Introduction to Psychology




What is Psychology?


Psychology & its Relatives


A Brief History of Psychology


Two Worlds of Psychology
 Basic vs. Applied
 Natural vs. Human


Why do students take psychology?
Part of a programme?
Easy electives ?

Fits your time table?
Understand self ?
Understand family?
Control others?

What is psychology?
Write a definition of it . . .

Did you include: biological processes? mental states? environment nutrients? spiritual? sociocultural?

Commonly found in definitions is: the study of behaviour, mind, thinking, feeling, and reactions to stress.

Psychology is related to almost everything that humans do, including these other disciplines...below.

"Psychology is the science of Mental Life, both of its phenomena and their conditions" (James, 1890, p.1)


Psychology and its Neighbours



Disciplines - related to psychology: by studying:
Sociology - Social Psychology roles and social forces institutions
Anthropology - Cultural psychology cultural and social traditions
Biology - Neuro / Evolutionary Psychology bio-chemical processes
Medicine - Health Psychology  behaviours and attitudes surrounding health
Psychiatry - Clinical Psychology psychological 'disorders' and everyday problems
Business - Industrial Organizational group harmony, morale, human factors
Computer Science - Artificial Intelligence information systems and modeling
Law - Forensic Psychology criminal insanity, competence jurisprudence 
Literature - Narrative Psychology personality and expression of human spirit


Many  other fields are also covered by psychology like: Environment, Sports, Communication, Politics, and even Music

 Born out of the bridging of philosophy and physiology early "scientific" psychologists attempted to move from "arm-chair" speculation and common sense to systematic study.

Pick your path


When did it begin?
50 years ago?
100 years ago
500 years ago ?
2000 years ago?
1,000,000 years ago?

Most psychologists say that it began about 130 years ago, but we can still trace roots back 1,000s of years  and that is usually only in  the "western" traditions arising from the Golden Age of Greece.

 Cultural Biases in Psychology -Ethnocentrism  


A brief History of Psychology

Historically, psychology arose from Philosophy which became married to Physiology and gave birth to psychology as a modern scientific (& professional) discipline.

Plato (427-347 B.C.) - Theory of forms: Universal patterns of thought


and personal characteristics. Based upon mathematics and music (Pythagoras). -Hierarchy of forms where more real is more abstract - universal Good.

-These ideas provide a foundation to natural science where it searches the universal truths of nature.

Descartes ( 1596-1650)
Mind-Body Dualism-two worlds of existence:



Body Mind
Takes up space, is corruptable not locatable, lives after death
Is determined has intentionality & Free Will


John Locke (1643-1704)

Empiricism: a theory of knowledge that it is through the senses that knowledge is acquired and also its method of verification.

-Tabula Rasa: Theory of knowledge (part of empiricism) that we are born like blank slates or empty vessels to be written upon or filled by experience.

-Emphasis on Individualism and Democracy, Liberty

-Simple ideas are built into more Complex ideas.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

Rationalism: a theory of knowledge that states that knowledge comes from the correct use of reason, reasoning is also the method of the verification of knowledge.


-He suggested the Categories of knowledge of experience exist a priori to enable us to have any experience. We have something like innate ideas, or rather processes and templates that enable use to know the world. E.g., one, many = totality / Dialectics

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920)

Wundt followed Gustav Fechner  who proposed the scientific study of psychophysics,
the mind and the body.....however he extended this work on the mind and body and added the social (reflective of the bio-psycho-social approach today).



Two Kinds of Psychology


Experimental Psychology Volker (Social) Psychology

Experimental Psychology

1879: First psychological laboratory in Leipzig

Goals are to establish the Laws of psychology through a careful study of consciousness or immediate experience

Experimentelle Selbstbeobachtung: Experimental self-observation. Observers "are exposed to standard repeatable situations and are asked to respond in simple quantifiable ways" such as: reaction times, judgments of size, intensity and duration

Range of topics for psychology using both historical and experimental methods


  • Sensation and perception

  •         Memory, attention, imagery
  • Thinking, affect, voluntary activity, social psychology


    He felt a tension between subject matter and methods, he was not sure of exacted how all of psychology was best to be studied.

    Experimental natural science or historical human science?

    Völkerpsychologie (1912-21): Psychological anthropology

    Historical studies of outer phenomena which studies:
    Language, Religion (& Myth), and Custom: Expressions of the
    "common sense" or worldview of a social group .

    Volkgeist "Folk mind" or group mind that is a synthesis of minds that is of a magnitude greater than the sum of the numerous individual creative syntheses (minds). Has group Will !
     What brought the beginnings of "scientific psychology is the distinction between introspection and casual observation.   E.g.,


    Introspection Philosophy
    Systematic, 'objective'  Systematic, 'subjective'
    experimental speculative

    Once Psychology begun to become an experimental science a major debate emerged between those who wanted to study psychological processes purely as a scientific understanding, knowledge for knowledge's sake, and those who wanted to apply psychology to everyday psychological and social issues.

    This division remains central to the nature of psychology today.


    basic vs. applied
    scientist  vs. practitioner


    This reflects the division between:
    Natural Science   and   Human Science

    Natural Science seeks general laws that apply to all people and can be used to predict and control behaviour, thoughts, feelings, psyche.

    Typically natural science uses induction to try to keep from biases of expectation, but uses deduction to test the conclusions drawn from previous observations.

    Human Science seeks to understand the human condition through situated expressions of human experience.  These narratives of life stand as examples of what is or can be.

    Typically human science seeks to provide a meaningful case of biography of a life and the socio-historical context in which that life is lived.  Thus it deduces a meaningful account of the psychosocial essence of human life based upon inductive observation of lives lived.
    Wilhelm Dilthey  (father of hermeneutics)  suggested that both Human and
    Natural science are valuable where one is qualitative and the other is quantitative in orientation.

    Natural Science tends to be oriented towards the abstract and technical control of the world while Human Science tends towards ethical and humane treatment of people and communities.

    Research Methods in psychology 


    What do Psychologists do?

    A common way to divide psychology is into Schools such as: Voluntarism,   Structuralism,   Functionalism, Behaviourism,    Gestalt,   Humanism,   Developmental,  Cognitive,   Social,   Personality,  Cultural, ....

    Another is by interests:
    Pure Research vs. Applied; Clinical Counselling & Psychoanalysis


    For more information on the breadth of psychology activities check out the  CPA and  APA sites and browse through the sections or divisions.


    What can you learn from psychology?
    Perhaps you can learn about yourself, your friends, your family, the people and animals around us, but you can also learn how to best learn and memorize material for this course and other courses. You will almost certainly learn about the nature of psychology as an experimental science and how such research is applied to the biological, sensory, intellectual, and behavioural aspects of being human in our times.

    How to read the textbook and do well in this course?