What is Psychology – Modern Psychology Defined

The field of Psychology is such a vast area of ranging expertise, but what is Psychology in the modern era as we know it? The goal of Psychology, as in many other scientific disciplines is to understand individuals and groups by establishing general principles through research. The end result should be for the benefit of  health and well-being of everyone. As Psychology can be described as having a clean cut goal, it’s approach should not be seen as such. Psychology as a word can be simply defined as:

What is Psychology

  1.  The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, esp. those affecting behaviour in a given context.
  2. The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group.
  3. The mental and emotional factors governing a situation or activity

As finite as these definitions seem; they are not. Psychology as a modern science has evolved in numerous ways throughout the years and can generally be broken into seven schools of thought. These schools of thought are definitely not the only psychological fields of study, but are broad comparisions to help you narrow your thinking as to what is Psychology in the modern era of study. Each Psychology school of thought is categorized based on major theories within the field of Psychological study and these include:

Biological Psychology (aka Biopsychology)

Involves a physiological approach to the study of Psychology, and studies specific mechanismes such as how neurotransmitters influence how we act, think and feel. Biological Psychology will generally look into how your nerves, neurotransmitters, brain circuitry, and other biological processes effect normal/abnormal behaviour. Alot of the time experiments may be done on animals to further research in these areas. If you are interested in furthering your knowledge on the history and background of Biological Psychology then I would highly reccomend you check out Biological Psychology – New World Encyclopedia

Behavioural Psychology

The study of Psychology that focusses on learned behaviours. This school of Psychology was prominent in the early twentieth century, and still is used to explain how certain behaviours are learned and reinforced. Mental health professionals will use behavioural techniques such as cognitive bahvoural therapy to help clients in a variety of ways including but not limited to:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Moode disorders
  • Insomnia
  • Severe mental disorders
  • Problems in children and adolecents

If you would like to learn more about the schools of Behaviourism please have a look at Behaviorism (StanfordEncyclopedia of Philosophy)

Cognitive Psychology

The idea behind Cognitive Psychology is that determining how we behave is governed by studying thought processes. Such as what was the thought process that caused a specific behaviour or decision? Cognitive Psychology takes into account processes such as memory, thinking, problem solving, language and decision making. As a whole, Cogntive Psychology will take into account a person’s beliefs, desires, ideas, knowledge, and motivations.

If you would like to find out more about Cognitive Psychology please check out this great .PDF article outlining the history and what is Cognitive Psychology.

Humanistic Psychology

A study of Psychology from the 1950’s that focussed on how motivations had an effect on thought and behaviour. Humanists has a holistic approach to human existence through investigations of meaning, values, freedom, tragedy, personal responsibility, human potential, spirituality, and self-actualization (generically described as the motive to realize one full potential). The reason the Humanistic approach to Psychology was developed was because it seemed that other approaches at the time (1950s) focuseed on disturbed behaviours, wheras the humanistic approach would focus on healthy individuals to try and determine how they define themselves while maximizing their full potentials. The way this was measured was through Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you would like to know more in depth about the humanistic approach please visit The Humanistic Approach webpage at ryerson.ca

Cross Cultural Psychology

Is exactly as it says; “cross cultural”. This is the study of how human behaviour can vary in different cultures. This can give psychological researchers a better understanding of behaviours that may be cause by either  inherit, environmental or genetic factors. For example: by looking at universal behaviours versus unique behaviours it may be possible to identify how cultures impact behaviour, family life, education, social experiences and other psychological areas. If you would like to know more about Cross Cultural Psychology then you really should visit the webpage for the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology (IACCP).

Evolutionary Psychology

Tries to explain how evolution could be an explanation for specific physiologcial proccesses using principles of evolution, like natural selection. Evolutionary psychology would try and pin point that specific mental processes exist due to an evolutionary purpose developed for survival and reproduction. Some major areas of research within Evolutionary Psychology include the sutdy of Consiousness, Sensation prception, Learning and facultative adaptation, Emotion and motivation, Cognition, Personality, and Language. For an in depth look into Evolutionary Psychology please have a look at the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy – Evolutionary Psychology article.

Psychodynamic Psychology

To explain human behaviour and treat mental illnesses, Psychodynamic Psychology focusses on the unconsious mind, early childhood experiences, and interpersonal relationships. This school of Psychology has its roots tied to its founder psychologist Sigmuind Freud, and currently is an evolving multi-disciplinary field analyzing and studying human throught processes, response patterns, and influences. For more inforation on the Psychodynamic approach to Psychology please check out Psychodynamics – An Introduction, or The Psychodynamic Approach at ryerson.ca.

What is Psychology - Modern Psychology Defined


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