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Schools of Psychology Lecture Summary.docx

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University of Ottawa
Kenneth Campbell

Introduction to Experimental Psychology Nature of Psychology What is “psychology”? There is no easy definition. Its origins come from the words “logos” (the study) and “psyche” (the mind). Logically, therefore, psychology is the study of the mind, but this does not help much if we cannot define what we mean by the mind. Many claim that mental events take place within the mind. By mental events, we mean activities such as attention-consciousness, information processing, thought-language, memory, and decision-making. These labels are, however, still vague and abstract. If Psychology is a science, like any other science, we need to define and measure our terms. These vague terms are neither easily defined nor measured. Some claim that Psychology is (or should be) the study of overt (what we can “see”) behaviour. A scientist cannot directly observe “mental events” because they occur somewhere within your mind (or brain). A scientist can observe overt behaviour. For this course, we shall use a compromise definition of psychology – the study of mental events and behaviour. Modern psychology consists of many different branches. These branches and divisions are somewhat arbitrary and are based on (1) whether the psychologist is a basic, fundamental researcher (an experimental psychologist), an applied psychologist using the applications of experimental psychology (thus an “applied” psychologist) or a clinical psychologist. The general public and many students first studying psychology assume that all psychologists are clinical psychologists (psychotherapists, counsellors). While many psychologists are clinical psychologists, many are not. Psychology really began as a branch of Physics (and was called Psychophysics). There is real physical energy in the universe. This is studied by physicists. Humans (and other animals), however, experience (or are conscious) of only a small portion of this energy. This is because our sensory receptors are sensitive to only a tiny fraction of the physical energy in the universe. Moreover, our information processing systems assure that we are conscious of only a small portion of all the energy that bombards our receptors, that which is most relevant for our survival. Our attentional systems thus filter stimulus input, only allowing a tiny portion of it “through”. Psychophysicists study the what and the why of consciousness. We shall first examine the three major divisions of Psychology. Within each of these branches, there are also several divisions or what I call “schools”. Major Divisions of Psychology Experimental Psychology  Began in mid- to late-1800s. First experimental psychology lab considered to be that of Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, Germany. Wundt studied basic and simple concepts of consciousness.  Structuralism. One of Wundt’s students, Edward Titchener attempted to isolate the basic elements of the mind. This was known as structuralism (the basic structures of the mind). Our experience of the external world is probably also made up of a mixture of simpler elements. He used the analogy of chemistry. Salt is made up of a “mixture” of sodium and chloride. Is human consciousness (the “mind”) similar? What we see and experience as a “yellow” light is not in fact a yellow light. The retina in our eyes has receptors for only 3 types of colour, red, green and blue. When the “red” receptor fires, we experience red light. But how can we experience “yellow”. There is no yellow receptor. It represents the firing of two receptor cells, those corresponding to red and green. We are conscious of yellow; we are not conscious of the fact that the red and green cells in the retina are simultaneously active which in turns activates very different, but highly specific areas of the visual “pathway” of the brain. The red-green signals are thus being translated by the brain-mind. Titchener asked his research participants to verbally state what they were “experiencing” when, for example, they smelled a flower, heard music, and so forth. This method of looking inward and reflecting on one’s own conscious experience was called introspection. It however proved to be very subjective and unreliable. What one individual might report following introspection might be very different from what another individual might report.  Nevertheless, the initial studies indicated that the basic principles of experimentation can be used to explain psychological phenomena. The principles of experimental psychology had thus been initiated.  William James at Harvard University is considered to be the father of American psychology. James wrote a great deal about what we would now consider to be “cognitive” psychology (see section on Schools of Psychology). James did little actual experimentation. Thus, he did not experimentally test most of his theories. James is also considered by many to be an important (if not the most important) contributor to a branch of (an almost unique American) philosophy called pragmatism (following in the tradition of other American thinkers such as Benjamin Franklin). Philosophers had long debated whether human existence was mainly material or nonmaterial in nature (the materialism versus idealism debate). As an example, is the mind “strictly” material in nature? Is it simply part of the physical brain? We shall see more about this debate later when we discuss scientific methods. The James pragmatic approach declared, in essence, that the philosophical debate was really of no concern. What counted was the pragmatic end result. Pragmatism also forms the basis of another American philosophy, this one economic, capitalism. For many philosophers, pragmatism is an exceedingly empty principle. James is also credited with writing the first major textbook in psychology, a volume that is still often cited. Clinical Psychology • Counselling; psychotherapy. Sigmund Freud, in Vienna, Austria is generally considered to be the founder of psychotherapy but Freud was not a psychologist. He was a psychoanalyst. Major roots of clinical psychology and therapy are recent – perhaps as late as the 1940s in the U.S. Now the major field in Psychology. Applied Psychology • Social, developmental, educational, industrial psychology Schools of Psychology Each of the above divisions (experimental, clinical, applied) can also be sub-divided into a number of other branches, that we shall call “schools”. Again, these are somewhat arbitrary. Thus, many experimental, clinical and applied psychologists might take a so-called “cognitive” approach while others might take a more “biological” approach. Experimental, clinical, and applied psychologists may take on different approaches Cognitive • Initially began in late 19th Century (William James). Fell into disrepute. Revival in 1950s. Now a “boom” field. • Study of higher “mental functions” -- memory, attention, decision-making, language. • Attempts to infer hypothetical mental states of “information” processing based on current response patterns/performance. • An example of an experiment in cognitive psychology: A group of participants is presented with 200 single words and 200 single pictures. They are asked to remember only the words. They are told that the pictures are there only to distract the participant from the task, remembering the words. The experimenter now presents a second series of words and pictures, some of which were presented before, some of which were not presented before. The participant recognizes perhaps 80% of the previously presented words, but surprisingly also recognizes about 80% of the pictures. The experimenter infers that images (or pictures) are stored in memory automatically even if the experimenter does not ask the participant to do so. But perhaps words are also stored automatically. The clever experimenter now changes the task. A second group of participants is tested again, being presented with the same long list of words and pictures. This time however they a
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