CHAPTER 1: Introduction Nikki Tavassoli
Psychological science: the study of the mind, brain & behavior
mind refers to mental activity; perceptual experiences of a person (sight, smell, etc.)
Mental activity results from biological processes – the actions of nerve cells, or neurons,
and their associated chemical reactions within the brain.
“the mind IS what the brain DOES”
behavior is used to describe a variety of actions; from subtle to complex
What are the 7 themes of Psychological Science?
1. It is an Empirical science
2. Nature AND Nurture are inextricably are inextricably entwined
3. The brain and the mind are INSEPARABLE
4. A new biological revolution is energizing research
5. The mind is adaptive
6. Psychological science crosses levels of analysis
7. We are often unaware of the multiple influences on how we think, feel & act
1. Psychology is an Empirical Science.
- use scientific method to understand how people think feel & act.
- scientific method is an objective systematic procedure that lead to accurate
understanding; inc. observations of natural world for examination purposes.
- “good science” : well-constructed research
- “bad science” : flawed research
2. Nature and Nurture Are Inextricably Entwined
- nature: biologically innate
- nurture: acquired through education, experience, and culture
- culture: the beliefs, values, rules, and customs that exist within a group of people
who share a common language and environment that are transmitted through learning
from one generation to the next.
- both nature and nurture are important to human’s psychological development
- schizophrenia causes a person to have unusual thoughts, such as believing he
or she is God, or experience unusual sensations, such as hearing voices.
- bipolar disorder causes a person to have dramatic mood swings, from feeling
extremely sad (depressed) to feeling euphoric (manic).
- before the 1950s it was generally believed that these disorders were a result of
bad parenting or environmental circumstances = nurture. - in 1950s & 1960s various medicine was able to reduce these symptoms; most
recent research shows that the conditions are heritable
- today psychologists believe that these disorders are caused equally from the
brain’s “wiring” (nature) as well as the individuals association with particular
- peoples experiences change their brain structures, which has a counter effect.
- post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD)
- sufferers of PTSD have intrusive and unwanted memories of their traumatic
- although it seems to arise from specific experiences (hugely nurture based),
recent research indicates that some people inherit a genetic predisposition to
developing it; Nurture activates Nature.
- Psychological science depends on understanding human nature’s genetic basis and
how environment shapes any particular human’s nature.
3. The Brain and the Mind are Inseparable
- mind/body problem: a fundamental psychological issue that considers whether
mind and body are separate and distinct or whether the mind is simple the subjective
experience of the physical brain
- historically the mind was taught to be separate from the brain due to the common
belief that a divine soul separated humans from non-humans.
- Leonardo da Vinci challenged this doctrine ▯ dissected human bodies to make
accurate anatomical drawings (offending the church b/c of human body’s ‘sanctity’)
- sensus communis – the location that da Vinci thought was the part of the brain that all
sensory information arrived at. “home of thought & judgment”. (sensus communis the
root to the modern ‘common sense)
- da Vinci’s conclusions were not accurate however it’s the first important attempt to
link the brain’s anatomy to psychological functions.
- in 1600s, Rene Descartes promoted the first important theory of dualism ;the idea
that the mind and body are separate yet intertwined.
- Descartes argued that the body was nothing more than an organic machine governed
by “reflex”. For him, many mental functions such as memory and imagination resulted
from bodily functions – all mental states were believed to be separate from bodily
- Descartes’ conclusion: the rational mind was divine and separate from the body - his theory of dualism is largely rejected by psychological scientists
4. A New Biological Revolution Is Energizing Research
- since the time of Aristotle questions about psychological phenomena has been asked
but methods of examination were lacking and thereby they were left with a
- beginning of 20 century: (+ last 20 years) growth in understanding of mental
activities’ biological processes:
• locating the neural or the brain
• correlates of how we identify people
• discovering the neurochemical problems that produce particular psychological
3 important developments in particular:
1) Brain Chemistry
- the brain works through the actions of neurotransmitters – chemicals that
communicate msgs between nerve cells
- hundreds of substances play critical roles in mental activity and behavior
- people have better memories for events when aroused than calm b/c chemicals
involved in responding to the world influence the neural mechanisms involved in
- the understanding of mental activity/behavior enables development of treatments for
various psychological disorders
- human nerve cell: neurons, are basic units of the human nervous system. The
growing understanding of their chemistry has led to better explanation of mental
activity and behavior.
2) The Human Genome
- scientists have mapped the human genome – the basic genetic code (blueprint) for
the human body – and they have developed various techniques for discovering the links
between genes and behavior.
- ex. Bred mice with lacking a specific gene known to enhance memory in comparison
to mice which possess the gene and noticing the difference in performance.
- by identifying these specific genes researchers will be able to assist conditions in
relation to memory, i.e. Alzheimer’s disease
- almost all psychological and biological activity is affected by multiple gene’s actions;
many physical and mental characteristic are inherited to some degree. - scientists are beginning to understand how situational contexts such as the
presence/absences of particular people influences hoe genes are expressed and how it
3) Watching the Working Brain
- only since the late 1980s have researchers been able to study the working brain as it
performs its vital psychological functions.
- using methods of neuroscience, psychological scientists can now address some of the