Meaning of Psychology

Psychology is the study of human behavior. The basis of the study of Psychology is the micro study of the inner mental incidents that takes place within a human mind. The human behavior is both natural and acquired thus the two are studied in the scientific ways within the fold of Psychology. Animal behavior is studied as well so that a comparison can be drawn between the human and the animal behavior and the inferences drawn are conclusive. Various fields and techniques have been developed to study human behavior.

Meaning of Psychology

The word Psychology has been derived from two Greek words—‘Psyche’ which means soul and ‘logos’ which means study. According to the literal meaning of Psychology is a subject that studies about the soul. The ancient famous philosophers like Aristotle and Plato considered Psychology a subject that studies about the soul by keeping its literal meaning. The definition given by these ancient thinkers and philosophers is now considered obsolete as historical definition.

The philosophers of the 17th and 18th century like Leibnitz, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Hume etc. are worth mentioning. These philosophers said that the word ‘Psyche’ is mind and the object of study of Psychology is ‘Mind’. Therefore, Psychology was accepted as the study of mental science in other words study of mind. Till 1870 the definition given by these philosophers was accepted and psychology was studied as a branch of Philosophy and the object of study was the mind.

There were primarily two defects found in the definition given by these Philosophers. First, ‘Soul’ and ‘Mind’. Mind is an abstract object that can neither be seen nor heard. Therefore, the study through scientific techniques is not possible nor any kind of practical can be applied on it. Second, after accepting psychology as study of mind or soul its object remains unclear as these words are used in different meanings and it is difficult to say in which context it is used in Psychology. 

As mentioned earlier psychology was a branch of philosophy. In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt set up a first laboratory of philosophy in the Lipzing University (later the name changed to Karl Marx University) in Germany. Gradually psychology came to be a different subject, different from Philosophy. As a result the subject matter of psychology ceased to be not mind or the soul but ‘mental activities’ or the Conscious Experience. The Psychologists who advocated this theory of psychology are called Structuralists. Wilhelm Wundt and Titchener are the standing pioneers of this theory. According to them Psychology is the study of the Conscious Experience and the Immediate Experience. Here the meaning of conscious experience or immediate experience is related to sensation, imagination, image, feeling and other mental activities. According to Wundt sensation was called as the objective element of conscious experience whereas feeling, the subjective element of conscious experience. But there were many defects found in this definition of structuralists. The major defect was described that, because the conscious experience cannot be studied through objective method, hence this definition of psychology is not able to explain the practical nature of psychology. This definition only emphasizes on the study of conscious experience, however all experiences of human are not conscious but they are mainly conscious. So this definition does give a clear picture that psychology studies all the aspects of human mind or not.

Since there were many defects in the definition of structuralists so another definition of psychology was introduced by behaviourists, J. B. Watson is important among the behaviourists. They accepted psychology as positive science of behavior. This definition clarifies that conscious experience was diversified from the object of psychology and behavior replaced it, which was more objective because that can be seen and heard, Running, crying, smiling, thinking etc are the few main examples of behavior. In this definition, Psychology was accepted as positive science, because it studies all three aspects such as what, why, and how related to the behavior. In this definition the main defect was described that the behavior alone is meaningless. The fact is that the explanation of any kind of behavior is based on the basis of our own experiences then only we get the real meaning.

The meaning of Psychology introduced by the Modern Psychologists is seems to be the juncture of 
both the definitions mentioned above. Atkinson, Smith and Hilgard have said describing Psychology—“Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental process.” This definition clarifies that Psychology is not only the study of behavior but also studies about those mental processes that cannot be seen but only assumed on the basis of the behavior. Morgan, King, Weisz and Schopler have also clarified that psychology is the science of study of human and animal behavior. They have further clarified that while calling Psychology a science of behavior, mind or internal mental events are not being differentiated but it is also included in the same. In the words of Morgan, King, Weisz and Scoplar – “When we define psychology as a science of behavior we do not differentiate mind we only say that whatever human does means his behavior is the avenue through which the study of internal mental event is been done.”

Thus, we can say that in the modern era Psychology means a science in which both behavior and mental processes are studied.

The Scope and Methods of Psychology

The Nature of Psychology

To understand the importance of the subject Psychology it is necessary to understand its nature. To understand the nature we have to find out that what is Psychology all about, what kind of science it is, its branches, what are its purposes and problems? What is human according to psychology and what is the contribution of psychology to the mankind? By studying these aspects the nature of psychology can be understood properly.

In the beginning for centuries Psychology was considered as a part of Philosophy. In the past fifty years psychologists introduced psychology as independent subject and gave it a nature of science. For this reason, Independent department of psychology have been segmented in various universities and is taught as an independent subject.

The nature of psychology that we have now was different in the beginning. It was considered as a science of soul initially. The purpose of this subject that time was investigation and thinking of soul. Thus, the psychology was related to spiritualism and was part of philosophy. Till sixteenth century psychology was considered as science of the soul. People could neither see the soul nor define it. Therefore, they became hesitant to accept it as science of soul. In order to bring out the change people started calling it ‘Science of mind’. But the nature of mind is also not certain like soul and so could not be defined. That is why Psychology was not accepted as the science of mind and till now psychology could not get the place as Pure science.

After studying minutely psychologists observed the influence of consciousness on human behavior. Therefore, psychology was also accepted as science of consciousness, but few psychologists observed the behavior of human is not overpowered by consciousness always but sometimes unconsciousness takes place in his behavior. Thus psychology was accepted as the science of unconsciousness, but further this definition was not accepted by the people and nature of psychology kept on changing.

Now psychology is considered as the science of human and animal behavior. In psychology the goal is to study human behavior, but the basis of this study includes animal behavior too. Initially with the help of psychology the experimental study of animal behavior takes place and then the comparison between human and animal behavior brings success in the study of human. There are two kinds of human behavior, natural and acquired or learned. The study of both behaviors consists in modern Psychology. Thus the nature of psychology centralized on animal behavior instead of Spiritualism.

Psychology is a Science

Psychology is a science of the study of human and animal behavior. It is now considered as a complete science. As in pure science certain principles and rules are being set on the basis of experiments. Likewise in psychology too the principles and rules are determined related to behavior. The study of human behavior is being done on the basis of these rules and principles. These bases conclude the discovery of the reason of behavior and the possibilities of past and future of behavior are also discovered. Psychology is not the subject of mere thinking but these evidences are collected by using experimental kind of scientific techniques. Whatever responses human reflects towards its own environmental stimulates, psychology studies the same. Therefore, we can say—“Psychology is the science of human behavior or is the study of the science of its own reflection of response towards the stimulants based in the environment.”

In fact, Psychology is the science of human behavior. It cannot be considered as material science. We 
can also call it Natural Science. There is a specific and fundamental difference between Psychology and material science. In material science we can keep control over the substance and attain success by doing desirable experiments in the laboratory. Opposite to that Psychology taken as subject is human instead of substance is not controllable as substance. Speed of mind is not controllable. One moment you think of New York and the next Peiking. If someone is busy hearing, something else instantly revolves around the thought of mind. Thus it is not possible to control the human mind like substance.

Second, difference between psychology and material science is that Universality is found in material science, while individualness and individual differences are always there in psychology. For example, when a psychologist studies human behavior in the laboratory his subject would be the mind of a particular human through which his behavior would be conducted. If any other subject would be tested instead of this subject, the study being done at present and the study done earlier will not be same. Same way if a scientist does an experiment on an elephant, he will observe the reaction of all human towards the elephant and will set a general rule but when a psychologist will study the reaction of human towards elephant he has to study the reaction of every individual. On the basis of there reaction he cannot set a general rule. 

Psychology accepts the three main techniques of natural science – Observation, Experimentation, and Description. This is why it is called natural science. It uses the scientific techniques when it studies human or particular as subject. Psychology does not mere discuss about doctrine of ideology like philosophy ethics or aesthetics.

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