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What is Psychology? 5 keys to discover this science

What is Psychology? 5 keys to discover this science

May 2, 2024

Psychology is a discipline that is talked about a lot but that is not easy to understand in its entirety.

Some people believe that it is part of the field of health, others assume that their main contribution is the "spoken cure" or that psychologists know how to read the thoughts of others by analyzing what they say and how they move, and not a few They still confuse it with philosophy.

All this is indicative of a fact: although psychology is a young science, the large number of currents and professional outlets that start from it causes confusion about its raison d'être.

Understanding Psychology

What is psychology, exactly? The answer to this is simple and complicated at the same time, so, to understand it in a simple and organized way, we will see it from 5 keys. Let's start with the basics.


1. A simple definition of "Psychology"

We can start with a simple explanation of what psychology is. This definition would be the following : Psychology is the scientific discipline that studies and analyzes the behavior and mental processes of people.

This is a rather superficial explanation of what is meant by psychology, but at least it serves as a starting point and, in addition, allows us to leave aside one of the most frequent myths about this discipline. This myth is one that understands psychology as one of the sections of the health sciences.

Certainly, the first psychologists were strongly linked to medicine and neurology, but from the beginning there was a willingness to understand the human mind in its most universal aspects , not only in the disease. Even Sigmund Freud, whose theories have been outdated, not only intended to understand psychopathology, but the "psychic structures" and the mechanisms through which they functioned in any human being.


Thus, this science is concerned with studying mental processes in general, not only psychological disorders, although clinical and health psychology are the two most popular and popularized areas of intervention. This means that the idea that many people have of it focuses only on one of its facets and leaves out many of its components, such as social psychology, the psychology of organizations, etc.

2. The study of behavior

As we have seen, the basic definition of psychology is surprisingly broad. However, this generates some problems. For example, there is no absolute consensus about what is the object of study of this discipline, that is, what is intended to be understood.

We have seen that, theoretically, psychologists study mental processes and behavior, but this simple distinction already brings controversy.


For some, clarifying that mental processes and behavior are two separate things is necessary to not leave aside the goal of understanding the feelings, beliefs and, in general, everything that happens, so to speak, "from inside doors". ", Inside our head.

For others, especially the heirs of the behaviorist current, distinguish between mental processes and behavior is unjustified or. What happens inside our head happens in parallel to what the rest of our body does? If we do not want to fall into dualism, we should start from the idea that our mental life does not arise spontaneously somewhere in our "psyche", as if it were some substance disconnected from the cells that compose us. According to this perspective, everything that we usually attribute to the mental is also a form of behavior: a type of response that appears before a certain stimulus, produced in turn by a chain of causes and effects that is always connected to our environment and , therefore, to the non-mental.

3. Studying human and non-human

In the definition, the relationship between psychology and the study of aspects of the human being is mentioned, but this is not quite so. In practice, psychologists investigate and intervene focusing on our species, but many of them also work with ethologists, neuroscientists and biologists in general studying all kinds of animals . After all, many of them also have a nervous system, a mental life and the propensity to learn new behaviors.

In addition, it is also possible to study animals with an eye on our species to better understand who we are and where we come from. Comparative psychology deals largely with this; For example, seeing the way in which certain groups of primates react to a mirror helps us to know more about the nature of consciousness and self-concept.

4. Does psychology focus on individuals?

Earlier we have seen that psychology studies "people". If this way of expressing itself seems ambiguous, it is simply because it is; There are many aspects on which this discipline can intervene, and some of them have to do with the social, while others do not.

Currently, it is very assumed that our way of thinking, feeling and acting it has a lot to do with social interactions in which we have participated. We do not exist as individuals living on the margins of society; we are part of it, whether we like it or not, from the moment our mind is modeled by something created together: language.

However, positions to focus on one of the facets of what makes us human, some psychologists choose to fix their attention on the person understood as an individual , while others study the person as an entity that participates in a social interaction network. For example, it is possible to study the intelligence or memory of individuals with certain characteristics, and it is also perfectly legitimate to analyze how the fact of being involved in group work causes us to reason and construct proposals collectively.

5. Do psychologists do science?

Another hot spot when it comes to understanding what psychology is is whether or not it belongs to the world of science. It is true that this discipline has a facet that is not part of science in the strict sense of the word, but more in any case to applied sciences, since it uses scientifically generated knowledge to apply it and achieve certain effects. However, the controversy does not come from that side, but by the degree to which it is possible to predict the behavior , especially the human.

The power to predict what is going to happen and the way in which it is reacted when forecasts fail is something to which much attention is paid to determine what is science and what is not. At the end of the day, seeing how forecasts about an element of nature are confirmed is a sign that their functioning has been well understood and that, at least until a better theory emerges, it is reasonable to trust what is already there. . It is in this aspect that the discussion about the scientificity of psychology is centered.

  • Related article: "Is Psychology a Science?"

Predict behavior

Compared to chemistry or physics, psychology has many more problems to establish concrete and accurate predictions, but this can not be otherwise: the nervous system of the human being, which is the main component of behavior and mental processes in our species, It is one of the most complex systems in nature , and it also changes constantly. This has two effects.

The first effect is that the number of variables that influence what we think, what we feel and what we do is overwhelming, practically infinite. The simple fact of having found an intimidating dog at the door of the psychology laboratory will influence what will happen next. That is why psychology can choose to know statistical patterns and some of the most relevant variables when it comes to understanding psychological phenomena, but does not aspire to know practically everything that comes into play, something that chemists can aspire to do. they study molecules.

The second effect is that behavior and mental they are the result of a historical process . This means that we are always different, we are never identical to our "I" from the previous day. What implications does this have when deciding whether psychology is science? Very simple: what a prediction is made on is never the same as that which has been studied before and whose information has made it possible to establish the prediction. The person or group of people on whom we try to predict things has already changed since the moment we last analyzed it.

So, everything depends on the definition of science that we use and its degree of amplitude . If we believe that scientists must predict with a very high degree of accuracy, psychology is left out, which does not mean that it is not useful, as is the case with the profession of historians. But if we consider that science is what allows us to establish predictions to a degree in which they are useful and prone to be questioned if it happens that they are not met (something that does not happen in pseudosciences), then it remains inside.

  • Maybe you're interested: "The 30 best Psychology books you can not miss"

Intro to Psychology - Crash Course Psychology #1 (May 2024).


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