What is Psychology?
• Psychology is the study of mental and behavioral events, broadly construed.
Behavior: observable actions produced by the body.
Mind: private thoughts, beliefs and experiences.
- Psychology studies: How people manage life issues, how we change during our lifespan, how
we interpret words, how we acquire new skills, brain function and organization, anything else to
do with mind or behavior.
- Psychology is an eclectic discipline, including a wide range of theories and methodologies,
united by their interest in studying the mind and behavior.
1. Transition to a Science
- “Psychology has a long past but only a short history” - Hermann Ebbinghause (1908)
- Human’s have been interested in “mind and behavior” for a very long time. Most early
beliefs about mind and behavior were grounded in spiritualism and mysticism.
- Trepanning is a surgical procedure that dates back at lest 8,000 years. It belies
“mystical” beliefs about mental illness. Evil spirits invading the body.
Influence from Ancient Greece
Greek philosophers contributed many theories and observations to the study of mind and
behavior. Most importantly, however, they suggested these things are natural (not mystical) and
systematic. Thus, they are understandable through logic and reason.
Plato’s Theory of Forms
- There is a “real” world that is mathematically well-defined; our perception is the shadow cast
by this world.
- The mind is a very important tool, because it allows for reason, and can also introspect on its
- According to Plato, the Empirical World is a “shadowy rendition” of the real, Abstract World.
Aristotle and Empiricism
- Plato believed our senses were misleading. His student, Aristotle, championed a different
approach to understanding called empiricism, which puts emphasis on understanding the
natural world through careful scrutiny.
Empiricism: the practice of gaining knowledge of the world through observation
Assumes: our senses are trustworthy
- Allows for objective study and comparison of theories Aristotle’s Four Causes
- Aristotle suggested that empirical pursuits be constrained by sking four questions about things
we are trying to understand:
1. Material: what is it made of?
2. Formal: what are the relevant details of its shape?
3. Efficient: how was it created?