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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-humananimals 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 meansof 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. Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing onscientific knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand behaviour. However, not all psychological research methods are scientific, and some may involve qualitative or interpretive techniquesmore allied to the humanities . Some psychologists, particularly adherents to humanistic psychology , may go as far as completelyrejecting 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 phenomenological or informationprocessing theories of mind. Increasingly though, an understanding of brain function is being included in psychologicaltheory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence , neuropsychology and cognitiveneuroscience .

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



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 amedical 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" ("TwoDiscourses on the Souls of Brutes").

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

In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt founded alaboratory at the University in Germany in Leipzig specifically to focus on generaland 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 thatpsychologists would focus on for years to come. Crucially, the approach of Wundt and James did not involve metaphysics or religious explanations of human thought and behaviour, freeing it fromthe 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 particularlyfocused on resolving mental distress and psychopathology . Freud'stheories were wildly successful, not least because they aimed to be of practical benefit to individual patients, but also becausethey 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 toclinical 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 thatpsychology 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 behaviourand learning to be a reaction to the environment. In his classic 1913 paper Psychologyas 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 behaviourist... recognizes no dividing line between man andbrute".

Behaviourism was the dominant model in psychology for much of the early 20th century, largely due to the creation andsuccessful 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 aguiding theory of human behaviour. Noam Chomsky 's review of Skinner's book Verbal Behaviour (that aimed to explain language acquisition in abehaviourist framework) is considered one of the major factors in the ending of behaviourism's reign. Chomsky demonstrated thatlanguage could not purely be learnt from conditioning, as people could produce sentences unique in structure and meaning thatcouldn't possibly be generated solely through experience of natural language, implying that there must be internal states of mindthat behaviourism rejected as illusory. Similarly, work by AlbertBandura showed that children could learn by socialobservation , 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 abelief in internal mental states, led to the rise of cognitivism as the dominant model of the mind.

Links between brain and nervoussystem 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 cognitiveneuropsychology ). 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 ina constructive way.

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

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

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

Some of the founding theorists behind this school of thought are AbrahamMaslow who formulated a hierarchy of humanneeds , Carl Rogers who created and developed client centred therapy, and Fritz Perls who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy .

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, ofhuman behaviour can be explained. The popularity of these has waxed and waned over time. Some psychologists may think ofthemselves as adherents to a particular school of thought and reject the others, although most consider each as an approach tounderstanding the mind, and not necessarily as mutually exclusive theories.

Modern psychology

The majority of mainstream psychology is based on a framework derived from cognitive psychology , although the popularity of this paradigm does not exclude others, which areoften applied as necessary. Alternatively, a psychologist may specialise in an area in which cognitive psychology is rarelyused.

A psychologist will often attempt to measure or test different aspects of psychological function, using psychometric and statistical methods, including well known standardised tests as well as thosecreated as the situation requires.

Academic psychologists may focus purely on research, aiming to further psychological understanding in a particular area, whileother psychologists may work in applied psychology to deploysuch knowledge for immediate and practical benefit. However, these approaches are not mutually exclusive and most psychologistswill be involved in both researching and applying psychology at some point during their work.

Contemporary psychology is broad-based and consists of a diverse set of approaches, subject areas and applications. Acomprehensive list is given in the Topics and Divisions sections below. Where an area of interest is considered to need specifictraining and specialist knowledge (especially in applied areas), psychological societies will typically set up a governing bodyto manage training requirements. Similarly, requirements may be laid down for university degrees in psychology, so that studentsacquire an adequate knowledge in a number of areas. While the exact divisions may vary from country to country, the followingareas are usually considered as 'core' subjects or approaches by psychology societies and universities.

Cognitive psychology

Cognitive psychology is a framework in which tounderstand the mind more than a subject area, although it has traditionally focused on certain aspects of psychology. Perception , learning , problem solving , memory , attention , language and emotion are all well researched areas. Cognitive psychology is based on a school of thoughtknown as cognitivism , which argues for an information processing model of mental function,informed by positivism and experimental psychology . Techniques and models from cognitive psychology are widely applied andform the mainstay of psychological theories in many areas of both research and applied psychology.

Clinical and counselling psychology

Clinical psychology is the application of psychology tothe understanding, treatment and assessment of psychopathology ,behavioural or mental health issues. It has traditionally been associated with counselling and psychotherapy , although modern clinicalpsychology may take an eclectic approach, including a number of therapeutic approaches. Typically, although working with many ofthe same clients as psychiatrists , clinical psychologists do not prescribepsychiatric drugs. Clinical psychologists largely work within the 'scientist-practictioner model' where clinical problems areformulated as hypotheses to be tested as information is gathered about the patient and their mental state. Some clinicalpsychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with braininjury . This is known as clinicalneuropsychology and typically involves additional training in brain function.

In recent years and particularly in the United States, a major split has been developing between academic researchpsychologists in universities and some branches of clinical psychology. Many academic psychologists believe that these cliniciansuse 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 hasresulted in the formation of the American Psychological Society by the research psychologists as a new body distinct from the American PsychologicalAssociation .

Developmental and educational psychology

Largely focusing on the development of the human mind through childhood (although development through adulthood is alsostudied), developmental psychology seeks tounderstand how children come to perceive, understand and act within the world. This may focus on intellectual, cognitive, neural,social or moral development and involve a number of unique research methods to engage children in experimental tasks. These tasksoften resemble specially designed games and activities that are both enjoyable for the child and scientifically useful. Educational psychology largely seeks to apply much of thisknowledge and understand how learning can best take place in educational situations. Because of this, the work of child psychologists such as LevVygotsky , Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner has been influential in creating teaching methodsand educational practices.

Forensic psychology

Forensic psychology is concerned with the psychology of crime , criminals and law enforcement . A forensic psychologist may be involved in assessment ofoffenders or interventions to prevent offending behaviour, usually with people who have already come in contact with the legal or penal system . Often this involves working with offenders with mental health problems, or with people whoact dangerously or in an antisocial manner (for example, psychopaths ).Criminal profiling is another important role fulfilled by forensic psychologists and typically involves building psychologicalprofiles of unknown or at-large offenders from the known evidence.

Health psychology

While clinical psychology focuses on mental health and neurological illness, health psychology is concernedwith the psychology of a much wider range of health related behaviour. For example, healthy eating, the doctor-patientrelationship, a patient's understanding of health information and beliefs about illness. Health psychologists may be involved inpublic health campaigns, examining the impact of illness or health policy on quality of life or research into the psychological impact of health and social care.

Industrial and organisational psychology

Involved with the application of psychology to the world of business, commerce and the function of organisations, industrial and organisationalpsychology focuses to varying degrees on the psychology of the workforce, customer and consumer, including issues such as thepsychology of recruitment, training, appraisal, job satisfaction, stress at work and management . Psychologists may also work on product design, interaction withmachines or software, advertising , sales and marketing , to aid functionality, safety and appeal.


Neuropsychology is a branch of psychology that aims to understandhow the structure and function of the brain relates to specific psychological processes.Often neuropsychologists are employed as scientists to advance scientific or medical knowledge. Cognitive neuropsychology is particularly concerned withthe understanding of brain injury in an attempt to work out normalpsychological function. Clinical neuropsychology isthe application of neuropsychology for the clinical management of patients with neurocognitive deficits .

Social psychology

Social psychology aims to understand how the mind makes senseof social situations. For example, this could involve the influence of others on an individual's behaviour (e.g. conformity or persuasion ), the perception and understanding of social cues, or the formation of attitudes or stereotypes about other people. Social cognition is a common approach and involves a mostly cognitive and scientific approach to understanding social behaviour.

Topics in psychology

Although in principle, psychology aims to explain all aspects of thought and behaviour, some topics have generated particularinterest, either due to their perceived importance, their ease of study or popularity. Many of the concepts studied byprofessional 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 knowledgedeveloped through formal study and investigation. The extent to which folk psychology should be used as a basis for understandinghuman experience is controversial, although theories that are based on everyday notions of the mind have been among some of themost 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 arelargely arbitrary and overlapping (although they may have been formalised into areas of interest by psychological societies orregulatory bodies) and most psychologists will use methods from each area as appropriate, even if they mostly focus on one areaof interest in their work.

Some related disciplines

Famous psychologists

See List of psychologists for a full list of famousand influential psychologists.

Publications, References

See List of publications inpsychology for important publications in psychology.

External links

Psychology Resources

Psychology Societies

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