What is Psychology?

Mind and Brain

Psychology is the science of the mind. The human brain is the most complex organ known to us. It is the source of all thought and behavior. (Average number of neurons in the brain = 100 billion. Total number of synapses – Connections between neurons –  in the cerebral cortex is between 60 and 240 trillion, or 1012 connections.)

How do psychologists study the mind? We are just at the beginning of our attempts to study the brain directly, and to make connections between  brain studies and psychology. We cannot see someone thinking. Nor can we directly observe their emotions, memories, perceptions or dreams. But we can study human behavior, which is the raw data of psychology.Human behavior includes, of course, speech and verbal behavior as well.  We can use this as clues to the workings of the mind. Although we cannot observe the mind directly, everything we do, think, feel and say is determined by the functioning of the mind, and we can draw conclusions about its functioning based on observation of human behavior.

Psychology is an old discipline; but the scientific study began in the late 19th century, when the German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) opened the first experimental psychology lab in Leipzig in 1879. Since then, we have learned an enormous amount about the relationship between brain, mind and behavior.

Branches of psychology

The science of psychology is located at the intersection of different disciplines, including biology, medicine, linguistics, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and artificial intelligence (AI). For example, neuro-psychology is allied with biology, since the aim is to map different areas of the brain and explain how brain functions connect with psychological functions like memory or language. Other branches of psychology are more closely connected with medicine. Clinical psychologists map out the forms of psycho-pathology, and try to alleviate the suffering caused by mental disorders. Attempts to explain why humans think and behave the way they do gives rise to fields of psychology or its applications. The different disciplines of psychology are wide-ranging. They include:

  • Clinical psychology
  • Cognitive psychology: memory
  • Cognitive psychology: intelligence
  • Developmental psychology
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • Occupational psychology
  • Social psychology

What all these different approaches to psychology have in common is a desire to explain the behavior of individuals based on the workings of the mind. Psychology exists at the intersection of philosophy and the empirical study of behavior, but it often models itself after the natural sciences, and it therefore tries to apply scientific methodologies. Psychologists conduct their research through observation and experiment, and analyze the findings with statistical techniques that help them identify important new insights.

Psychology can be characterized by a few methods like observation, introspection, structured interviews, phenomenological methods, descriptive categorizations, or empirical analysis of behavior. In addition to these methods, there is a whole range of potential applications, ranging from sport, political psychology, economic behavior, sexuality, and so on. This grid, methods/fields of application, creates a colorful discipline that is still emerging and searching for a unity within itself.

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