Psychology: The Science of Behaviour
The Nature of Psychology:
Psychology: the scientific study of behaviour and the mind.
behaviour actions and responses that we can directly observe
mind internal states and processes (thoughts, feelings), that cannot be seen directly and must be
inferred from observable, measurable responses.
Subfields of Psychology: 8
Biopsychology (Biological Psychology):
Focuses on biological basis of behaviour How brain processes, genes, hormones influence our actions,
thoughts and feelings. Ex. Is testosterone related to aggression? Do hormones affect learning/memory?
Evolutionary psychology how evolution shaped our minds and behaviours
Neuroscience focuses on brain processes and regions
Examines human physical, psychological, and social development across entire lifespan.
Ex. How do different parenting styles psychologically affect children? How old does a child have to be
before they can reliably be used as a witness in court? Does mental capacity change in the elderly?
Focuses on basic processes like learning, sensation/perception, motivational states (sex, hunger, thirst).
Most research in this is done in labs with non-human animals (rats/pigeons). Ex. Is vision different in
animals that live entirely in rooms with horizontal versus vertical stripes? How do reinforcement and
punishment affect behaviour? Even though this area is called ‘experimental’, almost ALL areas of
psychology involve experiments.
Studies ‘higher’ mental processes and thought. Topics include: memory, judgement/decision-making,
problem solving, mental imagery, attention, creativity. Ex. How is perception different from sensation?
How do I best remember info for a test? Is creativity really a eureka phenomenon?
Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychology:
Examines behaviour in the workplace. Focuses on things like leadership, teamwork, job satisfaction,
work motivation, performance and stress. Ex. What kinds of tests will help us identify the best applicant
for a job? How can we increase motivation for our employees?
Focuses on the study of personality traits. What makes people similar to, or different from, other people? Personality psychologists try to find core personality traits and how different traits relate to one another
and influence behaviour. They also try to develop tests that measure personality.
Studies how people think about, feel about, and behave toward other people (social world/world of
other people). They focus on how people influence one another, behave in groups, and form
impressions and attitudes. Ex. Why do we like some people and not others? What are the root causes of
racism? What makes a good advertisement?
Examine mental disorders and help people to overcome these disorders. Many clinical psychologists
diagnose people with problems in clinics, hospitals, and private practice. What treatments work best
with phobias? How can we support people with post-traumatic stress disorder?
Psychology’s Scientific Approach
We have many sources of information as to why people act certain ways (personal experience,
family and friends, popular media, folk wisdom, religion)
Each of these, however, can promote misconceptions
Scientific approach helps to minimize possibility of misconceptions
Science involves gathering and evaluating empirical evidence to answer questions and test
ideas about the world
o Empirical Evidence: evidence gained through experience and observation
Observations must also be systematic – performed consistently according to
rules and conditions
Cannot rely folk wisdom, because although they are empirical data, it is not scientific because it
is not systematic
Cannot rely on pre-existing beliefs
o People make mental shortcuts that are incorrect (stereotypes racism), fail to consider
alternative explanations, and only pay attention to things that confirm the beliefs
The Scientific Approach:
o Systematic Observation: Use some sort of specific test that is scored objectively as
possible (i.e. IQ test) in a controlled environment
o Gather empirical evidence: Administer the same test to individuals of different ages (or
to the same individuals every 5 years)
o Use statistics to determine whether small differences are just random fluctuation or
Thinking Critically About Behaviour
Critical thinking involves taking an active role, rather than simply receiving facts/information
When someone makes a claim, ask yourself: o What is the claim, exactly?
o Is the source credible or trustworthy?
o What is the evidence and how good is it?
o Are other explanations possible?
o What is the most appropriate conclusion?
Why does it matter? Scientific approach helps separate fact from fiction
Examples are the Jumbled-Word Challenge and Baby Einstein videos
4 Goals of Psychology and Research (4)
1. Describe how people and animals behave
2. Explain and understand the causes of these behaviours
3. Predict how people and animals will behave under certain conditions
4. Influence or control behaviour through knowledge and controlling the causes in order to
enhance human welfare
Psychology as a Basic and Applied Science
o Basic science is a quest for knowledge purely for its own sake
Can be done in the lab or in the real world
i.e. Two Forms of Spatial Imagery: Neuroimaging Evidence
o Applied research is designed to solve specific practical problems
Applied research places more emphasis on goal #4
i.e. How can we improve memory in Alzheimer’s patients?
Levels of Analysis
Psychology is the study of behaviour and the mind
Behaviour can be influenced by many different factors
We examine behaviour and its causes on 3 levels of analysis:
o Biological Level: brain processes, genetic influences, hormone levels, basic needs
i.e. chemicals, structures in brain respond to bodily signals to help regulate
whether you feel hungry or full
o Psychological Level: Personal thoughts, feelings, motives
i.e. moods, food preferences, motives affect eating
o Environmental Level: Past and current physical and social environment
i.e. specific stimuli that may trigger eating and to cultural customs that influence
different levels of analysis interact with one another
Mind-body interactions: mental processes can affect bodily function
Nature vs. Nurture: not nature OR nurture, but nature AND nurture
All factors, nature (biological), nurture (environmental, and psychological factors must be taken
into account to gain the fullest understanding of behaviour Psychology: Old School Style (4)
Mind and body are fundamentally different
o Mind: nonmaterial, spiritual entity
o Body: physical portion (including brain)
Dualism means no research on brain could ever unravel mysteries of the nonphysical mind
Rene Descartes (1596-1650)
o Believed that the mind and body interacted through the pineal gland in the brain
Mind and body (brain) are one
o Mental events correspond to physical events in the brain (Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679)
British Empiricists (John Locke 1632-1704)
o Scientific observation is how we gain knowledge because we can monism implied that
you can study physical processes in the brain
If the mind and body are one, we can scientifically study the brain/behaviour to understand the
First psychology lab opens in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)
Structuralism: Wundt and Edward Titchener believed that the mind can be studied by breaking
it down into its tiniest components
o much like chemistry breaks things down into elements, atoms,
o wanted to describe basic elements of consciousness and how they relate
o considered basic elements of consciousness as being sensations
o Method: introspection (looking within)
Trained people to reflect on their own sensations, thoughts, method was
criticized but left a mark on scientific tradition
Structuralism eventually gave way to Functionalism
Functionalism: wanted to describe the adaptive (evolutionary) function of the mind
o Structuralism – study how muscles, tendons, bones operate
o Functionalism – Why do we have hands? How do they help us adapt to our environment?
Influenced by Darwin’s evolutionary theory
o Stressed how adaptations help organisms survive and reproduce
Method: naturalistic observation
William James (1842-1910) was a leader in the Functionalist movement; helped widen scope of
functionalism by studying various biological/mental processes and overt behaviour Structuralism vs. Functionalism
Structuralism: What are the basic pieces of the mind, and how do they fit?
Functionalism: What does it do, and how is it useful?
Psychology: Slightly Less Old School Perspectives (6)
Looks at causes of behaviour at the unconscious level
o Method: psychoanalysis, individual interviews
Psychoanalysis: analysis of internal, usually unconscious psychological forces,
form of psychotherapy developed by Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)
o Noted that several of his patients had symptoms like blindness, paralysis, or phobias
without any apparent physical ailment, therefore must be psychological
o Symptoms produced unconsciously
o Freud used free association, patients would express any thoughts that came to mind
o Eventually, patients would remember long-forgotten traumatic events in childhood.
After remembering, symptoms improved.
Freud suggested the unconscious mind was causing these symptoms:
o Humans have inborn sexual and aggressive drives which are punished in childhood
o Punishment leads to anxiety when we feel these urges in adulthood
o To limit anxiety, we repress these unacceptable urges, feelings, and memories into the
unconscious areas of the mind
o This leads to unconscious conflict: our natural urges vs. desire to repress them
Never-ending conflict or seesaw hence the term psycho-dynamic, state is always
Freud was extremely influential, however faced criticism for focusing too much on childhood
sexuality and aggression
Some ideas supported through research, some not