Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour. The word psychology comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning life, and “logos,” meaning explanation. Psychology is a popular major for students, a popular topic in the public media, and a part of our everyday lives. Psychology is a broad discipline, covering all aspects of the human condition, such as child development, social behaviour, emotions such as happiness and grief, eyewitness memory, how we think, how to change behaviour, and so on. Psychology is most commonly associated with mental illness and therapy, but this is only one aspect of this diverse and fascinating discipline.
Psychologists work in a variety of settings. While clinical psychologists diagnose and treat mental health difficulties and disorders, psychologists also teach and do research at universities and colleges, and work in organizations, schools, forensic settings, and more. Most psychologists have a doctorate degree (PhD or PsyD) as well as a master’s degree (MA or MSc) and bachelor’s degree (BA or BSc).
Psychology as a discipline is governed by adherence to the scientific method. Psychology is built upon empirical evidence, and this distinguishes it from pop psychology or pseudoscience, which may sound scientific but lacks evidence and depends more on belief, intuition, and common sense.
This chapter provides an introduction to the broad field of psychology and the many approaches that psychologists take to understanding human behaviour. We will consider how psychologists conduct scientific research, with an overview of some of the most important approaches used and topics studied by psychologists, and also consider the variety of fields in which psychologists work and the careers that are available to people with psychology degrees. It is likely that at least some of your preconceptions about psychology will be challenged and changed, and you will learn that psychology is a field that will provide you with new ways of thinking about your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.
Figure 1.1. US Navy Physical Therapist by the United States Navy is in the public domain; Friendly smoking by Valentin Ottone is used under a CC BY 2.0 license; Bar Trek and Friends by James Hennigan is used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license; At the Beach by Julian Schüngel is used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license; Couple Yelling at Each Other by Vic is used under a CC BY 2.0 license.
Figure 1.1. Man in hospital bed with broken leg, and a soldier is lifting his leg as is if to give physical therapy (top left); young girl smoking a cigarette (top right); one man and four women dressed up like Star Trek characters and aliens (bottom right); a man doing a hand stand on a beach with sun setting in background (bottom left); a man and woman yelling at each other with their heads touching (centre).