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Special fields of psychology

Special fields of psychology



1. Introduction

2. Physiological psychology

3. Psychoanalysis

4. Behaviourism

5. Gestalt psychology

6 .Cognition

7. Tests and Measurements

8. Development psychology

9. Social psychology

10. Psychiatry and mental health

11. Forensic psychology and criminology

12. Psychology, religion and phenomenology

13. Parapsychology

14. Industrial Psychology



1. Introduction

Psychology, scientific study of behavior and experience—that is, the

study of how human beings and animals sense, think, learn, and know.

Modern psychology is devoted to collecting facts about behavior and

experience and systematically organizing such facts into psychological

theories. These theories aid in understanding and explaining people’s

behavior and sometimes in predicting and influencing their future


Psychology, historically, has been divided into many subfields of

study; these fields, however, are interrelated and frequently overlap.

Physiological psychologists, for instance, study the functioning of the

brain and the nervous system, and experimental psychologists devise

tests and conduct research to discover how people learn and remember.

Subfields of psychology may also be described in terms of areas of

application. Social psychologists, for example, are interested in the

ways in which people influence one another and the way they act in

groups. Industrial psychologists study the behavior of people at work

and the effects of the work environment. School psychologists help

students make educational and career decisions. Clinical psychologists

assist those who have problems in daily life or who are mentally ill.

History. The science of psychology developed from many diverse sources,

but its origins as a science may be traced to ancient Greece.

Philosophical Beginnings. Plato and Aristotle, as well as other Greek

philosophers, took up some of the basic questions of psychology that

are still under study: Are people born with certain skills, abilities,

and personality, or do all these develop as a result of experience? How

do people come to know the world? Are certain ideas and feelings

innate, or are they all learned?

Such questions were debated for many centuries, but the roots of modern

psychological theory are found in the 17th century in the works of the

French philosopher Ren Descartes and the British philosophers Thomas

Hobbes and John Locke. Descartes argued that the bodies of people are

like clockwork machines, but that their minds (or souls) are separate

and unique. He maintained that minds have certain inborn, or innate,

ideas and that these ideas are crucial in organizing people’s

experiencing of the world. Hobbes and Locke, on the other hand,

stressed the role of experience as the source of human knowledge. Locke

believed that all information about the physical world comes through

the senses and that all correct ideas can be traced to the sensory

information on which they are based.

Most modern psychology developed along the lines of Locke’s view. Some

European psychologists who studied perception, however, held onto

Descartes’s idea that some mental organization is innate, and the

concept still plays a role in theories of perception and cognition.

Against this philosophical background, the field that contributed most

to the development of scientific psychology was physiology—the study of

the functions of the various organ systems of the body. The German

physiologist Johannes Miller tried to relate sensory experience both to

events in the nervous system and to events in the organism’s physical

environment. The first true experimental psychologists were the German

physicist Gustav Theodor Fechner and the German physiologist Wilhelm

Wundt. Fechner developed experimental methods for measuring sensations

in terms of the physical magnitude of the stimuli producing them.

Wundt, who in 1879 founded the first laboratory of experimental

psychology in Leipzig, Germany, trained students from around the world

in this new science.

Physicians who became concerned with mental illness also contributed to

the development of modern psychological theories. Thus, the systematic

classification of mental disorders developed by the German psychiatric

pioneer Emil Kraepelin remains the basis for methods of classification

that are now in use. Far better known, however, is the work of Sigmund

Freud, who devised the system of investigation and treatment known as

psychoanalysis. In his work, Freud called attention to instinctual

drives and unconscious motivational processes that determine people’s

behavior. This stress on the contents of thought, on the dynamics of

motivation rather than the nature of cognition in itself, exerted a

strong influence on the course of modern psychology.

Modern psychology still retains many aspects of the fields and kinds of

speculation from which it grew. Some psychologists, for example, are

primarily interested in physiological research, others are medically

oriented, and a few try to develop a more encompassing, philosophical

understanding of psychology as a whole. Although some practitioners

still insist that psychology should be concerned only with behavior—and

may even deny the meaningfulness of an inner, mental life—more and more

psychologists would now agree that mental life or experience is a valid

psychological concern.

The areas of modern psychology range from the biological sciences to the

social sciences.

2. Physiological psychology

The study of underlying physiological bases of psychological functions

is known as physiological psychology. The two major communication

systems of the body—the nervous system and the circulatory system—are

the focus of most research in this area.

The nervous system consists of the central nervous system (the brain

and the spinal cord) and its outlying neural network, the peripheral

nervous system; the latter communicates with the glands and muscles and

includes the sensory receptors for seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting,

touching, feeling pain, and sensing stimuli within the body. The

circulatory system circulates the blood and also carries the important

chemical agents known as hormones from the glands to all parts of the

body. Both these communication systems are very important in overall

human behavior.

The smallest unit of the nervous system is the single nerve cell, or

neuron. When a neuron is properly stimulated, it transmits

electrochemical signals from one place in the system to another. The

nervous system has 12.5 billion neurons, of which about 10 billion are

in the brain itself.

One part of the peripheral nervous system, the somatic system,

transmits sensations into the central nervous system and carries

commands from the central system to the muscles involved in movement.

Another part of the peripheral nervous system, the autonomic system,

consists of two divisions that have opposing functions. The sympathetic

division arouses the body by speeding the heartbeat, dilating the

pupils of the eye, and releasing adrenaline into the blood. The

parasympathetic division operates to calm the body by reversing these


A simple example of communication within the nervous system is the

spinal arc, which is seen in the knee-jerk reflex. A tap on the

patellar tendon, just below the kneecap, sends a signal to the spinal

cord via sensory neurons. This signal activates motor neurons that

trigger a contraction of the muscle attached to the tendon; the

contraction, in turn, causes the leg to jerk. Thus, a stimulus can lead

to a response without involving the brain, via a connection through the

spinal cord.

Circulatory communication is ordinarily slower than nervous-system

communication. The hormones secreted by the body’s endocrine glands

circulate through the body, influencing both structural and behavioral

changes . The sex hormones, for example, that are released during

adolescence effect many changes in body growth and development as well

as changes in behavior, such as the emergence of specific sexual

activity and the increase of interest in the opposite sex. Other

hormones may have more direct, short-term effects; for instance,

adrenaline, which is secreted when a person faces an emergency,

prepares the body for a quick response—whether fighting or flight.

3. Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis, name applied to a specific method of investigating

unconscious mental processes and to a form of psychotherapy. The term

refers, as well, to the systematic structure of psychoanalytic theory,

which is based on the relation of conscious and unconscious

psychological processes.

Theory of Psychoanalysis

The technique of psychoanalysis and much of the psychoanalytic theory based

on its application were developed by Sigmund Freud. His work concerning the

structure and the functioning of the human mind had far-reaching

significance, both practically and scientifically, and it continues to

influence contemporary thought.

The Unconscious

The first of Freud’s innovations was his recognition of unconscious

psychiatric processes that follow laws different from those that govern

conscious experience. Under the influence of the unconscious, thoughts and

feelings that belong together may be shifted or displaced out of context;

two disparate ideas or images may be condensed into one; thoughts may be

dramatized in the form of images rather than expressed as abstract

concepts; and certain objects may be represented symbolically by images of

other objects, although the resemblance between the symbol and the original

object may be vague or farfetched. The laws of logic, indispensable for

conscious thinking, do not apply to these unconscious mental productions.

Recognition of these modes of operation in unconscious mental processes

made possible the understanding of such previously incomprehensible

psychological phenomena as dreaming. Through analysis of unconscious

processes, Freud saw dreams as serving to protect sleep against disturbing

impulses arising from within and related to early life experiences. Thus,

unacceptable impulses and thoughts, called the latent dream content, are

transformed into a conscious, although no longer immediately

comprehensible, experience called the manifest dream. Knowledge of these

unconscious mechanisms permits the analyst to reverse the so-called dream

work, that is, the process by which the latent dream is transformed into

the manifest dream, and through dream interpretation, to recognize its

underlying meaning.

Instinctual Drives

A basic assumption of Freudian theory is that the unconscious conflicts

involve instinctual impulses, or drives, that originate in childhood. As

these unconscious conflicts are recognized by the patient through analysis,

his or her adult mind can find solutions that were unattainable to the

immature mind of the child. This depiction of the role of instinctual

drives in human life is a unique feature of Freudian theory.

According to Freud’s doctrine of infantile sexuality, adult sexuality is an

end product of a complex process of development, beginning in childhood,

involving a variety of body functions or areas (oral, anal, and genital

zones), and corresponding to various stages in the relation of the child to

adults, especially to parents. Of crucial importance is the so-called

Oedipal period, occurring at about four to six years of age, because at

this stage of development the child for the first time becomes capable of

an emotional attachment to the parent of the opposite sex that is similar

to the adult’s relationship to a mate; the child simultaneously reacts as a

rival to the parent of the same sex. Physical immaturity dooms the child’s

desires to frustration and his or her first step toward adulthood to

failure. Intellectual immaturity further complicates the situation because

it makes children afraid of their own fantasies. The extent to which the

child overcomes these emotional upheavals and to which these attachments,

fears, and fantasies continue to live on in the unconscious greatly

influences later life, especially love relationships.

The conflicts occurring in the earlier developmental stages are no less

significant as a formative influence, because these problems represent the

earliest prototypes of such basic human situations as dependency on others

and relationship to authority. Also basic in molding the personality of the

individual is the behavior of the parents toward the child during these

stages of development. The fact that the child reacts, not only to

objective reality, but also to fantasy distortions of reality, however,

greatly complicates even the best-intentioned educational efforts.

Id, Ego, and Superego

The effort to clarify the bewildering number of interrelated observations

uncovered by psychoanalytic exploration led to the development of a model

of the structure of the psychic system. Three functional systems are

distinguished that are conveniently designated as the id, ego, and


The first system refers to the sexual and aggressive tendencies that arise

from the body, as distinguished from the mind. Freud called these

tendencies Triebe, which literally means “drives,” but which is often

inaccurately translated as “instincts” to indicate their innate character.

These inherent drives claim immediate satisfaction, which is experienced as

pleasurable; the id thus is dominated by the pleasure principle. In his

later writings, Freud tended more toward psychological rather than

biological conceptualization of the drives.

How the conditions for satisfaction are to be brought about is the task of

the second system, the ego, which is the domain of such functions as

perception, thinking, and motor control that can accurately assess

environmental conditions. In order to fulfill its function of adaptation,

or reality testing, the ego must be capable of enforcing the postponement

of satisfaction of the instinctual impulses originating in the id. To

defend itself against unacceptable impulses, the ego develops specific

psychic means, known as defense mechanisms. These include repression, the

exclusion of impulses from conscious awareness; projection, the process of

ascribing to others one’s own unacknowledged desires; and reaction

formation, the establishment of a pattern of behavior directly opposed to a

strong unconscious need. Such defense mechanisms are put into operation

whenever anxiety signals a danger that the original unacceptable impulses

may reemerge.

An id impulse becomes unacceptable, not only as a result of a temporary

need for postponing its satisfaction until suitable reality conditions can

be found, but more often because of a prohibition imposed on the individual

by others, originally the parents. The totality of these demands and

prohibitions constitutes the major content of the third system, the

superego, the function of which is to control the ego in accordance with

the internalized standards of parental figures. If the demands of the

superego are not fulfilled, the person may feel shame or guilt. Because the

superego, in Freudian theory, originates in the struggle to overcome the

Oedipal conflict, it has a power akin to an instinctual drive, is in part

unconscious, and can give rise to feelings of guilt not justified by any

conscious transgression. The ego, having to mediate among the demands of

the id, the superego, and the outside world, may not be strong enough to

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