What is Psychology, Anyway?

Look-up the term “psychology” in a textbook and usually you will find “the study of behavior and mental processes.” But what kind of study, and what aspects of human life does a psychologist examine?

Scientific method. Psychologists embrace an investigatory attitude that champions a disciplined approach understanding behavior – of nonhumans as well as human beings. The scientific method proceeds along steps:

  • Observation of a phenomenon, and for psychologists it is about investigating some aspect of behavior as well as mental processes observed or inferred;
  • Formulating an investigatory question;
  • Articulating a testable hypothesis;
  • Constructing a way to test the hypothesis as objectively as possible, using a methodology designed to minimize bias and maximize reliability and validity of measurement;
  • Collecting the data – usually using quantitative but sometimes well-controlled qualitative measures;
  • Analyzing the data, usually using inferential statistics to generate predictions about the probability of a “false positive” or “false negative” finding, or in other words to determine the likelihood that a result is true, reliable, and valid;
  • Use these findings to design further studies to replicate and extend the results and construct what psychologists call a “nomothetic net” (think: geodesic dome) of relationships, that enhance prediction of a phenomenon.

Topics of psychological investigation. Below is a non-exhaustive list of areas of behavior and mental processes that psychologists’ study:

  • Biological bases of behavior and cognition;
  • Sensation and perception
  • Development across the life span
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Cognition, language, and creativity
  • Intelligence: What it is and how to assess it
  • Consciousness
  • Emotions, stress, and health
  • Sex, gender, and sexuality
  • Social behavior, cognition, and influence
  • Theories of personality
  • Abnormal psychology: Clinically significant disorders that interfere with social and occupational functioning
  • Treatments for psychological disorders
  • Applied psychology.