The Foundations of Psychology

Psychology is defined as the study of the human mind and the behavior that is projected through it. Mankind has yet to discover a more multifaceted piece of machinery. It is the precise source of how we think, act, behave, and perceive. Some might say that psychology is the practice of the mind studying itself. Wrap your brain around that one. But how can psychologist study something so complex, bearing in mind that the thoughts and emotions of the brain cannot be pragmatic? The human mind is not, nor will it probably ever be 100% predictable, but scientists give us insight into how the mind works by studying human behavior. Without physically seeing the brain, they can study it by observing the behavior and reactions to certain circumstances. Psychology is truly a phenomenal science and the learning possibilities are endless.

Like psychology, biological psychology expands this field of study from the human mind to any living creature, such as lab animals. Rather than studying their physicality, biological psychology studies the emotional and cerebral states of living things. This is done by performing experiments on the living subject. Some experiments are performed using human beings but most are done using lab animals such as monkeys or lab rats. These experiments are used to determine the effects on the nervous system by internal and external stimulation (, 2010). Behaviors from visual and auditory systems are some of the experiments preformed.

Over one hundred and thirty years ago, a man by the name of Wilhelm Wundt, a German Psychologist, started the first psychology lab for experimental purposes. Since then, we have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the mind, human behavior, and the relation between the two. Mr. Wundt is considered by psychologist around the world as one of the founding fathers of psychology. Wilhelm attended universities in Heidelberg, Berlin, and Tubingen, and in 1857 he became a professor at the University of Heidelberg. Wilhelm Wundt died in 1920, shortly after he finished his autobiography.

In Wundt’s mind, psychology was a science that studied psychological phenomenon (source). For others who believe that psychology is not a science, the statistics and research are not proof enough to call it a science. The fact is, is that scientist create knowledge. The knowledge gained is gathered from experimental test. Experiments performed on animals are quite simple. Lab animals are great test subjects because they just do what they do. They don’t know how to act any other way. They don’t have the mental capacity to manipulate a test or to react any other way than what is normal to them. Humans on the other hand require repeat testing and observation to identify patterns in behavior. This alone is proof enough that psychology does co-exist with other fields in the world of science.

There are two psychological terms widely used in psychology. These terms are probably the most understood terms in this field. Although somewhat related, sensation and perception play conflicting roles in how we interpret the world. Historically, psychologists have thought of sensation as the elementary components of an experience while perception is the collection of processes used to arrive at an interpretation of sensation (Nairne, 2003, p. 150). In other words, sensation is the immediate sense that we get from smell, touch, taste, sound, and sight. Perception is how we interpret these sensations. On occasions, our brain gets it completely wrong and illusions are produced. We’ve all seen pictures that if stared at long enough, a totally different image will appear. This is not an illusion but rather your brain seeing the picture from two different perspectives. Some may see one of the images first while others see the second image first. It’s all about how your brain perceives the picture. To give you a better understanding of these two terms, let’s break them down separately so that you may see the differences more clearly.

Let’s start with sensation. Sensation is information that is sent directly to the brain. Many things can be sensed at one time. For instance, the smell of dinner cooking, the sound of traffic outside, bright lights, or the warmth of the sun on an August afternoon. This is a lot of information for our brain to take in. So much so, that we don’t recognize every sensation that our senses come in contact with. We don’t taste every spice in our dinner, or hear every instrument in an orchestra. We can only sense things that our brain allows us to sense. Animals on the other hand have a different threshold for senses. As humans, we don’t have the sense of smell like a K-9 does or the sense of sight like a bird does. These animals have adapted over time to use these senses to their advantage. Our senses don’t need to be as keen as theirs and more often than not, our senses are different from each other.

Sensation can be categorized into different classes. Let’s start with the first one, absolute threshold. Absolute threshold is the exact moment when something becomes evident to our senses. It can be the slightest smell or the softest sound, anything less goes undetected. Consequently, it is the point that something goes from unnoticed to noticed.

The second category is difference threshold. This occurs when the amount of change to one of our senses is noticeable. An example of this is the old “frog in boiling water” scenario. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will most likely immediately jump out. However, if you put a frog in a pot of room temperature water and slowly increase the heat, the frog will sit there and eventually die. In this scenario, the frog does not have a difference threshold. It could not tell that the water was getting hotter and hotter by the minute. Another example of this, this time using a human subject, involves a person holding a 50 pound weight. If you hold a 50 pound weight and add a pound every minute, the change will be unnoticeable at first, but eventually you will feel the difference. That is the difference threshold.

Signal Detection Theory is yet another category of sensation. Have you ever tried to listen to the radio and talk on the phone at the same time? It is virtually impossible to do so. You can either listen to the radio and ignore the person on the other line or talk to the other person on the phone and ignore the radio. Our brain often determines what is important to sense and what is not.

The last category of sensation is sensory adaptation. As the name suggest, this is when our senses adapt to certain smells, sounds, tastes, feelings, or sights. If you have ever had a clock that tics you will know this category well. Right away you will notice the clock ticking but after a while it fades away and is not recognized by our sense of hearing. This is caused by the unchanging sound that the clock produces and if the sound is unchanged, why would we continue to sense it?

As mentioned above, perception is what we make of our senses. It is our view of what our senses tell us. Often our senses tell each one of us different things. Have you ever looked at a car and thought that the color of the car was green, yet the person standing next to you swears that it is a blue car that you both are looking at? The car has not changed colors from one person to the next. It is simply a matter of each person’s senses sending different messages to the brain; therefore each person’s perception of what they are seeing is different.

Perception is dominated by three categories; size consistency, shape consistency, and brightness consistency. Size consistency refers to our ability to see things differently without reevaluating the objects properties (Psychology 101, 2003). For instance, if you walk toward a building, the building gets bigger the closer you get. We know that the building is still 100 feet tall, but somehow it went from mere inches to 100 feet the closer we got. This ability allows us to view the object the exact same way, even if the object changes, rather than reprocessing the information with every step we take.

Shape consistency deals with the view of objects from different angles. If you have ever viewed a plate from above it will appear round. However, if you turn the plate slightly, the plate is still round but it is now viewed as an ellipse. Changing the angle that an object is viewed will distort its viewed shape but we still know the true shape of the object.

Brightness consistency refers to our ability to recognize that color remains the same regardless of how it looks under different levels of light. Referring back a few paragraphs to the different perceptions of the colored car, that is an ideal example of brightness consistency. An additional case in point is a white t-shirt may look purple under a black light, but we know that it is still white. Without brightness consistency, we would be dumb founded by the amazing transformations of objects under different levels of light.

There are many factors that can influence ones perception. Imagine that you come home one day to find that your house has been broken into. For days or even weeks after that incident, you may feel uneasy in your own home. You may see shadows outside your window or movement in the corner of your eye when nothing is there. This is a common occurrence known as “mind’s eye influences”. The fact that someone invaded your personal space is still fresh on your mind and therefore you still feel threatened and perceive things that are not really there. This is totally psychological and will go away with time.

Cultural factors deals with how we were raised, where we live, and what we hear and read locally. Our perceptions of other cultures are how we see these other cultures in their everyday life. The way Baptist view Catholics may be different from the way Judaism views Catholics. The manner in which we view Germany may be different than that of Russia. We have little say-so when it comes to cultural factors in psychology. It’s what we were taught from day one.

Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.

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