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WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
“Psychology” comes from two words: psyche and logos. The word psyche
(pronounced “sigh-key”) is from the Greek word Ψυχη – meaning “breath of
life”, i.e. “soul or spirit”, loosely translated as MIND.
The Greek letter Ψ (spelled “psi”, and pronounced “sigh”) is now used as the the international symbol for Psychology. Hence, Psychology was originally defined as: the study of the mind. But, this isn’t how most Psychologists define Psychology today.
Towards a Definition
Most Psychologists try hard to make a clear distinction between what is proper
Psychology, and what isn’t.
So, how do Psychologists define “Psychology”? Well, there are difficulties in
finding one universally accepted definition. Although most Psychologists agree
that it is important to be scientific – to avoid muddled thinking – it’s not always
clear exactly what this means.
Another difficulty is the practical problem – some say “impossibility”! – of
studying the “mind” directly. Indeed, even trying to define “mind” is very
difficult. Some Psychologists have avoided this completely, especially the
Behaviorists, like B. F. Skinner and J. B. Watson.
In practice, therefore, most Psychologists concentrate on what is observable and
“We do not need to try to discover what personalities, states of mind, feelings… really are in order to get on with a scientific analysis of behavior.”
“Never use the terms consciousness, mental states, mind…”
measurable in a person’s behavior, including the biological processes in the
body. At the same time, despite the extreme views of certain Behaviourists, the
“mind” is still generally considered to be central to the subject.
Thus, a commonly accepted “working definition” is:
Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior of humans and
Psychology, on the other hand, is mainly about individuals or small groups of
people, as in Social Psychology.
There are also differences in the methods used. In Psychology, there is an emphasis
on experiments, but in Sociology that method is not usually possible – for
practical and ethical reasons – so observations and surveys are more commonly
Doesn’t that definition also apply to Sociology?
It is similar, but Sociology is generally about the study of large groups of people – in societies or sub-cultures.
What Does Psychology Include?
Unlike the Natural Sciences, Psychology doesn’t have one unifying theory or
We shall look at the 6 main approaches or perspectives within Psychology: