PSY101 - Module A: Introduction Lecture 1. Psychology: Yesterday and Today







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PSY101 - Module A: Introduction

Lecture 1. Psychology: Yesterday and Today

Learning Objectives:

• Define psychology, and describe its goals and levels of analysis • Know important early psychologists and their approaches

• Summarize the major principles of the psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanistic, cogni-tive, and biological approaches to psychology

• Describe the three major branches of psychology


What is Psychology?

Psychology is the science of studying mental processes and behavior (the word psychol-ogy literally means ”study of the soul”, from Greek psyche - ”breath, spirit, soul” and logia - ”study of”). Psychology also refers to the use of that knowledge to help solve practical problems in politics, business, education, and mental dysfunction, for example.

Mental processes are activities related to our mind, i.e. (that is) our brain, like thinking, perceiving our surroundings, and using language. These processes include complex expe-riences like feeling happy or sad, being in love, making plans for the future, and being motivated to do homework. Mental processes are typically not directly observable, so psy-chologists must come up with clever experiments that enable them to make inferences or draw conclusions on these processes. Outward behavior, on the other hand, refers to observable actions. For example, if someone is happy (mental process), he might smile (behavior). OK, so my friend is smiling, and I think he is happy - does that make me a psychologist because I can predict his state of mind? Nope, it’s not that simple! Psychology is an empirical science that underlies rigorous scientific procedures like stating a prediction (also called a hypothesis) and empirically testing (i.e. collecting data or making objective observations in an experiment) whether the prediction is true (as opposed to just coming to that conclusion by theorizing or pure logic). There could be many reasons why my friend is smiling, and my friend might not smile every time he is happy. Also, I might be not an objective observer!

Psychologists can have different goals when studying the mind:

• Description: Psychologists aim to describe phenomena they observe. One example of a phenomenon is the so-called bystander apathy, when individuals don’t offer help to a victim when other people are present. And the more bystanders there are, the less likely individuals are to act.

• Explanation: Psychologists ask why people act they way they do. For instance, one reason for the bystander effect is that there is a perceived diffusion of responsibility, leading people to believe that someone else will offer help.


• Prediction: Psychologists try to predict the circumstance under which certain behav-iors and mental processes are likely to occur, such as the conditions under which we are most likely to offer help to a stranger.

• Control: Psychologists often have the goal to influence behaviors, be it their own or that of others. For example (e.g.), psychologists can give you advice on how to animate bystanders to help you if you are a victim.

And psychologists study the mind at different levels:

• The brain: How do brain structure and brain activity influence a person’s behavior? The brain itself is studied at various levels ranging from activity at individual cells to activity in groups of cells (brain regions) to activity in the brain as a whole (systems level).

• The person: What is the content of mental processes? How does, for example, our memory work, and what are the different processes involved (e.g. storage versus retrieval of memory)? What constitutes a person’s personality or motivation? The brain enables these processes to occur, but there is no simple one-to-one mapping from brain activity to a mental process. At the level of the individual, psychologists describe mental processes more on a functional or abstract level. Indeed, mapping brain processes onto mental processes is the main goal and challenge of neuroscience (the study of the brain).

• The group: How does a group of people (e.g. friends, family, strangers) or a culture (a shared set of beliefs and practices that are transmitted across generations) influence mental processes and behavior?

If you think of the human mind in analogy to a computer, then you could compare the brain to the computer’s hardware, the person to the software, and the group to the environment of the computer (e.g. the internet). In fact, the way we see the mind has very much been influenced by concurrent advances in technology, such as the development of information processing systems (i.e. computers). As you will see in the next section, there have been many paradigm shifts from how the ancient Greeks thought about the mind to how we see it today. In this context, a paradigm refers to a distinct concept or thought pattern, or the practices that define a certain scientific discipline at a certain point in time.


History of Psychology


Psychology’s Roots in Greek Philosophy

Long before there was any science as we know it today, humans began trying to make sense of people and the natural world around them. They used myths to explain natural phenomena and rituals to influence events, just as psychology or other sciences today try to describe, explain, predict, and control our reality. It was in the fourth and fifth centuries B.C.E. that


the great thinkers of Greece started to look beyond supernatural powers to explain natural phenomena. Thus, the history of psychology has its roots in philosophy, i.e. the study of knowledge and reality. The Greek society at that time emphasized that theories, i.e. ideas about the way things work, are never final. They are approximations of the truth and are always open to improvement. This view is still prevalent in psychology and other sciences today.

• Hippocrates (ca. 460-377 B.C.E.)

– suggested that humours, four bodily fluids, influence a person’s physical and men-tal health, and determine the person’s temperament and responses

– correctly identified the brain as the organ of mental life

– father of modern Western medicine, coined the Hippocratic Oath

• Socrates (ca. 470-399 B.C.E.) and his student Plato (ca. 427-347 B.C.E.)

– believed that the truth or reality lies in the mind and depends on our perceptions and subjective states

– intellectually studied mental states and processes

– the Socratic method is a dialectical method (a method of argument for resolv-ing disagreement), that uses the askresolv-ing and answerresolv-ing of questions to stimulate critical thinking

– Plato assumed that character, intelligence, and certain ideas are inborn/inherited

• Aristotle (Plato’s student, ca. 384-322 B.C.E.)

– developed some of the first theories on sensations, dreams, sleep, and learning – countered Plato stating that there is nothing in the mind that does not first come

in from the external world through the senses

– promoted empirical investigations of the natural world

– classified living things and, long before Charles Darwin, noted similarities between humans and other animals

– believed that the heart is the seat of mental processes


The Early Days of Psychology

Starting in the 1400s through the 1600s (the Renaissance period), Europe underwent a sci-entific revolution that also influenced how people approached the explanation of natural phenomena. By 1800, beliefs in magic and myths were replaced by a view based on math-ematics and mechanics, stating that the universe and human beings were machines that worked according to fixed laws. Together with social and technological advancements, the stage was set for the science of psychology to arise!


– viewed mind and body as interactive machines (mind-body dualism) – ruled out organs other than the brain as location of mental functioning – proposed that human minds consisted of innate ideas and derived ideas

• John Locke (1632-1704, British philosopher)

– opposed notion of innate ideas - all ideas come from experience

– proposed that mind is a ”blank slate (tabula rasa) written on by experience

• Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828, German physician)

– describes phrenology, the belief that the shape of a person’s skull reveals mental faculties and character traits

• Charles Darwin (1809-1882, British naturalist and geologist)

– 1859: published his seminal work The Origin of Species that proposed a (at that time radical) theory of evolution

– suggested that all life on Earth had evolved (i.e. changed or developed slowly into a better, more complex, or more advanced state) from a common ancestral point – natural selection determines over time which variations of life survive (”survival

of the fittest”)

• Francis Galton (1822-1911, Darwin’s cousin) – claimed that intelligence is inherited

– coined the expression nature and nurture (hereditary and environment)

Psychology as we know it today was born in Leipzig, Germany, when Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) founded the first research laboratory in psychology in 1879. He and his students performed rigorous scientific experiments. In these experiments, participants (also called subjects) were exposed to simple, repeatable situations and were asked to give a response -very much like psychological experiments are still conducted today. Wundt was interested in studying consciousness or awareness, how our will influences our attention, and the influence of social forces on human behavior.

2.2.1 Structuralism: Looking for the Components

Edward Titchener (1867-1927), a student of Wundt, formed the school of structuralism in the United States. The idea of this school was to unravel the structure or basic parts of mental processes, in the same way one would inspect the parts that make up a machine. The method that the structuralists used was called introspection (which literally means ”looking inwards”) to try to describe a person’s conscious perceptions. For example, the subject would be presented with an object, such as a pencil. The subject would then report the characteristics of that pencil (color, length, curvature, etc.). However, the method of in-trospection was criticized for not being a very reliable method (i.e. different scientists would


come to different findings) and not useful for studying animal subjects or abnormal behavior. Nevertheless, two ideas from the school of structuralism survived, namely that psychologists should study observable events and focus on simple elements as building blocks of complex experiences.

2.2.2 Functionalism: Toward the Practical Application

William James (1842-1910), one of America’s most important psychologists, shifted the focus away from components of processes to their functions and purposes. He would not be interested in describing the parts of a machine but what the machine could perform under different conditions. This approach was called functionalism. In contrast to the structural-ists, the functionalists saw the mind as an ever-changing stream of mental events instead of a set of fixed parts. The functionalists used a variety of research methods and emphasized the importance of studying animals, children and people with mental disorders. William James also wrote one of the first important psychology texts called Principles of Psychology.

2.2.3 Gestalt Psychology: The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts Early 20th century psychologists such as Kurt Koffka, Max Wertheimer, and Wolf-gang K¨ohler in Germany were also questioning structuralism, particularly the idea that consciousness can be reduced to basic elements. The German word Gestalt means form or shape. Gestalt psychology is based on the notion that we perceive things rather as ”per-ceptual units” than individual sensations (with the idea ”the sum is greater than its parts”). For example in the left side of Figure 1, we don’t just see a bunch of black and white dots but rather a dog that is separated from the background. In the right side of Figure 1, we either see an old woman or a young woman, but we can never see both at the same time. The Gestaltists developed over 100 laws describing how we perceive visual stimuli (Figure 1-2 in book: Figure Ground, Proximity, Continuity, Closure, Similarity). Many concepts of Gestalt psychology are still present in the current study of perception.



Twentieth-Century Approaches

While psychology emerged as a science in its own right during the 19th century, it was during the 20th century that it became truly influential. Several influential schools of thought emerged: psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanistic, cognitive, and biologi-cal/neuroscientific approaches.

2.3.1 Psychoanalysis: Psychology of the Unconscious

While the 19th century approaches all focused on conscious behavior, i.e. mental process we are aware of, maybe the most famous person associated with psychology - Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) - was absorbed by the unconscious mind. Freud, a neurologist from Vienna, Austria, believed that the mind was a complex interaction of thoughts and memory that exist at different levels of awareness. The psychoanalytic theory that Freud developed proposes that mental life is a competition among unconscious and conscious forces: id, ego, and super-ego. According to Freud’s structural model of the mind, the id is the set of unco-ordinated instinctual drives; the super-ego plays the critical and moralizing role; and the ego is the organized, realistic part that mediates between the desires of the id and the super-ego. Although the model is structural, the id, ego, and super-ego are purely symbolic concepts about the mind and do not correspond to actual structures of the brain.

Freud also believed that childhood experiences were crucial for later psychological functioning and that children must successfully master certain psychosexual developmental milestones. If a child experienced frustration in relation to any developmental stage, this would result in anxiety that would persist into adulthood as a mental disorder. However, the major flaw of Freud’s theory is that it is based on observations of patients that Freud saw in his medical practice - not on rigorous scientific experiments. Nevertheless, psychoanalysis remains an influential theory in the field of psychology and is still used as psychotherapeutical approach (among others as we will see later in this class).

2.3.2 Behaviorism: Psychology of Adaptation

A very different school of thought that emerged in the early 20th century was behaviorism. The main belief of this school was that psychology should study only directly observable behaviors rather than abstract mental processes. Behaviorists focused on the relationship between stimuli (things that stimulate or trigger internal or external responses) and re-sponses (reactions to the stimuli). The idea was that for any given stimulus, there is a predictable response.

A great influence was the work by the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) on classical conditioning. Pavlov observed that his lab dogs salivated when his lab assistants brought them food. The dogs also salivated when the lab assistants appeared without food. The dogs had been conditioned to respond to the lab assistant the same way as they respond


to food, because they learned that the food always appeared the same time as the lab as-sistants (more on this later in the class). The important point was that one could learn a great deal from animal behavior even though animals can’t introspect!

Edward Thorndike (1874-1949) from the U.S. promoted the idea that animal findings could help explain human behavior. John B. Watson (1878-1958), also from the U.S. and possibly the main pioneer in behaviorism, agreed with Thorndike and extended Pavlov’s animal work to young children. In one famous experiment, he and his graduate student, Rosalie Rayner, conditioned a ∼9-month-old infant, ”little Albert”, to be afraid of rats (Figure 2). Watson sharply disagreed with the notion of unobservable mental processes. B. F. (Burrhus Frederic) Skinner (1904-1990), another American, followed Watson to become the leading behaviorist after World War II. Although Skinner acknowledged that internal mental processes might play a role in some situations, he promoted the idea that psychologists should describe observable phenomena, not explain them.

Figure 2. Watson, Rayner, and little Albert.

Central to behaviorism is the idea that a good or bad consequence to a certain behavior will increase or decrease the likelihood that a behavior is repeated in the future (operant conditioning):

• Positive reinforcement (pleasant consequence, reward) → increased likelihood • Negative reinforcement (removal or avoidance of something unpleasant) →

in-creased likelihood

• Positive punishement (unpleasant consequence) → decreased likelihood

• Negative punishement (removal of something pleasant) → decreased likelihood Due to these very effective ways of controlling behavior, behaviorism became very popular, and its principles were widely used in advertising, education, and even in courts. How-ever, pure behaviorism (i.e. ignoring any mental processes) did not survive since other psychologists showed that learning can also occur without any apparent changes in observ-able behavior.


2.3.3 Humanistic Psychology: Focusing on Humans

Psychoanalytic and behaviorist theories were at opposite ends of the psychology spectrum: one focused exclusively on mental processes and the other on behavior. In the socially turbulent 1960s, an alternative theory emerged in the US: humanistic psychology. The founding psychologists Carl Rogers (1902-1987) and Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) fo-cused on the potential of individuals, their uniqueness, and human-specific qualities like consciousness and free will.

Maslow proposed that each of us has a basic drive to fulfill our special human potential, self-actualization, which will be inevitably followed by a fulfilling life (Figure 1-3 in book). Rogers developed a humanistic approach to psychotherapy, the client-centered therapy. In this therapy, therapists respect their clients as equals and convey unconditional support and positive regard for the client. Humanists were not necessarily trying to prove the be-haviorists or psychoanalysts wrong but rather complete their ideas.

2.3.4 Cognitive Psychology: Revamping the Study of the Mind

After World War II, the school of cognitive psychology emerged. Its main goal was to measure mental processes effectively and objectively, applying strict experimental standards seen in behaviorists’ studies. In his book in 1967, Ulric Neisser defined cognition as all the processes by which ... sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used. He went on to define cognitive psychology as the study of information processing, comparing the human mind to a computer. As we noted ear-lier, comparing mental processes to the software and the brain to the hardware. Cognitive psychology soon arose to be the dominant model of the mind (and it still is). Through care-ful experimentation, cognitive psychologists observe inputs (stimuli) and outputs (responses) and then theorize about the internal mechanisms that must underlie such mental functioning (basically they tackle the blackbox in-between the stimulus/input and the response/output that the behaviorists avoided; see Figure 3).

2.3.5 Biological Psychology/Neuroscience: Biological Origins of the Mind Since Hippocrates, theorists have been interested in the biological basis of mental processes. Finally, biological psychology (or psychobiology) emerged. Biological psychology, or now often simply referred to as neuroscience (or cognitive neuroscience), is interested in the biological basis of mental processes, i.e. the influence of brain structure and activity on individual and group behavior. Biological psychology does not only look at the brain; subfields also study the effects of genetics and hormones. Another related field is evolu-tionary psychology, which states that the body and brain are largely products of evolution and the laws of evolution play an important role in shaping our thoughts and behaviors.


Figure 3. Contrasting behaviorist and cognitive approaches.


Psychology Today

The different psychological points of view we have discussed in this lecture have not disap-peared - they continue to develop and influence one another. Figure 1-4 in the book shows the variety of subfields that are studied today (you can also just look at the chapter titles in this book or the topics we cover in this class!). There are currently three key branches that psychologists work in: academic, applied, and clinical and counseling psychology.

• Academic Psychology: Academic psychology emphasizes research on a variety of psychological topics. It also involves scientific discourse and the instruction and men-toring of students. This branch of psychology deals mostly with describing, under-standing, and explaining psychological phenomena, without worrying too much about potential practical applications or how they can help people. Academic psychologists work at colleges and universities and divide their time between research and teaching.

• Applied psychology: Applied psychologists use knowledge derived from psycho-logical studies to help solve practical problems (or conduct research with a specific application in mind). For example, they may help advertisers sell their products, help the government reduce unhealthy behavior such as smoking, or even work with tech companies on how to design computer programs to make them more user-friendly.

• Clinical and counseling psychology: Clinical and counseling psychologists focus more on individuals and help them address thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that in-terfere with their functioning in daily life. Clinical psychologists earn a PhD (doctor


of philosophy) or PsyD (doctor of psychology). If pursued on a clinical track, these degrees require training both in therapeutic practices and in the conduct and interpre-tation of research. Counseling psychologists or psychiatric social workers also provide psychotherapy but may focus more on issues related to relationships, careers, child rearing, or others. Counseling psychologists earn a PhD or PsyD in their field, while social workers earn an MSW (master of social work) or DSW (doctor of social work). Psychiatrists also provide psychotherapy. They are medical doctors (MD) and have generally less training in psychological research. However, they have medical knowledge and can prescribe medications (which psychologists can only do in a few states).

The three branches of psychology are not strictly separated. Academic psychologists might run applied research, or clinical psychologists might conduct research on mental disorders, and so on. So what can you do with a psychology degree? The following are the most common psychology degrees and where they can lead (according to the American Psychological Association, APA, 2014):

Bachelor’s degrees in psychology are offered at most colleges and universities and usually require four years of study. This degree can prepare students for the workforce or continued education. People with bachelor’s degrees in psychology can work in many fields; many find jobs in public affairs, education, business, sales, service industries, health, the biologi-cal sciences, and computer programming. They may also work as employment counselors, interviewers, personnel analysts, and writers.

A master’s degree takes an additional two years of graduate-level coursework and a thesis. While people with a master’s degree can go on to earn a doctoral degree, those with several years of experience in business or industry can obtain jobs in consulting and market research, while others may find jobs in government, universities or in the private sector as counselors, researchers, data collectors and analysts.

Doctoral degrees in psychology include the PhD, the EdD (doctor of education) and the PsyD. Each takes about five years to earn (including the 2 years for the Master’s). The PhD tends to be more of a research-focused degree, while the PsyD is designed for those who want to do clinical work. These degrees often serve as stepping stones to a range of careers in research, justice, space and aeronautics, sports, and much more.

To summarize, psychology is as diverse as people are diverse. However, all fields of psychol-ogy adhere to these shared values:

• Psychology is theory-driven • Psychology is empirical • Psychology is multilevel • Psychology is contextual





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