Psychology 1000 Lecture Notes - American Psychological Association
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Chapter 1: The Science of
Psychology as a Science
The historian E.G. Boring once observed that psychology has a
long past, but a short history. The long past indicates that
psychology has roots extending back to the ancient Greek
philosophers. Many were interested in the causes of human
behaviour and wrote extensively on the topic. Breakthroughs in
anatomy and medicine increased our understanding of the
human condition and contributed to the study of psychology. But
the study of psychology as a distinct discipline only began in
1879 when Wundt (pronounced “vunt”) established the first
psychological laboratory in Leipzig, Germany. So as an
independent field of study, we’ve only been around for just over
As you go through chapter 1, there are 3 important topics to consider.
1. Psychology is a
As a science, the field psychology follows particular methods of
investigation. What we know about behaviour is based on
observation, theory, and research methodology. Note that
theory is much more useful than “common sense”, and that to
be a scientific theory, it must be testable. This criterion more
than any other distinguishes scientific theory from other types
of explanations regarding human behaviour. Whenever you are
presented with a theory (or claim) about behaviour, ask
yourself, “how would I test that?” If you can not come up with a
reasonable answer, then the theory is not likely to be based on
2. Psychology takes many different approaches to the
study of behaviour.
A brief history of psychology is outlined in chapter 1. The
important material here lies in the approaches taken to the
study of behaviour. For example, James was a functionalist—
he stressed the uses of behaviour (or mental processes),
particularly as they related to evolution and natural selection. A
functionalist will ask what purpose a behaviour serves—how
does it help an organism to survive. James believed that it was
possible to study the mind, and saw consciousness as a
continuous stream of activity (unlike the structuralists). By
contrast, the behaviourists (e.g., Watson, Pavlov, Skinner)
rejected the concept of the mind. They believed that the study
of behaviour must be limited to only those things that are
observable. If you could not “see” a concept or process, it was
useless to discuss it. Note that this does not discuss the study of
thinking or memory—it just limits the area of research to
observable aspects (e.g., number of words recalled).
As you read through this section, note the various approaches
to psychology. Think about the ways in which they are similar,
and then the ways in which they differ. For example, which
approaches are focused primarily on internal causes of
behaviour? Which are focused on external causes? Who
would most disagree with the position taken by Freud?
3. Contemporary Fields of
In any psychology department you will find individuals who
look at behaviour in a wide variety of ways. Some of these
areas come directly from the major approaches listed above,
others are sub-specialties, and still others represent a
completely different view. The American Psychological
Association lists over 50 separate divisions or affiliations for
psychologists. Nonetheless, the “major” areas of study are
presented in this chapter.
As you read through these, think about the orientation taken by
someone in this area. What would a cognitive psychologist study?
Who is most likely to be interested in the abilities of a newborn?
Which group is most likely to run experiments?
A note about names and dates. There are many researchers
mentioned in this (and every) chapter in the text. Do not be
concerned with memorizing the names and dates of all the
researchers. For the most part, you will not be expected to know
this information. I would expect you to know the “big” names in
psychology—Freud, Skinner, Piaget, Pavlov, etc. These are people
who have theories or an entire approach named after them. If I ask
you a question about any particular example, I will always give you
enough information in the question to help identify the concept. For
example, I would not ask you what Darley & Latane (1968) studied.
If I wanted to ask something about this study, I would phrase it
something like, “in the 1968 study by Darley & Latane on bystander
intervention…”. It is much more important to focus on theories and
concepts rather than details and examples.
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