January 15, 2013.
Lecture 2 - Introduction to Psychological Science and
Psychological research goes through an ethical process
Proposals are made and experiments are given permission for execution
Partly to protect subjects of the study from unethical treatment during research
o Wasn’t always the case
o E.g. CIA mind control research at McGill
o E.g. Studies about how people behave in situations of peril
People participate in a study about survival out in some place doing some thing
when they’re told that they’ve wandered into a military air strike testing zone
and have minutes to live to see what they do
Also to protect anonymity
History of Psychology
Philosophy has come a long way over the past few thousand years
o Wasn’t always “psychology” but areas of psychological study and thought fell under the
territory of medicine, or philosophy, or even religion
o E.g. for most of human history there was a great debate about where the mind, or
consciousness, resided (the heart? The brain? Spirits?, etc)
Evidence discovered created by ancient societies (like Egypt) indicate that they
had a good understanding of the brain housing our consciousness, but
apparently they still felt the soul was in the heart
20 century Central Nervous System and Brain is where our consciousness is
Dualism in the field of psychology, split between social sciences (humanities) and
o Different agencies fund different sections of study within psychology
We believe that consciousness and human functioning is all about the brain, but also recognize
that the brain does not act completely alone and is tied into other factors, whether within our
body or outside of it
Science has always been contextualized in a larger set of societal/historical/political/ideological
All these factors change how people think and perceive and therefore the conclusions they
o E.g. theological/religious barriers impeded the progress of physiological sciences (and
Direct study of human body was often forbidden (no cadavers, was
Doctrines regarding human exemptionalism (therefore, impossible to learn
about human functioning through animal studies)
Post “enlightenment” the rise of the supposed rational, self-interested human; deep divide
between cognition and emotion; emphasis on the individual as the unit of analysis o Rational mind and emotional mind were thought of as two separate systems/entities
o Only within the last 20 years has this divide started to break down
o We now view them as interdependent systems
Post biological revolution and neuroscience the re-merging of cognition and emotion;
emphasis on interdependence between the individual and the group
Human Psychology as Mechanistic Processes
o An extremely intense, unbalanced, driven personality
o Spent decades trying to overthrow the last few thousand years of philosophical theory
o Proposed a systematic account of the body as a machine; physiological processes
described in terms of mechanistic interactions, controlled by hydraulics (fluids) and
Bête machine, Terminator, natural programming, animal spirits, that whole
o Thus, human and animal bodies were complicated machines, consistent with the
mechanistic zeitgeist of the time; e.g., water statues, clocks
However, what set human apart from animals was the MIND (animal spirits), which was non-
physical but able (somehow) to interact with the body
This splitting of the mind and body still plagues us. We either have to accept that the body
(brain) IS the mind, in which case humans are just (soulless) animals, i.e., bio-gunk; or we have
to figure out how it is that a more-than-physical mind could exist, what its substrate is, and how
it could interact with a physical body
Much of the rest of the history of psychology can be described as a struggle to answer questions
that emerge from this dualism
o Is the Mind simply a complicated, but deterministic machine, or do we have free will?
Can we do anything creative, or are we merely stimulus-response machines?
o How can we study the mind scientifically? How does it work? What are the connections
between mind and body? Can we learn to control the mind and use it more effectively?
o How does the brain give rise to the mind? How does “objective” biological matter
produce subjective experience?
How to Study an Immaterial Mind?
Turning point that led to the scientific study of mind really came from studies of physiology,
using reaction times to measure nerve conduction.
o Helmholtz, 1800s
People started realizing you can study nerve system realities using something such as time
Physiologist; extremely curious and careful experimentalist, weird guy
Wondered whether two stimuli that struck senses at same time would be PERCEIVED at the
Noticed that the pendulum was on its way down when Wundt heard the bell
Observed the pendulum for ages and…. th
Carefully calculated the distance thavelled by the pendulum, and the time as 1/10 of a second
Reasoned that it took humans 1/10 of a second to reorient their attention
Therefore: mental processes can be studied scientifically!
Possibly biggest influence on the subsequent psychology was Darwin’s theory of evolution by
Built on previous ideas of evolution (vs. creationism theories): Erasmus Darwin (his grandfather;
theological views on evolution displayed through poetry); Lamarck (organisms changing their
characteristics themselves over time and passing them on to offspring)
Interestingly, Darwin’s ideas were influenced by the geological debate on “uniformitarianism”
o Catholic Church believed the world was only 6500 years old, and therefore it was made
the way it was (with canyons and mountains and such). OR if there was evidence of
some kind of change they surmised it must have been some kind of huge catastrophe to
make that huge of a change in such a short time: catastrophism
o Uniformitarianism: gradual change
Malthus: population boom/bust cycle in relation to species; without barriers of conflict or
predators, populations will boom until resources restrict population growth and population
Darwin was incredibly curious and observant (like Descartes and Wilhelm Wundt)
On Beagle voyage, collected countless specimens, many from species never before known, and
he generated a small library of his own notebook observations.
He didn’t JUST study the finches, he studied EVERYTHING
Wondered, why do animals do the things they do? What was the function of their behaviours?
o E.g. a marine Iguana: “I threw one several times as far as I could into a deep pol left by
the retiring tide, but it invariably returned in a direct line to the spot where I stood…. As
often as I threw it in, it returned.”
o “Perhaps this singular piece of apparent stupidity may be accounted for by the
circumstance, that this reptile has no [natural] enemy here on the shore….”
o “Hence, probably, urged by a fixed and hereditary instinct that the shore is its place of
safety, whatever the emergency may be, it there takes refuge.”
William James hugely influenced by Darwin, came from the profession and study of medicine
o Struggled with similar questions as Decartes; major emotional crisis
o I.e. determinism vs. free will
o His resolution was to decide, essentially by an act of faith, that there was free will.
o “My first act of free will, shall be to believe in free will.”
Acceptance of humans as just emotional automatons threatens our perceptions of the soul, free
will, meaning in life, etc.
To be a scientist, he would approach the human as though it were deterministic.
But to be a human, he would assume that he had free will.
A very functional decision to make; breaking out of this emotional crisis and phase of depression
Allied with emerging Darwinian thought, James firmly cemented the functionalist approach in
psychology. Described thinking as a dynamic relationship between organism and environment, focused on
problems of adaptation
Functions for every behaviour pattern
o E.g. anger issues have functions, cutting behaviour has functions it serves, etc.
What functions are behaviours serving that maintain the behaviour and what
functions did it serve in the past to give rise to the behaviour
o Why do we think the way we do? Thought patterns have arisen/evolved during our
lifetime in response to outside (and inside) influence. We adapt to our surroundings,
even on a mental level.
James argued that psychology should be a PRACTICAL science, focused on improving human
welfare, happiness, education, etc.
Emphasized the dynamism of psychological processes; we are a process of continual mind-world
o E.g. habit: we CONSTRUCT ourselves through our actions, thoughts, choices, etc…
Most of our present is determined by our past choices, and so, if you want to be happier, more
courageous, more disciplined, more socially skilled, more knowledgeable about blah blah, etc. –
o Change is not easy, but it is possible to change WHO you are through repeated action
and practicing being different than you are
o It will feel unnatural and unlike “you”, but after going through the motions enough
times with determination, it will start to feel more natural
This is the foundation upon which we are still building today: