Psychology

Psychology is an applied and academic discipline that studies the human mind and behavior in order to understand and explain thoughts, emotions and actions. The word psychology comes from the Ancient Greek words psyche, which means spirit or soul, and logos, which means study.

Over the centuries psychology has been criticized for the lack of objective scientific methods, as it relied heavily on subjective perceptions, surveys and questionnaires. In response to these criticisms, today's psychology focuses more on objective scientific methods. It has given up its close relationship with philosophy and adopted more objective and trustworthy tools. Its research methods include qualitative and quantitative research, controlled experiments, surveys, longitudinal studies, observation in natural settings.

In ancient times psychology was a branch of both philosophy and biology. Discussions of psychological issues can be traced back to ancient civilizations in Egypt, Greece, China, India and Persia. De Anima, a treatise by Greek thinker Aristotle (384 to 322 BCE), is credited as the first major work about psychology in Western civilization.

Psychology became a separate science in the 19th century, when German physician Wilhelm Wundt (1832 to 1920) set up the first psychology laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt belonged to a school known as structuralism, whose aim was to describe the structures composing the mind. His research was based mostly on the analysis of sensations and feelings. This method, known as introspection, was criticized as being highly subjective.

Functionalism emerged as a reaction to structuralism and was strongly influenced by the evolutionary theory of Charles Darwin. In his landmark book Principles of Psychology (1890), American philosopher and psychologist William James (1842 to 1910) argued that the task of psychology is to focus on the purpose of consciousness and behavior. Functionalists tried to explain mental processes in a more systematic and accurate way compared to structuralists. This psychological school had a strong influence later on behaviorism and applied psychology. Its impact on the educational system is also recognized.

The 19th century development of psychology was also marked by the work done by Russian Nobel Prize winner Ivan Pavlov (1849 to 1936). While working in the field of physiology, his discovery of the so-called classical conditioning had a considerable impact on future psychologists. In particular, he was famous for the experiment with a dog, proving that the presentation of a stimulus necessarily evokes a reflexive response.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, Austrian physician Sigmund Freud (1856 to 1939) developed psychoanalysis, which claimed that human behavior is determined by irrational, unconscious drives. He showed particular interest in the conflict between the conscious level and unconscious layers of the mind, finding out that this clash can result in mental disorders, including neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety and depression.

The Freudian tenets had a strong impact on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875 to 1961), the founder of analytical psychology. Jung elaborated on the role of archetypes in mental processes. The 1950s development of psychology in the United States was marked the emergence of behaviorism. Its eminent advocates include Edward Thomdike (1949-) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990). The doctrine of behaviorism holds that behavior can be described and explained without any references to mental and psychological processes and therefore the sources of behavior are external, rather than internal. Humanistic psychology emerged in the 1950s in reaction to behaviorism. It adopted a holistic approach to the human. Its research covered meaning, values, freedom, human potential, spirituality and self-actualization.

By the end of the 20th century, psychology was divided into five major branches: neuroscience studies the mind through research into the nervous system; developmental psychology studies people's growth and learning; cognitive psychology explores internal mental processes; social psychology focuses on interpersonal interaction; clinical psychology deals with mental health and illnesses.

Another factor that influences psychology is its growing importance for everyday life. In particular, it is getting more and more popular in work organization, ergonomics, mental health treatment, performance enhancement, self-help and forensic activities. Psychological therapists, who help people deal with behavioral or emotional issues, are also gaining popularity. Researchers expect the future development of psychology to be marked by its increasing specialization, which does not necessarily imply fragmentation (Bower, 1993). This trend is expected to go hand in hand with the growing influence of interdisciplinary approaches. Therefore, biological, cognitive or even legal approaches will find a wider use in psychology.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Psychology: A Very Short Introduction
Gillian Butler; Freda McManus.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Introducing Psychology through Research
Amanda Albon.
Open University Press, 2007
Fifty Key Thinkers in Psychology
Noel Sheehy.
Routledge, 2004
Foundations of Ethical Practice, Research, and Teaching in Psychology
Karen Strohm Kitchener.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions
Margaret P. Munger.
Oxford University Press, 2003
The Concise Dictionary of Psychology
David A. Statt.
Routledge, 1998 (3rd edition)
Mixing Methods in Psychology: The Integration of Qualitative and Quantitative Methods in Theory and Practice
Zazie Todd; Brigitte Nerlich; Suzanne McKeown; David D. Clarke.
Psychology Press, 2004
Measurement in Psychology: Critical History of a Methodological Concept
Joel Michell.
Cambridge University Press, 1999
Psychology and 'Human Nature'
Peter Ashworth.
Psychology Press, 2000
The Psychologist's Companion: A Guide to Scientific Writing for Students and Researchers
Robert J. Sternberg.
Cambridge University Press, 2003 (4th edition)
Abnormal and Clinical Psychology: An Introductory Textbook
Paul Bennett.
Open University Press, 2006 (2nd edition)
An Introduction to Applied Cognitive Psychology
Anthony Esgate; David Groome; Kavin Baker; David Heathcote; Richard Kemp; Mora Maguire; Corriene Reed.
Psychology Press, 2005
An Introduction to Meaning and Purpose in Analytical Psychology
Dale Mathers.
Routledge, 2001
Introduction to Political Psychology
Martha Cottam; Beth Dietz-Uhler; Elena Mastors; Thomas Preston.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Work and Organizational Psychology: An Introduction with Attitude
Christine E. Doyle.
Psychology Press, 2003
Psychology and Education
Susan Bentham.
Routledge, 2002
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