Psychology is a discipline we talk about a lot but which is not easy to understand in its entirety.
Some people think this is part of the health field, others assume that its main contribution is ‘oral care’ or that psychologists can read other people’s minds by analyzing what they say and how they move. , and there are many who continue to confuse it with philosophy.
All of this is indicative of a fact: if psychology is a young science, the large number of trends and career paths that start from it creates confusion about its raison d’être.
What exactly is psychology? 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 as follows: Psychology is the scientific discipline that studies and analyzes the behavior and mental processes of people.
This is a pretty superficial explanation of what is meant by psychology, but at least it serves as a starting point and also helps to cast aside one of the most common myths about the discipline. This myth is what psychology understands as one of the sections of the health sciences.
True, the early psychologists were strongly connected with medicine and neurology, but from the start there was a desire to understand the human mind in its most universal aspects, Not only in the disease. Even Sigmund Freud, the theories have become obsolete, he has sought not only to understand psychopathology, but the “psychic structures” and the mechanisms by which they work in every human being.
Thus, this science deals with the study of mental processes in general, not just psychological disorders, although clinical and health psychology are its two most well-known and popularized areas of intervention. This means that the idea that many people have of it focuses on just one of its facets and leaves out several of its components, such as social psychology, organizational psychology, etc.
2. The study of behavior
As we have seen, the basic definition of psychology is surprisingly broad. However, this creates problems. For example, there is no absolute consensus on what the object of study of this discipline is, that is, what we are trying to understand.
We have seen that theoretically psychologists study mental processes and behavior, but this simple distinction is already controversial.
For some, clarifying that mental processes and behavior are two separate things is necessary so as not to put aside the goal of understanding feelings, beliefs and, in general, everything that is going on, so to speak. lead.
For others, in particular the heirs of the behaviorist current, distinguishing between mental processes and behavior is unwarrantedo. Is what goes on in our head happening in parallel with what the rest of our body is doing? If we do not want to fall into dualism, we must start from the idea that our mental life does not arise spontaneously somewhere in our “psyche”, as if it were a substance disconnected from the cells that make us up. . According to this perspective, everything we usually attribute to the mind is also a form of behavior: a type of response that appears to a certain stimulus, produced in turn by a chain of causes and effects always connected to our environment and therefore , to the non-mind.
3. Human and non-human student
The definition mentions the relationship between psychology and the study of aspects of the human being, but this is not the case. In practice, psychologists research and intervene with a focus on our species, but many of them also work with ethologists, neuroscientists, and biologists in general. study all kinds of animals. After all, many of them also have nervous systems, mental lives, and a 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 with much of this; to give an example, seeing how certain groups of primates react in front of a mirror helps us learn more about the nature of consciousness and self-concept.
4. Does psychology focus on individuals?
We have already seen that psychology studies “people”. If this way of expressing it seems ambiguous, it is simply because it is; there are countless aspects on which this discipline can intervene, some have to do with the social, others not.
It is now widely accepted that the way we think, feel and act it has a lot to do with social interactions in which we participated. We do not exist as individuals living on the fringes of society; we are part of it, whether we like it or not, as long as our mind is shaped by something created together: language.
However, by focusing on one facet of what makes us human, some psychologists choose to focus their attention on the person understood as an individual, While others study the person as an entity participating in a network of social interaction. 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 involvement in group work makes us 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 term, but more in any case of applied sciences, because it uses scientifically generated knowledge to apply it and obtain certain effects. However, the controversy does not come that way, but by the extent to which it is possible to predict the behavior, Especially the human.
The power to predict what will happen and how you will react when predictions fail is something that receives a lot of attention in determining what is science and what is not. After all, seeing how predictions about an element of nature are confirmed is a sign that its functioning has been well understood and that, at least until a better theory emerges, it is reasonable to rely on it. that already exists. It is in this aspect that the discussion on the scientificity of psychology is concentrated.
Compared to chemistry or physics, psychology has many more problems in making concrete and accurate predictions, but it cannot be otherwise: the human nervous system, which is the main component of behavior and mental processes in our species, it is one of nature’s most complex systems, And that is constantly changing. This has two effects.
The first effect is that the number of variables influencing what we think, what we feel and what we do is overwhelming, virtually endless. Just finding an intimidating dog on the doorstep of the psychology lab will influence what happens next. This is why psychology may choose to know statistical models and some of the variables most relevant to understanding psychological phenomena, but it does not aspire to know virtually everything that comes into play, what it can aspire to. .
The second effect is that behavior and mind they are the result of a historical process. This means that we are always different, never the same as our “I” from the day before. What implications does this have for deciding whether psychology is a science? Very simple: what a prediction is made about is never the same as what has been studied before and the information has made it possible to establish the prediction. The person or group of people we are trying to predict has already changed since when we last analyzed it.
So everything it depends on the definition of the science we use and its degree of breadth. If we think scientists need to predict with great precision, then psychology is left out, which is not to say that it is not useful, as it is with the profession of historian. But if we consider that science is what makes predictions possible to the extent that they are useful and liable to be questioned if they do not come true (which is not the case in pseudosciences), then it stays inside.