What exactly is psychology? Popular television programs, books, and films have contributed to a a number of misconceptions about this subject. The diverse careers paths of those holding psychology degrees also contribute to this confusion. Psychology is both an applied and academic field that studies the human mind and behavior. Research in psychology seeks to understand and explain how we think, act and feel. As most people already realize, a large part of psychology is devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to applications for psychology.
In addition to mental health, psychology can be applied to a variety of issues that impact health and daily life including performance enhancement, self-help, ergonomics, motivation, productivity, and much more. Early Psychology Psychology evolved out of both philosophy and biology. Discussions of these two subjects date as far back as the early Greek thinkers including Aristotle and Socrates. The word psychology is derived from the Greek word psyche, meaning ‘soul’ or ‘mind. ‘
A Separate Science The emergence of psychology as a separate and independent field of study was truly born when Wilhelm Wundt established the first experimental psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany in 1879. Wundt’s work was focused on describing the structures that compose the mind. This perspective relied heavily on the analysis of sensations and feelings through the use of introspection, a highly subjective process. Wundt believed that properly trained individuals would be able to accurately identify the mental processes that accompanied feelings, sensations and thoughts.
Schools of Thought Throughout psychology’s history, a number of different schools of thought have thought have formed to explain human thought and behavior. These schools of thought often rise to dominance for a period of time. While these schools of thought are sometimes perceived as competing forces, each perspective has contributed to our understanding of psychology.
The following are some of the major schools of thought in psychology. * Structuralism * Functionalism * Gestalt * Psychoanalysis Behaviorism * Humanism * Cognitive Psychology Today Today, psychologists prefer to use more objective scientific methods to understand, explain, and predict human behavior. Psychological studies are highly structured, beginning with a hypothesis that is then empirically tested. The discipline has two major areas of focus: academic psychology and applied psychology. Academic psychology focuses on the study of different sub-topics within psychology including personality, social behavior and human development.
These psychologists conduct basic research that seeks to expand our theoretical knowledge, while other researchers conduct applied research that seeks to solve everyday problems. Applied psychology focuses on the use of different psychological principles to solve real world problems. Examples of applied areas of psychology include forensic psychology, ergonomics, and industrial-organizational psychology. Many other psychologists work as therapists, helping people overcome mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. Psychology Research Methods
As psychology moved away from its philosophical roots, psychologists began to employ more and more scientific methods to study human behavior. Contemporary researchers employ a variety of scientific techniques including experiments, correlation studies, longitudinal research, and others to test, explain, and predict behavior. Areas of Psychology Psychology is a broad and diverse field. A number of different subfields and specialty areas have emerged. The following are some of the major areas of research and application within psychology:
1. Abnormal Psychology is the study of abnormal behavior and psychopathology. This specialty area is focused on research and treatment of a variety of mental disorders and is linked to psychotherapy, and clinical psychology. 2. Biological Psychology, also known as biopsychology, studies how biological processes influence the mind and behavior. This area is closely linked to neuroscience and utilizes tools such as MRI and PET scans to look at brain injury or brain abnormalities.
3. Clinical Psychology is focused on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders. It is also considered the largest employment area within psychology. 4. Cognitive Psychology is the study of human thought processes and cognitions. Cognitive psychologists study topics such as attention, memory, perception, decision-making,problem-solving, and language acquisition. 5. Comparative Psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behavior. This type of research can lead to a deeper and broader understanding of human psychology.
6. Developmental Psychology is an area that looks at human growth and development over the lifespan. Theories often focus on the development of cognitive abilities, morality, social functioning, identity, and other life areas. 7. Forensic Psychology is an applied field focused on using psychological research and principles in the legal and criminal justice system. 8. Industrial-Organizational Psychology is a field that uses psychological research to enhance work performance, select employee, improve product design, and enhance usability.
9. Personality Psychology looks at the various elements that make up individual personalities. Well-known personality theories include Freud’s structural model of personality and the “Big Five” theory of personality. 10. School Psychology is the branch of psychology that works within the educational system to help children with emotional, social, and academic issues. 11. Social Psychology is a discipline that uses scientific methods to study social influence, social perception and social interaction. Social psychology studies diverse subjects including group behavior, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression, and prejudice.
Perspectives in Psychology While a few different schools of thought dominated the early years of psychology, the number of topics studied by psychologists has grown dramatically since the early 1960s. Today, few psychologists identify their outlook according to a particular school of thought. While you may still find some pure behaviorists or psychoanalysts, the majority of psychologists instead categorize their work according to their specialty area and perspective.
Every topic in psychology can be looked at in a number of different ways. For example, let’s consider the subject of aggression. Someone who emphasizes a biological perspective would look at the how the brain and nervous system impact aggressive behavior. A professional who stresses a behavioral perspective would look at how environmental variables reinforce aggressive actions. Another psychologist who utilizes a cross-cultural approach might consider how cultural and social influences contribute to aggressive or violent behaviors.