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What is psychology? That question is commonly asked by interested persons and/or students who are somewhat puzzled as to how to capture all that the discipline entails in a few short words. To perfectly define psychology is no easy task and the confusion is understandable considering the myriad of applications the science of psychology has across even the most diverse of fields. Visit a hospital, a coffee factory, a police station or even a weight loss and dietary club and sooner or later, if you’re very quiet, you just might see a psychologist skulking somewhere in the bushes.
The word “Psychology” is derived from the Greek word psyche which means “soul” or “mind.” Psychology has its roots in Biology and Philosophy and discussions on these topics date all the way back to ancient Greece. However, it wasn’t until 1879 when Wilhelm Wundt established the first experimental psychology lab in Leipzig Germany that people began to perceive Psychology as a science in its own right.
What is psychology all about in today’s world? Psychology is essentially the study of the human mind and behaviour. It is both an applied and academic field, meaning that some concepts can be and have been used to solve practical problems in a physical environment (applied) while other concepts only exist in the realm of theory (academic) and contribute to the understanding of the phenomena we see around us.
Psychological research might find practical application in areas such as ergonomics, performance enhancement, self-help, mental health treatment, advertising and various other applications affecting day to day life. It can also deepen our appreciation as to how more intangible processes such as thought and emotion occur.
Throughout the history of Psychology there have been various “schools of thought” which endeavoured to explain human thought and behaviour. These schools of thought include structuralism, humanism, cognitivism, psychoanalysis, functionalism, behaviourism, among others. While some persons might view these different approaches as competing forces, each has contributed in its own way to our overall understanding of Psychology. Today, psychologists tend to use more objective, scientific methods to comprehend, explain and predict human behaviour. These methods include but are not limited to experiments, longitudinal research and correlation studies.
Such is the breadth and diversity of Psychology that numerous specialty areas and subfields have emerged. Some of these include abnormal psychology, biological psychology, clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, comparative psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology, environmental psychology, evolutionary psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, personality psychology, social psychology, etc.
Psychology is all around us. However it is only when you begin learning about this wonderful science that you really start to realize just how much there is left to learn.
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