A Few Words on Psychology…

The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best – Paul Valery

Psychology, the scientific study of the mind and behavior, is a fascinating field. Although there is a distinct branch called experimental psychology, most of the discipline relies on experiments and other research methods.

Methodology includes structured and unstructured interviews, tests (IQ: Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale – WAIS, Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – WISC; executive dysfunction: Wisconsin Card Sorting Test – WCST; Rorschach projective test, etc.), surveys, experiments as well as naturalistic observation. On the one hand, naturalistic observation, as the name indicates, is simple contemplation without any influence by the researcher. On the other hand, questionnaires range from multiple-choice, to open ended, questions. Also, experiments involve a dependent and an independent variable. A strong advantage of the method is laboratory control. Still, a disadvantage is the Hawthorne effect – the fact that people may behave differently when being watched or participating in a study conducted by trusted scientists. Another common potential confusion comes from the hindsight bias – the ‘knew-it-all-along’ misguided perception.

One of the most famous experiments was done by Stanley Milgram, in his study on obedience to authority. Some of the other established inquiries encompass Asch’s conformity experiments, Zimbardo’s prison simulation and Loftus’ findings regarding eyewitness testimony.

From social psychology one learns such theories as ToM (Theory of Mind – the ability to infer other individuals’ thoughts and motivations), social competence (the capacity to maintain positive relationships while getting one’s goals met) and the dynamics of social standing and status. For example, social psychologists noted that even among children, aggressive peers are usually rejected by classmates.

By definition, professional psychologists are not doctors and cannot prescribe medication (cognitive behavioral or "talk" therapy is preferred). The psychological community relies, nonetheless, on the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual) and the ICD (International Classification of Diseases). However, such subjects are the realm of abnormal psychology.

Developmental, or child, psychology covers human development across the life span. Child growth was commented upon by several prominent authors, such as Freud (psychosexual stages), Vygotsky (zone of proximal development), Erickson (psychosocial stages), Kohlberg and Gilligan (moral development) and Ainsworth (attachment theory), among others.

An important scholarly online resource is PsycInfo, while Psychology Today is a popular magazine on the matter. In addition, numerous countries harbor societies (such as the American Psychological Association or APA, not to be confused with the American Psychiatric Association – likewise APA) dedicated to psychologists and psychology.

pop psychology

Pop psychology phenomenon, as well as scientific endeavors, have focused extensively on the self (self-agency, self-esteem, self-contemplation and so on…). Illustration: Megan Jorgensen

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