Introduction to Psychology

The term ’Psychology’ has been derived from two Greek words ’Psyche’ which means life and ’logos’ which means explanation. Psychology as a social science scientifically studies the mind and behaviour, which influences our day to day lives, professional well being and our relationships with family members and society.

Psychology as a social science has evolved a lot over several years and has widespread applications in clinical field, forensic field, counseling and psycho-therapy sessions for people who are distressed, research and observation for understanding certain behaviour patterns and differences in personality, attitude or perception. As per Seyidov (2000), Psychology analysis is a pertinent area of concern for the HR or Management professionals, as it addresses the four crucial problem areas: Employee Motivation, Interpersonal Relations, Leadership and Selection of the talent pool.

Several years of research and investigations done by the psychologists (both researchers and practitioners) focus on one common aspect, that is relying on scientific techniques. Most of the researches on psychology involve a scientific assessment of human behaviour (Heider, 1958; Kelley, 1967). Psychology is predominantly based on three important premises:

  1. Human beings have brains which is the most complicated thing in the whole universe.
  2. They even have minds, which cannot be seen in its physical form, but it does have an existence.
  3. People are keen on observing and analyzing other people’s behaviour and assessing their mindset.

History and Approaches of Psychology

The field of Psychology has transformed from being more speculative in its approach, to being more objective and scientific by adopting technology to assess human behaviour (Benjamin & Baker, 2004). The father of Modern Psychology is Wilhelm Wundt, who introduced the first psychology lab in Germany in 1879. In the “first” psych experiment, Wundt measured the time it took people to hit a switch as soon as they heard and perceived a sound. The German psychologist was the main proponent of structuralism. The origin of Psychology finds its mention in the studies of scholars like Buddha, Confucius and Hebrew, who philosophized on the functioning of mind in a broader sense. Even the Greeks, like Plato and Socrates, philosophized that mind is different from the rest of the body and also that we all are born with knowledge which is innate.

Much later in 1600s, Rene Descartes tried figuring out the relationship or connection between the mind and body, for which he performed a dissection on the animals to study their nerves as well as the brains. Francis Bacon conducted experiments using scientific techniques, for which he is also known as the father of modern science. According to John Locke, people’s minds can be compared to a “blank slate” or tabula rasa. Which means, whatever we know is learnt, which gave birth to “empiricism” – knowledge comes from experiences.

Dramatic changes took place during 1800s due to the efforts of Wilhelm Wundt, German Psychologist (1832–1920) and William James, American Psychologist (1842–1910). Let’s analyze the various approaches or schools of thought on Psychology.

Structuralism: Wundt and his student Edward Bradford Titchener propounded the structuralism approach of Psychology, with focus on the structure of the mind or analysis of the basic elements of consciousness and their interrelationship using introspection. The subjectivity of this approach and the limitations associated with introspection, made structuralism approach a bit less popular.

Functionalism (1842-1910): William James was the father of Functionalism approach which focused on understanding the functioning of the mental processes instead of analyzing the structure of consciousness. His main achievement was the psych lab that he established, though functionalism approach also had its own limitations.

Biopsychosocial Approach: According to this approach, human behaviour is influenced by all the three key components-Psychological, Biological and Socio-cultural factors. From the biopsychosocial approach we derived the modern approaches to psychology:

Modern Approaches to Psychology

  1. Biological Approach: The chief proponents of this approach were Olds, Sperry. As per Biological approach, the brain and the body are the key influencers of human behaviour.
  2. Evolutionary Approach: Charles Darwin propounded his ‘Theory of Evolution’ in his book ‘Origin of Species’, 1859. According to him, organisms evolve or change over a period of time due to changes in the behavioural traits or heritable characteristics.
  3. Psychodynamic Approach: Sigmund Freud focused on the power of our unconscious memories, feelings and thoughts in influencing people’s behaviour. He conducted extensive analysis on his patients who were being treated for depression, anxiety or sexual malfunction, which were all an outcome of bad childhood experiences which perhaps they have forgotten.
  4. Behavioural Approach: Watson and Skinner reckoned that the behaviour is influenced by both negative and positive reinforcement in the form of reward or punishments. Behaviourists have substantial contributions towards analyzing the principles of learning and in understanding the connection between stimulus and response.
  5. Cognitive Approach: Chomsky, Piaget revealed in their studies that human brain stores, processes and interprets the information very much like a computer.
  6. Humanistic Approach: Propounded by Maslow and Rogers, stressed on the influence of environmental factors on our day to day behaviour.
  7. Socio-Cultural Approach: Human behaviour and thoughts are different and differ because of the cultural differences.

Branches of Psychology

Let’s analyze the vast field of psychology by understanding the various branches of this field and their areas of concentration

  • Psychometrics: Studies attitudes, abilities and traits
  • Biological Psychology: Studies the relationship between the mind, brain and nervous system.
  • Developmental Psychology: Attempts to study the changes which occur during birth till death.
  • Educational Psychology: Study of psychological factors associated with teaching and various learning processes.
  • Personality Psychology: Study of personality traits
  • Social Psychology: Attempts to study our behaviour in a social set up or how we interact with each other
  • Industrial or Organizational Psychology: Is about assessing the behaviour of workers and their thought processes, for evolving strategies which will enhance their efficiency at work and overall productivity too.
  • Counselling Psychology and Clinical Psychology: Counselling helps people to deal with the issues of their personal and professional life. Clinical psychology helps in treating disorders.

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