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Psychology is the science and art[1][2][3] of explaining and changing human mental processes and behaviors.[4] Its immediate goal is to understand humanity by both discovering general principles and exploring specific cases,[5][6] and its ultimate aim is to benefit society.[7] In this field, a professional practitioner or researcher is called a psychologist, and is classified as a social or behavioral scientist. Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behavior, while also exploring the physiological and neurological processes that underlie certain functions and behaviors.

Psychologists explore such concepts as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, motivation, brain functioning, personality, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. Some, especially depth psychologists, also consider the unconscious mind.a Psychologists employ empirical methods to infer causal and correlational relationships between psychosocial variables. In addition, or in opposition, to employing empirical and deductive methods, some—especially clinical and counseling psychologists—at times rely upon symbolic interpretation and other inductive techniques. Psychology incorporates research from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.

While psychological knowledge is typically applied to the assessment and treatment of mental health problems, it is also applied to understanding and solving problems in many different spheres of human activity. Although the vast majority of psychologists are involved in clinical, counseling, and school positions, some are employed in industrial and organizational settings, and in other areas[8] such as human development and aging, sports, health, the media, law, and forensics.



The word psychology literally means, "study of the soul".[9] It derives from Ancient Greek: "ψυχî®" (psychä“, meaning "breath", "spirit", or "soul"); and "-î»î¿î³î¯î±" (-logia, translated as "study of").[9] The Latin word psychologia has likely origins in mid-16th century Germany. The earliest known reference to the English word psychology was by Steven Blankaart in 1693 in The Physical Dictionary which refers to "Anatomy, which treats of the Body, and Psychology, which treats of the Soul."[10]


Wilhelm Wundt (seated) with colleagues in his psychological laboratory, the first of its kind. Wundt is credited with setting up psychology as a field of scientific inquiry independent of the disciplines philosophy and biology.

The study of psychology in philosophical context dates back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China, India, and Persia. Historians point to the writings of ancient Greek philosophers, such as Thales, Plato, and Aristotle (especially in his De Anima treatise),[11] as the first significant work to be rich in psychology-related thought.[12]

German physician Wilhelm Wundt is credited with introducing psychological discovery into a laboratory setting. Known as the "father of experimental psychology",[13] he founded the first psychological laboratory, at Leipzig University, in 1879.[13] Wundt focused on breaking down mental processes into the most basic components, starting a school of psychology that is called structuralism. Edward Titchener was another major structuralist thinker.

Functionalism formed as a reaction to the theories of the structuralist school of thought and was heavily influenced by the work of the American philosopher and psychologist William James. James felt that psychology should have practical value, and that psychologists should find out how the mind can function to a person's benefit. In his seminal book, Principles of Psychology,[14] published in 1890, he laid the foundations for many of the questions that psychologists would explore for years to come. Other major functionalist thinkers included John Dewey and Harvey Carr.

Other 19th-century contributors to the field include the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, a pioneer in the experimental study of memory, who developed quantitative models of learning and forgetting[15] at the University of Berlin; and the Russian-Soviet physiologist Ivan Pavlov, who discovered in dogs a learning process that was later termed "classical conditioning" and applied to human beings.[16]

Starting in the 1950s, the experimental techniques set forth by Wundt, James, Ebbinghaus, and others would be reiterated as experimental psychology became increasingly cognitive—concerned with information and its processing—and, eventually, constituted a part of the wider cognitive science.[17] In its early years, this development had been seen as a "revolution",[17] as it both responded to and reacted against strains of thought—including psychodynamics and behaviorism—that had developed in the meantime.


From the 1890s until his death in 1939, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud developed psychoanalysis, a method of investigation of the mind and the way one thinks; a systematized set of theories about human behavior; and a form of psychotherapy to treat psychological or emotional distress, especially unconscious conflict.[18] Freud's psychoanalytic theory was largely based on interpretive methods, introspection and clinical observations. It became very well-known, largely because it tackled subjects such as sexuality, repression, and the unconscious mind 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. Clinically, Freud helped to pioneer the method of free association and a therapeutic interest in dream interpretation.[19][20]

Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sándor Ferenczi.

Freud had a significant influence on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology became an alternative form of depth psychology. Other well-known psychoanalytic thinkers of the mid-twentieth century included German-American psychologist Erik Erickson, Austrian-British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, English psychoanalyst and physician D. W. Winnicott, German psychologist Karen Horney, German-born psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, English psychiatrist John Bowlby and Sigmund Freud's daughter, psychoanalyst Anna Freud. Throughout the 20th century, psychoanalysis evolved into diverse schools of thought, most of which may be classed as Neo-Freudian.c

Psychoanalytic theory and therapy were criticized by psychologists and philosophers such as B. F. Skinner, Hans Eysenck, and Karl Popper. Skinner and other behaviorists believed that psychology should be more empirical and efficient than psychoanalysis—although they frequently agreed with Freud in ways that became overlooked as time passed.[21] Popper, a philosopher of science, argued that Freud's, as well as Alfred Adler's, psychoanalytic theories included enough ad hoc safeguards against empirical contradiction to keep the theories outside the realm of scientific inquiry.[22] By contrast, Eysenck maintained that although Freudian ideas could be subjected to experimental science, they had not withstood experimental tests. By the 21st century, psychology departments in American universities had become experimentally oriented, marginalizing Freudian theory and regarding it as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact.[23] Meanwhile, however, researchers in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis defended some of Freud's ideas on scientific grounds,d while scholars of the humanities maintained that Freud was not a "scientist at all, but ... an interpreter."[23]


Skinner's teaching machine, a mechanical invention to automate the task of programmed instruction

Behaviorism became the dominant school of thought during the 1950s. American behaviorism was founded in the early 20th century by John B. Watson, and embraced and extended by Edward Thorndike, Clark L. Hull, Edward C. Tolman, and later B. F. Skinner. Theories of learning emphasized the ways in which people might be predisposed, or conditioned, by their environments to behave in certain ways.

Classical conditioning was an early behaviorist model. It posited that behavioral tendencies are determined by immediate associations between various environmental stimuli and the degree of pleasure or pain that follows. Behavioral patterns, then, were understood to consist of organisms' conditioned responses to the stimuli in their environment. The stimuli were held to exert influence in proportion to their prior repetition or to the previous intensity of their associated pain or pleasure. Much research consisted of laboratory-based animal experimentation, which was increasing in popularity as physiology grew more sophisticated.

Skinner's behaviorism shared with its predecessors a philosophical inclination toward positivism and determinism.[21] He believed that the contents of the mind were not open to scientific scrutiny and that scientific psychology should emphasize the study of observable behavior. He focused on behavior–environment relations and analyzed overt and covert (i.e., private) behavior as a function of the organism interacting with its environment.[24] Behaviorists usually rejected or deemphasized dualistic explanations such as "mind" or "consciousness"; and, in lieu of probing an "unconscious mind" that underlies unawareness, they spoke of the "contingency-shaped behaviors" in which unawareness becomes outwardly manifest.[21]

Among the American behaviorists' most famous creations are John B. Watson's Little Albert experiment, which applied classical conditioning to the developing human child, and Skinner's notion of operant conditioning, which acknowledged that human agency could affect patterns and cycles of environmental stimuli and behavioral responses. American linguist Noam Chomsky's critique of the behaviorist model of language acquisition is widely regarded as a key factor in the decline of behaviorism's prominence.[25] But Skinner's behaviorism has not died, perhaps in part because it has generated successful practical applications.[25] The fall of behaviorism as an overarching model in psychology, however, gave way to a new dominant paradigm: cognitive approaches.[26]


Psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 posited that humans have a hierarchy of needs, and it makes sense to fulfill the basic needs first (food, water etc.) before higher-order needs can be met.[27]

Humanistic psychology was developed in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis.[citation needed] By using phenomenology, intersubjectivity and first-person categories, the humanistic approach sought to glimpse the whole person—not just the fragmented parts of the personality or cognitive functioning.[28] Humanism focused on fundamentally and uniquely human issues, such as individual free will, personal growth, self-actualization, self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. The humanistic approach was distinguished by its emphasis on subjective meaning, rejection of determinism, and concern for positive growth rather than pathology.[citation needed] Some of the founders of the humanistic school of thought were American psychologists Abraham Maslow, who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, and Carl Rogers, who created and developed client-centered therapy. Later, positive psychology opened up humanistic themes to scientific modes of exploration.


Wolfgang Kohler, Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka co-founded the school of Gestalt psychology. This approach is based upon the idea that individuals experience things as unified wholes. This approach to psychology began in Germany and Austria during the late 19th century in response to the molecular approach of structuralism. Rather than breaking down thoughts and behavior to their smallest element, the Gestalt position maintains that the whole of experience is important, and the whole is different than the sum of its parts.

Gestalt psychology should not be confused with the Gestalt therapy of Fritz Perls, which is only peripherally linked to Gestalt psychology.


Influenced largely by the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, psychoanalytically trained American psychologist Rollo May pioneered an existential breed of psychology, which included existential therapy, in the 1950s and 1960s. Existential psychologists differed from others often classified as humanistic in their comparatively neutral view of human nature and in their relatively positive assessment of anxiety.[29] Existential psychologists emphasized the humanistic themes of death, free will, and meaning, suggesting that meaning can be shaped by myths, or narrative patterns,[30] and that it can be encouraged by an acceptance of the free will requisite to an authentic, albeit often anxious, regard for death and other future prospects. Austrian existential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl drew evidence of meaning's therapeutic power from reflections garnered from his own internment,[31] and he created a variety of existential psychotherapy called logotherapy. In addition to May and Frankl, Swiss psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger and American psychologist George Kelly may be said to belong to the existential school.[32]


Cognitive psychology is the branch of psychology that studies mental processes including how people think, perceive, remember, and learn. As part of the larger field of cognitive science, this branch of psychology is related to other disciplines including neuroscience, philosophy, and linguistics.

Noam Chomsky helped to ignite a "cognitive revolution" in psychology when he criticized the behaviorists' notions of "stimulus", "response", and "reinforcement", arguing that such ideas—which Skinner had borrowed from animal experiments in the laboratory—could be applied to complex human behavior, most notably language acquisition, in only a vague and superficial manner. The postulation that humans are born with the instinct or "innate facility" for acquiring language posed a challenge to the behaviorist position that all behavior (including language) is contingent upon learning and reinforcement.[33] Social learning theorists such as Albert Bandura argued that the child's environment could make contributions of its own to the behaviors of an observant subject.[34]

The Müller-Lyer illusion. Psychologists make inferences about mental processes from shared phenomena such as optical illusions.

Meanwhile, accumulating technology helped to renew interest and belief in the mental states and representations—i.e., the cognition—that had fallen out of favor with behaviorists. English neuroscientist Charles Sherrington and Canadian psychologist Donald O. Hebb used experimental methods to link psychological phenomena with the structure and function of the brain. With the rise of computer science and artificial intelligence, analogies were drawn between the processing of information by humans and information processing by machines. Research in cognition had proven practical since World War II, when it aided in the understanding of weapons operation.[35] By the late 20th century, though, cognitivism had become the dominant paradigm of mainstream psychology, and cognitive psychology emerged as a popular branch.

Assuming both that the covert mind should be studied and that the scientific method should be used to study it, cognitive psychologists set such concepts as "subliminal processing" and "implicit memory" in place of the psychoanalytic "unconscious mind" or the behavioristic "contingency-shaped behaviors". Elements of behaviorism and cognitive psychology were synthesized to form the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy modified from techniques developed by American psychologist Albert Ellis and American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. Cognitive psychology was subsumed along with other disciplines, such as philosophy of mind, computer science, and neuroscience, under the umbrella discipline of cognitive science.

Another of the most influential theories from this school of thought was the stages of cognitive development theory proposed by Jean Piaget.

Biopsychosocial model

The biopsychosocial model is an integrated perspective toward understanding consciousness, behavior, and social interaction. It assumes that any given behavior or mental process affects and is affected by dynamically interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors.[36] The psychological aspect refers to the role that cognition and emotions play in any given psychological phenomenon—for example, the effect of mood or beliefs and expectations on an individual's reactions to an event. The biological aspect refers to the role of biological factors in psychological phenomena—for example, the effect of the prenatal environment on brain development and cognitive abilities, or the influence of genes on individual dispositions. The socio-cultural aspect refers to the role that social and cultural environments play in a given psychological phenomenon—for example, the role of parental or peer influence in the behaviors or characteristics of an individual.


Psychology encompasses a vast domain, and includes many different approaches to the study of mental processes and behavior.


MRI depicting the human brain. The arrow indicates the position of the hypothalamus.

Biological psychology and a number of related fields study the biological substrates of behavior and mental states. Behavioral neuroscience uses animal models (typically rats) to study the neural, genetic, cellular mechanisms of human behavior and cognition, cognitive neuroscientists investigate the neural correlates of psychological processes in humans using neural imaging tools, and neuropsychologists conduct psychological assessments to determine, for instance, specific aspects and extent of cognitive deficit caused by brain damage or disease.


Clinical psychologists work with individuals, children, families, couples, or small groups.

Clinical psychology includes the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists may also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration.[37] Some clinical psychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with brain injury—this area is known as clinical neuropsychology. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

The work performed by clinical psychologists tends to be influenced by various therapeutic approaches, all of which involve a formal relationship between professional and client (usually an individual, couple, family, or small group). The various therapeutic approaches and practices are associated with different theoretical perspectives and employ different procedures intended to form a therapeutic alliance, explore the nature of psychological problems, and encourage new ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving. Four major theoretical perspectives are psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, existential-humanistic, and systems or family therapy. There has been a growing movement to integrate the various therapeutic approaches, especially with an increased understanding of issues regarding culture, gender, spirituality, and sexual-orientation. With the advent of more robust research findings regarding psychotherapy, there is evidence that most of the major therapies are about of equal effectiveness, with the key common element being a strong therapeutic alliance.[38][39] Because of this, more training programs and psychologists are now adopting an eclectic therapeutic orientation.[40][41][42][43][44]


Green Red Blue
Purple Blue Purple

Blue Purple Red
Green Purple Green

The Stroop effect refers to the fact that naming the color of the first set of words is easier and quicker than the second.

Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes underlying mental activity. Perception, learning, problem solving, reasoning, thinking, memory, attention, language and emotion are areas of research. Classical cognitive psychology is associated with a school of thought known as cognitivism, whose adherents argue for an information processing model of mental function, informed by functionalism and experimental psychology.

On a broader level, cognitive science is an interdisciplinary enterprise of cognitive psychologists, cognitive neuroscientists, researchers in artificial intelligence, linguists, human–computer interaction, computational neuroscience, logicians and social scientists. Computational models are sometimes used to simulate phenomena of interest. Computational models provide a tool for studying the functional organization of the mind whereas neuroscience provides measures of brain activity.


The common chimpanzee can use tools. This chimpanzee is using a stick in order to get food.

Comparative psychology refers to the study of the behavior and mental life of animals other than human beings. It is related to disciplines outside of psychology that study animal behavior such as ethology. Although the field of psychology is primarily concerned with humans the behavior and mental processes of animals is also an important part of psychological research. This being either as a subject in its own right (e.g., animal cognition and ethology) or with strong emphasis about evolutionary links, and somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology. This is achieved by means of comparison or via animal models of emotional and behavior systems as seen in neuroscience of psychology (e.g., affective neuroscience and social neuroscience).


A baby with a book.

Mainly focusing on the development of the human mind through the life span, developmental psychology seeks to understand how people come to perceive, understand, and act within the world and how these processes change as they age. This may focus on intellectual, cognitive, neural, social, or moral development. Researchers who study children use a number of unique research methods to make observations in natural settings or to engage them in experimental tasks. Such tasks often resemble specially designed games and activities that are both enjoyable for the child and scientifically useful, and researchers have even devised clever methods to study the mental processes of small infants. In addition to studying children, developmental psychologists also study aging and processes throughout the life span, especially at other times of rapid change (such as adolescence and old age). Developmental psychologists draw on the full range of psychological theories to inform their research.

Educational and school

An example of an item from a cognitive abilities test used in educational psychology.

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. The work of child psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget, Bernard Luskin and Jerome Bruner has been influential in creating teaching methods and educational practices. Educational psychology is often included in teacher education programs, in places such as North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

School psychology combines principles from educational psychology and clinical psychology to understand and treat students with learning disabilities; to foster the intellectual growth of "gifted" students; to facilitate prosocial behaviors in adolescents; and otherwise to promote safe, supportive, and effective learning environments. School psychologists are trained in educational and behavioral assessment, intervention, prevention, and consultation, and many have extensive training in research.[45]


Industrial and organizational psychology (I-O) applies psychological concepts and methods to optimize human potential in the workplace. Personnel psychology, a subfield of I-O psychology, applies the methods and principles of psychology in selecting and evaluating workers. I-O psychology's other subfield, organizational psychology, examines the effects of work environments and management styles on worker motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.[46]


Personality psychology studies enduring patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion in individuals, commonly referred to as personality. Theories of personality vary across different psychological schools and orientations. They carry different assumptions about such issues as the role of the unconscious and the importance of childhood experience. According to Freud, personality is based on the dynamic interactions of the id, ego, and super-ego.[47] Trait theorists, in contrast, attempt to analyze personality in terms of a discrete number of key traits by the statistical method of factor analysis. The number of proposed traits has varied widely. An early model proposed by Hans Eysenck suggested that there are three traits that comprise human personality: extraversion-introversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Raymond Cattell proposed a theory of 16 personality factors. The "Big Five", or Five Factor Model, proposed by Lewis Goldberg, currently has strong support among trait theorists.


Social psychology studies the nature and causes of social behavior.

Social psychology is the study of how humans think about each other and how they relate to each other. Social psychologists study such topics as the influence of others on an individual's behavior (e.g. conformity, persuasion), and the formation of beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes about other people. Social cognition fuses elements of social and cognitive psychology in order to understand how people process, remember, and distort social information. The study of group dynamics reveals information about the nature and potential optimization of leadership, communication, and other phenomena that emerge at least at the microsocial level. In recent years, many social psychologists have become increasingly interested in implicit measures, mediational models, and the interaction of both person and social variables in accounting for behavior.

Research methods

Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing on knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand psychological phenomena. Additionally, psychologists make extensive use of the three modes of inference that were identified by C. S. Peirce: deduction, induction, and abduction (hypothesis generation). While often employing deductive-nomological reasoning, they also rely on inductive reasoning to generate explanations. For example, evolutionary psychologists attempt to explain psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, that is, as the functional products of natural selection or sexual selection.

Psychologists may conduct basic research aiming for further understanding in a particular area of interest in psychology, or conduct applied research to solve problems in the clinic, workplace or other areas. Masters level clinical programs aim to train students in both research methods and evidence-based practice. Professional associations have established guidelines for ethics, training, research methodology and professional practice. In addition, depending on the country, state or region, psychological services and the title "psychologist" may be governed by statute and psychologists who offer services to the public are usually required to be licensed.

Qualitative and quantitative research

Research in most areas of psychology is conducted in accord with the standards of the scientific method. Psychological researchers seek the emergence of theoretically interesting categories and hypotheses from data, using qualitative or quantitative methods (or both).

Qualitative psychological research methods include interviews, first-hand observation, and participant observation. Qualitative researchers[48] sometimes aim to enrich interpretations or critiques of symbols, subjective experiences, or social structures. Similar hermeneutic and critical aims have also been served by "quantitative methods", as in Erich Fromm's study of Nazi voting or Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority.

Quantitative psychological research lends itself to the statistical testing of hypotheses. Quantitatively oriented research designs include the experiment, quasi-experiment, cross-sectional study, case-control study, and longitudinal study. The measurement and operationalization of important constructs is an essential part of these research designs. Statistical methods include the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient, the analysis of variance, multiple linear regression, logistic regression, structural equation modeling, and hierarchical linear modeling.

Controlled experiments

Flowchart of four phases (enrollment, intervention allocation, follow-up, and data analysis) of a parallel randomized trial of two groups, modified from the CONSORT (Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials) 2010 Statement[49]

Experimental psychological research is conducted in a laboratory under controlled conditions. This method of research relies on the application of the scientific method to understand behavior. Experimenters use several types of measurements, including rate of response, reaction time, and various psychometric measurements. Experiments are designed to test specific hypotheses (deductive approach) or evaluate functional relationships (inductive approach). A true experiment with random allocation of subjects to conditions allows researchers to infer causal relationships between different aspects of behavior and the environment. In an experiment, one or more variables of interest are controlled by the experimenter (independent variable) and another variable is measured in response to different conditions (dependent variable). Experiments are one of the primary research methods in many areas of psychology, particularly cognitive/psychonomics, mathematical psychology, psychophysiology and biological psychology/cognitive neuroscience.

Experiments on humans have been put under some controls, namely informed and voluntary consent. After World War II, the Nuremberg Code was established, because of Nazi abuses of experimental subjects. Later, most countries (and scientific journals) adopted the Declaration of Helsinki. In the US, the National Institutes of Health established the Institutional Review Board in 1966, and in 1974 adopted the National Research Act (HR 7724). All of these measures encouraged researchers to obtain informed consent from human participants in experimental studies. A number of influential studies led to the establishment of this rule; such studies included the MIT and Fernald School radioisotope studies, the Thalidomide tragedy, the Willowbrook hepatitis study, and Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority.

Survey questionnaires

Statistical surveys are used in psychology for measuring attitudes and traits, monitoring changes in mood, checking the validity of experimental manipulations, and for a wide variety of other psychological topics. Most commonly, psychologists use paper-and-pencil surveys. However, surveys are also conducted over the phone or through e-mail. Increasingly, web-based surveys are being used in research. Similar methodology is also used in applied setting, such as clinical assessment and personnel assessment.

Longitudinal studies

Longitudinal studies are often used in psychology to study developmental trends across the life span, and in sociology to study life events throughout lifetimes or generations. The reason for this is that unlike cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies track the same people, and therefore the differences observed in those people are less likely to be the result of cultural differences across generations. Because of this benefit, longitudinal studies make observing changes more accurate and they are applied in various other fields.

Because most longitudinal studies are observational, in the sense that they observe the state of the world without manipulating it, it has been argued that they may have less power to detect causal relationships than do experiments. They also suffer methodological limitations such as from selective attrition because people with similar characteristics maybe more likely to drop out of the study making it difficult to analyze.

Some longitudinal studies are experiments, called repeated-measures experiments. Psychologists often use the crossover design to reduce the influence of confounding covariates and to reduce the number of subjects.

Observation in natural settings

In the same way Jane Goodall studied the role of chimpanzee social and family life, psychologists conduct similar observational studies in human social, professional and family lives. Sometimes the participants are aware they are being observed and other times it is covert: the participants do not know they are being observed. Ethical guidelines need to be taken into consideration when covert observation is being carried out.

Qualitative and descriptive research

Research designed to answer questions about the current state of affairs such as the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals is known as descriptive research. Descriptive research can be qualitative or quantitative in orientation. Qualitative research is descriptive research that is focused on observing and describing events as they occur, with the goal of capturing all of the richness of everyday behavior and with the hope of discovering and understanding phenomena that might have been missed if only more cursory examinations have been made.

Neuropsychological methods

Phineas P. Gage survived an accident in which a large iron rod was driven completely through his head, destroying much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and is remembered for that injury's reported effects on his personality and behavior.[50]

Neuropsychology seeks to connect aspects of behavior and mental activity with the structure and function of the brain. Cognitive neuropsychology and cognitive neuropsychiatry study neurological or mental impairment in an attempt to infer theories of normal mind and brain function. This typically involves looking for differences in patterns of remaining ability (known as 'functional disassociations') which can give clues as to whether abilities are composed of smaller functions, or are controlled by a single cognitive mechanism.

In addition, experimental techniques are often used to study the neuropsychology of healthy individuals. These include behavioral experiments, brain-scanning or functional neuroimaging, used to examine the activity of the brain during task performance, and techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can safely alter the function of small brain areas to reveal their importance in mental operations.

Computational modeling

Artificial neural network with two layers, an interconnected group of nodes, akin to the vast network of neurons in the human brain.

Computational modeling[51] is a tool often used in mathematical psychology and cognitive psychology to simulate a particular behavior using a computer. This method has several advantages. Since modern computers process extremely quickly, many simulations can be run in a short time, allowing for a great deal of statistical power. Modeling also allows psychologists to visualize hypotheses about the functional organization of mental events that couldn't be directly observed in a human.

Several different types of modeling are used to study behavior. Connectionism uses neural networks to simulate the brain. Another method is symbolic modeling, which represents many different mental objects using variables and rules. Other types of modeling include dynamic systems and stochastic modeling.

Animal studies

A rat undergoing a Morris water navigation test used in behavioral neuroscience to study the role of the hippocampus in spatial learning and memory.

Animal learning experiments aid in investigating the biological basis of teaching, memory and behavior. In the 1890s, Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously used dogs to demonstrate classical conditioning. Non-human primates, cats, dogs, rats and other rodents are often used in psychological experiments. Ideally, controlled experiments introduce only one independent variable at a time, in order to ascertain its unique effects upon dependent variables. These conditions are approximated best in laboratory settings. In contrast, human environments and genetic backgrounds vary so widely, and depend upon so many factors, that it is difficult to control important variables for human subjects. Of course, there are pitfalls in generalizing findings from animal studies to humans although animal models can be helpful in developing an understanding of human behavior (e.g., addiction research). [52]



Criticisms of psychology often come from perceptions that it is a "fuzzy" science. Philosopher Thomas Kuhn's 1962 critique[citation needed] implied psychology overall was in a pre-paradigm state, lacking the agreement on overarching theory found in mature sciences such as chemistry and physics. Psychologists and philosophers have addressed the issue in various ways.e

Because some areas of psychology rely on research methods such as surveys[why?] and questionnaires, critics have asserted that psychology is not an objective science. Other phenomena that psychologists are interested in, such as personality, thinking, and emotion, cannot be directly measured[53] and are often inferred from subjective self-reports, which may be problematic.[54][55]

Misuses of hypothesis-testing occur in psychology, particularly by psychologists without doctoral training[neutrality is disputed] in experimental psychology and statistics.[citation needed] Research[which?] has documented that many psychologists confuse statistical significance with practical importance. Statistically significant but practically unimportant results are common with large samples.[56] Some psychologists have responded with an increased use of effect size statistics, rather than sole reliance on the Fisherian p < .05 significance criterion (whereby an observed difference is deemed "statistically significant" if an effect of that size or larger would occur with 5% (or less) probability in independent replications, assuming the truth of the null-hypothesis of no difference between the treatments).[citation needed]

Sometimes the debate comes from within psychology, for example between laboratory-oriented researchers and practitioners such as clinicians. In recent years, and particularly in the U.S., there has been increasing debate about the nature of therapeutic effectiveness and about the relevance of empirically examining psychotherapeutic strategies.[57] One argument[who?] states that some therapies[which?] are based on discredited theories and are unsupported by empirical evidence. The other side[who?] points to recent research suggesting that all mainstream therapies are of about equal effectiveness,[citation needed] while also arguing that controlled studies often do not take into consideration real-world conditions.


Some observers perceive a gap between scientific theory and its application—in particular, the application of unsupported or unsound clinical practices. Critics say there has been an increase in the number of mental health training programs that do not instill scientific competence.[58] One skeptic asserts that practices, such as "facilitated communication for infantile autism"; memory-recovery techniques including body work; and other therapies, such as rebirthing and reparenting, may be dubious or even dangerous, despite their popularity.[59] In 1984, Allen Neuringer had made a similar point[vague] regarding the experimental analysis of behavior.[60]


The experimenter (E) orders the teacher (T), the subject of the experiment, to give what the latter believes are painful electric shocks to a learner (L), who is actually an actor and confederate. The subject believes that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving actual electric shocks, though in reality there were no such punishments. Being separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock level etc.[61]

Current ethical standards of psychology would not permit the following studies to be conducted today. These human studies would violate the Ethics Code of the American Psychological Association, the Canadian Code of Conduct for Research Involving Humans, and the Belmont Report. Current ethical guidelines state that using non-human animals for scientific purposes is only acceptable when the harm (physical or psychological) done to animals is outweighed by the benefits of the research.[62] Keeping this in mind, psychologists can use on animals research techniques that would not necessarily be performed on humans.

  • The Milgram Experiment raised questions about the ethics of scientific experimentation because of the extreme emotional stress suffered by the participants. It measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience.[63]
  • Harry Harlow drew condemnation for his "pit of despair" experiments on rhesus macaque monkeys at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the 1970s.[64] The aim of the research was to produce an animal model of clinical depression. Harlow also devised what he called a "rape rack", to which the female isolates were tied in normal monkey mating posture.[65] In 1974, American literary critic Wayne C. Booth wrote that, "Harry Harlow and his colleagues go on torturing their nonhuman primates decade after decade, invariably proving what we all knew in advance—that social creatures can be destroyed by destroying their social ties." He writes that Harlow made no mention of the criticism of the morality of his work.[66]

University psychology departments have ethics committees dedicated to the rights and well-being of research subjects. Researchers in psychology must gain approval of their research projects before conducting any experiment to protect the interests of human participants and laboratory animals.[67]

See also



  1. ^ Evans AN; Rooney BJ (2008). Methods of psychological research (p. 6). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
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