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COURSE NOTES: Introductory Psychology

Psych101 graphic

Chapter 1:

Introduction: Thinking Critically With Psychology

Notes for Psychology 101: based on Myers's text, Exploring Psychology, with supplements and modifications by the instructor, Prof. Cloninger.

term denotes a term that you should know how to define, and to recognize and give examples.

person denotes an important person. You should remember this person's name and what (s)he has done.

findingdenotes an important research finding.

issuedenotes an issue that you should be able to discuss or explain.

Psychology's Roots

Prescientific Psychology

  • India: Buddha
  • China: Confucius
  • Greece: Socrates, Plato, & Aristotle
  • France: Descartes
  • Britain: Bacon (science) & Locke ("white paper" or "blank slate" [tabula rasa])

Psychological Science is Born

  • Wilhelm Wundt’s first psychological laboratory
    • University of Leipzig, Germany
    • 1879
  • termempiricism: the view that (a) knowledge comes from experience via the senses, and (b) science flourishes through observation and experiment
  • termstructuralism: used introspection to explore the elemental structure of the mind
  • termfunctionalism: focuses on how mental and behavioral processes function -- how they enable the organism to adapt, survive, and flourish

Psychological Science Develops

  • from philosophy, biology, and other fields
    • personWilhelm Wundt: experimentation (1879)
    • personWilliam James: consciousness and self
    • wrote classic text: Principles of Psychology
    • Ivan Pavlov: digestion in dogs (learning)
    • personSigmund Freud: nervous disorders
    • Jean Piaget: children's cognition
    • [also Charles Darwin!]
  • Women in Early Psychology:
    • Mary Calkins: Harvard student who was refused a graduate degree because of her gender (1890s); first woman president of the APA (1905)
    • Margaret Floy Washburn: first female PhD in psychology; second female president of APA (1921)
  • introspection emphasized by Wundt & Titchener
  • observation emphasized by Watson & Skinner (behaviorists)

termCurrent definition of psychology: "the science of behavior and mental processes" (Myers, 2005, p. 6)

The text says, "Psychology ... is less a set of findings than a way of asking and answering questions" (Myers, 2005, p. 6).

Contemporary Psychology

  • growing and globalizing

Psychology's Perspectives

termNature-nurture debate/issue

    • Is it heredity or experience?
    • "the longstanding controversy over the relative contributions that genes and experience make to the development of psychological traits and behaviors" (Myers, 2005, p. 6)
  • Neuroscience perspective
    • focuses on how the body and brain create emotions, memories, and sensory experiences
      • How are messages transmitted within the body?
      • How is blood chemistry linked with moods and motives?
  • Evolutionary perspective
    • focuses on how the natural selection of traits promotes the perpetuation of one’s genes
      • How does evolution influence behavior tendencies?
  • Behavior genetics perspective
    • focuses on how much our genes, and our environment, influence our individual differences
      • To what extent are psychological traits such as intelligence, personality, sexual orientation, and depression attributable to our genes?
      • To our environment?
  • Psychodynamic perspective
    • focuses on how behavior springs from unconscious drives and conflicts
      • How can a person’s personality traits and disorders be explained in terms of sexual and aggressive drives or as the disguised effects of unconscious motivations and early childhood traumas?
  • Behavioral perspective
    • focuses on how we learn observable responses
      • How do we learn to fear particular objects or situations?
      • What is the most effective way to alter our behavior, say, to lose weight or stop smoking?
  • Cognitive perspective
    • focuses on how we encode, process, store, and retrieve information
      • How do we use information in remembering?
      • Reasoning?
      • Solving problems?
  • Social-cultural perspective
    • focuses on how behavior and thinking vary across situations and cultures
      • How are we -- as Africans, Asians, Australians, or North Americans -- alike as members of one human family?
      • As products of different environmental contexts, how do we differ?

Consider the question: Why are women and men different? [lecture/discussion supplement]

termNeuroscience perspective

  • How are their brains different?
  • Does women's thicker corpus callosum influence this?
  • Are men biologically less able to control their impulses?

termEvolutionary perspective

  • What is the survival function of the differences?
  • Does women's nurturance contribute to their babies' survival?
  • Does men's aggression contribute to their survival and/or reproduction?

termBehavior genetics perspective

  • Are the differences genetically determined, for example in twin research?
  • Or do they vary depending on the environment in which people are raised?

termPsychodynamic perspective

  • Do men and women have different unconscious motivations?

termBehavioral perspective

  • What rewards and punishments result from the behavior?
  • Are men rewarded for living up to a "macho" image?
  • Are women rewarded for acting "feminine" instead of assertive?

termCognitive perspective

  • What do people think? Do they stereotype women and men?
  • Is an assertive woman considered unfeminine?
  • Is a sensitive man considered weak?

termSocial-cultural perspective

  • How do cultural roles influence all this?
  • Is women's role as a mother responsible for her behavior?
  • Does the expectation than men will earn more money lead to their greater privileges?

These perspectives are not mutually exclusive. They emphasize different aspects of the whole, though.

  • For example, behavioral and social-cultural perspectives emphasize the possibility of change.

Psychology's Subfields

  • biological
  • developmental
  • cognitive
  • personality
  • social
  • industrial/organizational
  • clinical
  • and many more!

The diversity of psychology fields can be seen from the list of divisions of the APA (American Psychological Association):

the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist:

  • clinical psychologists (PhD)
  • psychiatrists (MD)
    • can prescribe medications

termclinical psychology: a branch of psychology that studies, assesses, and treats people with psychological disorders

termpsychiatry: a branch of medicine dealing with psychological disorders; practiced by physicians who sometimes provide medical (for example, drug) treatments as well as psychological therapy

termbasic research: "pure science that aims to increase the scientific knowledge base" (Myers, 2005, p. 9)

termapplied research: "scientific study that aims to solve practical problems" (Myers, 2005, p. 9)

      Why Do Psychology?

      • To better understand why people think, feel, and act as they do

      issueWhat About Intuition and Common Sense?

      • Would it surprise you to learn that "opposites attract" in love?
      • Would it surprise you to learn that people are attracted to people who are similar to themselves?
      • Would anything surprise you?
      • [lecture image] "I knew it." I knew we'd come to an agreement! (in hindsight, of course)

      Did We Know It All Along? The termHindsight Bias

      • the "I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon"

      There are other problems with common sense, too.


      • "Sure, I can finish it by Friday."
      • "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
      • Ken Olson, President of Digital Equipment Company, 1977
      • (An overconfident prediction like this can be an expensive mistake in business.)

      termConfirmation bias

      • the tendency to seek information that confirms our ideas

      The termScientific Attitude

      • Curiosity
      • Skepticism (about various claims, such as astrology and subliminal perception)
        • "What does it mean?"
        • "How do you know?"
      • Humility
      • [lecture image] In contrast to science, consider our non-skeptical, non-humble friend.
        • "I am certain that I know the truth. I have no doubt. My view of things is the best. Why bother with science"

      personJames Randi

      • a skeptic, who challenges claims of the paranormal, offering a $1 million prize for verifiable paranormal phenomena (still unclaimed!).
      • examples:
        • facilitated communication
        • full moon
        • psychic powers
      • check out the Randi website

      Claims need to be tested empirically.

      • based on evidence
      • predictions made in advance
      • controls to rule out alternative explanations

      Critical Thinking

      How Do Psychologists Ask and Answer Questions?

      The termScientific Method

      termTheory: principles that organize and predict behaviors or events

      termHypothesis: prediction about what will be observed

      termOperational definition: tells what procedures will be used to define a concept

      termReplication: repetition of observation to see if it occurs again, consistently

      The theory says that low self-esteem causes depression. I hypothesize that people boost their self-esteem by listing 20 things that they are proud of, they will be happier. If this happens repeatedly (replication), I have confidence in the theory.

      Some theories are not confirmed by empirical research.

      Types of Research

      • description
      • correlation
      • experimentation

      termDescription: studies one person or overall averages

      Description: types of studies

      • case study
        • example: a case study of an abandoned child
      • survey
        • example: a survey reporting the % of women who have been sexually abused
      • naturalistic observation
        • example: observing courtship rituals of birds
        • (or of college students!)

      The termCase Study

      One case report of a child who was abused who grew up to become an advocate for children suggests that people strive to overcome their childhood problems. But one case report doesn't show us how typical this outcome is.

      Survey research can be misleading

      issueHow can survey research be misleading?

      • unrepresentative samples (such as volunteers or those who answer their phones)
      • question wording

      The termSurvey

      • Wording effects: "not allow" vs. "censor"
      • Sampling: biased? representative?
      • False consensus effect: overestimate agreement by others

      termpopulation: the group you want to study

      termrandom sample: equal chance for everyone to be studied

      findingsampling errors lead to errors of prediction

      • (example of news headlines that Dewey won over Truman: which he didn't)
      • survey research: getting unbiased data
      • random sample: each member of the population has an equal (and independent) chance of inclusion

      findingIf the sample size is large enough, the population is represented accurately.

      • For example, if n = 1200, the sample is within 3% of the population most of the time (95% of the time).
      • So that's what they mean when news reporters talk about a "statistical dead heat."

      termNaturalistic Observation

      • You can learn a lot by just watching people in their everyday lives: how they drive, who they talk to, and so on.

      The preceding descriptive studies just looked at overall averages. For more detailed analysis we need another approach:

      termCorrelation: relationship between variables

      • relationship between (1) sex abuse, and (2) eating disorders
      • relationship between (1) personality, and (2) career choice

      Positive correlation

      Negative correlation

      termIllusory correlations

      issueWhy can't we trust people's impressions about whether two things "go together"?

      Perceiving Order in Random Events

      Correlation and Causation

      issueWhy can't we assume that two correlated events are cause and effect? (For example, if people with high self-esteem get higher grades, does that prove that self-esteem causes improved grades?)

      When 2 variables (X and Y) are correlated, it is possible that:

      X causes Y


      Y causes X


      Z causes X and Z causes Y (but X and Y are not causally related to each other)

      In the case of self-esteem and academic achievement:

      • Maybe self-esteem causes higher achievement (so we should have programs to boost self-esteem).
      • Or, maybe higher academic achievement boosts self-esteem (so we should teach educational basics).
      • Or, maybe both self-esteem and academic achievement are affected by some other variable (such as socio-economic status).

      Correlation allows prediction.

      But "correlation does not prove causation."

      termExperimentation: testing cause-effect relationships

      • showing subjects pictures of guns increases their administration of painful shock
      • showing schizophrenic patients brief images of "Mommy and I are one" makes them stop hallucinating

      Experiments test cause-effect relationships by keeping "everything else equal".

      • everything except the "cause" being tested


      • Manipulating the factors of interest
      • Holding constant ("controlling") other factors

      Do black sports uniforms cause negative/aggressive perceptions?

      • Manipulating the independent variable (the cause):
      • termExperimental condition: black uniform
      • termControl condition: white uniform
      • Terminology in this experiment:
      • termIndependent variable
      • cause
      • color of uniform
      • termDependent variable
      • effect
      • perception (seeing fouls)

      termOperational definitions

      • How do we measure our variables?
      • What questions do we ask observers?

      termRandom assignment

      • the miraculous procedure for making "other things equal"
      • So it wouldn't be acceptable to just use home games as the control condition, and away games as the experimental condition.

      Can subliminal tapes improve your life?

      • How would you design an experiment on this?
      • What would be a control condition?

      "Keeping everything else equal" may require:

      Blind subjects

      termPlacebo control condition

      termDouble-blind procedure (blind experimenter and subjects)

      The text lists: "Frequently Asked Questions About Psychology"

      Can laboratory experiments illuminate everyday life?

      We search for general principles that apply both in the artificial but controlled laboratory and in the realistic but uncontrolled everyday environment.

      Does behavior depend on one's culture and gender?

      Of course, but there is an underlying similarity among people, too.

      Why do psychologists study animals?

      They are less complex than humans.

      Is it ethical to experiment on animals?

      Is it ethical to experiment on people?

      termInformed consent

      • Protection from harm and discomfort
      • Confidentiality
      • Explain research afterward [term"debriefing"]

      Is psychology free of value judgments?

      Is psychology potentially dangerous?

      Tips for Studying Psychology

      termSQ3R method: survey, question, read, rehearse, review

      issueWhat are some things you can do to study more effectively?

      • Distribute study time
      • Think critically (assumptions and values; evaluate evidence; assess conclusions)
      • Listen actively in class
      • Overlearn
      • Test-taking strategies

      Students: You can also use resources for this text supplied by the publisher. These include a chapter overview, self-tests, and other resources.

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      Some images are from "Holy Cow! 250,000 Graphics,"
      © by Macmillan Digital Publishing USA.
      Ch. 1: Introduction
      Ch. 2: Neuroscience
      Ch. 3: Nature & Nurture
      Ch. 4: Development
      Ch. 5: Sensation & Perception
      Ch. 6: Consciousness
      Ch. 7: Learning
      Ch. 8: Memory
      Ch. 9: Thinking
      Ch. 10: Motivation
      Ch. 11: Emotion
      Ch. 12: Personality
      Ch. 13: Disorders
      Ch. 14: Therapy
      Ch. 15: Social
      additional notes

      Click image above
      for link to
      James Randi