AP Psych Chapter 01: The Science of Psychology

Introduction to Psychology

The Fields of Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior.  It is the systematic, scientific study of behavior and mental process. Its origins lie in a combination of two subjects: philosophy and science.

Behavior is can be feelings, emotions, and actions.  It refers to observable actions or responses in both humans and animals.

Mental processes are not directly observable but do refer to a wide range of complex mental processes, such as thinking, imagining, studying, and dreaming.

Overt means observable.  Behavior is overt.

Covert means unobservable or hidden.  Mental processes are covert.

A theory is a set of beliefs.  It is an attempt to explain human behavior.

Hypothesis is an educated guess or an attempt to explain from theory.


Psychology’s Goals

  1. Describe – The first goal is to describe the different ways that organisms behave.
  2. Explain – The second goal of psychology is to explain the causes of behavior.
  3. Predict – The third goal of psychology is to predict how organisms will behave in certain situations.
  4. Control – For some psychologists, the fourth goal of psychology is to control an organism’s behavior.  This has both positive and negative benefits.  There are also ethical considerations for this goal.


Early History and Theories

In the Beginning: Wundt, Introspection, and the Laboratory

Wilhelm Wundt (1879), also known as the “father of psychology,” created the first lab for experimental psychology.  His ideas fell under structuralism, which is the study of the most basic elements, primary sensations and perceptions that make up our conscious mental experiences.  He used introspection, which was a method exploring conscious mental processes by asking subject to look inward and report their sensations and perceptions.  Introspections in not considered scientific because it depends solely on the subject’s self-reports.

William James and Functionalism

Functionalism is the atoms of experience and believes the mind is constantly changing.  It was the study of the function rather than the structure of the consciousness and was interested in how our minds adapt to our changing environment.  William James created this idea.  It studies habits that are often are no even thought about such as opening a door.  James interests spread into educational psychology.

Gestalt Psychology: The Whole is Greater than the Sun of its Parts

Gestalt is another theory of psychology that holds the belief that the sum doesn’t make up the whole.  It emphasized that perception is more than the sum of its parts and studied how sensations are assembled into meaningful perceptual experiences.  That adding up all a person’s little behaviors doesn’t equate to who he or she is.  Kohler is credited with founding this approach to psychology.  Gestalt believes that the whole is greater than the sum of the partsInsight is organizing and putting ideas together.

Sigmund Freud’s Theory of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud used psychoanalysis.  He believed that most things take place in the unconscious.  He believed in hidden motives and that humans go through development stages.  Freud believed that psychological problems occur when a person doesn’t pass though these developmental stages correctly.  People who can’t get pass a stage become fixated on it and become stuck.  A male child between the ages of 3 to 5 hates his father (rival) and desires his mother.  A female child of the same age hates her mother and desires her father.  Freud believed people are motivated by their unconscious.

Pavlov, Watson, and the Dawn of Behaviorism

John Watson founded Behaviorism.  Watson didn’t believe that rats have a conscious.  He stated that the conscious in rats couldn’t be proven because there is no way to measure it or observe it.  He believed that psychology should be considered an objective, experimental science, whose goal should be the analysis of observable behavior and prediction and control of those behaviors.  He strongly influenced B.F. Skinner.

B.F. Skinner believed all human behavior could be changed by manipulation.  He developed the Skinner box for rats.  He thought that learning is better in parts through reinforcement.


Psychology Now: Modern Perspectives

Psychodynamic Perspective

The Psychodynamic perspective is a modern version of psychoanalysis

It focus on development of a sense of self and the discovery of motivations behind behavior.  There is no emphasis on unconscious motivations (big change from original).


Behavioral Perspective

Behavioral approach studies how organisms learn new behaviors or modify existing ones depending on whether events in their environment rewards or punishes these behaviors.


Humanistic Perspective

Humanistic approach emphasizes that each individual has great freedom in directing his or her future, a large capacity for personal growth, and a considerable amount of intrinsic worth, and enormous potential for self-fulfillment.


Cognitive Perspective

Cognitive approach examines how we process, store, and use information and how this information influences what we attend to, perceive, learn, remember, believe and feel.  Cognitive psychology examines how people think, study, and feel.  It believes that psychology can’t explain behavior by examining stimulants and responses.  Cognitive studies mental processes.


Sociocultural Perspective

Sociocultural perspective examines the relationship between social behavior and culture.

Cross-cultural approach examines the influence of cultural and ethnic similarities and differences on psychological and social functioning on a culture’s members.


Biopsychological Perspective

Biological approach focuses on how our genes, hormones, and nervous system interact with our environments to influence learning, personality, memory, motivation, emotion, and coping techniques.


Evolutionary Perspective

Evolutionary perspective examines the biological bases of universal mental characteristics that all humans share.  It seeks to explain mental strategies and traits.  In this approach the mind is seen as set of information-processing machines.


Psychological Professionals and Areas of Specialization

Psychological Professionals

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (M.D.) who has spent several years in clinical training, which includes diagnosing possible physical and neurological causes of abnormal behaviors and treating these behaviors, often with prescription drugs.

A psychoanalyst is usually someone who is either a psychiatrist or psychologist who has special training in the theories of Sigmund Freud and his method of psychoanalysis

A psychiatric social worker is a social worker with some training in therapy methods that focuses on environmental conditions that can have an impact on mental disorders, such as poverty, overcrowding, stress, and drug abuse.


Areas of Specialization

  • 35% work at universities and four-year colleges
  • 21% are self-employed
  • 18% work private for profit
  • 9% are private not for profit
  • 7% work for schools and other educational settings
  • 6% work for the state and local government
  • 4% work of the federal government


Psychological Research

Why Psychologists Use the Scientific Method

  1. Experimental research
  2. Perceiving a question
  3. Form a hypothesis
  4. Testing a hypothesis
  5. Drawing conclusions
  6. Report your results
  7. Replication is the theory that a test at one time and place can be reproduced with the same results in a different time and place.


Descriptive Methods

Naturalistic Observation is watching animals or humans behave in their normal environment.  The advantage is researchers gain a realistic picture of behavior.  One of the disadvantages is the observer effect, when people or animals behave differently when they know they are being observed.  This may be reduced through participant observation.  Another disadvantage is observer bias, when observers see what they expect to see.  This may be reduced through use of blind observers.  Another disadvantage is that each naturalistic setting is unique and observations may not hold between subjects.

Laboratory experiment is a technique to gather information about the brain, genes, or behavior with the least error and bias by using a controlled environment that allows careful observations and measurement.

Case study is an in-depth analysis of the thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, behaviors, or problems of an individual.  Disadvantage of such a study is that results may not apply to other people.  Advantage of this is that it is very detailed in terms of a person’s information.

Survey is a way to obtain information by asking many individuals – either person to person, by telephone, or by mail – to answer a fixed set questions about particular subjects.  Problems with it can be it contains errors or it can be biased.  Advantages with a survey is that it an efficient way to gather information from a large number of people (from all sorts of socioeconomic groups).  This isn’t useful if you want to study an individual. The population is a randomly selected sample of subjects from a larger group.


Finding Relationships

Correlation is when two things are related but there is no proof of cause and effect.  It is an association or relationship between the occurrences of two or more events.  Correlation can help predict behavior.

Correlation coefficient – is a number that indicates the strength of a relationship between or more events: the closer the number is to –1.00 or +1.00, the greater the strength of the relationship.

0 means no relationship.  This is called zero correlation.

+1 is the strongest relationship.  This is called a perfect positive correlation coefficient. An increase in one thing means something else would also increase at the same exact rate.

-1 is the strongest inverse relationship.  This is called a perfect negative correlation coefficient. An increase in one thing means something else would decrease at the same exact inverse rate.


The Experiment

Experiment is a method for identifying cause-and-effect relationships by following a set of rules and guidelines that minimize the possibility of error, bias, and chance occurrences.  Disadvantage of this is that results may not be universal.  Advantage of this is that this method yields the greatest potential for identifying cause-and-effect.


The Variables

Independent variable is what causes the result.  It is the variable that is being affected or manipulated.  It is the difference between the control and experimental group.  This is the experimental factor being manipulated.  It can be the treatment itself.

Dependent variable is the main focus or the result/effect.  It is the behavior being measured.  It is the factor that might be affected by changes in the independent variable.


The Groups

Experimental group is subject to the independent variable (i.e. drug).
Control group is NOT exposed to the independent variable (i.e. the drug) but instead are usually subject to the placebo.


The Importance of Randomization

Random sampling means the subject has a good chance of being selected for the experimental or control group.


Experimental Hazards: The Placebo Effect and the Experimenter Effect

Error and bias – Bias can come from the experimenters or the subjects.  Subject bias is when the subject attempts to improve the results of the experiment.

Experimenter Effect (Personal beliefs) – overlooking potential causes for a behavior because one is focused on a specific cause that is responsible for a behavior.  Example, a child gets “wild” at a party because he or she is served soda.

Self-fulfilling prophecy – involves having a strong belief or making a statement (prophecy) about a future behavior and then acting, usually unknowingly, to fulfill or carry out the behavior.  People make things happen because they expect them to turn out that way.


Single-Blind and Double-Blind Studies

Single-blind experiment is when the subjects do not know if they are in the experimental or the control group.  This reduces the placebo effect.

Double blind experiment is when neither the experimenter nor the subjects know whether a person is in the control or experimental group.



Ethics of Psychological Research

There is an institutional review board which is a professional group that reviews the safety, consideration of participants.  Established a code of ethics.


Common ethical guidelines:

  • Rights and well-being of participants must be weighed against the study’s value to science.
  • Participants must be allowed to make an informed decision about participation.
  • Deception must be justified.
  • Participants may withdraw from the study at any time.
  • Participants must be protected from risks or told explicitly of risks.
  • Investigator must debrief participants, telling the true nature of the study and expectations of results.
  • Data must remain confidential.