What Is Psychology?

From: Elizabeth Hocking (eih197@soton.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Oct 14 1997 - 18:04:20 BST

Defining such a diverse subject as psychology is no easy
task. The Readers' Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder (1993)
states that psychology is "the scientific study of the human
mind and its functions esp. those affecting behaviour in a
given context."

This establishes, as we did, that psychology is a science.
Under the subtitle of "The Scientific Method" in chapter 1 of
"Principles of Behavioural Neuroscience" (1995), Beatty
states that "there is no one scientific method. Rather,
science is more like a state of mind. It is an adapted to a
wide variety of specific questions in the various fields of

This implies that psychology contains a paradox: it is a
science which seeks to study the human mind, but science is
like a state of mind. This suggestion, therefore, reflects
the complexity of the mind: science, like the mind, has many
subdivisions and definitions.

Beatty goes on to say that despite differences in the
sciences "at the core of the scientific state of mind are a
number of common elements." These comprise "objectivity,
observation, experimentation, proper controls, statistical
evaluation, independent verification of results, and
evolution. The majority of these are included on our
psychology course, which backs up the claim that psychology
is a science.

Psychology, then, has the characteristics of a science and
explores and studies the human mind. So, then, what is this?

Beatty, also in chapter 1, gives examples of how people
believe the brain and mind exist; monisms, dualisms and
pluralisms. Are they one unit, two, or more? If they are
two or more, how do they interact?

One of the most searching questions raised by A. R. Luria's
"The Man with a Shattered World" is "Is the mind really me?"
To explore the answer to this is is necessary to study the
mind. But how is this accomplished? How different people
react to something may give an observer an inclination of
what goes on in their mind.

For example, this weekend, I went home for a family
christening. Of course, all the inevitable questions came
up. It was very interesting to see the differing reactions
when I said I am studying psychology. One man said, "I'm
going, I can't say anything to you can I?" Others exclaimed
but yet others reacted on a congratulatory note. What makes
people's reactions so varied? Is it how they perceive things
differently? And why is this? There are so many influences
- the views of people close to them, the media and suchlike.

I don't think I have come to any great conclusions here, but
have raised more questions to ponder.

Readers' Digest Complete Wordfinder (1993)
Principles of Behavioural Neuroscience, J. Beatty (1995)
The man with a shattered world, A. R. Luria

Elizabeth Hocking eih197@soton.ac.uk

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