PSYC 101 – INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY 1 - Dr. Leslie
Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and the mind.
Behavior refers to directly observable actions and responses.
Mind refers to internal states and processes e.g., thoughts and feelings, that cannot be
seen directly and must be inferred from observable, measurable responses.
Different Subfields in Psychology
• Biological psychology – the study of the biological processes that influence
behavior e.g., brain processes, genes, hormones
• Abnormal psychology – the study of deviant behavior. Propensity for human to
self-interest – abnormal psychology challenges that notion.
• Neuropsychology – the study of the relationship between behavior, emotion and
cognition on the one hand, and brain function on the other.
• Evolutionary psychology – the study of evolutionary processes (esp. natural
selection) in the development of adaptive psychological mechanisms & social
behavior in humans.
• Psychoanalysis – the study of internal and primarily unconscious psychological
forces. (Sigmund Freud)
• Behaviorism – study of the role of learning & environmental control over
behavior (John Watson; B.F. Skinner). School of thought – psychology as purely
• Cognitive psychology – the study of mental processes e.g., memory,
consciousness, decision making, attention etc. with a view of the mind as an
information processor. Psycholinguistics (subfield in Cognitive Psychology)
focuses on the psychological aspects of language e.g., how people understand,
produce and acquire language.
• Social psychology – the study of people’s thoughts, feelings and behavior in
relation to the social world.
• Developmental psychology – the study of human physical, psychological,
biological and behavioral processes as we age i.e. across the lifespan.
• Clinical psychology – the study and treatment of mental disorders.
• Personality psychology – the study of human personality through the
identification of core personality traits and how they relate to one another and
• Experimental psychology – the study of basic processes such as learning,
sensory systems (e.g., vision, hearing), perception, and motivational states (e.g.,
sexual motivation, hunger, thirst). Most research in this subfield involves lab
experiments, often with non-human animals. • Industrial-organization (IO) psychology – study of people’s behavior in the
workplace by examining aspects such as leadership, teamwork, work motivation
& satisfaction etc.
Psychology’s Scientific Approach
Psychology is a science because it uses the scientific approach. The scientific
approach is a process that involves systematically gathering and evaluating empirical
evidence to answer questions and test beliefs about the natural world. Empirical
evidence is evidence gained through experience and observation. This approach is
necessary to avoid, or reduce biases and problems that would lead to inaccurate
Psychology is not common sense because:
1. All good psychological theory is as the result of scientific testing
2. All research questions are subject to scrutiny
3. All measures have been deemed reliable and valid
4. Data is subject to statistical analysis
5. All findings are subject to review
Critical thinking involves taking an active role in understanding the world around self-
i.e. evaluating the validity of something presented as a fact.
Psychology’s four goals
1. Describe how people and other animals behave
2. Explain and understand the causes of these behaviors
3. Predict how people and animals will behave under certain conditions
4. Influence behavior through knowledge and control of its causes.
Basic research is the quest for knowledge purely for its own sake. The goals of BR are
to describe how people behave and to identify the factors that influence or cause a
particular type of behavior. (Check examples of basic and applied research)
Applied research is the application of knowledge derived from basic research to solve
specific practical problems.
Intellectual roots of Psychology
Dualism – mind is separate from body Rene Descartes
Monism –mind and body are one and the same i.e. all mental events are reducible to
the physical events in the brain. Main proponent was Thomas Hobbes Empiricism – all ideas and knowledge are gained empirically i.e. through senses. Main
proponent was Britain’s John Locke.
Structuralism – the study/analysis of the mind by breaking it down into its basic
components, thought to be sensations. Structuralists used the method of introspection
(looking within) to study sensations, which they considered the basic elements of
consciousness. Structuralists left an important mark in the study of Cognitive
psychology. Main proponent was Wilhem Wundt.
Functionalism – study of the function of consciousness and behavior, as opposed to its
structure in helping organisms adapt to their environment. Main proponent is William
Levels-of-analysis is an approach to analyzing behavioral phenomena and their causal
factors in terms of biological, psychological and environmental factors. This approach
greatly simplifies psychology’s array of factors.
TYPES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES
1. Psychodynamic perspective
2. Humanistic perspective
3. Cognitive perspective
4. Biological perspective
5. Behavioral perspective
6. Sociocultural perspective
The psychodynamic perspective – A psychological perspective that focuses on inner
personality (unique pattern of traits, emotions, and motives) dynamics, including the role
of unconscious impulses and defenses, in understanding behavior. Main proponent was
The behavioral perspective – a view that emphasizes the manner in which the
environment and the learning experiences it provides shape and control behavior i.e.
the role of the external environment in governing our actions (behavior). Main
proponents were John B. Watson & B.F. Skinner. Albert Banduras, whilst partly in
agreement with the behaviorism perspective that the environment exerts its effects on
behavior, introduced cognitive behaviorism – where the environment influences our
behavior by affecting our thoughts and giving us information.
The humanist perspective – emphasizes free will, personal growth, and the attempt to
find meaning in one’s existence (self-actualization). According to Abraham Maslow, the main Humanism proponent at the time, every individual has an inborn force towards
self-actualization (reaching of one’s individual potential). A supportive environment
nurtures positive inner nature and vice versa.
The cognitive perspective – views humans as rational information processors and
problem solvers, and focuses on the mental processes that influence behavior.
CHAPTER 2: STUDYING BEHAVIOR SCIENTIFICALLY
Bystander effect (apathy) is the finding that the presence of multiple bystanders
inhibits each person’s tendency to help; largely because of social comparison or
diffusion of responsibility (a psychological state in which each person feels
decreased personal responsibility for intervening).
The Scientific method process
1. Identify a question of interest – After observing an event, curiosity sparks the
first step why (e.g., why nobody bothered to help Kitty Genovese?)
2. Gather information and form hypothesis – After determining the non-existence of
previous studies or theories that could answer the question, scientists form a
hypothesis (a specific prediction about a phenomenon). Usually takes the
form of an If-Then statement e.g., If multiple bystanders are present, Then the
likelihood that any one bystander will intervene is reduced.
3. Test hypothesis by conducting research – done by simulating a similar scenario
to the Kitty Genovese case.
4. Analyze data, draw tentative conclusions, and report findings – done by
observing the result, and comparing to the hypothesis. If in sync, report findings
to a scientific journal for review. If the scientific community is in favor, the journal
5. Build a body of knowledge – once published, scientists ask further questions
(e.g., what other factors could explain the hypothesis?), formulate new
hypothesis and test these hypothesis by conducting further research. This
process continues until scientists attempt to build a theory (set of testable
propositions designed to explain a general class of phenomena). Major
difference between theory and hypothesis is the former is a broad explanation
while the latter is a specific explanation. Two approaches to understanding behavior
1. Hindsight – though this method can provide valuable insights about behavior,
and is often the foundation for the scientific inquiry, the explanation(s) it provides
can be subjective, varied and contradictory.
2. Prediction (scientific method) – this is the preferred method for scientists
mainly because it’s verifiable and predictable. It can thus be inferred that
understanding through prediction and control is a scientific alternative to
Advantages of prediction (scientific method)
1. Satisfies curiosity
2. Builds knowledge
3. Generates principles that can be applied to new situations
Characteristics of a good theory
1. It incorporates existing facts and observations within a single framework (Careful
and systematic observation).
2. It is testable (falsifiable)
3. Predictions of the theory are supported by the findings of new research
4. It conforms to the law of parsimony (if two theories can explain and predict the
same phenomena equally well, the simpler theory is the preferred one)
Other characteristics not mentioned in the Psych book.
1. A good theory is a statement of likelihood; not a statement of fact
2. Ethical neutrality
3. Attention to empirical questions
4. Scrutiny by others (peer review)
Defining and measuring variables
Variable is any characteristic or factor that can vary e.g., height, sex, hair color, GPA.
Operational definition defines a variable in terms of the specific procedures used to
produce or measure it e.g., total words spoken per minute.
Methods of measurement
1. Self-report method
2. Physiological method
3. Psychological method 4. Behavioral method
5. Experimental method
Self-report method asks individuals to report on their own knowledge, beliefs, feelings,
experiences, behavior etc. through interviews or questionnaires
• Social desirability bias (desire to make good impression or respond in a socially
acceptable manner rather than how one truly feels or behaves).
• Experimenter bias – interviewer’s behavior can influence results
Physiological method measures physiological responses such as heart beat, blood
pressure, respiration rate, brain functions to measure behavior.
• Establishing link between physical responses & mental events e.g. if the heart
rate increases as a result of exam stress, exactly what part of exam stress
caused the increase?
Behavioral method records directly observable behavior (e.g., how quickly people
respond to another person in distress in the bystander effect). A coding system is
needed to ensure reliable or consistent observations.
• Unreliability of observers (e.g., when two observers do not agree on the coding
• Inter-rater reliability (e.g., people might behave differently after realizing they are
Psychological method uses specialized tests such as personality tests, IQ tests,
pictures with ambiguous meanings etc. to measure different variables.
• Social desirability effect
Experimental method uses experiments to measure behavior (e.g., checking reaction
times – how long it takes for someone to press yes or no during a lexical task).
• An off-line measure e.g., the time it takes from thinking to decision making • Gender differences
• Response error
• Age bias
Methods of Research
The research method chosen depends on the problem being studied, the investigator’s
objectives, and ethical principles. The three methods are:
1. Descriptive/qualitative research
2. Correlational research
3. Experimental research
Descriptive (qualitative) research is research whereby the main goal is to carefully
describe through case studies, naturalistic observations, surveys etc. how organisms
behave, especially in natural settings.
a.)Case studies are an in-depth analysis of individual, group or an event. Data for
this analysis may be gathered through observation, interviews, psychological
tests, physiological recordings, and task performance, or from archival records.
Advantages of case studies
Useful for rare phenomenon (e.g. head injury patients with unusual
May challenge validity of theories (e.g. damage to language part to the
brain but retains language)
Can be a vibrant source of ideas and hypotheses, and can illustrate
effectiveness of programs for special populations (e.g., failure to thrive
Poor method of determining cause-effect relations
Failure to establish generalization due to lack of enough case studies,
dependence on other research methods for accuracy etc.
b.)Naturalistic observations are used where researchers observe behavior as it
occurs in a natural setting, and attempts to avoid influencing that behavior e.g.,
bullying in school.
c.)Surveys – information about a topic is obtained by administering questionnaires
or interviews to many people e.g. political polls. Two key concepts in survey
research are population and sample. Population – consists of all the individuals needed to draw a conclusion
Sample – a subset of individuals drawn from the larger population.
Representative sample - sample that reflects the important characteristics of