What is and what does psychology study

Psychology is one of the most fascinating and complex social sciences and in this post we will see what it is about and what it studies.

If there is a specialty in the social sciences that attracts the attention of locals and strangers alike, it is psychology. Given the curious nature of our species, it is normal that so many people experience some interest in this discipline. All of us, at some point, have been intrigued or attracted to at least one aspect related to psychology, but let’s start with the basics.

What is psychology?

Psychology is a broad and complex science that participates in the social sciences and medical sciences, since its field of study encompasses the behavioral and biological aspects of individuals.

The term psychology comes from the Greek voices:

  • Psique , which could be translated into current Spanish as: essence .
  • Logía , which was the term used in Greece to designate the study .

In such a way that, attached to the literal meaning of both words, we would have that psychology is a systematic discipline that is responsible for studying the human essence , which must then be interpreted as: the study of the intangible.

But of this scientific discipline there are many schools, therefore, the term has different meanings. Let’s see then what is psychology based on the approaches of certain schools of psychology and some authors.

Psychology according to …

Watson , one of the forerunners and greatest defenders of behavioral psychology, in his essay published in 1913 and entitled: ” psychology as seen by a behaviorist” posits that psychology, from its behavioral position, is a branch of science whose purpose is to predict and control human behavior and behavior. In addition, he does not consider that the introspective aspects of man are of interest to psychology because they lack objectivity and, he makes clear that, in his opinion, psychology will acquire a greater scientific aspect to the extent that it moves away from introspection.

On the other hand, Titchener , considered the father of structuralism as well as a great introspectionist, a year later and in response to Watson himself published the article: “about psychology as seen by a behaviorist”, where he defends a psychology that It covers and studies all aspects of man’s experience, such as: individual perceptions, feelings, and thoughts.

Along the same lines, William James , in what is considered the most important work on psychology written in English to date and which is entitled principles of psychology, also refers to psychology as: the science of those phenomena that involve complexity such that they can be perceived as chaotic. Among the “chaotic phenomena” that James points out are: reflections, emotions, desires, among other phenomena of the mind.

In turn, Mary Whiton Calkins , who was the first woman to preside over the American Psychological Association , begins her work Psychology as Science of Self by saying that: psychology is a science of consciousness.

Thus we have that there are as many different definitions of psychology as there are authors, scholars, schools and psychological currents. For this reason, putting together a compilation with each of the definitions that the most prominent psychologists have given about this science, from the beginning to the present day, is a rather complex task that escapes the purposes of this article.

Therefore, with this brief compilation that we present, we believe that we have fulfilled the objective of giving space to several dissimilar positions about psychological science, we hope that it will serve to give readers an idea of ​​how plural and diverse opinions, positions and opinions are that have been given environment to this scientific discipline.

It is then up to the reader to adhere to or formulate the definition that best suits their individual scientific and intellectual convictions.

Let’s keep reflecting on the term: psychology , but this time to look for its origins.

What are the origins of psychology?

The use of the word psychology for the first time is attributed to the poet Marko Marulić, who used it in the title of one of his books, which was written between the 15th and 16th centuries and of which today there are only fragments and reviews made by other scholars.

But, long before Marulić wrote psichiologia de ratione animae humanae, man was already interested in the study of mental aspects linked to behavior, as proof of this there are documents such as the Ebers Papyrus.

The Ebers Papyrus is a work of Egyptian medicine that is estimated to have been written 1,500 years before Christ , although it is speculated that it is most likely a transcription of other previous works and that it is then a kind of compilation or compendium.

In any case, the work is important for the subject at hand: psychology, since it contains a section dedicated to depression and dementia . This chapter dedicated to mental disorders draws attention due to its content and its form, as it is entitled: the book of hearts .

But the Ebers Papyrus is not the only ancient work that deals with aspects related to the study of human psychology, in the East, specifically in China, the Huangdi Neijing was written , a treatise on traditional medicine, which is believed to have been composed two centuries before our era.

In the Huangdi Neijing or The First Internal Canon of the Yellow Emperor , the role that the mind plays in the development of certain imbalances that cause physical diseases is discussed.

Already in the West, during the Enlightenment, psychology, or more specifically different aspects of the mind and its different implications, were extensively studied by different scholars, among which we can mention Descartes .

René Descartes – considered the initiator of modernity thanks to his discourse on method and his well-known: cogito ergo sum or I think, therefore I exist – is responsible for the fact that later philosophers and scholars were more introspective and began to consider the mind as an object of study.

De Descartes highlights his work: ” the passions of the soul ” where he studies the influence of what we now call emotions and the relationship that exists between the body, the material, the tangible and the corporeal with the mind or the intangible.

Descartes was not only the initiator of modernity, he was also the precursor of psychological philosophy and was, to a great extent, responsible for other scholars such as Leibniz dealing with aspects related to the mind.

What does psychology study?

Although, as we saw in previous sections, it is difficult to find a single definition of psychology, all the meanings of the term, with their respective nuances, more or less agree that psychology is the study of the phenomena of the mind and behavior of individuals . Therefore, psychology studies, broadly speaking, mind and behavior.


Now, it is necessary to point out that these phenomena of the mind are extremely broad and that the behavior of individuals is not studied in isolation, but rather they are studied taking into account the influence of the environment or social environment and the historical and cultural aspects of said environment.

We could not speak of psychology as one of the branches of the social sciences if it did not consider the cultural aspects of individuals and how these, in turn, influence their behavior and the conformation of responses to certain given stimuli.

But, in order for psychological science to reach this stage that we know today, some time had to pass, let’s see.

At first, when psychology was closer to philosophy than to science, it reflected on questions of a more spiritual nature. Then he began to reflect on the knowledge of objects until he was interested in the mind, but without transcending conjectural reflection and speculative discourse, and it remained that way for hundreds of years.

It is not until Wilhelm Wundt installed in 1879, what is considered the first laboratory for psychological studies in history, that psychology acquires a scientific aspect.

With Wundt there is the first attempt to quantify behavior and mental phenomena. This psychology studied the phenomena of the mind such as sensations and feelings and in each experiment variables were quantified, such as response times and the linguistic associations that individuals made. It was a psychology that studied phenomena using techniques similar to those used to study physiology.

From that moment on, the different types of psychology and psychologists began to emerge , and with a clear scientific basis, the main schools of psychology that were established are:

  • the Conductismo
  • the Psychoanalysis
  • The Humanist School

Each of these schools or psychological movements studies human behavior from a different perspective, in such a way that, depending on the approach, emphasis is placed on different aspects of mental phenomena and behavior.

But we must say that, regardless of the current of thought or the school, psychology is nothing more than a discipline that, under certain precepts and theoretical principles, studies the psyche and human behavior.

The psyche, which for the philosophers of ancient Greece was the vital breath , or the soul of individuals, can be defined as the sum of all phenomena that originate in the mind . Phenomena and processes such as:

  • The unconscious.
  • Perception.
  • The emotions.
  • The feelings.
  • The memory.
  • Awareness.
  • The reasoning.
  • The thoughts.
  • The motivation.
  • The conduct.

What happens is that each of the schools of psychology, instead of addressing the whole of the psyche, specializes only in some particular processes.

Thus, for example, behavioral or behavioral psychology is based on the study of measurable and observable phenomena , such as: the behavior and responses that individuals give to certain stimuli and, how in turn these behaviors or responses can be modified or conditioned through the use of new stimuli.

For its part, the school of psychoanalysis focuses its attention on the phenomena of the unconscious : ranging, from drives or eros, to dreams, through phobias and failed acts, among other phenomena and processes of the unconscious.

But, other currents of psychology such as cultural historical psychology , founded by the Soviet Lev Vygotsky in the thirties of the last century, focus their study on the influence that the social environment plays on the mental processes of the individual, especially learning, understood this as a process that is affected by collective interaction.

Along the same lines, learning psychology, which is also known as cognitive behavioral psychology, is responsible for the study of the processes linked to learning and cognition of individuals, but they are not the only schools and psychological currents that exist.

How does psychology study human behavior and mind?

Although there are different schools and psychological currents, to carry out studies of behavior and mental phenomena there are basically two types of research or, to be more precise: two research approaches . These two approaches are:

  • The quantitative approach.
  • The qualitative approach.

The quantitative approach in psychology

This quantity-based and clearly positivist approach studies behavior supported by methods such as:

  1. The cientific method
  2. The correlational method
  3. The experimental method

The scientific method in psychology

The scientific method in the field of psychology is used to find new results or to confirm theses and hypotheses related to behavior and mental processes.

This is characterized by:

  • Starting from a given problem
  • Formulate hypotheses
  • Make predictions
  • Obtain new results through experimentation
  • Formulate new hypotheses and problems

Many popular psychological studies in the history of this science have been carried out through this method.

The correlational method

Another method widely used by quantitative current psychologists is the correlational method.

The correlational method is not based on controlled experimentation but on the collection of data directly, as they occur in reality. Thus, the researcher does not interfere with the groups and samples, but studies them as they are in the environment or as they appear in reality.

This method is really based on statistical analysis and in the field of psychology is frequently used for the test application, such as intelligence tests and personality tests, which are few studies with high level of standardization.

The qualitative approach in psychology

This, contrary to the quantitative approach, is based on phenomena rather than numbers and therefore gives great importance to the processes and the interrelationships that exist between what is studied and the environment, rather than to the results.

Therefore, in this approach there are no hypotheses or statistical representations.

The following methods are commonly used in this approach:

  • Polls
  • Observation records
  • Clinical case studies
  • Auto reports

The qualitative approach is based on a referential framework, but, unlike the quantitative one, it does not follow a rigid theoretical framework to conduct research and generate proposals. This does not mean, in any way, that it does not follow a coherent and logical structure that cannot be contrasted.

What is psychology for?

All sciences pursue the development of knowledge , but this knowledge is not seen as an end in itself, but as a means, since sciences, regardless of the branch, seek to produce knowledge that is useful for the development of individuals and of society.

So to achieve that goal, all the scientific disciplines what they seek to do is:

  1. classification of phenomena or processes.
  2. An explanation of these phenomena and processes.
  3. prediction of each of the classified and described phenomena.
  4. And finally, and, as far as possible, try to control the phenomena studied.

Psychology, as we know, is the study of the psyche and the different processes that take place in it, in such a way that psychology serves to:

Sort out

This is to make a classification of each of the mental and behavioral phenomena of individuals. That is why today we speak of terms such as: unconscious, drive, desire, phobia, fear, motivation, feelings, cognition.

Language and many of the categories of psychological study today are part of common language, and not only that, but also many people who are not specialists in the area understand a good part of certain psychological concepts, which has to do with with the next point.


Explain the phenomena and processes of the psyche : in this sense psychology, in addition to being a rather young science, has done a commendable job, since each of the processes of the psyche have been explained by each of the schools. psychological, and also these explanations have transcended the academic-scientific sphere and are present within the daily discourse. But, in addition, the explanation of mental processes has served to understand us as a species.

Psychology has the peculiarity that through it man studies himself, it can even be said that it is the mind studying the mind, and that study has allowed us to understand complex phenomena: that is why we know what development or evolution is like of the human mind throughout life, how learning works, dreams, motivation, and so on. But it has also allowed us:


Predicting behavior : thanks to psychology we know that human behavior responds to certain established patterns and not to mere chaotic, random and irrational drives. Although there are millions of variables that interfere in the behavior of individuals and the masses in certain situations, and that, at least for the moment, it is impossible to know exactly what N subject could do in the future, today there are studies and registers that provide parameters and guide where actions can be directed, both individual and collective.

Thus, for example, some studies such as vocational or aptitude tests would serve to quantify the pass or fail rate in a course or, also, they could help to calculate what level of performance will be obtained from certain employees, even before hiring them.

This “predictive” character of psychology is useful, for example, to rescue groups and authorities to anticipate how people might behave during a disaster, or to the marketing or marketing department of a company to promote their products and obtain greater success. based on the known behavior patterns of the target audience.


Granted, it may be that controlling mental phenomena and behavior for some might sound a bit exaggerated, but thanks to the knowledge of mental and behavioral processes that psychology provides, it is possible to take actions that help to modify certain behaviors.

One of the greatest contributions of psychology is precisely its therapeutic value . Counseling and psychological interventions can improve people’s behavior at different levels of life.

Thanks to therapy, many people have overcome school, work, family and other problems more linked to human existence: such as separations, duels, accidents. Also thanks to psychological intervention we can, as people, raise our potential in any area of ​​our life.

Why is psychology important?

Psychology is an important science and discipline – because in addition to being in the select and reduced group of sciences that study the mind – it is one of the few disciplines that explains human behavior and the mental phenomena associated with it. that, it can be said that psychology is a science that allows us to know ourselves as a species at different levels, both individually and collectively.

Psychology is also of capital importance because it has also made invaluable contributions to human development, not to mention that much of the current teaching system is based, to a great extent, on the contributions made by the most reputable psychologists in the area of ​​learning.

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist is a professional trained to deal with the mental and behavioral aspects of individuals and social groups. Psychologists, in essence, are behavior and process counselors and, contrary to what may be believed, not all of them are engaged in psychological therapy .

What do psychologists study?

Among the mental and behavioral aspects that psychologists can study and treat are:

  • The emotions.
  • Cognition, that is: learning and its difficulties.
  • The bonds and relationships are well: family, work, couple.
  • The traumas, the phobias.
  • Dependency problems and disorders.
  • The sexuality.
  • Anxiety and stress.
  • Mental illnesses.
  • Belief systems.
  • Behavior patterns.

But that is only part of what psychology professionals study, since this science has found applications in different areas of life.

Thus, it is normal for each organization, institution, company or industry to have a psychologist or a group of psychologists specialized in different branches of the discipline.

Psychologists also tend to work in fields such as:

  • Teaching.
  • The orientation.
  • Academic research.
  • The selection of personnel or in human resources departments.
  • The advice.
  • Sales, advertising and marketing.

Thanks to cinema, television and literature, psychologists are often thought of as characters who only interview patients on the couch, but the psychological task is very broad and is expanding more every day, to the point that, at present, it is possible finding psychology professionals in fields where a few years ago it seemed impossible. Yes, frequently, in some areas that might seem outside the field of psychology, the knowledge of these professionals is often demanded. Some of these areas that we can mention are:

  • The sport.
  • The business of music and entertainment.
  • The architecture and design of living, work and entertainment spaces.
  • The right.
  • The victimology.
  • Penitentiary sciences.
  • Politics.

This is because psychology is a broad science that draws on other sciences and disciplines, so psychologists during their training process study subjects such as:

  • Philosophy.
  • Anthropology.
  • Neurosciences.
  • Sociology.
  • Logic
  • Statistics.
  • Investigative methodology and scientific foundations.
  • Learning Sciences.
  • Language, linguistics and communication.
  • Psychobiology.
  • Psychometry.

The psychologist as therapist or therapist

A very important aspect of the work of psychologists that interests many is that of therapy.

Although, we must say that therapy is only part of the work that some psychologists do, since not all of them specialize as therapists.

Psychological therapy is an intervention process where the professional seeks to effect a change in the behavior or in the psyche of the patient or client — which is what those who attend therapy are called by supporters of humanistic psychology.

The therapist seeks at first to create a climate of trust where the consulted is free of insecurities, fears, feels comfortable and with enough ease to raise their situation or problem, from there the psychologist will be in charge of setting goals that will be achieved in successive sessions.


by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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