Why Psychology is the science of (human) experience and behavior

The term “psychology” comes from the Greek. It contains the Greek terms “psyche” (“soul”) and “logos” (teaching, science). Literally translated, “psychology” means “theory of the soul”.


However, the concept of the soul is a  bit vague: Probably none of us has ever actually “seen” a soul, and accordingly the ideas of what different people imagine as “soul” will be different and vague. In addition, the concept of the soul has a religious connotation. That means that the religions have meanwhile occupied this term with their idea of ​​a non-corporeal, immortal or whatever kind of “something”. But psychology has little to do with religious beliefs. For these reasons, most modern psychologists dispense with the concept of soul and replace it with two less biased concepts:  experience and behavior.


modern definition


Psychology is the science of (human) experience and behavior


This or something like that is a very common definition. (But there are also other definitions)


The term  “experience” refers to everything that we can only observe in ourselves; that is, on everything that is subjective . These include, for example, ideas, thoughts, memories, dream contents, …


The term “behavior”  refers to everything that we can observe (in and of ourselves and) in other people (and animals); that means everything that is objective (some also say: intersubjective ). These include, for example, facial expressions, gestures, verbal expressions, actions, …


In contrast to everyday usage, the term behavior refers also to all what use is an instrument – for example, an EEG (brain = current meter), a computed tomography (CT =), a blood pressure monitor, … can be measured. 


The term “science”  refers to the fact that psychological theories that want to be recognized as “scientific” must have come about and be verifiable according to certain rules of the game – these are also called scientific standards . This is the main difference to everyday psychological theories or parapsychological theories. (The transitions are not always sharp and sometimes also controversial)


“Human”  refers to the fact that the focus of psychological interest is human (and not animal) experience and behavior. However, psychology also knows research on animals ; for example, when research on humans is prohibited for practical or ethical reasons or when one tries to compare animal and human experience and behavior.



possible work tasks: 


A1 : An example of a psychological process that everyone knows is fear. Think about which parts of the experience and which parts of behavior fear is. Create a table for this. If you still have time, you can also look for parts of your experience and behavior in other psychological processes (e.g. stress, aggression, joy, being in love, …).


A2: For a concrete example (fear, stress, …), formulate a question and / or a research hypothesis (assumption) that psychology could pose (make sure that you formulate a simple hypothesis). Think about which methods we could use to find an answer to our question or which methods psychologists could use to check your hypothesis. [Example of a question: Does fear make you stupid? ==> Working hypothesis:

strong fear makes stupid ==> verification method: mouse is confronted with cat and is given a learning task <–> comparison with mouse, which can learn in a relaxed manner]


A3: Have a look at the website of the magazine “Psychologie heute” or the website of the magazine “Brain and Mind”. Gather topics covered in these magazines. Gather technical terms you notice and add them to the list you already have.


A4:  Read the background text on parapsychology. Then explain what the term “parapsychology” means. What are the similarities between parapsychology and scientific psychology? What are the differences? Why are many people interested in parapsychological (or trivial psychological) theories?


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