DEFINITIONS OF PSYCHOLOGY
DEFINITIONS OF PSYCHOLOGY
PSYCHOLOGY IS BOTH SCIENCE AND ART
The adage that very little exists which is new is as true for psychology as for most other fields. One half century ago, the eminent political historian George Catlin (1939), writing in his Story of the Political Philosophers, said about Plato that "The old man is dead, twenty-two centuries ago. . . (but) The old problems have all come round again. Eugenics, nudism, abortion, feminism, communism, proletarian democracy, division of labor, class war, scientific expertise -- all the problems are here (p.69)." Changing a few terms, the statement would be as true in 2008 for psychology. Contemporary crises and problems are frequently variations on old themes -- survival from destruction or escape from depression. Today's problems are neither simple nor unimportant, but they are common in many ways to those of past generations. Much of psychological research seeks answers to general questions. "General" does not mean "vague." It means "comprehensive."
These questions are frequently age-old questions simply restated in different terms. The extent to which they deal with general questions of human nature, they are the scientific side of psychology. When research or solutions address specific problems of contemporary society, psychology is an art or technology. Many, but not all questions of psychological investigations have been prompted by practical problems of human existence.
At the turn of this century, psychologists became interested in applied problems -- in the art of psychology where attempts are made to solve pressing social problems. Binet attempted to solve the problem of overcrowded school conditions in France by devising an intelligence test. In World War I, American psychologists were asked to select and classify large numbers of military inductees; they did so by devising group intelligence tests. New diagnostic and treatment techniques were introduced during that same decade to handle the increasing numbers of delinquents in the courts and psychotics in mental hospitals. Rapid advances in technology encouraged psychologists to apply their findings to industry and education. Psychologists studied how light, sound, noise, seating arrangements, size, shape and color of printed materials affected job or classroom learning. These are only a part of the thousands of problems to which psychologists have turned their attention.
Near the halfway mark of the twentieth century, World War II produced new social and emotional problems which required adjustment to both the war itself and the peace that followed. During the 1960's and 70's, migration to the cities increased due to automation and equal employment opportunity. The resultant urban crowding produced a loss of personal identity and an increase of personal despair. Psychology thus attacked problems of mass communication, minority groups, urban impactment, and education.
Each generation has faced its own unique problems and each group of psychologists has proposals for increasing human happiness. Two kinds of solutions have been proposed. First, educational programs and training techniques have been developed to aid the individual and to improve national productivity; second, therapeutic programs have been devised to reduce widespread anxiety which has been generated by war, by social discrimination, and by economic hardship. A study of history offers hope because present crises are seen as not the first and perhaps as not the last human tragedy.
Many questions, both general and practical, guide psychological research. To answer the question why, however, requires a viable theory, not just a description of how or when or where. To this end, philosophers and general psychologists devote much time and energy. Why do personalities change from infancy to old age? Why do changed feelings create new personality structures? Why do perceptions of the world differ in darkness than in brilliant sunlight or when backgrounds are plain rather than complex? Why do humans construct time saving devices while animals contentedly follow stable and predictable patterns of behavior? Why do students march for social change and oldsters cling to preserve the past?
The research or scientific psychologist thus seeks to answer questions about human nature and products of experience. Some scientific explanations are too minute and are labeled irrelevancies. The psychologist does not stop with plausible generalizations. Isolating one variable might be one small scientific step. The gathering of profuse data within a systematic theoretical framework may be another scientific activity and suggests testable hypotheses for further exploration.
There is frequent controversy about psychology's goals, primarily because there is lack of agreement about definitions. How one defines psychology usually depends upon the specialization of the speaker. Definitions depend on the person who speaks. We will not progress very far by stating what we think psychology should be. We can, however, turn to a variety of persons who call themselves psychologists and examine their definitions of psychology. What psychology should be can be answered only at a later date, with insight we do not now possess. First, however, let us examine the origins of the word psychology.
Early Origins. The origin of the term psychology is tied to the origin of the Greek word psyche. The word psyche comes from the Greek, meaning both butterfly and soul. A butterfly representing the soul is an apt metaphor. As Bullfinch says:
There is no illustration of the immortality of the soul so striking and beautiful as the butterfly, bursting on brilliant wings from the tomb in which it has lain, after a dull groveling, caterpillar existence, to flutter in the blaze of day and feed on the most fragrant and delicate production of the spring. Psyche, then, is the human soul, which is purified by suffering and misfortunes, and is thus prepared for the enjoyment of true and pure happiness (Bullfinch, 1967, p. 79).
The word Psyche occurs as a mythological character in a story by Apuleius, a Roman writer of the second century, A.D., known for his work Metamorphoses or The Golden Ass (Grant, 1962). Psyche is a beautiful girl who undergoes many hardships, some of them are her own making. In the end, she marries Cupid (Eros = Love) and bears him a child. The child is named Pleasure. Psyche, the youngest and most beautiful of three daughters, attracts wide attention. This threatens the proud queen of beauty, Venus. She asks her son to wound Psyche in such a way that Psyche will love no one but a wretched creature. Psyche searches for a husband, ventures into a strange land, strange house, and strange bed containing an invisible husband. She must never attempt to see him. Convinced, however, by her jealous sisters that he is a reptile or a dragon, she decides to kill him. She lights a candle and there, in all his glory, is Cupid! Wounded, he immediately flies away. Venus forces Psyche to repent for her sins by enduring a series of difficult tasks. In the end, Cupid and Psyche are united in heaven.
This story frequently appears under numerous themes in literature, art, and architecture. The story of Cupid and Psyche is similar to many other national fairy tales, one of which is Cinderella. Psyche symbolizes great beauty, eternal youth, and curiosity. Cupid (Eros), on the other hand, represents love or procreative force in Greek mythology. This appears to be the first distinction made between force and matter. Originally, Cupid and Psyche shared equal status, at the time of Plato, according to M. Grant. During the Hellenistic period, however, artists depicted Cupid (Eros) in a superior position, with Psyche lying at his feet. Thus, passion was seen to control the soul, a point of view hotly debated until the present day.
Grant (1962) suggests that the concept of attraction is a principle which eventually became synonymous in literature with cosmic power. This power of love was paralleled later by another natural force, that of strife. The dual powers, love and strife, represent the binding and separating forces in the universe. One can here recognize Freud's parallel concepts of Eros and Thanatos.
The nonmaterial or soul side of man had many different representations. But there were two major ideas: one, the spirit; the other, the mind. The Greeks believed that, in contrast to the body, each person possessed a double, a shadowy likeness of the body (Baldwin). This likeness of the body was believed to be breath, life or soul, based on the word to blow. Earlier, the Milesians and the atomists held that this soul was a like substance to the whole world. Since like came from like, there was a search for identities, a search still going on today in the popular theories of Erick Erickson. This search for likeness is the search of unity and power, the atom, the basic element, the philosopher's stone. If identity exists, then there can also be transformation of one element into another. Such transformations were the basis for the early alchemists' and chemists' search for gold, the early Christians' belief that the communion wine and bread became the blood and body of Christ, and the mystics' quest for rare psychic powers.
The stoics coined another term, pneuma, meaning air, a physical spirit, or soul at the bottom of life.
A second meaning of the nonmaterial side of humans had to do with mind or the intellectual side of human nature, what is sometimes called mental life, or rational life, or the mind, and originated in the thinking of the early Greeks. Anaxagoras had originally used nous to refer to a kind of intellect or order in the universe, some activity of acting towards ends (Baldwin).
The Dionysians worshiped this "better side" of man's nature, this "superior half." Aristotle used the term entelechy, meaning organization, unity, shape, and form. This concept of a higher form was widely held in Greek philosophy; the Pythagoreans, especially, believed in a higher power more perfect than the body. Plato, trained by Pythagoras, believed in a self-moving entity existing long after the material side of man disappeared. Plato extended the meaning of nous to include the immaterial and the Supreme Good. Aristotle limited the concept to mean the supreme end, convinced that there was something beyond or before the cause of an event, something even before what was before. This led to an infinite regress, leading nowhere but back, so he postulated an unmoved mover, a cause or a source of all motion which was, by definition, the beginning of things. This probably comes closest to whatever anyone has meant by God.
This rational side to mind was basic to the related concepts of functionalism and purposiveness. During the nineteenth century, chemists were discovering the nature of life and the psychologists, through McDougall, James, and even Freud were providing evidence that behavior was purposeful and even intelligent. Physiologists finally substituted the physical-chemical concepts of Helmholtz and Brucke for vaguer concepts of energy and thereby paralleled the theories of unity and purposiveness expressed by James and McDougall. Freud merely substituted a physical source of energy, his libido, for the vital principle.
Eventually, two concepts of the nonmaterial side of humans were used to refer to the notion of mental life. They were pneuma (air) and nous (intelligence). Jewish thought, also expressed in Alexandrian thought, contained this dual notion of mind as both psyche (air) and nous (intelligence, mentality, both the source of life and source of reason). The search begins for these two qualities, one is represented by the nature of life (elan vital or vital principle, animal spirits, psychic energy, or specific nerve energy), the other, by the search for the organizing force (the source of unity, consciousness, purposiveness, and direction, whether within animals or humans). Darwin's evolutionary work offered some proof that man was directed toward adaptation to some end. The secret of life was somehow tied up with the two ideas -- mind and soul, both ephemeral and hidden.
There are, then, these two concepts of the idea of "mind" or "Psyche" -- rationality and purpose on the one hand and spirit or ephemeral quality (that which exists after death or expressed in extrasensory ways) on the other hand. These two points of view have provided, perhaps, the greatest amount of controversy in the history of psychology. They are present to some degree or another in practically every division within psychology. The division finds no better illustration than in the contemporary controversy within psychology between Western and Eastern modes of thought. Western philosophy has attempted to characterize humans as "thinking, logical, goal directed animals." Eastern philosophy, on the other hand, has more frequently emphasized these intuitive, spiritual, and non-rational qualities.
Modern Origins. Now let us turn to some modern conceptions of psychology. Where we begin depends upon the meaning of psychology we adopt. We wish to be inclusive, so we will begin broadly, narrowing our discussion as we proceed.
The long past of psychology includes the study of the unique and the highly developed mental processes in humans. An understanding of these processes begins with the Greeks, who posed both the questions and the answers about the nature of humankind and its psyche. Their understanding provided the dominant answers until the middle of the nineteenth century. Thereafter, physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine change the course of what became the new psychology.
The term "psychology" was first used as part of a course title for some lectures given in the sixteenth century by Philip Melanchton. Although psychology is frequently thought of as a new discipline, it should be noted that the term "psychology" occurred even before the term "biology" (1802) or of "scientist" (Scoon, 1968; Maynard, 1932).
The terms "psychosophy" and "pneumatology" had been in common use, but it was Christian Wolff (1679-1754), a disciple and popularizer of Leibnitz who contributed to the widespread use of the term "psychology" by recommending that it be a separate field of study. He did this by dividing anthropology into somatology and psychology. He further divided psychology into empirical and rational psychology (LaPointe, p. 640). By the end of the eighteenth century, in Germany, the term psychology was commonly used.
The term was introduced in France by Charles Bonnet in his Essai de Psychologie, of 1754. In England, the term was not used until 1776, through the work of Philosophy of Rhetoric by George Campbell. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the poet, finally made the term a natural word in English.
The terms "psychology" and "psychologists" were widely used in writings, academic appointments, or book titles during the mid-nineteenth century. Thereafter, works known as psychology are frequently seen. Our understanding of what psychology was and is will be enhanced if we examine how psychology is defined by major writers in psychology.
But to what definitions do we turn? One way is to examine how leading theorists have used the term. Who are these major theorists? Whomever we select will lead to biases. One way to avoid this problem is to rely on broad lists determined objectively. There are numerous lists. One list is based on an empirical study by Coan and Zagona (1962). They asked psychologists to identify prominent theorists in the decades from 1880 to 1959. We will look at this study in more detail later. Persons who were outside the scope of Coan's study, those prominent before 1880 or after 1959, or those noted for other than theoretical contributions to psychology, should also be added. A final list of theorists and contributors might be as follows: Bain, Wundt, James, Helmholtz, Ebbinghaus, Galton, Brentano, Dewey, Titchener, Freud, Thorndike, Watson, Wertheimer, Kohler, Hull, Tolman, Lewin, McDougall, Skinner, Hebb, Harlow, Rogers, May and Piaget. We will now examine the definitions by a few of these writers.
Modern psychology, a variegated field, contains a broad spectrum of definitions, including such concepts as consciousness of the self, direct experience, drives and their mentalistic defenses, and observable behavior. The core ideas are perception, motivation, and learning. Perception, always a major concept, is expressed in James' belief that feelings, desires, and cognitions were no more than perceptions of oneself. The self awareness of Dewey is a perception of one's own consciousness. And the major point of Gestalt is the perceptual field of the individual. The second core idea in modern psychology is learning, expressed prior to the late nineteenth century as the means by which simple ideas got associated together to form complex ideas. Early in the twentieth century, the behaviorists emphasized learning by suggesting that responses are products of environmental conditions rather than innate factors. The third core idea, motivation, was introduced by psychoanalytic and social theorists. They emphasized internal physical and mental energizers of action. The primary constructs here were conative or emotional factors. Hebb, emphasizing the organizing and integrating characteristics of behavior, encompasses both the cognitive and conative.
America's first prominent psychologist, writing in his Principles of Psychology, gives the most general definition of psychology -- "The science of mental life, both of its phenomena and their conditions." Although his definition parallels Wundt's, James prefers to think of the mental life and of consciousness as an on-going, whole, unanalyzable phenomena; not as something containing analyzable elements. James' definition is the broadest of all because it includes cognitive, conative, and affective characteristics of the mind and it refers to phenomena which need be neither mentalistic nor subjective.
John Dewey, in a psychology text written four years prior to the one by James, included the concept of "self." Dewey defines psychology as the ". . . science of the facts or phenomena of self (Dewey, 1891, p. 1)." The fundamental fact of the self is consciousness. But consciousness always has knowledge which is expressed in some individual form, including action in a context of feeling. Psychology, then, is a study of knowledge, will and feeling (Dewey, 1891, p. 5-6). Dewey's definition is more mentalistic, personalistic, and subjective than James'. The self is consciousness, awareness, and a collection of ideas. But the self exists and knows that it exists. This is self-consciousness. A stone and a stick exist; they have experiences when they are hit or burned or changed; but they neither know that they exist nor know that they have experiences. Dewey does not believe that one can ever get away from this primary characteristic of mental life -- the concept of self-consciousness.
Freud, though technically not a psychologist, is at the same time one of the greatest. His focus, however, is not generally on the normal mind. His biographer, Ernest Jones, believes that Freud conceived of mental development as resulting from two factors: l) how basic biological drives may achieve satisfaction and 2) how reaction-formations protect the individual against the fear of these primitive drives (Jones, 3, p. 436). Freud's great contribution was to emphasize motivation and to indicate how potent forces produced complex defense mechanisms. Freud began with the pathological and then showed how motivation and subsequent defenses help explain the normal human mind. His first two publications, after his work in neurology, described how dreams expressed personal defenses.
Although behaviorism is primarily identified with defining psychology as a study of behavior, such definitions also come from other fields. William McDougall, the great and controversial English bred American, known for his instinct doctrine, published a text in 1912 entitled, Psychology: The Study of Behavior, in which he defined psychology as the "... positive science of the behavior of living things (McDougall, 1912, p. 19)." While consciousness is not excluded from the domain of psychological investigation, it is subordinate to the primary aim to "... increase our understanding of, and our power of guidance and control over, the behavior of men and animals... (McDougall, 1919, p. 19)."
Koffka, the Gestalt psychologist, also uses "behavior" as the central concept in any definition of psychology because ". . . if we start with behavior it is easier to find a place for consciousness and mind than it is to find a place for behavior if you start with mind or consciousness (Koffka, 1935, p. 25)." But he makes a distinction, following Tolman, between two kinds of behavior -- molar and molecular. Molar behavior takes place in a behavioral environment which includes the mind and may be different for each individual depending upon his perception of the geographical environment. In this sense, not all behavior need be movement (p. 32). Molecular refers to more minute and specific behaviors such as discrete muscular movements.
Among 20th century American psychologists, Watson, Hull, and Skinner have been most influential. They maintain that the proper study of psychology is behavior, that and that the major goal of psychology should be predicion.
A distinctly different definition of psychology, however, is that of Hebb. He defines psychology as "... the study of the more complex forms of integration or organization in behavior (Hebb, 1966, p. 8)." Hebb is a behaviorist but believes that the study of specific responses or reflexes is the domain of physiology. Psychology, he claimed, studies the patterns of responses, a point of view laid down by Sherrington, who sought the organized patterns of integration. The patterns emerge, Hebb thinks, through such processes as learning, emotion, and perception. The patterns are both facilitated by and stored in the black box (the brain) even though our understanding at the present time is necessarily obscure. Mind and mental phenomena are really abstractions of the central nervous system processes that organize behavior.
Our definition of psychology can be summarized by saying that there are three major processes--learning, perception, and motivation. A precise definition of psychology, therefore, can be sidestepped and we can proceed directly to the question of what psychologists do. The activities of psychologists can be divided into two major fields -- research psychology and applied psychology. Most psychologists are involved in both. Although science progresses best by answering questions of practical importance, scientists more frequently answer questions of a general nature, unrelated to specific problems.
Research and scientific activity require the use of inductive reasoning and used by scientists when formulating general statements about the universe. Inductive reasoning is a kind of thinking which begins by making observations of many specific things and ends by producing generalized statements summarizing those observations. Those resulting laws, principles, or just plain facts, then, become the starting point for the second type of activity associated with science -- application or technology.
Applied scientists, sometimes called practitioners, engineers, or technicians use scientific facts to solve specific, concrete, real life problems. Most persons mistakenly think that such technical activity is science and that the individuals so engaged are scientists. Such a point of view is precisely why many schools of science sometimes foster unhappy and disillusioned students. Many students really wish to become practitioners rather than investigators. Thus, majors in sociology might do better in urban planning; psychology in social welfare or education; biology in medicine; physics in engineering; and chemistry students in pharmacy.
NOTE: It is this writer's view that psychology
began as a field of science -- interested in
discovering the truths of the mind, of behavior, or
any human phenomena. But during the past 30
years, primarily as a result of increased
government funding, psychology as perceived by
the general public and the average undergraduate
has moved from the state of science to that of
"art." Though this may be lamented by some
scholars, it is acclaimed by most students. The
student has always demanded, in any age and in
any field, that what he studies should have
practical application. Young people are action
oriented. And it is the doing, the immediacy of
change, which intrigues them most. Young people
change the world. They are also the artists. But
lies an inherent danger. And it is this. To act
is to require guiding principles but not always
facts. The facts come from science. In the
absence of facts, people act on the basis of belief,
hope, bias, suspicion, prejudice, fantasy, intuition,
or whatever. Intuition frequently produces
dramatic and positive results. The history of
humankind, however, is replete with examples of
actions based upon commendable assumptions
which lead to tragedy. And it happens frequently.
Before continuing to Module 2 complete Progress Check 1
PROGRESS CHECK 1
Now test yourself without looking at the reading. Select those answers which are correct (one or more) or fill in the blank spaces.
1.A definition of psychology:
a. is agreed upon by most all psychologists
b. depends upon the person giving the definition
c. as varied as there are psychologists
d. must be clearly understood before one can look at psychologists
2. In Greek mythology, Psyche refers to:
a. a beautiful girl
b. a butterfly
3. There are two major approaches in psychology. One is scientific or research psychology, the other is _______________ psychology.
4. Psychology was first introduced as a specific field of study by ____________________, a disciple of Leibnitz, who popularized the term "psychology."
5. One concept of the mind, introduced by Aristotle, was the notion of entelechy, which referred to:
a. organization and form
b. physical and mental
c. intellectual and rational
d. mental and physical
6. This module has examined definitions of psychology proposed by prominent theorists. These theorists were identified in a study by:
a. William James
b. Wilhelm Wundt
c. Coan and Zagona
d. Freud and Helmholtz
7. The Gestalt psychologists stressed ____________________ rather than behavior or motivation.
8. Hebb's definition of psychology, that it is a ". . . study of the more complex forms of integration or organization in behavior." emphasizes which of the following characteristics?
9. Psychologists who attempt to utilize psychological principles for the betterment of humankind might be humanists or might be mechanists. But in any event, they are more ____________________ than research psychologists.
10. that concept which refers to a relatively permanent change in a person's behavior as a result of practice is called:
11. A definition of psychology:
a. can be agreed upon by most psychologists
b. varies depending upon whom you are talking to
c. tends to be a narrow thing
d. is explicitly provided in this unit.
1. There were two concepts of psyche which eventually emerged. These were:
2. The two major concepts used by the Greeks to refer to the mental life were air and ________________.
3. The term psychology was commonly used in Germany by the end of the _____________ century.
4. Behavior, in the sense used by both McDougall and Tolman, implies:
a. physical movement only
b. psychological or mental movement only
c. both physical and mental movement
5. The three major components of any psychological investigation are:
6. Plato believed that personality could be divided into three parts,known as the tripartite mind, which included the cognitive, conative, and affective sides of humans. The cognitive was the intellectual or psyche, the conative was the motivational or striving, and the affective was the _______________ side of man.
7. Hilgard, Atkinson, et al., in their popular introduction to psychology, identify five different approaches to or conceptions about man. Match each approach as best you can with one of the definitions discussed in Module 1.
e. Humanistic l
| 1. Watson |
4. Dewey or James
8. Hilgard et al.(1975) review Deikman's work on altered states of consciousness, and report on how subjects meditated for increasing amounts of time each day while concentrating on a blue vase in front of them. Some of the common effects were shortening of time, more intense perceptions of the vase, etc. Such research is identified with which psychological field?
9. The term "psychology" was actually formulated in the:
a. 19th century
b. 18th century
c. 17th century
d. 16th century
5. motivation, learning
10. C, D
1. A, B
11. A-2; B-5; C-l; D-4; E-3.
12. A, C
7. A-3; B-l; C-4; D-2; E-4,5
NOW TAKE PROGRESS CHECK 2
1. Psyche marries:
d. the Golden Ass
2. Pneuma, a term coined by the stoics, refers to:
a. the body
3. In referring to the mental life of man, the Greeks used two concepts: intelligence and_________________.
4. Psychology emerged as a separate field at the same time that numerous books were published using psychology in the title. This occurred after the middle of the ___________________century.
5. John Dewey stressed __________ in his definition of psychology.
6. A theorist who defines psychology as concerned with the pathological rather than the normal, would probably be a follower of ____________.
7. Plato's tripartite theory of personality includes the affective, conative, and cognitive side of humans. The affective is the emotional, the conative is the striving or motivational, and the
cognitive is the:
8. Psychologists that work in mental hospitals, schools, clinics, etc. are helping persons to adapt to life. Generally, such psychologists are not trying to formulate new principles or generalizations. They are using inductively arrived at principles discovered by the research psychologists and are applying these principles. Such psychologists would be _____________ rather than research psychologists.
9. Some psychologists believe that stimulus-response connections cannot satisfactorily explain learning. Such psychologists are said to take a ______________ approach.
10. Psychology as both a term and as a field of study was first introduced by ____________________________.
2 or FEWER WRONG, go on to Module 2
MORE THAN 2 WRONG, review material and be sure to take notes.
2 or FEWER WRONG, go on to Module 2
MORE THAN 2 WRONG, review material and be sure to take notes.
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Unit 1 Table of Contents
January 15, 2008