Why are children stubborn? Why do some people become addicted to alcohol or gambling? How do you help an abused child? All of these are difficult and challenging questions that the many psychology schools of thought are trying to answer.
So, then what is psychology? There are many misconceptions created by television and movies today, but the basic answer is that psychology is both an applied and academic science that studies the human mind and behavior. No matter what area of psychology you refer to, research in psychology seeks to understand and explain thought, emotion, and behavior. Psychology is applied to individuals via mental health treatment, performance enhancement, self-help, ergonomics, and many other areas affecting health and daily life.
Psychology Schools of Thought and History
While people have always been fascinated by human behavior, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that psychology began to be considered an actual science. Wilhelm Wundt established the first psychology lab in Germany. He believed in an area of psychology called structuralism—believing that certain structures in the mind caused behavior. Over the course of psychology’s history, different schools of thought have competed for prominence. Here are the major psychology schools of thought:
Structuralism. This area in pyschology holds the belief that there is a connection between sensation and emotion and behavior.
Functionalism. This area in psychology suggests the idea that the human brain is much like a computer, designed to carry out specific functions.
Psychoanalysis. This psychology school of thought was created by Sigmund Freud, and believes in the rigorous probing of an individual’s personal problems, motives, goals and attitudes as a way to heal the mind.
Behaviorism. Proponents of this area of psychology essentially hold that all human behavior is learned from one’s surrounding context and environment.
Humanism. This much more recent psychology school of thought came as a reaction to behaviorism and Psychoanalysis, and emphasizes the importance of values, intentions, and meaning in the individual. The concept of the “self” is a central focus for most humanistic psychologists.
Cognitivism. This area in psychology believes that psychology should be concerned with a person’s internal representations of the world and with the internal or functional organization of the mind.
As psychology moved away from its philosophical roots, psychologists began to employ more and more scientific methods to study human behavior; this opened up many more psychology careers. Today, researchers employ a variety of scientific methods, including experiments, correlational studies, longitudinal studies, and others to test, explain, and predict behavior.
Areas of Psychology
Students of psychology soon realize that the subject covers a huge range of material, and may never provide a definitive answer to the question, “What is psychology?” The diverse topics students might study as they explore the various areas in psychology include social behavior, personality, research methods, therapeutic techniques, and much more. Because it’s such a broad and diverse field, a number of different subfields and specialty areas have emerged. The following are some of the major areas of research and application within psychology, and provide some of the many rewarding and satisfying psychology careers:
Abnormal Psychology is the study of abnormal behavior. This specialty area of psychology is focused on research and treatment of a variety of mental disorders and is linked to psychotherapy and clinical psychology.
Biological Psychology studies how biological processes influence the mind and behavior. This area of psychology is closely linked to neuroscience and utilizes tools such as MRI and PET scans to look at brain injury or brain abnormalities.
Clinical Psychology is focused on the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders.
Cognitive Psychology is the study of human thought processes and cognitions. Cognitive psychologists study topics such as attention, memory, perception, decision-making, problem solving, and language acquisition.
Comparative Psychology is the branch of psychology concerned with the study of animal behavior.
Developmental Psychology is the area of psychology that looks at human growth and development over the lifespan.
Forensic Psychology is an applied field focused on using psychological research and principles in the legal and criminal justice system.
Industrial-Organizational Psychology is the area of psychology that uses psychological research to enhance work performance, select employee, improve product design, and enhance usability.
Personality Psychology looks at the various elements that make up individual personalities.
School Psychology is the area of psychology that works within the educational system to help children with emotional, social, and academic issues.
Social Psychology is a psychology school of thought that uses scientific methods to study social influence, social perception, and social interaction. Social psychology studies diverse subjects including group behavior, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression, and prejudice.
Today, psychologists prefer to use more objective scientific methods to understand, explain, and predict human behavior. Psychological studies are highly structured, beginning with a hypothesis that is then empirically tested. Academic psychologists focus on the study of different sub-topics within psychology including personality psychology, social psychology, and developmental psychology. These psychologists conduct basic research that seeks to expand our theoretical knowledge, while other researchers conduct applied research that seeks to solve everyday problems. Applied psychology focuses on the use of different psychological principles to solve real world problems. Examples of applied areas of psychology include forensic psychology, ergonomics, and industrial-organizational psychology. Many other psychologists work as therapists, helping people overcome mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders.
Psychology is a broad and diverse field with a variety of related professions. If you are considering a career in psychology, you are pursuing one of the most important and basic of the human sciences. You can expect to have a long, satisfying, and fascinating career if psychology is your field.