B. Watson, Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner it argued that psychology should be a science of behaviour, not the mind, and rejected the idea of internal mental states such as beliefs, desires or goals, believing all behaviour and learning to be a reaction to the environment. In his classic 1913 paper Psychology as the behaviourist views it Watson argued that psychology "is a purely objective experimental branch of natural science", "introspection forms no essential part of its methods..." and "The behaviorist... recognizes no dividing line between man and brute".

Behaviourism was the dominant model in psychology for much of the early 20th century, largely due to the creation and successful application (not least of which in advertising) of conditioning theories as scientific models of human behaviour.

However, it became increasingly clear that although behaviourism had made some important discoveries, it was deficient as a guiding theory of human behaviour. Noam Chomsky's review of Skinners book Verbal Behavior (that aimed to explain language acquisition in a behaviourist framework) is considered one of the major factors in the ending of behaviourism's reign. Chomsky demonstrated that language could not purely be learnt from conditioning, as people could produce sentences unique in structure and meaning that couldn't possibly of been generated solely through experience of natural language, implying that there must be internal states of mind that behaviourism rejected as illusory. Similarly, work by Albert Bandura showed that children could learn by social observation, without any change in overt behaviour, and so must be accounted for by internal representations.

The rise of computer technology also promoted the metaphor of mental function as information processing. This, combined with a scientific approach to studying the mind, as well as a belief in internal mental states, led to the rise of cognitivism as the dominant model of the mind.

Links between brain and nervous system function were also becoming common, partly due to the experimental work of people like Charles Sherrington and Donald Hebb, and partly due to studies of people with brain injury (see cognitive neuropsychology). With the development of technologies for accurately measuring brain function, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience have become some of the most active areas in contemporary psychology.

With the increasing involvement of other disciplines (such as philosophy, computer science and neuroscience) in the quest to understand the mind, the umbrella discipline of cognitive science has been created as a means of focusing such efforts in a constructive way.

However, not all psychologists have been happy with what they perceive as 'mechanical' models of the mind and human nature.

Carl Jung, a one-time follower and contemporary of Freud, was instrumental in bringing in notions of spirituality into Freudian psychoanalysis (Freud had rejected religion as a mass delusion).

Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1950s and has continuted as a reaction to positivist and scientific approaches to the mind. It stresses a phenomenological view of human experience and seeks to understand human beings and their behavior by conducting qualitative research. The humanistic approach has its roots in existentialist and phenomenological philosophy and many humanist psychologists completely reject a scientific approach, arguing that trying to turn human experience into measurements, strips it of all meaning and relevance to lived existence.

Some of the founding theorists behind this school of thought are Abraham Maslow who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, Carl Rogers who created and developed client centered therapy, and Fritz Perls who helped create and develop gestalt therapy.

Modern psychology

Clinical and counseling psychology both focus on understanding and treatment of behavioral or mental problems. Psychiatry is the medical field specializing in mental health issues, thereby overlapping with clinical psychology. Clinical and counselling psychologists often work in co-operation with psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses and 'lay' counselors. Psychiatrists are often involved in providing psycho-pharmacological care including antidepressant, antianxiety, antipsychotic and mood-stabilizing medication. Services aimed at mental or behavioral problems are also often provided by traditional healers and religious counselors. Fields such as neuroscience, political science, media studies and gender studies have also come to be seen as closely related to psychology. The first and dominant training model is the scientist-practitioner model, also known as the Boulder model, leading to a traditional research Ph.D. In the mid 1970s a growing movement for relevant practitioner training led to the emergence of the Vail model, a professional-practitioner emphasis, leading to a Psy.D. The National Council of Schools and Programs in Professional Psychology (NCSPP) is the organizational focus of this on-going effort to establish training of high quality practitioners.

Applied psychology is a more general term, referring to solving problems and answering questions that could help solve problems faced by people and society. For example, researching how animals won't eat novel foods after getting ill, even if the food didn't cause the illness, has helped explain why cancer patients have difficulty eating after chemotherapy.

During the third through sixth centuries in India, a branch of study developed within Buddhism that investigated the functions of the human mind, and the relationship of these to human behavior, mental illness, and methods for correcting delusory thinking that leads to suffering. This school was known as Yogacara (also known by the names Mind-only, Consciousness-only, etc).

Practitioners of Psychoanalysis of the schools of Sigmund Freud , Jung, and Adler all insisted they had proven their own theories through their patients, but have faced criticism due to the subjectivity of their research. It is clear that the mutually contradictory theories of those different schools cannot all be true.

In recent years and particularly in the United States, a major split has been developing between academic research psychologists in universities and some branches of clinical psychology. Many academic psychologists believe that these clinicians use therapies based on discredited theories and unsupported by empirical evidence of their effectiveness. From the other side, these clinicians believe that the academics are ignoring their experience in dealing with actual patients. The disagreement has resulted in the formation of the American Psychological Society by the research psychologists as a new body distinct from the American Psychological Association.

Famous psychologists

See List of psychologists for a full list of famous and influential psychologists.

Topics in psychology

Although in principle, psychology aims to explain all aspects of thought and behaviour, some topics have generated particular interest, either due to their perceived importance, their ease of study or popularity. Many of the concepts studied by professional psychology stem from the day-to-day psychology used by most people and learnt through experience. This is known as folk psychology to distinguish it from psychological knowledge developed through formal study and investigation. The extent to which folk psychology should be used as a basis for understanding human experience is controversial, although theories which are based on everyday notions of the mind have been among some of the most successful.

For a comprehensive list of psychological topics on wikipedia, please see the list of psychological topics.

Divisions and approaches in psychology

Different disciplines in psychology typically signify both a set of practices and an area of interest. The divisions are largely arbitrary and overlapping (although they may have been formalised into areas of interest by psychological societies or regulatory bodies) and most psychologists will use methods from each area as appropriate, even if they mostly focus on one area of interest in their work.

Major nineteenth and twentieth century 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 behaviour 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.

Some related disciplines

External links

Psychology Resources

Psychology Societies