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Chapter 1

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Western University
Psychology 1000

Chapter 1 Psychology: The Science of Behaviour Chapter Outline The Nature of Psychology Psychology’s Scientific Approach Thinking Critically about Behaviour Psychology’s Goals Psychology as a Basic and Applied Science Psychology’s Broad Scope: A Simple Framework Perspectives on Behaviour Psychology’s Intellectual Roots Early Schools: Structuralism and Functionalism The Psychodynamic Perspective: The Forces Within The Behavioural Perspective: The Power of the Environment The Humanistic Perspective: Self-Actualization and Positive Psychology The Cognitive Perspective: The Thinking Human The Sociocultural Perspective: The Embedded Human The Biological Perspective: The Brain, Genes, and Evolution Using Levels of Analysis To Integrate The Perspectives An Example: Understanding Depression Psychology Today Researchers at the University of Valencia have reported that the brain structures involved in violence are also affected in empathy. Our ability to be empathetic is mediated, in part, by the same neural circuits that lead us to violent aggression. Empathy may actually prevent aggression by actively inhibiting these circuits. The Nature of Psychology Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and the mind. The term behaviour refers to actions and responses that we can directly observe, whereas the term mind refers to internal states and processes, such as thoughts and feelings, that cannot be seen directly and that must be inferred from observable, measurable responses. Subfields of Psychology: Clinical psychology: the study and treatment of mental disorders. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat people with psychological problems, and conduct research on the causes of mental disorders and the effectiveness of various treatments. Cognitive psychology: specializes in the study of mental processes (views the mind as an information processor. Cognitive psychologists examine such topics as consciousness, attention, memory, decision-making, and problem solving. Psycholinguistics is an area within cognitive psychology that focuses on the psychology of language. Biopsychology: focuses on the biological underpinnings of behaviour. Biopsychologists examine how brain processes, genes, and hormones influence our actions, thoughts, and feelings. Developmental psychology: examines human physical, psychological, and social development. Developmental psychologists explore the emotional world of infants, while others study how different parenting styles psychologically affect children or how our mental abilities change during adolescence and adulthood. Experimental psychology: focuses on such basic processes as learning, sensory systems, perception, and motivational states. Research in this subfield involves laboratory experiments, often with nonhuman animals. . Industrial-organizational psychology: examines people’s behaviour in the workplace. I/O psychologists study leadership, teamwork, and factors that influence employee’s job satisfaction, work motivation, and performance. Personality psychology: focuses on the study of human personality. Personality psychologists seek to identify core personality traits and how different traits relate to one another and influence behaviour. Social psychology: examines people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviour pertaining to the social world: the world of other people. Social psychologists study how people influence one another, behave in groups, form impressions and attitudes, and social relationships involving attraction and love, prejudice and discrimination, helping, and aggression. *Topics studied in different subfields often overlap. Psychology’s Scientific Approach All researchers share a common underlying scientific approach to studying behaviour. Science 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. These observations need to be systematic (performed according to a system of rules or conditions), so that they will be as objective and precise as possible. Understanding Behaviour: Some Pitfalls of Everyday Approaches The sources from which we receive messages about human nature can promote misconceptions. Even personal experiences can lead us to form inaccurate beliefs. Our everyday observations provide us with empirical information, however it is not systematic. Our own experiences also may be atypical and not representative of what most people experience. Misconceptions can result from faulty thinking… • Mental shortcuts (judging someone’s personality based solely on stereotypes about their physical appearance); • Fail to consider alternative explanations (assume one factor was the cause, when in fact some less obvious factor was the true cause); • Confirmation bias (once beliefs are establishes, we fail to test them further, thus selectively paying attention to information that is consistent with our beliefs and downplaying or ignoring information) Using Science to Minimize Everyday Pitfalls • Video • Recorders • Questionnaires • Brain-imaging devices • Use of statistics to analyse data • Examine behaviour under highly controlled experimental conditions in which they intentionally manipulate one factor, try to keep other factors constant, and see how the manipulated factor influences behaviour. • Publication of findings enables scientists to challenge each other’s findings • New studies put old theories to the test, forcing scientists to modify their beliefs and conduct further research to sort out contradictory results. Science has its limitations: • Cannot study questions such as: “Does God exist?” or “What is the meaning of life”. The former is a question of faith, and the latter a question answered by personal values beyond scientific measure; • Poorly designed studies; • “False starts” (other researchers are unable to duplicate original findings); • New research overturns existing beliefs; • In principle, science is ultimately a self-correcting process • Change=evolution of knowledge called scientific process Thinking Critically about Behaviour Critical thinking involves taking an active role in understanding the world around you rather than merely receiving information (it’s important to reflect on information), and evaluating the validity of something presented to you as a fact. Ask yourself the following questions: • What, exactly, is the claim or assertion? • Who is making the claim? Is the source credible and trustworthy? • What’s the evidence possible? Can I evaluate them? • What is the most appropriate conclusion? Of Astrology and Asstrology: Potential Costs of Uncritical Thinking Misconceptions can add up and contribute to an increasingly misguided view of how the world operates. Despite lack of scientific evidence, people spend untold amounts of money on so-called “fortune tellers”. People make major life decisions based on fortune tellers’ bogus advice and therapies for ailments, diseases, and mental disorders. Pseudoscience (field that incorporates astrology, graphology, rumpology, etc.) attracts many believers despite its lack of credible scientific evidence. Psychology’s Goals Psychology has 4 central goals: 1. To describe how people and other animals behave; 2. To explain and understand the causes of these behaviours; 3. To predict how people and animals will behave under certain conditions; 4. To influence or control behaviour through knowledge and control of its causes to enhance human welfare. If we understand the causes of a behaviour and know when casual factors are present or absent, then we should be able to successfully predict when the behaviour will occur (if we can control the causes, we can control the behaviour). *Prediction can have important practical uses that do not require a complete understanding of why some behaviour occurs. Psychology as a Basic and Applied Science Basic research: the quest for knowledge purely for its own sake. Its goal is to describe how people behave and to identify the factors that influence or cause a particular type of behaviour. Applied research: designed to solve specific practical problems. It uses principles discovered through basic research to solve practical problems. Psychology’s Broad Scope: A Simple Framework Levels of analysis: • Biological level (brain processes, genetic influences); • Psychological level (our thoughts, feelings, and motives); • Environmental level (past and current physical and social environments to which we are exposed). Mind-Body and Nature-Nurture Interactions Focus on positive thoughts when facing a challenging situation, and you may keep your bodily arousal in check. Dwell instead on negative thoughts, and you can rapidly stimulate the release of stress hormones. Mind-Body interactions: the relations between mental processes in the brain and the functioning of other bodily systems. It focuses our attention on the fascinating interplay between the psychological and biological levels of analysis. Is behaviour shaped by nature or nurture? Nature: our biological endowment Nurture: our environment and learning history The nature-nurture pendulum is in a balanced position, and even interact. Our biological capacities affect how we behave and experience the world, as our experiences influence our biological capacities. Nature, nurture, and psychological factors must all be taken into account to gain the fullest understanding of behaviour. Perspectives on Behaviour Perspectives: Different ways of viewing people. New perspectives are engines of progress as advances occur when beliefs are challenged. Perspectives serve as lenses through which psychologists examine and interpret behaviour. Psychology’s Intellectual Roots Mind-body dualism: the belief that the mind is a spiritual entity not subject to physical laws that govern the body. But this raised questions like: how could it become aware of bodily sensations, and how could its thoughts exert control over bodily functions? René Descartes (philosopher) proposed that the mind and body interact through the brain’s tiny pineal gland. He placed the mind within the brain, but maintained that the mind was a spiritual (nonmaterial) entity. Dualism implies that no amount of research on the physical body could ever hope to unravel the mysteries of the non-physical mind. Monism: Mind and body are one that the mind is not a separate spiritual entity (mental events correspond to physical events in the brain). It implies that the mind can be studied by measuring physical processes within the brain. British empiricism: All ideas and knowledge are gained empirically – that is through the senses. Empiricists claim that observation is a more valid approach to knowledge than is pure reason. Psychophysics: The study of how psychologically experienced sensations depend on the characteristics of physical stimuli. Evolution (C
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