Psychology is simply the science of behavior and experience.
The term science simply refers to the objective study of something. Thus, psychology aims to study and then explain why humans and non-humans behave in the manner they do, using research-based evidence to support the explanations.
Accordingly, psychologists study behavior—what people (and non-humans) do. Behavior may include being aggressive or kind, thinking and seeing, breathing and walking, growing up and getting old, being a friend or a parent, and so on. These are all examples of “behavior”.
Psychologists are also interested in “experience”. If we want to understand behavior we also need to consider what the experience is like for the individual doing the behaving. For example, if we want to study aggression, it matters what the person who is behaving aggressively feels like.
Branches of Psychology
Some psychologists conduct research into different branches of psychology, such as the core areas of cognitive, developmental, physiological, individual differences, and social psychology Opens in new window. Other psychologists apply this research in areas such as health, business, crime, and education, and many work as clinical psychologists helping with mental disorders.
Cognitive psychologists look at topics such as memory, perception, thought, language, attention, and so on. In other words they are interested in mental processes and seek to explain behavior in terms of these mental processes.
There are many applications of cognitive psychology, ranging from suggestions about how to improve your memory (useful for examination candidates!) to how to improve performance in situations requiring close attention (such as air traffic control).
Developmental psychologists study the changes occurring over a person’s lifetime, starting from conception and infancy through adolescence, adulthood, and finally old age. This approach has also been called lifespan psychology. Developmental psychologists focus on how particular behaviors change as individuals grow older, for instance, they look at the changes in the way children think. They also look at how children acquire language; at moral, social, and gender development; and at changes such as coping with retirement or with memory loss.
Physiological psychologists are interested in how to explain behavior in terms of bodily processes. They look at topics such as how the nerves function, how hormones affect behavior, and how the different areas of the brain are specialized and related to different behaviors.
Social psychologists are interested in the way people affect each other. They look at, for example, interpersonal relationships, group behavior, leadership, majority and minority influence, obedience to those in authority, and the influence of the media.
Social psychology differs from sociology in placing greater emphasis on the individual as a separate entity; sociologists are interested in the structure and functioning of groups, whereas social psychologists look at how these processes influence the individual members of a social group.
Other branches of psychology
The five areas just described form the core of psychology, but there are other areas of psychology as well. For example, comparative psychology is the study of non-human animals—comparisons are made between animals of different species to find out more about human behavior. The study of animal behavior is a field of study in its own right and straddles psychology and biology.