What is psychology?

What is psychology?

Psychology is often equated with psychotherapy, and even though therapy is under the umbrella of psychology, there is so much more to the field. Psychology is quite vast and varied. In fact, most people studying psychology know only the basics about counseling, Freud, or the DSM. So, what is psychology?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines psychology as “the science or study of the mind and behavior.” Obviously, this is a general definition that encompasses pretty much everything dealing with humans and animals. The definition goes on to explain that not only is psychology the study of the mind and behavior of individuals but also of groups within a given context: “a: the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group; b: the study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity.”

The dictionary definition provides a sense of the field – but that’s not enough. We need more detail, more specifics to flesh out the concept. Luckily for us contemporary psychology is subdivided into a vast number of areas to provide us this detail.  Here are some popular subdivisions:

a)    Cognitive psychology focuses on the mental processes of humans. Popular topics in this area include attention, learning, memory, and problem solving.

b)    Comparative psychology zeroes in on the mind and behavior of non-humans (e.g., insects, mice, bats, cats, parrots, monkeys). The research includes cross-comparisons between species as well as individual species. Some popular topics of research are learning, concept development, and memory.

c)    Developmental psychology includes research on age-related groups (infants, toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, adults, geriatrics) and on the changes across these groups. Some specific topics include attention, language, moral understanding, memory, play, etc.

d)    Educational psychology researchers focus on the emotional and cognitive aspects of both the individual and group within the educational setting. Popular topics in this area are instructional design and technology, learning styles, intelligence, and individual differences.

e)    Neuropsychology is currently a muy caliente area in psychology. The research in this area examines the neural structure and function of the brain, and if “it” happens in the brain, researchers are looking at “it” — in both human and non-human populations.

f)    Psychotherapy (also clinical psychology and counselling psychology) is the star of psychology. Researchers study the mental health of individuals, and practitioners apply this research in a therapeutic setting.

g)    Social psychology researchers examine how people’s behavior is affected by other individuals (real or imagined). Some topics of study include attitudes, interpersonal attraction, and persuasion.

Ok. This list is getting a little long, so I’m going to stop. One thing that I want to make explicit is that psychology is a living entity. The field is in constant development. As the interests and motivation of people researching the field changes so will the popular subdivisions. One hundred years ago educational psychology or comparative psychology did not exist as sub-areas.

On this blog, I want to examine research on individuals or groups within a home, work, school, or social setting. More generally, I’m focusing on research that informs us about our everyday. “Everyday” psychology isn’t really a thing, so I’ll borrow research from the above-mentioned areas as well as other areas of psychology.