NCERT Textbook - What is Psychology Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

Psychology Class 11

Humanities/Arts : NCERT Textbook - What is Psychology Humanities/Arts Notes | EduRev

 Page 1


Chapter
1
What is Psychology?
What is Psychology?
• understand the nature and role of psychology in understanding mind
and behaviour,
• state the growth of the discipline,
• know the different fields of psychology, its relationship with other
disciplines, and professions, and
• appreciate the value of psychology in daily life to help you understand
yourself and others better.
After reading this chapter, you would be able to
Introduction
What is Psychology?
Psychology as a Discipline
Psychology as a Natural Science
Psychology as a Social Science
Understanding Mind and Behaviour
Popular Notions about the Discipline of Psychology
Evolution of Psychology
Some Interesting Landmarks in the Evolution of
Modern Psychology (Box 1.1)
Development of Psychology in India
Branches of Psychology
Themes of Research and Applications
Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychologists at Work
Psychology in Everyday Life
Key Terms
Summary
Review Questions
Project Ideas
Contents
The growth of the human mind
is still high adventure,
in many ways the highest
adventure on earth.
– Norman Cousins
2019-20
Page 2


Chapter
1
What is Psychology?
What is Psychology?
• understand the nature and role of psychology in understanding mind
and behaviour,
• state the growth of the discipline,
• know the different fields of psychology, its relationship with other
disciplines, and professions, and
• appreciate the value of psychology in daily life to help you understand
yourself and others better.
After reading this chapter, you would be able to
Introduction
What is Psychology?
Psychology as a Discipline
Psychology as a Natural Science
Psychology as a Social Science
Understanding Mind and Behaviour
Popular Notions about the Discipline of Psychology
Evolution of Psychology
Some Interesting Landmarks in the Evolution of
Modern Psychology (Box 1.1)
Development of Psychology in India
Branches of Psychology
Themes of Research and Applications
Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychologists at Work
Psychology in Everyday Life
Key Terms
Summary
Review Questions
Project Ideas
Contents
The growth of the human mind
is still high adventure,
in many ways the highest
adventure on earth.
– Norman Cousins
2019-20
Psychology
2
psychology was a study of the soul or mind.
But since then it has moved away considerably
from this focus and established itself as a
scientific discipline which deals with processes
underlying human experience and behaviour.
The range of phenomena it studies, some of
which we mentioned above, are spread over
several levels, viz. individual, dyadic (two
person) group, and organisational. They also
have biological as well as social bases.
Naturally, therefore, the methods required to
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
Any knowledge discipline is hard to define.
Firstly, because it evolves continuously.
Secondly, because the range of phenomena it
studies cannot be captured by any one
definition. This is even more true of psychology.
Long time back, students like yourself were told
that the term psychology is derived from two
Greek words psyche meaning soul and logos
meaning science or study of a subject. Thus,
You were, perhaps, asked by your teacher in the first class why you opted for
psychology over other subjects. What do you hope to learn? If you were asked this
question, what was your response? Generally, the range of responses which surface
in class to this question are truly bewildering. Most students give inane responses,
like they want to know what others are thinking. But then one also comes across
such responses as knowing oneself, knowing others or more specific responses like
knowing why people dream, why people go out of their way to help others or beat
each other up. All ancient traditions have engaged themselves with questions about
human nature. The Indian philosophical traditions, in particular , deal with questions
relating to why people behave in the manner in which they do. Why are people
generally unhappy? What changes should they bring about in themselves if they
desire happiness in their lives? Like all knowledge, psychological knowledge too
is intended to contribute to human well-being. If the world is full of misery, it is
largely due to humans themselves. Perhaps, you have asked why a 9/11 or war
in Iraq happened. Why innocent people in Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar or in the North-
East have to face bombs and bullets? Psychologists ask what is in the experiences
of young men which turn them into terrorists seeking revenge. But there is another
side to human nature. You may have heard the name of Major HPS Ahluwalia,
paralysed waist down because of an injury he suffered in a war with Pakistan,
who climbed the Mt. Everest. What moved him to climb such heights? These are not
only questions about human nature which psychology addresses as a human
science. You will be surprised to learn that modern psychology also deals with
somewhat nebulous micro-level phenomenon like consciousness, focusing attention
in the face of noise, or supporters trying to burn down a shopping complex after
their team had scored victory in a football game over its traditional rival. Psychology
cannot claim that answers have been found to these complex questions. But it
surely has improved upon our understanding and how we make sense of these
phenomena. The most striking aspect of the discipline, unlike other sciences, lies in
the study of psychological processes which are largely internal and available to
humans for observation within themselves.
Introduction
2019-20
Page 3


Chapter
1
What is Psychology?
What is Psychology?
• understand the nature and role of psychology in understanding mind
and behaviour,
• state the growth of the discipline,
• know the different fields of psychology, its relationship with other
disciplines, and professions, and
• appreciate the value of psychology in daily life to help you understand
yourself and others better.
After reading this chapter, you would be able to
Introduction
What is Psychology?
Psychology as a Discipline
Psychology as a Natural Science
Psychology as a Social Science
Understanding Mind and Behaviour
Popular Notions about the Discipline of Psychology
Evolution of Psychology
Some Interesting Landmarks in the Evolution of
Modern Psychology (Box 1.1)
Development of Psychology in India
Branches of Psychology
Themes of Research and Applications
Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychologists at Work
Psychology in Everyday Life
Key Terms
Summary
Review Questions
Project Ideas
Contents
The growth of the human mind
is still high adventure,
in many ways the highest
adventure on earth.
– Norman Cousins
2019-20
Psychology
2
psychology was a study of the soul or mind.
But since then it has moved away considerably
from this focus and established itself as a
scientific discipline which deals with processes
underlying human experience and behaviour.
The range of phenomena it studies, some of
which we mentioned above, are spread over
several levels, viz. individual, dyadic (two
person) group, and organisational. They also
have biological as well as social bases.
Naturally, therefore, the methods required to
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
Any knowledge discipline is hard to define.
Firstly, because it evolves continuously.
Secondly, because the range of phenomena it
studies cannot be captured by any one
definition. This is even more true of psychology.
Long time back, students like yourself were told
that the term psychology is derived from two
Greek words psyche meaning soul and logos
meaning science or study of a subject. Thus,
You were, perhaps, asked by your teacher in the first class why you opted for
psychology over other subjects. What do you hope to learn? If you were asked this
question, what was your response? Generally, the range of responses which surface
in class to this question are truly bewildering. Most students give inane responses,
like they want to know what others are thinking. But then one also comes across
such responses as knowing oneself, knowing others or more specific responses like
knowing why people dream, why people go out of their way to help others or beat
each other up. All ancient traditions have engaged themselves with questions about
human nature. The Indian philosophical traditions, in particular , deal with questions
relating to why people behave in the manner in which they do. Why are people
generally unhappy? What changes should they bring about in themselves if they
desire happiness in their lives? Like all knowledge, psychological knowledge too
is intended to contribute to human well-being. If the world is full of misery, it is
largely due to humans themselves. Perhaps, you have asked why a 9/11 or war
in Iraq happened. Why innocent people in Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar or in the North-
East have to face bombs and bullets? Psychologists ask what is in the experiences
of young men which turn them into terrorists seeking revenge. But there is another
side to human nature. You may have heard the name of Major HPS Ahluwalia,
paralysed waist down because of an injury he suffered in a war with Pakistan,
who climbed the Mt. Everest. What moved him to climb such heights? These are not
only questions about human nature which psychology addresses as a human
science. You will be surprised to learn that modern psychology also deals with
somewhat nebulous micro-level phenomenon like consciousness, focusing attention
in the face of noise, or supporters trying to burn down a shopping complex after
their team had scored victory in a football game over its traditional rival. Psychology
cannot claim that answers have been found to these complex questions. But it
surely has improved upon our understanding and how we make sense of these
phenomena. The most striking aspect of the discipline, unlike other sciences, lies in
the study of psychological processes which are largely internal and available to
humans for observation within themselves.
Introduction
2019-20
Chapter 1 • What is Psychology?
3
study them also vary greatly depending on the
phenomenon one wants to study. A discipline
is defined both in terms of what it studies and
how it studies. In fact, more in terms of how or
method/s it uses. Keeping this in view,
psychology is defined formally as a science
which studies mental processes, experiences
and behaviour in different contexts. In doing
so, it uses methods of biological and social
sciences to obtain data systematically. It makes
sense of these data so that they can be
organised as knowledge. Let us try to
understand the three terms used in the
definition, namely, mental processes,
experience, and behaviour.
When we say experiences are internal to
the experiencing person, then we refer to states
of consciousness or awareness or mental
processes. We use our mental processes when
we think or try to solve a problem, to know or
remember something. One level at which these
mental processes are reflected is the brain
activity. As we think or solve a mathematical
problem, our brain activities can be observed
using different techniques of brain imaging.
However, we cannot say that brain activities
and mental processes are the same, although
they are interdependent. Mental activities and
neural activities are mutually overlapping
processes but, they are not identical. Unlike
the brain, the mind does not have a physical
structure or has a location. Mind emerges and
evolves as our interactions and experiences
in this world get dynamically organised in the
form of a system which is responsible for the
occurrence of various mental processes.
Brain activities provide important clues as to
how our mind functions. But the
consciousness of our own experiences and
mental processes are much more than the
neural or brain activities. Even when we are
asleep some mental activities go on. We
dream, and receive some information such
as a knock on the door while we are asleep.
Some psychologists have shown that we also
learn and remember in our sleep. Mental
processes, such as remembering, learning,
knowing, perceiving, feeling are of interest to
psychologists. They study these processes to
try to understand how the mind works and to
help us improve the uses and applications of
these mental capacities.
Psychologists also study experiences of
people. Experiences are subjective in nature.
We cannot directly observe or know someone
else’s experience. Only the experiencing person
can be aware or be conscious of her or his
experiences. Thus, experiences are embedded
in our awareness or consciousness.
Psychologists have focused on experiences of
pain being experienced by terminally ill
patients or of psychological pain felt in
bereavement, besides experiences which lead
to positive feelings, such as in romantic
encounters. There are some esoteric
experiences also which attract the attention of
psychologists, such as when a Yogi meditates
to enter a different level of consciousness and
creates a new kind of experience or when a
drug addict takes a particular kind of drug to
get a high, even though such drugs are
extremely harmful. Experiences are influenced
by internal and the external conditions of the
experiencer. If you are travelling in a crowded
bus during a hot summer day, you may not
experience the usual discomfort if you are
going for a picnic with some close friends. Thus,
the nature of experience can only be understood
by analysing a complex set of internal and
external conditions.
Behaviours are responses or reactions we
make or activities we engage in. When
something is hurled at you, your eyes blink in
a simple reflex action. You are taking an
examination and can feel your heart pounding.
You decide to go for a particular movie with a
friend. Behaviours may be simple or complex,
short or enduring.  Some behaviours are overt.
They can be outwardly seen or sensed by an
observer. Some are internal or covert.  When
you are in a difficult situation while playing a
game of chess you almost feel your hand
muscles twitching, trying to experiment with
a move. All behaviours, covert or overt, are
associated with or triggered by some stimulus
in the environment or changes that happen
internally. You may see a tiger and run or think
that there is a tiger and decide to flee. Some
2019-20
Page 4


Chapter
1
What is Psychology?
What is Psychology?
• understand the nature and role of psychology in understanding mind
and behaviour,
• state the growth of the discipline,
• know the different fields of psychology, its relationship with other
disciplines, and professions, and
• appreciate the value of psychology in daily life to help you understand
yourself and others better.
After reading this chapter, you would be able to
Introduction
What is Psychology?
Psychology as a Discipline
Psychology as a Natural Science
Psychology as a Social Science
Understanding Mind and Behaviour
Popular Notions about the Discipline of Psychology
Evolution of Psychology
Some Interesting Landmarks in the Evolution of
Modern Psychology (Box 1.1)
Development of Psychology in India
Branches of Psychology
Themes of Research and Applications
Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychologists at Work
Psychology in Everyday Life
Key Terms
Summary
Review Questions
Project Ideas
Contents
The growth of the human mind
is still high adventure,
in many ways the highest
adventure on earth.
– Norman Cousins
2019-20
Psychology
2
psychology was a study of the soul or mind.
But since then it has moved away considerably
from this focus and established itself as a
scientific discipline which deals with processes
underlying human experience and behaviour.
The range of phenomena it studies, some of
which we mentioned above, are spread over
several levels, viz. individual, dyadic (two
person) group, and organisational. They also
have biological as well as social bases.
Naturally, therefore, the methods required to
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
Any knowledge discipline is hard to define.
Firstly, because it evolves continuously.
Secondly, because the range of phenomena it
studies cannot be captured by any one
definition. This is even more true of psychology.
Long time back, students like yourself were told
that the term psychology is derived from two
Greek words psyche meaning soul and logos
meaning science or study of a subject. Thus,
You were, perhaps, asked by your teacher in the first class why you opted for
psychology over other subjects. What do you hope to learn? If you were asked this
question, what was your response? Generally, the range of responses which surface
in class to this question are truly bewildering. Most students give inane responses,
like they want to know what others are thinking. But then one also comes across
such responses as knowing oneself, knowing others or more specific responses like
knowing why people dream, why people go out of their way to help others or beat
each other up. All ancient traditions have engaged themselves with questions about
human nature. The Indian philosophical traditions, in particular , deal with questions
relating to why people behave in the manner in which they do. Why are people
generally unhappy? What changes should they bring about in themselves if they
desire happiness in their lives? Like all knowledge, psychological knowledge too
is intended to contribute to human well-being. If the world is full of misery, it is
largely due to humans themselves. Perhaps, you have asked why a 9/11 or war
in Iraq happened. Why innocent people in Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar or in the North-
East have to face bombs and bullets? Psychologists ask what is in the experiences
of young men which turn them into terrorists seeking revenge. But there is another
side to human nature. You may have heard the name of Major HPS Ahluwalia,
paralysed waist down because of an injury he suffered in a war with Pakistan,
who climbed the Mt. Everest. What moved him to climb such heights? These are not
only questions about human nature which psychology addresses as a human
science. You will be surprised to learn that modern psychology also deals with
somewhat nebulous micro-level phenomenon like consciousness, focusing attention
in the face of noise, or supporters trying to burn down a shopping complex after
their team had scored victory in a football game over its traditional rival. Psychology
cannot claim that answers have been found to these complex questions. But it
surely has improved upon our understanding and how we make sense of these
phenomena. The most striking aspect of the discipline, unlike other sciences, lies in
the study of psychological processes which are largely internal and available to
humans for observation within themselves.
Introduction
2019-20
Chapter 1 • What is Psychology?
3
study them also vary greatly depending on the
phenomenon one wants to study. A discipline
is defined both in terms of what it studies and
how it studies. In fact, more in terms of how or
method/s it uses. Keeping this in view,
psychology is defined formally as a science
which studies mental processes, experiences
and behaviour in different contexts. In doing
so, it uses methods of biological and social
sciences to obtain data systematically. It makes
sense of these data so that they can be
organised as knowledge. Let us try to
understand the three terms used in the
definition, namely, mental processes,
experience, and behaviour.
When we say experiences are internal to
the experiencing person, then we refer to states
of consciousness or awareness or mental
processes. We use our mental processes when
we think or try to solve a problem, to know or
remember something. One level at which these
mental processes are reflected is the brain
activity. As we think or solve a mathematical
problem, our brain activities can be observed
using different techniques of brain imaging.
However, we cannot say that brain activities
and mental processes are the same, although
they are interdependent. Mental activities and
neural activities are mutually overlapping
processes but, they are not identical. Unlike
the brain, the mind does not have a physical
structure or has a location. Mind emerges and
evolves as our interactions and experiences
in this world get dynamically organised in the
form of a system which is responsible for the
occurrence of various mental processes.
Brain activities provide important clues as to
how our mind functions. But the
consciousness of our own experiences and
mental processes are much more than the
neural or brain activities. Even when we are
asleep some mental activities go on. We
dream, and receive some information such
as a knock on the door while we are asleep.
Some psychologists have shown that we also
learn and remember in our sleep. Mental
processes, such as remembering, learning,
knowing, perceiving, feeling are of interest to
psychologists. They study these processes to
try to understand how the mind works and to
help us improve the uses and applications of
these mental capacities.
Psychologists also study experiences of
people. Experiences are subjective in nature.
We cannot directly observe or know someone
else’s experience. Only the experiencing person
can be aware or be conscious of her or his
experiences. Thus, experiences are embedded
in our awareness or consciousness.
Psychologists have focused on experiences of
pain being experienced by terminally ill
patients or of psychological pain felt in
bereavement, besides experiences which lead
to positive feelings, such as in romantic
encounters. There are some esoteric
experiences also which attract the attention of
psychologists, such as when a Yogi meditates
to enter a different level of consciousness and
creates a new kind of experience or when a
drug addict takes a particular kind of drug to
get a high, even though such drugs are
extremely harmful. Experiences are influenced
by internal and the external conditions of the
experiencer. If you are travelling in a crowded
bus during a hot summer day, you may not
experience the usual discomfort if you are
going for a picnic with some close friends. Thus,
the nature of experience can only be understood
by analysing a complex set of internal and
external conditions.
Behaviours are responses or reactions we
make or activities we engage in. When
something is hurled at you, your eyes blink in
a simple reflex action. You are taking an
examination and can feel your heart pounding.
You decide to go for a particular movie with a
friend. Behaviours may be simple or complex,
short or enduring.  Some behaviours are overt.
They can be outwardly seen or sensed by an
observer. Some are internal or covert.  When
you are in a difficult situation while playing a
game of chess you almost feel your hand
muscles twitching, trying to experiment with
a move. All behaviours, covert or overt, are
associated with or triggered by some stimulus
in the environment or changes that happen
internally. You may see a tiger and run or think
that there is a tiger and decide to flee. Some
2019-20
Psychology
4
psychologists study behaviour as an
association between stimulus (S) and response
(R). Both stimulus and response can be
internal or external.
Psychology as a Discipline
As we have discussed above, psychology
studies behaviour, experience and mental
processes. It seeks to understand and explain
how the mind works and how different mental
processes result in different behaviours. When
we observe others as lay or common persons,
our own points of view or our ways of
understanding the world influence our
interpretations of their behaviours and
experiences. Psychologists try to minimise
such biases in their explanations of behaviour
and experience in various ways. Some do so
by seeking to make their analysis scientific
and objective. Others seek to explain
behaviour from the point of view of the
experiencing persons because they think that
subjectivity is a necessary aspect of human
experience. In the Indian tradition, self-
reflection and analysis of our conscious
experiences, is held to be a major source of
psychological understanding. Many western
psychologists have also begun to emphasise
the role of self-reflection and self-knowledge
in understanding human behaviour and
experience. Regardless of the differences in the
way psychologists go about the study of
behaviour, mental processes and experiences,
they seek to understand and explain them in
a systematic and verifiable manner.
Psychology, though it is a very old
knowledge discipline, is a young science, if one
were to take the year of the founding of the
first laboratory of psychology in 1879 in
Leipzig. However, what kind of science is
psychology, still remains a matter of debate,
particularly because of the new interfaces of
it that have emerged in recent times.
Psychology is generally categorised as a social
science. But it should not come to you as a
surprise that, not only in other countries, but
in India also, it is also a subject of study offered
in the faculty of science, both at the
undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
Many students go on to earn a B.Sc. or M.Sc.
degree in universities. In fact, two of the most
sought after emerging disciplines which
continuously borrow from psychology are
Neuroscience and Computer Science. Some of
us would be aware of the fast developing brain
imaging techniques like fMRI, EEG, etc. which
make it possible to study brain processes in real
time, i.e. when they are actually taking place.
Similarly, in IT areas, both human-computer
interaction and artificial intelligence cannot
possibly grow without psychological knowledge
in cognitive processes. Thus, psychology as a
discipline today has two parallel streams. One
which makes use of the method in physical and
biological sciences and the other which makes
use of the method of social and cultural
sciences in studying various psychological and
social phenomena. These streams sometimes
converge only to drift apart and go their
separate ways. In the first case, psychology
considers itself as a discipline, which focuses
largely on biological principles to explain
human behaviour. It assumes that all
behavioural phenomena have causes which can
be discovered if we can collect data
systematically under controlled conditions.
Here the aim of the researcher is to know the
cause and effect relationship so that a prediction
of the behavioural phenomenon can be made
and behaviour can be controlled if need be. On
the other hand, psychology as a social science
focuses on how behavioural phenomena can be
explained in terms of the interaction that takes
place between the person and the socio-
cultural context of which s/he is a part. Each
behavioural phenomenon is assumed to have
multiple causes. Let us now discuss these two
streams separately.
Psychology as a Natural Science
It has been mentioned earlier that psychology
has its roots in philosophy. However, modern
psychology has developed because of the
application of the scientific method to study
psychological phenomenon. Science places a
great deal of emphasis on objectivity which
can be obtained if there is consensus on the
definition of a concept and how it can be
2019-20
Page 5


Chapter
1
What is Psychology?
What is Psychology?
• understand the nature and role of psychology in understanding mind
and behaviour,
• state the growth of the discipline,
• know the different fields of psychology, its relationship with other
disciplines, and professions, and
• appreciate the value of psychology in daily life to help you understand
yourself and others better.
After reading this chapter, you would be able to
Introduction
What is Psychology?
Psychology as a Discipline
Psychology as a Natural Science
Psychology as a Social Science
Understanding Mind and Behaviour
Popular Notions about the Discipline of Psychology
Evolution of Psychology
Some Interesting Landmarks in the Evolution of
Modern Psychology (Box 1.1)
Development of Psychology in India
Branches of Psychology
Themes of Research and Applications
Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychologists at Work
Psychology in Everyday Life
Key Terms
Summary
Review Questions
Project Ideas
Contents
The growth of the human mind
is still high adventure,
in many ways the highest
adventure on earth.
– Norman Cousins
2019-20
Psychology
2
psychology was a study of the soul or mind.
But since then it has moved away considerably
from this focus and established itself as a
scientific discipline which deals with processes
underlying human experience and behaviour.
The range of phenomena it studies, some of
which we mentioned above, are spread over
several levels, viz. individual, dyadic (two
person) group, and organisational. They also
have biological as well as social bases.
Naturally, therefore, the methods required to
WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY?
Any knowledge discipline is hard to define.
Firstly, because it evolves continuously.
Secondly, because the range of phenomena it
studies cannot be captured by any one
definition. This is even more true of psychology.
Long time back, students like yourself were told
that the term psychology is derived from two
Greek words psyche meaning soul and logos
meaning science or study of a subject. Thus,
You were, perhaps, asked by your teacher in the first class why you opted for
psychology over other subjects. What do you hope to learn? If you were asked this
question, what was your response? Generally, the range of responses which surface
in class to this question are truly bewildering. Most students give inane responses,
like they want to know what others are thinking. But then one also comes across
such responses as knowing oneself, knowing others or more specific responses like
knowing why people dream, why people go out of their way to help others or beat
each other up. All ancient traditions have engaged themselves with questions about
human nature. The Indian philosophical traditions, in particular , deal with questions
relating to why people behave in the manner in which they do. Why are people
generally unhappy? What changes should they bring about in themselves if they
desire happiness in their lives? Like all knowledge, psychological knowledge too
is intended to contribute to human well-being. If the world is full of misery, it is
largely due to humans themselves. Perhaps, you have asked why a 9/11 or war
in Iraq happened. Why innocent people in Delhi, Mumbai, Srinagar or in the North-
East have to face bombs and bullets? Psychologists ask what is in the experiences
of young men which turn them into terrorists seeking revenge. But there is another
side to human nature. You may have heard the name of Major HPS Ahluwalia,
paralysed waist down because of an injury he suffered in a war with Pakistan,
who climbed the Mt. Everest. What moved him to climb such heights? These are not
only questions about human nature which psychology addresses as a human
science. You will be surprised to learn that modern psychology also deals with
somewhat nebulous micro-level phenomenon like consciousness, focusing attention
in the face of noise, or supporters trying to burn down a shopping complex after
their team had scored victory in a football game over its traditional rival. Psychology
cannot claim that answers have been found to these complex questions. But it
surely has improved upon our understanding and how we make sense of these
phenomena. The most striking aspect of the discipline, unlike other sciences, lies in
the study of psychological processes which are largely internal and available to
humans for observation within themselves.
Introduction
2019-20
Chapter 1 • What is Psychology?
3
study them also vary greatly depending on the
phenomenon one wants to study. A discipline
is defined both in terms of what it studies and
how it studies. In fact, more in terms of how or
method/s it uses. Keeping this in view,
psychology is defined formally as a science
which studies mental processes, experiences
and behaviour in different contexts. In doing
so, it uses methods of biological and social
sciences to obtain data systematically. It makes
sense of these data so that they can be
organised as knowledge. Let us try to
understand the three terms used in the
definition, namely, mental processes,
experience, and behaviour.
When we say experiences are internal to
the experiencing person, then we refer to states
of consciousness or awareness or mental
processes. We use our mental processes when
we think or try to solve a problem, to know or
remember something. One level at which these
mental processes are reflected is the brain
activity. As we think or solve a mathematical
problem, our brain activities can be observed
using different techniques of brain imaging.
However, we cannot say that brain activities
and mental processes are the same, although
they are interdependent. Mental activities and
neural activities are mutually overlapping
processes but, they are not identical. Unlike
the brain, the mind does not have a physical
structure or has a location. Mind emerges and
evolves as our interactions and experiences
in this world get dynamically organised in the
form of a system which is responsible for the
occurrence of various mental processes.
Brain activities provide important clues as to
how our mind functions. But the
consciousness of our own experiences and
mental processes are much more than the
neural or brain activities. Even when we are
asleep some mental activities go on. We
dream, and receive some information such
as a knock on the door while we are asleep.
Some psychologists have shown that we also
learn and remember in our sleep. Mental
processes, such as remembering, learning,
knowing, perceiving, feeling are of interest to
psychologists. They study these processes to
try to understand how the mind works and to
help us improve the uses and applications of
these mental capacities.
Psychologists also study experiences of
people. Experiences are subjective in nature.
We cannot directly observe or know someone
else’s experience. Only the experiencing person
can be aware or be conscious of her or his
experiences. Thus, experiences are embedded
in our awareness or consciousness.
Psychologists have focused on experiences of
pain being experienced by terminally ill
patients or of psychological pain felt in
bereavement, besides experiences which lead
to positive feelings, such as in romantic
encounters. There are some esoteric
experiences also which attract the attention of
psychologists, such as when a Yogi meditates
to enter a different level of consciousness and
creates a new kind of experience or when a
drug addict takes a particular kind of drug to
get a high, even though such drugs are
extremely harmful. Experiences are influenced
by internal and the external conditions of the
experiencer. If you are travelling in a crowded
bus during a hot summer day, you may not
experience the usual discomfort if you are
going for a picnic with some close friends. Thus,
the nature of experience can only be understood
by analysing a complex set of internal and
external conditions.
Behaviours are responses or reactions we
make or activities we engage in. When
something is hurled at you, your eyes blink in
a simple reflex action. You are taking an
examination and can feel your heart pounding.
You decide to go for a particular movie with a
friend. Behaviours may be simple or complex,
short or enduring.  Some behaviours are overt.
They can be outwardly seen or sensed by an
observer. Some are internal or covert.  When
you are in a difficult situation while playing a
game of chess you almost feel your hand
muscles twitching, trying to experiment with
a move. All behaviours, covert or overt, are
associated with or triggered by some stimulus
in the environment or changes that happen
internally. You may see a tiger and run or think
that there is a tiger and decide to flee. Some
2019-20
Psychology
4
psychologists study behaviour as an
association between stimulus (S) and response
(R). Both stimulus and response can be
internal or external.
Psychology as a Discipline
As we have discussed above, psychology
studies behaviour, experience and mental
processes. It seeks to understand and explain
how the mind works and how different mental
processes result in different behaviours. When
we observe others as lay or common persons,
our own points of view or our ways of
understanding the world influence our
interpretations of their behaviours and
experiences. Psychologists try to minimise
such biases in their explanations of behaviour
and experience in various ways. Some do so
by seeking to make their analysis scientific
and objective. Others seek to explain
behaviour from the point of view of the
experiencing persons because they think that
subjectivity is a necessary aspect of human
experience. In the Indian tradition, self-
reflection and analysis of our conscious
experiences, is held to be a major source of
psychological understanding. Many western
psychologists have also begun to emphasise
the role of self-reflection and self-knowledge
in understanding human behaviour and
experience. Regardless of the differences in the
way psychologists go about the study of
behaviour, mental processes and experiences,
they seek to understand and explain them in
a systematic and verifiable manner.
Psychology, though it is a very old
knowledge discipline, is a young science, if one
were to take the year of the founding of the
first laboratory of psychology in 1879 in
Leipzig. However, what kind of science is
psychology, still remains a matter of debate,
particularly because of the new interfaces of
it that have emerged in recent times.
Psychology is generally categorised as a social
science. But it should not come to you as a
surprise that, not only in other countries, but
in India also, it is also a subject of study offered
in the faculty of science, both at the
undergraduate and post-graduate levels.
Many students go on to earn a B.Sc. or M.Sc.
degree in universities. In fact, two of the most
sought after emerging disciplines which
continuously borrow from psychology are
Neuroscience and Computer Science. Some of
us would be aware of the fast developing brain
imaging techniques like fMRI, EEG, etc. which
make it possible to study brain processes in real
time, i.e. when they are actually taking place.
Similarly, in IT areas, both human-computer
interaction and artificial intelligence cannot
possibly grow without psychological knowledge
in cognitive processes. Thus, psychology as a
discipline today has two parallel streams. One
which makes use of the method in physical and
biological sciences and the other which makes
use of the method of social and cultural
sciences in studying various psychological and
social phenomena. These streams sometimes
converge only to drift apart and go their
separate ways. In the first case, psychology
considers itself as a discipline, which focuses
largely on biological principles to explain
human behaviour. It assumes that all
behavioural phenomena have causes which can
be discovered if we can collect data
systematically under controlled conditions.
Here the aim of the researcher is to know the
cause and effect relationship so that a prediction
of the behavioural phenomenon can be made
and behaviour can be controlled if need be. On
the other hand, psychology as a social science
focuses on how behavioural phenomena can be
explained in terms of the interaction that takes
place between the person and the socio-
cultural context of which s/he is a part. Each
behavioural phenomenon is assumed to have
multiple causes. Let us now discuss these two
streams separately.
Psychology as a Natural Science
It has been mentioned earlier that psychology
has its roots in philosophy. However, modern
psychology has developed because of the
application of the scientific method to study
psychological phenomenon. Science places a
great deal of emphasis on objectivity which
can be obtained if there is consensus on the
definition of a concept and how it can be
2019-20
Chapter 1 • What is Psychology?
5
measured. Psychology was influenced by
Descartes and later on by the developments in
physics has grown by following what is called
a hypothetico-deductive model. The model
suggests that scientific advancement can take
place if you have a theory to explain a
phenomenon. For example, physicists have
what is called a Big-bang theory to explain
how the universe came to be formed. Theory
is nothing else but a set of statements about
how a certain complex phenomenon can be
explained with the help of propositions which
are interrelated. Based on a theory, scientists
deduce or propose a hypothesis, that offers a
tentative explanation of how a certain
phenomenon takes place. The hypothesis then
is tested and proved true or false based on
empirical data that one has gathered. The
theory is revised if data gathered point in a
different direction than the one suggested by
the hypothesis. Using the above approach
psychologists have developed theories of
learning, memory, attention, perception,
motivation and emotion, etc. and have made
significant progress. Till date, most of the
research in psychology follows this approach.
Apart from this, psychologists have also been
considerably influenced by the evolutionary
approach which is dominant in biological
sciences. This approach has also been used
to explain diverse kinds of psychological
phenomenon such as attachment and
aggression to mention just a few.
Psychology as a Social Science
We mentioned above that psychology is
recognised more as a social science because
it studies the behaviour of human beings in
their socio-cultural contexts. Humans are not
only influenced by their socio-cultural
contexts, they also create them. Psychology
as a social science discipline focuses on
humans as social beings. Consider the
following story of Ranjita and Shabnam.
Ranjita and Shabnam were in the same
class. Although, they were in the same class,
they were just acquainted with each other and
their lives were quite different. Ranjita came
from a farmer’s family. Her grandparents,
parents and elder brother worked on their farm.
They lived together in their house in the village.
Ranjita was a good athlete and was the best
long distance runner in the school. She loved
meeting people and making friends.
Unlike her , Shabnam lived with her mother
in the same village. Her father worked in an
office in a town nearby and came home during
holidays. Shabnam was a good artist and loved
staying home and taking care of her younger
brother. She was shy and avoided meeting
people.
Last year there was very heavy rain and
the river nearby overflowed into the village.
Many houses in the low lying areas were
flooded. The villagers got together and
organised help and gave shelter to people in
distress. Shabnam’s house was also flooded
and she came to live in Ranjita’s house with
her mother and brother. Ranjita was happy
helping the family and making them feel
comfortable in her house. When the flood water
receded, Ranjita’s mother and grandmother
helped Shabnam’s mother to set-up their house.
The two families became very close. Ranjita
and Shabnam also became very good friends.
In this case of Ranjita and Shabnam, both
are very different persons. They grew up in
different families under complex social and
cultural conditions. You can see some
regularity in the relationship of their nature,
experience and mental processes with their
social and physical environment. But at the
same time, there are variations in their
behaviours and experiences which would be
difficult to predict using the known
psychological principles. One can understand
why and how individuals in communities
become quite helpful and self-sacrificing in
crisis as was the case with the people in the
village of Ranjita and Shabnam. But, even in
that case, not every villager was equally helpful
and also under similar circumstances not
every community is so forthcoming; in fact,
sometimes, the opposite is true – people
become antisocial under similar
circumstances indulging in looting and
2019-20
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