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Psychology

Basics

Personality
Development
An Overview of Psychology
By Kendra Cherry | Reviewed by a board-certified physician PRINT
Updated August 23, 2016
Cognitive Psychology
Psychology is a broad field that encompasses the study of human thought, behavior,
Developmental development, personality, emotion, motivation, and more. Gaining a richer and deeper
Psychology understanding of psychology can help people achieve insights into their own actions as well
as a better understanding of others.
Behavioral Theories

Psychosocial Theories What Is Psychology?


The simplest definition of psychology is that it is the study of the mind and behavior.
History
Research in psychology seeks to understand and Advertisement

explain how people think, act, and feel.


Personality Psychology
Psychologists strive to learn more about the

Leadership many factors that can impact thought and


behavior, ranging from biological influences to

Psychotherapy social pressures.

Applications for psychology include mental health


Neuroscience and treatment, performance enhancement, self-help,
Biological Psychology ergonomics, and many other areas affecting
health and daily life.
Branches
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Social Psychology

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It is difficult to capture everything that psychology encompasses in just a brief definition,


but topics such as development, personality, thoughts, feelings, emotions, motivations, and
social behaviors represent just a portion of what psychology seeks to understand, predict,
and explain.

There's a lot of confusion out there about psychology. Unfortunately, such misconceptions
about psychology abound in part thanks to stereotyped portrayals of psychologists in
popular media as well as the diverse career paths of those holding psychology degrees.

According to some popular television programs and movies, psychologists are super-
sleuths that can use their understanding of the human mind to solve crimes and predict a
criminal's next move.

Other traditional depictions present the Advertisement

psychologist as gray and wise, seated in a stately Page: 1 of 6


Other traditional depictions present the Advertisement

psychologist as gray and wise, seated in a stately


office lined with books, and listening to clients
ramble on about their difficult childhoods.

So what is psychology really all about? The fact is


that there is a little bit of truth in these
stereotypical portrayals, but there is a lot more to
psychology than you might initially think. There
is a tremendous diversity in psychology careers
and it is perhaps this enormous range of career
paths that contributes to some of the
misconceptions about psychology and what Advertisement

psychologists do.

Sure, there are psychologists who help solve crimes and there are plenty of professionals
who help people deal with mental health issues. However, there are also psychologists who
contribute to creating healthier workplaces. There are psychologists that design and
implement public health programs. Other psychologists investigate topics such as airplane
safety, computer design, and military life. No matter where psychologists work, their
primary goals are to help describe, explain, predict, and influence human behavior.

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How Psychology Came to Be What It Is Today


Early 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" itself is derived from the Greek word psyche, literally meaning "life" or
"breath." Derived meanings of the word include "soul" or "self."

The emergence of psychology as a separate and independent field of study truly came about
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, an extremely subjective process. Wundt believed that properly trained
individuals would be able to identify accurately the mental processes that accompanied
feelings, sensations, and thoughts.

Throughout psychology's history, various schools of thought have formed to explain the
human mind and behavior.

In some cases, certain schools of thought rose to Advertisement

dominate the field of psychology 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.

Wundt and Titchener's structuralism was the


earliest school of thought, but others soon
began to emerge. Advertisement

The early psychologist and philosopher


William James became associated with a school of thought known as functionalism,
which focused its attention on the purpose of human consciousness and behavior.

Soon, these initial schools of thought gave way to several dominant and influential
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which focused its attention on the purpose of human consciousness and behavior.

Soon, these initial schools of thought gave way to several dominant and influential
approaches to psychology. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis centered on the how the
unconscious mind impacted human behavior.

The behavioral school of thought turned away from looking at internal influences on
behavior and sought to make psychology the study of observable behaviors.

Later, the humanistic approach centered on the importance of personal growth and self-
actualization.

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A Quick Timeline of 10 Ways Psychology Can


Modern Psychology Help You Live a Better Life

By the 1960s and 1970s, the cognitive revolution spurred the investigation of internal
mental processes such as thinking, decision-making, language development, and
memory.

Top 4 Things to Know About Psychology

1. Psychology Is Both an Applied and Theoretical Discipline


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.
Research psychologists contribute to our understanding of why people behave as they do as
well as different factors that can impact the human mind and behavior.

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 well-being, ergonomics,
motivation, productivity, and much more.

2. There Are Many Different Specialty Areas in Psychology


Psychology is a broad and diverse field. Some different subfields and specialty areas have
emerged. The following are some of the major areas of research and application within
psychology:

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.

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.

Clinical psychology is focused on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental


disorders. It is also considered the single largest area of employment within psychology.

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.

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.

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.
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Forensic psychology is an applied field focused on using psychological research and
social functioning, identity, and other life areas.

Forensic psychology is an applied field focused on using psychological research and


principles in the legal and criminal justice system.

Industrial-organizational psychology is a field that uses psychological research to


enhance work performance, and select employees.

Personality psychology focuses on understanding how personality develops as well as


the patterns of thoughts, behaviors, and characteristics that make each individual
unique.

Social psychology focuses on understanding group behavior as well as how social


influences shape individual behavior. Topics studied by social psychologists include
attitudes, prejudice, conformity, and aggression.

3. Psychologists Utilize Scientific Methods


Psychologists use objective scientific methods to understand, explain, and predict human
behavior. Psychological studies are highly structured, beginning with a hypothesis that is
then empirically tested. As psychology moved away from its philosophical roots,
psychologists began to employ more and more scientific methods to study human behavior.
Contemporary researchers use a variety of scientific techniques including experiments,
correlational studies, and longitudinal research.

4. There Are Many Different Applications for Psychology


The most obvious application for psychology is in the field of mental health where
psychologists use principles, research, and clinical findings to help clients manage and
overcome symptoms of mental distress and psychological illness. There are also many
others ways that psychology used to help people live better, healthier lives. Psychological
research can have an impact on public policy, can be used to design public health initiatives,
and can guide approaches to education and child development programs.

A Word From Verywell


As you can see, while psychology may be a relatively young science it also has a
tremendous amount of both depth and breadth. The assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of
mental illness are central interests of psychology, but psychology encompasses much more
than mental health. Today, psychologists seek to understand many different aspects of the
human mind and behavior, adding new knowledge to our understanding of how people think
as well as developing practical applications that have an important impact on everyday
human lives.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).
Washington, DC: Author; 2013.

Hothersall D. History of Psychology, 4th ed. New York: Mcgraw-Hill; 2003.

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Basics Personality Development Cognitive Psychology

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Developmental Behavioral Theories Psychosocial Theories
Psychology

History Personality Psychology Leadership

Psychotherapy Neuroscience and Branches


Biological Psychology

Social Psychology For Students Glossary

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