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2009-09-25
THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHOLOGY


For a long moment, Frank stood immobile in front of the door. Finally, he took a deep breath and rang the doorbell.

Although it took her less than 30 seconds to open the door, it seemed like 5 minutes to Frank, during which he recalled the worst of the fantasies he had imagined since agreeing to this blind date. She was going to be crashingly dull and boring; she was going to be chillingly cold and intellectual; or, worst of all, she was going to be too tall for him. For a split second, he contemplated turning and running from the door. Too late. ""Hello! Frank?"

"Hi. Barbara?" "

"Come in."

""Thank you." His voice sounded high and unnatural to him, like a recording of someone else speaking his words. When they shook hands, he noticed that his palm was moist.

Her handshake, like her smile, was warm and friendly. She was not, he noted with relief, too tall. In fact, she was extremely attractive ­- almost too attractive, Frank thought. Why, he asked himself, had she agreed to a blind date?

He was suddenly aware that he should say something.

"Hey, this is a really nice place," he said to her. Hey, that was a rea11y dumb remark, he said to himself.

Thanks, but I'm afraid it's a little messy. Sorry." She straightened - embroidered mat that looked as though it had been placed with .. mathematical precision in the middle of a table. "I just can't seem to keep it clean."

By Frank's standards, it was incredibly clean. He told her that and then wished he hadn't. Quickly he added, "Are these your paintings?"

"They were done by a friend of mine. Do you like them?"

He hated them. They reminded him of mustard spread on a blue carpet. What could he say? He prided himself on his honesty.

"I love them," he said.

Every human experience, such as this encounter between Frank and Barbara, provides material we can use to help increase our under­standing of ourselves and others. We may ask ourselves, for example, what is it about experiences such as blind dates that causes nervous­ness in some people and not in others? Why does nervousness display itself differently in different people? Frank's palms sweat, while Bar­bara seems concerned with the "mess" in her apartment. Why does Frank feel obliged to lie about his impression of the paintings? Can we predict whether Frank and Barbara will find each other attractive and begin a strong, intimate relationship?

By asking such questions we begin to understand how complex and interesting the study of psychology can be. In our daily lives we may often look for answers by relying on our own experience, knowledge, and assumptions. But we have barely scratched the surface.

Other, less obvious questions may be asked about our young couple. How did Frank remember Barbara's name, and Barbara, Frank's? How did Frank know how to get to Barbara's apartment? Did a friend walk him from his place to hers, or show him on a map? In other words, if he had never been there before, how in the world was he able to find it?

The questions that psychologists ask are almost endlessly varied, and, as psychology students, we will learn to look deeply into human behavior and to ask complex and precise questions. Can a newborn baby see colors? Can people be taught to control their own blood pressure? What is the relationship between our nervous system and our hormones? How does this relationship change when we are under the influence of drugs? Are we instinctively aggressive? What is personality and how is it formed?

Not all psychologists are concerned with asking theoretical ques­tions about behavior. For example, if Frank often becomes anxious or afraid of meeting new people, or if Barbara becomes so obsessed with neatness she cannot function properly, either may turn to a psycholo­gist for help. Other psychologists may put their knowledge to use in industry, schools - in fact, any place where groups of people must live or work together.

As we will see, psychology is a relatively young field, and its shape is changing year by year as thousands of studies are added to its literature. But what distinguishes psychology from other fields in­volved with human behavior is that it is based on the scientific method. Above all, psychology is a science that seeks to understand behavior and the factors involved in creating and influencing behav­ior.

Like other sciences, psychology seeks to explain, predict, and control what it studies. Take, for example, sex differences. Some people be­lieve that women are naturally maternal and unaggressive; but others , argue that this is just a stereotype. Psychologists would attempt to determine exactly how the sexes differ in their behavior. They would try to explain the differences that are found on the basis of anatomy, body chemistry, early experiences, learning, or social pressures.

Suppose that a team of researchers believes that women are unagressive only when they are around men (because men encourage them to be passive). The first step in research might be to test the idea of seeing whether it enables them to predict female behavior. An ad light be placed in the paper offering $35 for participation in an experiment, women only. When the applicants arrive, half might be sent to a male interviewer, half to a female interviewer. Both inter­iewers would give the applicants a hard time, insulting them in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. If the women argue with the female interviewer but not with the male, the researchers might conclude that their original explanation was correct.

Control in psychology is generally directed toward therapeutic ends. A therapist might help an unhappy female patient to overcome her feeling that it is wrong for her to compete in business by supporting or encouraging her ambitions. In such a case, the psychologist is attempting to change or control behavior and feelings.

Is psychology alone in trying to explain, predict, and control behaviour? Not really. The behavioral sciences - anthropology, sociology, political science, and psychology - are so closely related that it is often difficult to tell where one ends and the next begins. For example,, all of them would consider a campus demonstration a good subject for study. But how would their approaches differ?

An anthropologist would see the day's activities in terms of cultural patterns and rituals. He or she would note that making speeches from a soapbox has a long and honored tradition in American culture; that linking arms to form a human barricade resembles the snake dance of Japanese students; that in political movements, as in primitive societies, people often call others who are not related to them �brother' and "sister."

A sociologist would be most interested in the interactions of the groups that were formed and in the bonds formed between individuals. ­Crowds, the sociologist would note, behave differently from individuals and small groups. The crowd develops an organizational structure and a status system; it establishes and enforces codes of correct and incorrect behavior.

The political scientist would focus on the distribution of power and authority among leaders and groups. An economist, being concerned mainly with the distribution of goods, would note that the students have a different attitude toward property than most Americans have. A historian would try to compare this event to others in the past and would look for its causes.

A psychologist surveying the same situation would be most inter­ested in the individuals and how they behaved. The psychologist would wonder why some apparently conservative students had been attracted to the scene. Listening to the speeches, he or she would hear innuendos and references that might provide clues as to what kind of people were leading the crowd and what their motives were. The psychologist might follow up with interviews and case studies.

So although psychology shares some characteristics with other be­havioral sciences, it is unique among the behavioral sciences in its emphasis on the individual. We turn now to a brief history of this relatively young science.

 

Taken from Psychology � an Introduction � Charles E. Morris �

University of Michigan, (with the Editorial Staff at Prentice-Hall)Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, page 3 to 29, Copyright Pentice-Hall, Inc.

 

Due to the urgency of education on this site, all photos and pictures have been omitted.


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