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Psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes.

Any attempt to explain why humans think and behave in the way that they do is linked to psychology.

Psychology helps us understand what makes people think, feel, and act in certain ways.

Psychology developed, and attracts so much interest, because it can directly improve people’s lives.

Psychology has four basic objectives: describe; explain; predict; control.

Describe means to observe behavior, thoughts and feelings and to record them as objectively as possible.

Explain means making suggestions as to why someone did, thought or felt like they did.

Predict means taking what has already happened and using it to speculate as to what behavior, thoughts and feelings will occur in the future.

Control means changing the previously unwanted behavior, thoughts or feelings into more positive ones.


Abnormal psychology is the study of the causes and effects of abnormal behaviors and psychological disorders. 

Biological psychology considers the relationship between the biological processes of the brain and our behaviors, thoughts, and feelings.

Clinical psychology involves helping people with behavioral or mental disorders.

Cognitive psychology focuses on people's decision making processes; it incorporates motivation, problem solving, decision-making, thinking, and attention.

Comparative psychology refers to the study of the behavior and mental life of animals other than human beings.

Counseling psychology focuses on helping people deal with and overcome potentially stressful life issues such as bereavement, relationships and abuse.

Developmental psychology looks at all aspects of mental growth from childhood through to adulthood; it incorporates emotional, intellectual, social, perceptual, and personality development.

Educational psychology is concerned with schools, teaching, educational issues, and student concerns.

Forensic psychology is the application of psychological principles and knowledge to the legal system.

Health psychology is concerned with psychology’s impact on health, physical well being, and illness.

Industrial psychology focuses on evaluating, predicting and improving job performance.

Personality psychology involves studying differences in individuals and analyzing the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behavior that make a person unique.

Quantitative psychology involves the application of mathematical and statistical modeling in psychological research.

Social psychology seeks to explain and understand social behavior; it includes topics such as peer pressure, leadership and nonverbal communication.

Sports psychology aims to improve the performances of athletes through the use of specialist techniques such as visualization and goal setting.


Of the older psychological schools of thought, functionalism and structuralism are the most well-known.

Functionalism took a common sense approach to psychology; it was based upon Charles Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory.

The idea behind functionalism was that behavior, thoughts and feelings occurred simply because they were necessary; this approach was criticized as being an insufficient explanation.

Structuralism was based on the theory that mental processes could be understood through introspection.

Structuralism focused on analyzing the configuration of individual components of the mind, such as particular sensations or thoughts; it was criticized for being too subjective.

Of the more recent psychological schools of thought, the most well-known are: behaviorism; cognitivism; humanism; psychoanalysis.

In behaviorism, behavior, not the unconscious mind, should be the focus of psychology.

Behaviorists believe that a person’s behavior is the result of conditioning.

Conditioning means the environment someone is brought up in and the things that they are taught.

There are two major types of conditioning, classical (involves changing the response from one event with the response of another) and operant (involves learning through rewards and punishments).

Developments in information processing and computer technology led to the rise of the cognitivism.

Cognitivism evaluates how people: think; perceive; remember; learn; problem solve.

Cognitivism looks at the relationship between stimulus and response and how it can be manipulated and improved.

The theory behind cognitivism is that mental function can be understood by quantitative and scientific methods.

Humanism takes a philosophical approach to psychology.

Humanism looks at a person as a whole and not just certain aspects of their personality or behavior.

There is a focus on ‘free will’ within humanism and a strong belief that we’re unique and cannot be grouped together or labeled

Humanism is considered to be the most positive approach to psychology because it theorizes that people are inherently good.

Under the broad term of psychoanalysis there are many different theoretical orientations and approaches to therapy / treatment.

The general theory of psychoanalysis is that adult behaviors are the result of psychological issues from childhood.

Psychoanalysis involves psychologists trying to reach the unconscious mind to determine conscious behavior.

To reach the unconscious mind psychologists analyse dreams, repressed memories and sexual fantasies.The practice of ‘free association’ is widely used within psychoanalysis; it involves people talking about literally anything they want, with little direction being given by the psychologist.

Common Terms

Cognitive dissonance refers to the uncomfortable feeling that occurs when you have two or more thoughts, attitudes, or behaviours that are mutually inconsistent.

Confabulation is a plausible but imagined memory that fills in gaps in what is remembered.

You’re more likely to say or do something if at least one other person near you is already doing it; this process is referred to as crowd psychology.

Defence mechanisms are conscious or unconscious strategies that you use to protect yourself when you feel anxious, stressed or under threat.

When you’re faced with something that makes you feel very uncomfortable, embarrassed, ashamed etc., you may insist that it’s not true, even though there’s substantial evidence that it is; this is called denial.

Displacement occurs when your feelings for, or reaction to, one thing (person, situation, object etc.) are transferred to another thing because you feel the latter is safer or more acceptable.

Your ego is your consciousness of your own identity; it balances your primitive urges against reality.

Your identity is the unconscious part of your personality; it is essentially who you are and is very difficult, if not impossible, to change.

Rationalization occurs when you try to explain unacceptable behaviors or feelings in a rational or logical manner so as to reduce feelings of anxiety, guilt, stress etc.

Regression refers to the process of temporarily acting in a less developed, normally child-like, way.

Repression occurs when you try to ignore, and not deal with, uncomfortable, distressing or traumatic feelings, desires or events; they may leave your conscious mind but they will remain in your subconscious.

When you know someone is trying to persuade you to do something, you may instinctively oppose their suggestions, however logical it may be, because you feel it infringes your behavioral freedom; this is called reactance.

Your personality is your unique combination of behavioral, emotional, mental and temperamental attributes.

Projection occurs when you perceive your own unwanted thoughts or emotions in someone else; this may be done to justify them to yourself or to blame someone else for how you’re feeling.

Your psyche is your emotional, mental and psychological makeup; it determines your thoughts, behaviors and personality.

Transference is the process of dealing with repressed memories and experiences so as to release the feelings and desires that have been held within your subconscious.

Psychology broadly splits into research psychology and applied psychology, though there are many subfields within them.

Despite using varying methods and theories, the different branches of psychology have a common a desire to explain the behaviour of individuals based on the workings of the mind.


There are many different types of psychological tests; each being used to assess a particular aspect of a persons mind or behavior.

Aptitude tests are used to measure either how much how much of a capacity you have to learn about a particular topic; it’s essential a test of your potential.

Direct observation tests involve the observation of people as they complete activities.

Intelligence tests measure your natural ability to understand the world around you.

Neuropsychological tests are used to measure your cognitive functioning; this includes your ability to think, reason and act.

Personality tests are used to in the diagnoses of clinical disorders; the most well-known are the MMPI (‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions) and the Rorschach (describing inkblot images).

Psychological testing normally forms part of a full psychological assessment.

Psychological testing can take the form of: an interview; an exercise; a computer test; a written test.

Written and computer-based tests and more objective and scientific than interviews and exercises.

Many psychological tests include a number of trick / contradictory components that let psychologists know if you’re not giving truthful answers.

If being given a psychological test, you have the right to know: the purpose of the testing; the name of the test being used; the results of the test; who will have access to the test results.


A psychologist is a professional that specializes in the science of mind and behavior; they usually have a PhD.

The terms psychologist and psychiatrist are often used interchangeably but they're not the same.

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in mental health / illness, whereas psychologists aren't medical doctors and don't have to specialise in mental health / illness.

Psychologists are typically associated with helping people work through problems in their life.

Psychologists attempt to explain the mind and brain in the context of real life.

Points to consider when choosing a psychologist: fees; type of licence; length of experience; academic degrees.

To find a psychologist: ask a doctor; ask friends for recommendations; search on the internet; look in a telephone directory.

Be wary of people offering / advertising psychological assistance; some will not be qualified to do so.

Always ask a psychologist if they have a licence to practice and are regulated.

Check the validity and professionalism of regulatory bodies by phoning them or viewing their website.

It's advisable to speak with a few psychologists before selecting one to proceed with.

Try to find a psychologist that has experience of dealing with problems / issues similar to your own.

Psychologists are legally required to keep all information about you confidential; they can't even pass on information to other health professionals without your permission.

Psychologists are providing a service and you have similar rights as you would with other services e.g. to query, to complain, to change provider etc.


Albert Bandura initiated the social learning theory; he showed that children could learn emotions from a role model through simply observing them.

Both a psychologist and philosopher, John Dewey was considered the founder of functionalism.

Sigmund Freud’s contributions to psychology included: his theories of the unconscious mind and repression; the redefinition of sexual desire; the interpretation of dreams; the technique of ‘free association’; the clinical practice of psychoanalysis.

Carl Jung’s, the founder of analytical psychology, most notable ideas included: the collective unconscious; psychological archetypes, synchronicity.

Humanistic physiologist Abraham Maslow is famous for developing the ‘hierarchy of human needs’.Ivan Pavlov was credited as the first to explain the process of classical conditioning; his work paved the way for treating today’s stress and anxiety disorders.

Fritz Perls was responsible for establishing Gestalt Therapy, which focused on awareness and the relationship between the ‘self’ and its environment.

Carl Rogers played an important role in the development of psychotherapy research; his client-centered therapy was adopted by many other psychologists.

B.F. Skinner was one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century; he published over 20 books on varies aspects of psychology.

John B. Watson established the psychological school of behaviorism; he is well known for his claim that by applying his techniques any young child could be molded as desired.

Wilhelm Wundt was the founder of experimental psychology; he developed the first school of thought knows as structuralism.