1 what is psychology? Teaching Objectives

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Teaching Objectives
When students have studied this chapter, they should be able to:

  1. Describe Aristotle's role in the history of psychology and understand the definition of psychology. (p. 4)

  1. Identify and define the four goals of psychology. (p. 5)

  1. Identify and compare early views of psychology that focused on the elements of conscious experience, including Wundt, Titchener, the Structuralists, Alston, and the Gestalt psychologists. (p. 7)

  1. Identify and compare views in psychology that focused on the functions of the conscious mind, including James, the Functionalists, Ebbinghaus, Calkins, and Binet. Also, explain functionalism's influence on contemporary psychology, namely cognition. (p. 9)

  1. Describe the origins of behaviorism and social learning theory. (p. 11)

  1. Identify the early views of psychology that focused on the nature of the unconscious mind. (p. 12)

  1. Describe the neuroscience and sociocultural perspectives and explain their influence on contemporary psychology. (p. 15)

  1. Identify and define the terms associated with the sociocultural perspective. (p. 16)

  1. Describe how sociocultural factors influenced the history of psychology. (p. 18)

  1. Describe the differences between basic and applied areas of psychology; list and describe examples of both areas. (p. 19)

  1. Describe the relationship between psychology and psychiatry. (p. 21)

  1. Identify the beliefs commonly shared by psychologists about human nature and behavior. (p. 23)

Brief Chapter Outline

  1. Prologue (p. 3)

  1. Psyche and Science = Psychology (p. 4)

  1. The Many Viewpoints in Psychology and Their Origins (p. 7)

  • The Nature of Conscious Experience

  • Functions of the Conscious Mind

  • Psychometrics: Alfred Binet

  • Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

  • The Nature of the “Unconscious Mind”

  1. Contemporary Perspectives in Psychology (p. 14)

  • Neuroscience Perspective

  • Sociocultural Perspective

  1. Specialty Areas of Modern Psychology (p. 19)

  • Basic Areas of Modern Psychology

  • Applied Areas of Modern Psychology

  • Relationship Between Psychology and Psychiatry

  1. What We Know About Human Behavior: Some Starting Places (p. 23)

  1. Summary (p. 26)

  1. Resources (p. 27)

  1. Visual Review of Historical Time Line (p. 29)

Extended Chapter Outline

  1. Prologue (p. 3)

This text surveys the basic principles of psychology and shows how these principles can be applied to solve human problems.

  1. Psyche and Science = Psychology (p. 4)

  1. Definition of Psychology

Psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes.

  1. Goals of Psychology

The goals of psychology are to describe, predict, understand and influence behavior and mental processes.

  1. The Many Viewpoints in Psychology and Their Origins (p. 7)

A. Nature of Conscious Experience

The early psychologists wanted to understand the basic elements of consciousness.

  1. Wundt, Titchener, and the Structuralists

Wundt and Titchener sought to determine the nature of the mind through introspection.

  1. J. Henry Alston

J. Henry Alston, the first African-American to publish an article in an APA journal, studied the sensations of heat and cold.

  1. Max Wertheimer and the Gestalt Psychologists

Max Wertheimer, who helped to popularize Gestalt psychology, believed that the mind must be studied in terms of large, meaningful units, because “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

B. Functions of the Conscious Mind

  1. William James and the Functionalists

Williams James was interested in the functions of consciousness.

  1. Studies of memory: Hermann Ebbinghaus and Mary Whiton Calkins

Hermann Ebbinghaus and Mary Whiton Calkins were early pioneers in the study of memory.

  1. Psychometrics: Alfred Binet

Alfred Binet sought to measure the mind’s intellectual capacities.

  1. Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

  1. Ivan Pavlov

Ivan Pavlov identified a simple form of learning called conditioning.

  1. John B. Watson and Margaret Floy Washburn

John B. Watson and Margaret Floy Washburn were early influential behaviorists in the US

  1. Contemporary Behaviorism and Social Learning Theory

Social learning theorists are behaviorists who believe that mental processes such as cognition can be scientifically studied.

  1. The Nature of the Unconscious Mind

  1. Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud believed that the roots of psychological problems were motives that reside in a part of the mind of which we are unaware; he attempted to help people through a process called psychoanalysis.

  1. Humanistic Psychology and the Unconscious Mind

Humanistic psychologists believe that the unconscious mind often defeats our efforts to make good decisions.

  1. Contemporary Perspectives in Psychology (p. 14)

A. Neuroscience Perspective

Psychologists who approach the science from a neuroscience perspective are interested in the areas of the brain that play roles in emotion, reasoning, speaking and other psychological processes.

B. Sociocultural Perspective

Advocates of the sociocultural perspective believe it is impossible to fully understand a person without understanding his or her culture, ethnic identity, gender identity, and other factors.

  1. Sociocultural Factors in the History of Psychology

Prejudice and discrimination affected the roles women and ethnic minorities played in the history of psychology.

  1. Specialty Areas of Modern Psychology (p. 19)

A. Basic Areas of Modern Psychology

Basic areas include biological psychology, sensation and perception, learning and memory, cognition, developmental psychology, motivation and emotion, personality, social psychology, and sociocultural psychology.

B. Applied Areas of Modern Psychology

Applied areas of modern psychology include clinical psychology, counseling psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, educational and school psychology and health psychology.

C. Relationship Between Psychology and Psychiatry

A psychiatrist has completed medical school and has obtained the M.D. degree; a psychologist does not have a medical degree. Psychology is a much broader field than psychiatry and contains many different specialty areas.

  1. What We Know About Human Behavior: Some Starting Places (p. 23)

The following concepts are shared by almost all psychologists:

  • Human beings are biological creatures.

  • Every person is different, yet much the same.

  • People can be understood fully only in the context of their culture, ethnic identity and gender identity.

  • Human lives are a continuous process of change.

  • Behavior is motivated.

  • Behavior has multiple causes.

  • Humans are social animals.

  • People play an active role in creating their experiences.

  • Behavior can be adaptive or maladaptive.

  1. Summary (p. 26)

  1. Resources (p. 27)

  1. Visual Review of Historical Time Line (p. 29)

Teaching the Chapter

  • Students typically begin their introductory psychology course not exactly certain what psychology is all about. One technique that may be useful to help “break the ice” is asking them how they would define “psychology.” Write some of their definitions on the board (very reinforcing to some students), and then compare them with the definition offered by the text (i.e., “the science of behavior and mental processes”). Students very often will offer a definition like “the study of the mind” or “the study of human behavior.” Gently explain the shortcomings of these definitions.

  • Another sure-fire discussion generator involves posing the question “is your behavior predictable?” Invariably, students will bristle at the notion that their behavior is predictable. I like to challenge my students by asking why they are all seated, why they are all facing the same direction, why they have notebooks open, pens at the ready, etc. Often they reply that they have been conditioned to do these behaviors in school. You can use these comments to springboard into a discussion on the predictability of behavior, the importance of conditioning, and so on. You might use a statement such as “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior” to stimulate discussion about this topic.

  • Brainstorm with students to consider familiar fields that rely on successful predictions of human behavior advertisers (product names, package designs and colors, pricing, etc.), restaurants, the physical layout of grocery stores, opinion polls, etc.

Key Terms, Figures, and Concepts

psychology (p. 5)

science (p. 5)

behavior (p. 5)

mental processes (p. 5)

theories (p.5)

introspection (p. 7)

structuralism (p. 8)

Gestalt psychology (p. 8)

gestalt (p. 8)

phi phenomenon (p. 8)

functionalism (p. 9)

cognition (p. 9)

cognitive psychology (p. 9)

psychometrics (p. 11)

behaviorism (pp. 12-13)

social learning theory (pp. 12-13)

unconscious mind (pp. 12-13)

motives (pp. 12-13)

psychoanalysis (pp. 12-13)

humanistic psychology (p. 13)

neuroscience perspective (p. 15)

sociocultural perspective (p. 16)

culture (p. 16)

ethnic group (p. 16)

ethnic identity (p. 16)

gender identity (p. 16)

cultural relativity (p. 17)

applied psychologists (p. 19)

Lecture Suggestions

  • What Is Psychology? You can illustrate the various approaches to psychology by using a sports analogy. Choose a sport that is in season during the course. Baseball is appropriate during the fall semester. Ask your students to define baseball. Some will describe the rules. Other students will describe the structure (innings, the shapes, the bat, the ball, and so on). Some may describe the spectacle and some the pressure; some will see it as a good time, some as exercise. Still other definitions may involve the symmetry of the game, the business aspects, the strategy, the importance of teamwork, and so on. The important point is that, even with all of these descriptions, we have not fully defined baseball. Paradoxically, all of these are correct. By the same token, psychology is different things to different people. To some it is the study of the mind. To others the study of behavior is what makes psychology. These should not be seen as separate; the different perspectives complement one another to form psychology.

  • History of Psychology. Presenting the history of psychology can set the stage for a good course or a bad one. Psychology has a rich and colorful, if relatively brief, history. Conveying some of the richness may help whet students’ appetites for the course. An extensive list of sources of biographical information is included at the end of the Introductory Psychology section. When discussing the transition from structuralism to functionalism, many lectures emphasize the shortcomings of the structuralist approach and then show how functionalism attempted to do what structuralism could not. This approach leaves the student with a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each position. This may give the student a muddled picture of the history of psychology, since the student is only beginning to see the relationships between the different schools. To get around this potential confusion, try presenting the material in a more positive fashion. When presenting structuralism, for example, emphasize the study of the structure, or the “what,” of the mind and emphasize what that approach accomplished. When presenting functionalism, show how emphasis on the function or the “what it does” aspects of the mind was treading on new ground, seeking to understand problems that structuralism could not even see.

  • Recent Advances in Psychology. Use this opportunity to emphasize several recent advances in fields that may seem less sensationalistic. Show the student how research in your area has progressed and is answering new questions.

  • Career Opportunities with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. Expanding on the treatment of employment opportunities for those with an undergraduate degree in psychology might be interesting and informative at this point. An excellent publication on this topic is the following:

Landrum, R. E., Davis, S. F., & Landrum, T. A. (2000). The psychology major: Career options and strategies for success. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

  • Licensure/Certification Requirements. Contact your local or state Board of Examiners or its equivalent and find the specific requirements for licensing and/or certification. Identify the types of licensing and the range of licenses available. Present these to the class in lecture or handouts. Have the class divide into groups of five or six and discuss the legal/ethical aspects of licensing requirements. Be sure you apprise your students of the costs of malpractice insurance for the different areas of psychology. (Note: Many of our peers are willing to tell you what their malpractice costs are, however, remember you are dealing with finances; read carefully and give your colleague a polite out. You could also ask an insurance salesperson, but be sure you let that person know that you are after information and not insurance.)

Discussion Launchers

  • The Meaning of the Word Psychology in Slang Usage. Ask students to describe the different ways the word psychology and its variation psych are used in everyday conversation. Robert L. Chapman, the author of American Slang, includes the following information. To psych out is “to outsmart another person.” To psych out is “to sense or infer the motives, behavior, etc., of others: feel out a situation.” To psych out is “to unnerve someone; cause someone to lose composure, will, skill, etc.” While these uses are rather negative, involving a degree of manipulation, a little more positive meaning is found when we use the word in regard to ourselves. To psych oneself up is “to arouse oneself emotionally, spiritually, mentally, etc., to a maximum effort.” May also lead to a discussion of psychobabble.

  • Determining Your School of Psychology. *Handout 1.1* at the end of the chapter is an exercise first proposed by Fernald and Fernald (1978) to allow students to discover their own preferences for three major approaches in psychology: psychoanalytic, behavioral, or humanistic. Have students answer the 12 questions on the handout using the 7-point agreement scale, and then use the scoring key below. Students might discover that they have a particularly strong preference for one or two approaches, or they may turn out to be eclectic.

Scoring Key

Psychoanalytic Score: Add the scores for Items 3, 4, 8, 10.

Behaviorism Score: Add the scores for Items 2, 5, 9, 11.

Humanistic Score: Add the scores for Items 1, 6, 7, 12.

These scores should give you some quick comparison of your approach to psychology. This is not a permanent assessment, but only a snapshot of how you look at psychology, and to provide you with an opportunity to see how others might look at the same behaviors with a different approach and arrive at different conclusions.

Critical Thinking Questions

  • How have the competing early approaches to psychology strengthened the field? How have these competing approaches hindered the development of psychology?

  • Which contemporary approach to psychology makes the most sense to you? Why?

  • Can psychologists approach the study of mind and behavior with the same degree of objectivity as other scientists approach their disciplines (for example, geologists)?

  • Do psychologists really have the right to study other human beings? A chemist studies the elements and a physicist studies the forces of nature. But for a psychologist to study behavior, we must study each other. What right does a psychologist have to study other human beings? Perhaps more importantly, how do psychologists protect the rights of others in their quest to understand human behavior?

  • Can psychologists ever truly understand human behavior? One tenet of science called determinism asserts that “if all the causes of a behavior were known, that behavior would be completely predictable.” Do you think that is true? Will we ever know every cause of any one behavior? What is the value of predicting behavior? How can these predictions be used to improve the human condition?

Public Policy Issues and Current Controversies

  • How do the various contemporary perspectives view responsibility for behavior? What implications do these differing views have for public policy?

  • Even within psychology, psychologists differ on their role in society. Some psychologists believe that psychology is a profession similar to medicine and law, and that we charge a fee for access to a psychologist’s knowledge. Other psychologists believe that we must “give away psychology,” that the science of human behavior is to be shared with anyone who will listen. How do these varying views influence the way psychologists are viewed by society?

  • While this may not be a raging controversy, it appears that the current shift in psychology is somewhat away from cognitive psychology to understanding the influence of biological processes in our behavior. Said another way, perhaps cognitive psychology has moved into cognitive science where a process-level explanation is not enough; we now want a more basic level molecular process explanation for cognitive events. What impact does this approach have on psychology?

Stretching Our Geographies

  • Density of Psychologists Around the World. (A multicultural lecture suggestion)

The Netherlands has the highest density, 884 psychologists per million people. Israel, Finland, Switzerland, and Spain have a higher density of psychologists than does the United States! The US has a density of 521 psychologists per million people. Cuba has 186 per million, Greece 60 per million, Hong Kong 36, Japan 36, India 7, and Pakistan and Zimbabwe are tied for the lowest density, 6 psychologists per million population (Staudt-Sexton & Hogan, 1992).

  • Firsts Around the World. (A multicultural lecture suggestion)

The first psychological laboratory in New Zealand, which also makes it the first laboratory of experimental psychology in the southern hemisphere, was founded by Sir Thomas Hunter, in the year 1908, a mere 11 years after Wundt had established his laboratory. Hunter had visited Titchener at Cornell, and carried structuralism back to New Zealand. Skinnerian behaviorism soon replaced that school of thought, and still continues unabashedly in New Zealand, while the rest of the world seems to have embraced cognitive psychology (Shouksmith, 1992). Psychology was first taught in Japan at Tokyo University and Kyoto University by two pioneers, Yujiro Motora and Matataro Matsumoto (1865–1943). Matsumoto studied at Leipzig University in Germany, and at Yale (Sukemune, 1992).
Learning Style Activities
(AE) Active Experimentation: Doing

  • Goal: To gather material that demonstrates what various subgroups of a general population believe psychology to be.

  • Task: To develop a brief audio and/or visual presentation.

  • Hint: Develop a list of several questions pertaining to the nature of psychology. As an example: Can you tell me what psychology is? Ask your friends, family, students at the snack bar, faculty, members of the campus security force, etc., to answer them. There is a limit to how many populations you have the time or interest to sample, but the point is that different groups of people might have different opinions about the nature of psychology. If they do, it would be fascinating to find out what they are.

Once you have asked the questions and recorded the answers, you will need to develop some way to organize the responses. You might make different categories for each of the different samples, color-code them, and present a summary of the answers on a poster board. Several students could get together and develop a combined summary. There might be an opportunity to present findings in class. You should find some interesting misconceptions.

(RO) Reflective Observations: Watching

  • Goal: To illustrate portrayals of psychology.

  • Task: Watch two different daytime soap operas for three consecutive days.

  • Hint: You might want to tape the audio for each show on the first day. Listen to the tapes and try to map out a data recording worksheet that would apply to both shows. For example, you might divide your sheet and have columns headed “Males” and “Females.” As you listen to the tapes, try to develop labels to use as categories for what you hear: sex talk, money talk, emotional outbursts, anger, aggression, frustration, etc., with the source as a male or a female. You will have to use your thinking cap to work something out. For the next two consecutive days put a check mark in the appropriate box on your record sheet for each show. This will give you a count of the frequency with which these incidents of behavior occurred.

(AC) Abstract Conceptualization: Thinking

  • Goal: To gather evidence to reject an assumption.

  • Task: Given the following assumption–the mind and the body are two separate, noninteracting systems.

  • Hint: Review Chapter 1 and extract and write out all of the statements that would show the assumption to be false. Then go to the psychology section of the campus library and find book titles that suggest the assumption is wrong. Or, go to the bookstore, or better yet glance around a periodical room and look at the titles of articles in some of the many psychological journals or at articles in various magazines. As a final product you should have a chart with the assumption printed across the top and a list of titles, statements, etc., that leads to the conclusion that the assumption is false.

(CE) Concrete Experience: Feeling

  • Goal: To experience bodily sensations.

  • Task: Choice of two: vision or taste.

  • Hint: Get a strobe light or three friends each with a flashlight. Demonstrate the phi phenomenon. Play the role of a structuralist and see if you can analyze a complex taste into its basic elements. Or get a sample of an adequate stimulus (sugar for sweet, etc.) and map the tongue to see if there are sweet zones, etc. There are four questions to be answered: What does a particular stimulus taste like? Are there really four basic tastes? Are there really zones on the tongue for different tastes? What does each stimulus feel like when presented to the tongue?

Suggested Articles from Annual Editions
Suggested Articles from Annual Editions Publications (Please note: Subsequent editions of the Annual Editions publications may contain different articles or may assign a different number to the articles described below.)
From Psychology 00/01 (Thirtieth edition)
Article 1. Science and Pseudoscience, APS Observer, July/August 1999. At the 1999 APS Convention’s Presidential Symposium, renowned psychologists discussed what science is and is not. Using observations from and by laypersons (such as belief in alien abductions), the psychologists examined the boundaries of science as well as what motivates laypeople to believe in Pseudoscience.
Suggested Readings
Benjamin, L. (1997). A history of psychology (2nd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Boring, E. G. (1950). A history of experimental psychology (2nd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Evans, R. B., Sexton, V. S., & Cadwallader, T. C. (Eds.). (1992). The American Psychological Association: A historical perspective. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

Garcia, J., & Keough, K. (2000). Social psychology of gender, race, and ethnicity. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology (Vols. I, II). New York: Holt.
Kimble, G. A., Wertheimer, M., & White, C. L. (Eds.). (1991). Portraits of pioneers in psychology. Washington, D. C. : American Psychological Association.
Marks, R. W. (1966). Great ideas in psychology. New York: Bantam.
Puente, A. E., Mathews, J. R., & Brewer, C. L. (Eds.). (1992). Teaching in psychology in America: A history. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.
Helpful Web Sites

  • American Psychological Association

This is the official website of the American Psychological Association. This site has links to divisions of the APA, general resources for teachers and students of psychology, and links to APA publications.

  • American Psychological Association, Division 26


  • AmoebaWeb

A launch site established and maintained by Douglas Degelman, Ph.D.

  • Classics in the History of Psychology

An electronic resource developed by Christopher D. Green of York University, Toronto, Canada.

  • Psychweb

This site includes links to classic works in psychology, journals, other psychology sites, scholarly resources in psychology, and career information for psychology majors.
Film Suggestions

  • Aspects of Behavior (CRM, 1971, 26 minutes) Identifies the field of psychology and discusses experiments. Includes discussions with social psychologists Milgram, Darley, and Latané.

  • Discovering Psychology 1: Past, Present, and Promise (Annenberg/CPB Project, 1990, 30 minutes) Introduces psychology and shows its relationship to different fields of knowledge.

  • A Degree of Difference (Perisa Salem, 1993, 26 minutes) Discusses the similarities and differences between the Psy.D. program and the Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. Includes interviews with professionals holding Psy.D. and Ph.D. degrees from various institutions.

  • Candid Camera in Introductory Psychology (McGraw‑Hill College Division, 1992, 60 minutes) This video includes 16 film clips from the original Candid Camera television show illustrating introductory principles from such areas as cognition and memory, emotion and causal behavior, and abnormal behavior.

  • The Ad and the Id: Sex, Death, and Subliminal Ads (University of California Extension Center for Media/Learning, 1992, 28 minutes) Explores the efforts of advertisers to use subliminal images in order to influence and motivate consumers. It illustrates that advertising is in reality sophisticated applied psychology, and shows viewers how to see the hidden messages in advertisements.

Baldwin, J. (1986). African (Black) psychology: Issues and synthesis. Journal of Black Studies, 16, 235-249.
Bell, A., & Weinberg, M. (1976). Homosexualities: A study of human diversity among men and women. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective (Ed.). (1987). Lesbian psychologies. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press.
Fernald, P.S., & Fernald, L.D. (1978). Instructor’s manual to accompany Introduction to Psychology (4th ed.). Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.
Guthrie, R. (1976). Even the rat was white: A historical view of psychology. New York: Harper & Row.
Hall, G. S. (1905). The Negro in Africa and America. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 12, 350-368.
Hill, R. (1972). The strengths of Black families. New York: Emerson Hall.
Holloway, J. E. (Ed.). (1990). Africanisms in American culture. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Jenkins, A. (1982). The psychology of the Afro-American. A humanistic approach. New York: Pergamon Press.
Jones, R. (1992). Black psychology (3rd ed.) Berkeley, CA: Cobb & Henry.
McGovern, T. V., & Hawks, B. K. (1986). The varieties of undergraduate experience. Teaching of Psychology, 13, 174-181.
Sotomayor, M. (1991). Empowering Hispanic families: A critical issue for the ‘90s. Milwaukee, WI: Family Service America.


Determining Your School of Psychology
For the following items, please rate your level of agreement by using the scale provided. Place your answer in the box provided. Your instructor has the scoring key for this exercise.

Strongly Disagree








Strongly Agree



1. People are free spirits, and science will never be able to really understand what causes behavior.

2. Basically our personalities are shaped and determined by things that happen to us during our lives.

3. Most of the time, we do what we do in order to defend ourselves against threats that come from inside our own brains.

4. Most people’s personalities are set by the time they are five or six years old. People really don’t change much after that.

5. All that talk of deep-rooted forces seems like bunk. We should just worry about what people actually do.

6. Science makes a mistake when it tries to take everything apart. If you want to understand a person, you have to look at the whole, not the parts.

7. The best thing about people is that we are free to make choices and direct our lives.

8. Strong drives such as sex cause people to behave in certain ways.

9. I think that anyone could grow up to be a criminal if he or she were raised in the wrong environment.

10. I think people are not really conscious of the kind of forces that direct their behavior.

11. Someday we will be able to explain behavior in the same way that we can explain events in biology and chemistry.

12. Thinking and feeling are the most important causes of behavior.

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