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Psychology is defined as the scientific study of the behavior and mental processes of individuals. Before psychology, people did not know why we feel the things we feel or think the things we think. So psychology began with some goals in mind. The first goal is to observe behavior and describe what is happening. This allows for the next goal which is to explain what is happening. It is important to be able to explain how and why behavior happens. It is necessary to find motives or triggers that will cause outcomes. By knowing what causes behaviors to occur we can then predict what will happen in the future. We can then know what to expect and intervene to control the outcome of behavior. Predicting behavior will allow psychologists to better help people by being able to control the outcome of their behavior.
There have been a few pioneers that have paved the road for modern psychology. In Leipzig, Germany, a scientist by the name of Wilhelm Wundt became one of the largest contributors to the development of psychology. Wundt created a laboratory strictly for the study of psychology. Another key player is Edward Titchener who founded the first experimental psychology lab in the United Sates. One of the most important documents written in psychology, The Principles of Psychology, was written by William James. With all of these great minds at work an argument arose. The argument was about the right subjects to study and the correct methods to use while studying them. One side of the argument was structuralism. Structuralism uses the idea that all mental processes could be explained by knowing what the mind is made of. The other side of this argument was functionalism. Functionalism asks not so much what the mind is made of but how and why it operates. Functionalism states that the mind depends on it’s adjustment to the environment and that it will be an ever-changing entity.
In psychology, there are many different perspectives that are employed. The psychodynamic perspective was made famous by Sigmund Freud. Freud exclaimed that behavior motivated by internal forces such as instincts or heredity. The behaviorist perspective declares that behavior is determined from reactions to environmental occurrences. Another perspective is the humanistic perspective which believes that no matter what inheritance or environment provides people are still able to make a choice as to how we behave. The cognitive perspective states that a human is designed to think and imagine.
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There are two major systems that control all of the activity in our bodies. These systems do everything from regulate our heartbeat to moving our little toe. One of the systems is called the Central Nervous system. The central nervous system, or CNS, is the body’s command station. The CNS is located in the brain and spinal cord. The brain will get all incoming messages from the rest of the body. Once this message is received the brain will then transmit a message back out giving your body orders to take action. So if you were to step outside into the sun and the light is too intense, your brain will receive that message and then relay a message back to your pupils allowing them to constrict. The highway in which all of this information travels is neurons. Neurons are organic transceivers that are located all throughout our body allowing the brain to pass information along. Only the neurons in the brain and spinal cord compose the CNS. The rest of the neurons in the body are components of the peripheral nervous system.
The peripheral nervous system, or PNS, is the other major system. The PNS is what communicates with the rest of our body. The PNS neurons start at the spinal column and branch outward to all of our organs and musculoskeletal system. The PNS is further broken down into two subsystems, the autonomic system and the somatic system. The autonomic nervous system is what keeps us alive. It will run basic functions that happen involuntarily like heartbeat, liver function or digestion. The autonomic nervous system is divided even further into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The Sympathetic is the emergency response system for your body. When it is needed it will jump start the body into overdrive. The Sympathetic system will pump our adrenaline, speed up our heart, and shut down all unnecessary functions to maximize energy. This system is connected a special set of neurons that run along the spinal cord known as ganglia. Once the body is no longer on high alert the parasympathetic nervous system will bring the body back to normal. It will continue all of the routine operations of the body. It will handle of the involuntary actions like, digestion, saliva and tear production and liver function. Below is a chart that shows the breakdown of the peripheral nervous system.
The human brain is a wondrous and complex structure. It is composed of three sections that all work together simultaneously. First I will talk about the brain stem. The brain stem lies in the innermost section of the brain. This section controls the involuntary life sustaining functions. The medulla is located in the brain stem. The medulla is what controls the beating of the heart, and respiration. Located on top of the medulla is the pons. The pons is a relay section to other sections. Also in the brain stem is the reticular formation. This serves as the brain’s security system. It will alert the brain of anything happening that the brain needs to know. This will work even while we sleep. The nerves of the reticular formation connect to the thalamus. The thalamus works almost like a switchboard for information. It will take incoming sensory perceptions and direct them to the corresponding parts of the cerebral cortex. At the base of the skull lies the cerebellum. The cerebellum controls all of our coordination. This is what allows us to stand up straight and maintain our equilibrium.
The next section of the brain is the Limbic System. The limbic system has three key components. The first is the hippocampus. The hippocampus is how we access memories. Damage to the hippocampus has proven to show inability to access certain memories and also prevents the storage of new ones. Another component is the amygdala. This system controls our emotional states. It is what allows us to experience and recognize emotions. The last component in the Limbic System is hypothalamus. This structure has many roles in the body. It serves as the body’s thermostat. If the body becomes too warm it will signal the body to sweat. It also controls all of the other alarms that tell us we need something. It is what tells us we are hungry or thirsty. It will maintain homeostasis in the body.
The last section of the brain is the Cerebrum. This is by far the largest section of the brain. The cerebral cortex is divided into two large hemispheres the left and right. The two are connected by the corpus callosum which is a dense collection of nerves. Each hemisphere is then further divided into quadrants called lobes. There are tow dividing line. The lateral line is known as the central sulcus and the horizontal is the lateral fissure. In the front of the cerebral hemisphere is the frontal lobe. This is where some of our motor control takes place as well as planning and decision making abilities. Behind the frontal lobe is the parietal lobe. This lobe is our where we process pain, temperature and touch senses. Just behind this lobe is the occipital lobe. This lobe is where we process our sense of sight. The last lobe is the temporal lobe. This lobe is associated with our sense of hearing.
The task of measuring psychological behavior is not done easily. There is more than one way to measure it and it is also difficult to prove when measured. Once a scientist has accurately measured his data he has to be sure that it is reliable and valid. The accuracy of data depends on these two elements. For something to be reliable it has to have the same outcome every time. No matter how many times you may perform an experiment it should have the same outcome. Validity has to be obtained by ensuring that the hypothesis tested is indeed true. This means that research involved in the experiment supports the proposed theory. If the findings are not valid that does not mean that they are not reliable. As long as the same results can be obtained every time it will remain reliable.
There are a few ways to measure psychological processes. One way is self-report measures. Self-reporting is a way to measure behavior that may be internal or private. There is no way to truly measure the inner thoughts and feelings of individuals without asking them. There are some things that people only do in private that they may not wish to be observed doing. Self-report measures can come in the form of an interview or a written survey. These forms of questioning will allow a researcher to access this information with having to observe these behaviors. However, this information can be flawed. There is no proof that the subjects answering these questions have been truthful. If the subject knows the desired outcome of the research they may develop a bias in their responses. There is also no way to question someone who is incapable of written or verbal communication such as an infant or a disabled person.
Another form of measurement is by behavioral measures and observation. This means being able to observe behavior of a subject over a certain period of time and log the results. Observation focuses on the relationship of an action and a consequence. A researcher may observe that a student who maintains a healthy diet has a higher GPA than those with a poor diet. There are two types of observation. Direct observation is being able to observe something with clear and easily recognized behavior. The researcher will be directly involved in this type of measuring. Naturalistic observation is when there is no interference from the observer. The observer will simply view and record the subject as it occurs in its natural state.