Psychology

psychologyPsychology is an academic and applied discipline that involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviours. Psychology has the immediate goal of understanding individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases, and by many accounts it ultimately aims to benefit society. In this field, a professional practitioner or researcher is called a psychologist, and can be classified as a social, behavioural, or cognitive scientist. Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behaviour, while also exploring the physiological and neurobiological processes that underlie certain cognitive functions and behaviours.


Psychologists explore concepts such as perception, cognition, attention, emotion, phenomenology, motivation, brain functioning, personality, behaviour, and interpersonal relationships. Psychologists of diverse stripes also consider the unconscious mind. 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 has been described as a “hub science”, with psychological findings linking to research and perspectives from the social sciences, natural sciences, medicine, and the humanities, such as philosophy.

While psychological knowledge is often applied to the assessment and treatment of mental health problems, it is also directed towards understanding and solving problems in many different spheres of human activity. The majority of psychologists are involved in some kind of therapeutic role, practicing in clinical, counseling, or school settings. Many do scientific research on a wide range of topics related to mental processes and behaviour, and typically work in university psychology departments or teach in other academic settings (e.g., medical schools, hospitals). Some are employed in industrial and organisational settings, or in other areas such as human development and aging, sports, health, and the media, as well as in forensic analysis and other aspects of law.

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 criticised the behaviourists’ 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 superficial and vague manner. The postulation that humans are born with the instinct or “innate facility” for acquiring language posed a challenge to the behaviourist position that all behaviour, including language, is contingent upon learning and reinforcement. Social learning theorists, such as Albert Bandura, argued that the child’s environment could make contributions of its own to the behaviours of an observant subject.

Meanwhile, accumulating technology helped to renew interest and belief in the mental states and representations—i.e., the cognition—that had fallen out of favour with behaviourists. 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. 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 mindor the behaviouristic contingency-shaped behaviours. Elements of behaviourism and cognitive psychology were synthesised to form the basis of cognitive behavioural 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 cover discipline of cognitive science.

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