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What is psychology? Essay

  1. What is science?

            The word science comes from the Latin word scientia or scient which is the present participle for “scire” which means “know” or “discern.” It pertains to the study of the physical world and all the phenomena that occur in it utilizing systematic observation and experimentation. It also refers to a particular branch or area of study of the natural, physical world. Another definition of science is that it is a “systematic organized body of knowledge on a specific subject” and involves methodical way of performing or studying things (Encarta Dictionary, 2006). Science employs scientific procedures and these are characterized by 1) explicit procedures, 2) objectivity, 3) and recording (Atkinson et al., 1993).

  1. Is psychology a science?

            It is a given that psychology is accepted as a scientific discipline. By this virtue, it is a young science. The term “psychology” made its first recorded appearance in the English language in the dictionary of physiological terms published in 1693. The science of Psychology has its roots in several disciplines, among which are philosophy, medicine, biology and zoology. Like in almost all other sciences, however, much of psychology developed from philosophy (Atkinson, 1993).

            Psychology developed from the efforts of great men and women. This is properly understood in the different schools of thought. From Aristotle in the fourth century to Descartes in the 1600s, psychology grew to expand with the intermingling of philosophy and the sciences. With the advent of scientific methodologies on the nineteenth century, psychology began to achieve the status of an independent science.

A group of German philosophers, led by Wilhelm Wundt, started to apply scientific methodology in their psychological studies. At about the beginning of the twentieth century, a number of American psychologists became interested in the development of psychology in Germany and went there to get their training.  Upon their return, they helped establish the science of psychology in the United States (Bernstein et al., 1991).

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            Four of the better known psychologists among this batch were William James (1842-1910), considered as the “Dean of the American Psychologists,” G. Stanley Hall, James Cattell, and Edward Titchener. The first formal laboratory was set up at the John Hopkins University in 1883. Other experimental laboratories were established at major universities throughout the country.  Between 1910 and 1950, a number of psychological schools or systems of theories were developed, and opposing viewpoints on the nature and function of psychology continued among psychologists. After 1950, however, there was a trend towards a merging of the different viewpoints with a tendency towards eclectism among the psychologists (Atkinson et al., 1993).

            Sigmund Freud offered a psychoanalytic viewpoint on the diagnosis and understanding of a person’s mental health. Other perspectives, the behavioristic paradigm offers to see this in a different light. The psychoanalytic perspective emphasizes childhood experiences and the role of the unconscious mind in determining future behavior and in explaining and understanding current based on past behavior.

Basing on his personality constructs of the Id, Ego and the Superego, Freud sees a mentally healthy person as possessing what he calls Ego strength. On the other hand, the behavior therapist sees a person as a “learner” in his environment, with the brain as his primary organ of survival and vehicle for acquiring his social functioning. With this paradigm, mental health is a result of the environment’s impact on the person; he learns to fear or to be happy and therein lies the important key in understanding a person’s mental state (Atkinson et al., 1993).

            Because Psychology has its roots in varied disciplines, it is not surprising that it has developed a number of different ways of viewing the same topic. There are usually considered to be five different perspectives: the psychodynamics, the cognitive, the behavioral, the humanistic, and the biological. Sometimes the cognitive and behavioral are combined. Each perspective focuses on different aspects of functioning and on different causes of functioning and on different causes of human endeavor (Wilkinson and Campbell, 1997).

            Why is it considered a science? According to some scientists, psychology can be considered a science because it has been revolutionized in such a way that as much as possible, it employs scientific methods when it makes its study. Psychology is a science because it utilizes scientific methodologies (Atkinson et al., 1993).  As pointed out earlier, it complies with the characteristics of scientific procedures such as:

  1. a) Objectivity – which means freedom from bias and prejudices. The findings or results gathered by the researcher are not influenced by his subjective ideas.
  2. b) Explicit Procedures – Procedures of the researcher are clear and thus can be verified, tested, and duplicated by future researchers.
  3. c) Recording – Worthy research-works are often published in scientific literature for future researchers to evaluate, verify, disseminate, and even to refute findings (Atkinson et al., 1993).

            Psychology belongs to the behavioral sciences that seek to discover general truths about human social behavior. No one today can afford not to know psychology as it touches virtually every aspect of our life.  It is gleaned that psychology is directly and indirectly related to anthropology, sociology, economics, politics, and history (Atkinson et al., 1993).

  1. What is psychology? Is it the study of behavior or the study of mind?

            Psychology is the scientific of human behavior and mental processes; a study which is of considerable interest to almost all people. In the pursuit of this study is the important feature of understanding the goals or objectives. To describe, explain and predict behavior and if possible control or modify it, are the main objectives of this scientific discipline.

These objectives confine as well as broaden student’s approach towards a deeper perspective of the field in the sense that he/she will have a grasp on the variety of subject matters that psychology provides, the advances or breakthroughs it has attained, its inadequacies and shortcomings, as well as forthcoming challenges the discipline faces. Since human individuals are complex and changing, the study is fascinating yet possesses a certain degree of difficulty. Fascinating because it explores all the facets of being human and possessing a certain degree of difficulty because of its multifarious sub-disciplines (Bootzin, 1991).

            Psychology comes from two Greek words “psyche” and “logos” which mean soul and study, respectively. The ancient Greeks considered psychology simply as study of the soul. Modern psychology is the study of the behavior of an organism, and the way it adjusts, socially and biologically, to the world around it. Thus psychology can strictly be defined as the scientific study of human and animal behaviors. It is basically focused on actual human behavior. Indeed, psychology may be defined as the science of individual human behavior. It is different from common-sense hunches because it is systematic in its observations. It makes guesses, or hypothesis about behavior, then experimentally checks out the hypotheses (Atkinson et al., 1993; Morgan, 1977).

            Behavior means activities that can be observed activities that can be observed directly, such as the reactions of the muscles and the glands, as well as the organized patterns of responses as a whole. It also includes internal processes such as thinking, feeling, and other reactions that cannot be directly observed but can be inferred from external behavior. In other words, any related action or reaction people do under specified circumstance is called a behavior (Atkinson et al., 1993; Bootzin, 1991).

            Psychology is a relatively young science. People from the earlier periods of history attempted to find the reasons why men behaved the way they did. In the nineteenth century, two theories of the mind competed for support. One known as faculty psychology was a doctrine of inherited mental powers.

According to this theory, the mind has a few distinct and independent “faculties,” or mental agencies – such as thinking, feeling, and willing – that account for its activities. These faculties were further broken into subfaculties: people remember through the subfaculty of memory, imaging through the subfaculty of imagination, and so on. Faculty psychology encouraged early nineteenth-century phrenologists, such as Gall, to try to localize special faculties in different parts of the brain (Atkinson, 1993; Morgan, 1977).

            The association psychologists held an opposing view: they denied inborn faculties of the mind; instead they limited the mind’s content to ideas that enter by way of the senses and then become associated through such principles as similarity, contrast, and contiguity. They explained all mental activity through the association of ideas – a concept principally developed by British philosophers. Both faculty and association psychology have present-day counterparts. The search for mental abilities as factors in psychological tests is related to faculty psychology (Atkinson et al., 1993).

            The question remains whether it is the study of behavior or the study of the mind. The most appropriate answer is that by referring to the most preferred definition today of psychology which is the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. This helps elucidate the inquirer as to the appropriateness of the answer and indeed, because the developments of the research on psychology has established that behavior is the evidences of the workings of the mind then psychology is both the study of behavior and the mind.

Man is complex- he/she functions differently than any of other earth’s creatures and this has made the exploration of the mind and behavior more difficult. Today, mental processes are recognized as part of human behavior only that they are intrinsic and at most times their effects are only seen either much later in the individual’s activities or in the consequences of his/her choices.  Nevertheless, mental processes include such things as thoughts, decision-making, imagining, judging, memory, planning, motives and the like (Atkinson et al., 1993; Bernstein, 1991; Morgan, 1977).

  1. Can a psychologist study the mind and still be a scientist?

            A psychologist can study the mind and still be a scientist. Yes, with the breakthroughs of scientific technologies which enable researches to delve into the brain and various neurological processes which serve as seat of human behavior and his/her activities. Psychology today has forty specializations or content areas which include experimental and physiological psychology that investigate basic behavioral and nervous system processes. Under these two are their subspecialties including Experimental psychology which investigates basic behavioral processes; Physiological psychology and neuropsychology which explore the connection between the nervous and endocrine systems and behavior;

Neuroscience which is another subspecialty investigates the way the brain works; and psychopharmacology studies the relationship between drugs and behavior. Just by considering these subspecialties, the inquirer understands the long way that psychology has trekked in terms of its pursuit in understanding behavior and the human mind. These are evidence pointing to the scientific accomplishments to be able to have a physiological explanation of the behavior and mind of man (Atkinson et al., 1993).

  1. Is the mind reducible to either behavior or neurophysiology?

            The mind is reducible to behavior in many instances and also to neurophysiology but both cannot stand alone; hence, the necessity of the working knowledge of both. The physiological basis of behavior reveals to the inquirer that the mind can be understood in scientific terminology as reduced to the neurophysiological level. Although there are certain limitations here such that, inspite of the proof that the mind works depending on such physical or neurological matters as the neuron, the neurotransmitters, the endocrine system, for instance, no scientist can actually “pinpoint” where the mind is exactly in the brain. Likewise, it is also difficult to reduce the mind only to behavior since it widely accepted that behavior’s definition, scope and nature is very limited as well (Atkinson et al., 1993).

  1. Can an objective psychology of mind exist?

            Probably, there will be remain to be a degree of subjectivity in the psychology of the mind; it will be difficult to achieve a pure objective psychology. Humans will then be reduced nearly to robots when that happens. The most that scientists can attain is that they are able to establish and discover the frontiers of the human mind to a large extent but no more beyond that (Atkinson et al., 1993; Bootzin, 1991). That is the reason that Creationists and others in the religious circles have taken advantage of: because the human mind remains elusive.


Atkinson, R.L., R.C. Atkinson, E.E. Smith, D.J. Bem, and S. Nolen-Hoeksema, 1993. Introduction to Psychology, 13th ed. New York: Harcourt College Publishers.

Bernstein, D.A., E.J. Roy, T.K. Srull, and C.D. Wickens, 1991. Psychology. New Jersey: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Bootzin, R.R. 1991. Psychology.  New York: Gilford Press.

_______ Encarta Dictionary. Microsoft® Encarta® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

Morgan, Clifford T. 1977. A Brief Introduction to Psychology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Wilkinson, J.D. and E.A. Campbell. 1997.  Psychology in counseling and therapeutic practice. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

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