Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Introduction to 'Psychology'

Question: What is Psychology?

Answer: Psychology is a collection of academic, clinical and industrial disciplines concerned with the explanation and prediction of behaviour, thinking, emotions, motivations, relationships, potentials and pathologies.

Psychology (Classical Greek: psyche = "soul" or "mind", logos = "study of") is an academic and applied field involving the study of behaviour, mind and thought and the underlying neurological bases of behaviour. Psychology also refers to the application of such knowledge to various spheres of human activity, including problems of individuals' daily lives and the treatment of mental illness. It is largely concerned with humans, although the behaviour and mental processes of animals can also be part of psychology research, either as a subject in its own right (e.g. animal cognition and ethology), or somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology by means of comparison (including comparative psychology). Psychology is commonly defined as the science of behaviour and mental processes.

Psychology is conducted both scientifically and non-scientifically, but is to a large extent wholly rigorous. Mainstream psychology is based largely on positivism, using quantitative studies and the scientific method to test and disprove hypotheses, often in an experimental context. Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing on scientific knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand behaviour. However, not all psychological research methods strictly follow the empirical positivism philosophy. Qualitative research utilizes interpretive techniques and is descriptive in nature, enabling the gathering of rich clinical information unattainable by classical experimentation. Some psychologists, particularly adherents to humanistic psychology, may go as far as completely rejecting a scientific approach, viewing psychology more as an art rather than a rigid science. However, mainstream psychology has a bias towards the scientific method, which is reflected in the dominance of cognitivism as the guiding theoretical framework used by most psychologists to understand thought and behaviour.

Psychology does not necessarily refer to the brain or nervous system and can be framed purely in terms of phenomenological or information processing theories of mind. Increasingly, though, an understanding of brain function is being included in psychological theory and practice, particularly in areas such as artificial intelligence, neuropsychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Psychology is distinct from, though related to, psychiatry, the branch of medicine which treats mental illness.

Psychology differs from sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science, in part, by studying the behaviour of individuals (alone or in groups) rather than the behaviour of the groups or aggregates themselves. Although psychological questions were asked in antiquity (see Aristotle's De Memoria et Reminiscentia or "On Memory and Recollection"), psychology emerged as a separate discipline only recently. The first person to call himself a "psychologist", Wilhelm Wundt, opened the first psychological laboratory in 1879.

Question: What do you understand by term Modern Psychology?

Answer: The majority of mainstream psychology is based on a framework derived from cognitive psychology, although the popularity of this paradigm does not exclude others, which are often applied as necessary. Psychologists specialising in certain areas, however, may use the dominant cognitive psychology only rarely if at all.

The testing of different aspects of psychological function is a significant area of contemporary psychology. Psychometric and statistical methods predominate, including various well-known standardised tests as well as those created ad hoc as the situation or experiment requires.

Academic psychologists may focus purely on research and psychological theory, aiming to further psychological understanding in a particular area, while other psychologists may work in applied psychology to deploy such knowledge for immediate and practical benefit. However, these approaches are not mutually exclusive and most psychologists will be involved in both researching and applying psychology at some point during their work. Clinical psychology, among many of the various discipline of psychology, aims at developing in practicing psychologists’ knowledge of and experience with research and experimental methods which they will continue to build up as well as employ as they treat individual with psychological issues or use psychology to help others.

Contemporary psychology is broad-based and consists of a diverse set of approaches, subject areas, and applications. A comprehensive list is given in the Topics and Divisions sections below. Where an area of interest is considered to need specific training and specialist knowledge (especially in applied areas), psychological associations will typically set up a governing body to manage training requirements. Similarly, requirements may be laid down for university degrees in psychology, so that students acquire an adequate knowledge in a number of areas. Additionally, areas of practical psychology, where psychologists offer treatment to others, may require that psychologists be licensed by government regulatory bodies as well.

While the exact divisions may vary between different countries or institutions, the following areas are usually considered as core subjects or approaches by psychology societies and universities.

Question: What is Cognitive Psychology?

Answer: Cognitive psychology is the psychological science which studies cognition, the mental processes that are hypothesised to underlie behaviour. This covers a broad range of research domains, examining questions about the workings of memory, attention, perception, knowledge representation, reasoning, creativity and problem solving.

Cognitive psychology is radically different from previous psychological approaches in two key ways.

It accepts the use of the scientific method, and generally rejects introspection as a valid method of investigation, unlike phenomenological methods such as Freudian psychology.

It posits the existence of internal mental states (such as beliefs, desires and motivations) unlike behaviourist psychology.

The school of thought arising from this approach is known as cognitivism.
Cognitive psychology is one of the more recent additions to psychological research, having only developed as a separate area within the discipline since the late 1950s and early 1960s (though there are examples of cognitive thinking from earlier researchers). The term came into use with the publication of the book Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser in 1967. However the cognitive approach was brought to prominence by Donald Broadbent's book Perception and Communication in 1958. Since that time, the dominant paradigm in the area has been the information processing model of cognition that Broadbent put forward. This is a way of thinking and reasoning about mental processes, envisaging them like software running on the computer that is the brain. Theories commonly refer to forms of input, representation, computation or processing, and outputs.

This way of conceiving mental processes has pervaded psychology more generally over the past few decades, and it is not uncommon to find cognitive theories within social psychology, personality, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology; the application of cognitive theories in comparative psychology has led to many recent studies in animal cognition.

The information processing approach to cognitive functioning is currently being questioned by new approaches in psychology, such as dynamical systems, and the embodiment perspective.

Because of the use of computational metaphors and terminology, cognitive psychology was able to benefit greatly from the flourishing of research in artificial intelligence and other related areas in the 1960s and 1970s. In fact, it developed as one of the significant aspects of the inter-disciplinary subject of cognitive science, which attempts to integrate a range of approaches in research on the mind and mental processes.

Question: What is major criticism of Cognitive Psychology?

Answer: Cognitivism has been criticised in a number of ways.
Phenomenologist and hermeneutic philosophers have criticised the positivist approach of cognitivism for reducing individual meaning to what they perceive as measurements stripped of all significance. They argue that by representing experiences and mental functions as measurements, cognitivism is ignoring the context (of contextualism) and, therefore, the meaning of these measurements. They believe that it is this personal meaning of experience gained from the phenomenon as it is experienced by a person (what Heidegger called being in the world) which is the fundamental aspect of our psychology that needs to be understood: therefore they argue that a context free psychology is a contradiction in terms. They also argue in favour of holism: that positivist method cannot be meaningfully used on something which is inherently irreducible to component parts. Hubert Dreyfus has been the most notable critic of cognitivism from this point of view. Humanistic psychology draws heavily on this philosophy, and practitioners have been among the most critical of cognitivism.

In the 1990s, various new theories emerged that challenged cognitivism and the idea that thought was best described as computation. Some of these new approaches, often influenced by phenomenological and post-modernist philosophy, include situated cognition, distributed cognition, dynamicism, embodied cognition, ecological psychology and critical psychology. Some thinkers working in the field of artificial life (for example Rodney Brooks) have also produced non-cognitivist models of cognition.

The idea that mental functions can be described as information processing models has been criticised by philosopher John Searle and mathematician Roger Penrose who both argue that computation has some inherent shortcomings which cannot capture the fundamentals of mental processes.

Penrose uses Gödel's incompleteness theorem (which states that there are mathematical truths which can never be proven in a sufficiently strong mathematical system; any sufficiently strong system of axioms will also be incomplete) and Turing's halting problem (which states that there are some things which are inherently non-computable) as evidence for his position.

Searle has developed two arguments, the first (well known through his Chinese Room thought experiment) is the 'syntax is not semantics' argument - that a program is just syntax, understanding requires semantics, therefore programs (hence cognitivism) cannot explain understanding. The second, which he now prefers but is less well known, is his 'syntax is not physics' argument - nothing in the world is intrinsically a computer program except as applied, described or interpreted by an observer, so either everything can be described as a computer and trivially a brain can but then this does not explain any specific mental processes, or there is nothing intrinsic in a brain that makes it a computer (program) - both points, he claims, refute cognitivism. Finally it is not clear to what extent cognitivists can respond to the problems of Ryle's Regress or the homunculus fallacy.

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