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PSY 111 Introduction

Anthony G Benoit

What is Psychology

Psychology can be defined as the scientific study of behavior and of internal states of mind.

generally considered to be a science (social or natural)

The subject matter of psychology
  • the brain and nervous system  
  • sensation and perception
  • learning
  • memory
  • thinking and decision making
  • motivation and emotion
  • states of consciousness
  • intelligence and mental abilities
  • stress and coping
  • personality
  • psychological disorders and their treatment  
  • social cognition and social influence

History of Psychology

View Table

As an organized discipline, psychology is only about 120 years old.

1879 William Wundt in Leipzig, William James in Cambridge (MA) set up psychological laboratories

Wundt: structuralism and introspection: tried to determine the underlying structure of the mind (ie, the fundamental pieces) from self-reports by subjects presented with a stimulus

self-reporting is still valuable, but:

difficult to describe the elements of experience

a system is not to be understood merely as a collection of pieces

James: functionalism: replaced structuralism in the 1890s, focused on the workings of the mind (rather than the pieces), ie, what the mind does rather than is

other theoretical approaches took hold in the early 20th century

early in the 1900ís, Freud established the notion of the unconscious mind

Freud was a psychiatrist, not a psychologist

Partly because Freudian ideas have received little experimental validation psychologists have largely abandoned them to literary critics and political philosophers; they are still used by some therapists

Watson championed behaviorism starting in the early 1920s

held to the extreme nurture end of the nature/nurture dimension

BF Skinner was a follower of Watson, popularized the behavioral view, starting in the 1950ís

also in the 1950ís A Maslow promoted humanist psychology

Schools of Thought

Theoretical Approaches to Psychology

Biological psychology seeks to explain behavior as the result of biological (chemical and physical) interactions.

the brain and nervous system

organismal needs (food, reproduction, safety, shelter)

Psychodynamic psychology views human behavior as the result of unconscious mental forces often hidden and uncontrollable.

Behavioral psychology considers the observable actions of an organism to be the result of observable events in the organismís environment. Internal mental states are thought to be not objectively observable (or even non-existent!).

Cognitive psychology sees behavior as guided by thinking and knowing, both conscious phenomena subject to intentional modification.

Humanistic psychology emphasizes the importances of individual perceptions and self-perceptions and strives to help each individual reach his or her fullest potential.

Social psychology looks for situational and cultural influences on actions, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions.

Evolutionary psychology examines the adaptive value of behaviors and mental processes.

The Dimensions of Psychological Inquiry

Psychology examines some of the fundamental questions about human life:

Is character determined by genetics or experience? (The "nature vs nurture" debate)

Is behavior under the individualís conscious control, or are there unconscious factors that influence behavior?

Are there internal mental processes, or only externally observable behaviors? This might be better stated: Can psychology study internal mental states? Or, are internal mental phenomena important?

Does free will exist or is behavior determined solely by external forces?

Are all people fundamentally the same or are there critical individual differences?

Notice that each of these questions is of the form "is it A or B?"

Also, these questions are more philosophical than scientificóthe answers are as much assumed as revealed by observation.

How a psychologists answer these questions determines their theoretical perspective (cynically, we might say that their theoretical perspective determines their answers).

Professor Myers' Big Issues:

  • Stability vs change
  • Rationality vs irrationality
  • Biology vs experience

Branches of Psychology

Independent of perspective, psychologists study different areas of behavior and experience and apply psychology to different types of problems:

Clinical psychology

Counseling psychology

Health psychology

Social psychology

Developmental psychology

Personality psychology

Industrial-organizational psychology

Experimental psychology

Cognitive psychology


Educational psychology

School psychology

Environmental psychology

Forensic psychology

Sports psychology

Psychology of specific groups (eg, women)

Who is a Psychologist?

A psychologist... in the field of psychology,


treatment (over half provide some sort of "health care")




university/college (about a third)

self-employed (more than a fifth)

private, for profit (<20%)

government, including schools (<20%) trained in psychology,

...and has an advanced degree, usually a doctorate (a PhD or sometimes a PsyD).

principle investigator in research

licensed clinical psychologist

...though some have a masters degree.


supervised research

supervised treatment

Many people do work which is related to psychology without a degree in the field, eg, Social Workers do counseling.

A psychologist is anyone who questions and examines behavior and internal mental states.

Future of Psychology

There are a number of trends that current psychologists have identified.

increasing specialization (the APA has 53 divisions)

new perspectives and new approaches within the old perspectives

integration of the poles (nature and nurture; behavior and mental states)

increasing acceptance of and access to treatment for mental illness (such as called for in Pres Clintonís speech a couple of years ago)

increasing acknowledgement of diversity

application of psychology to many areas of life

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