he Science of Psychology
Psychologists use the scientific method when conducting research. This allows the field to follow the same standardized scientific procedures that have worked so well for other scientists. This would entail the five steps of the scientific method:
- Reviewing the literature.
- Formulating a testable hypothesis.
- Designing the study and collecting the data.
- Analyzing the data and accepting or rejecting the hypothesis.
- Publishing the results, replicating the study, and reviewing/revising the theory.
The scientific method's empirical (measurable) focus has helped science to determine what is measurably real i.e. (empirical). The use of "empirical" methodology has allowed science and its applied cousin technology to achieve many great advances for humanity and avoid travelling too far down any "dead ends." Former American Psychological Association president Abraham Maslow wondered aloud if a human science like psychology should be forced to always be using the tools of the physical sciences. What do you think?
Still, while science (the pursuit of knowledge) is indeed valued in our culture, the scientific method has limitations. Psychologists need to be aware that they don't slip completely into ignoring that which they have trouble measuring. Former American Psychological Association president Abraham Maslow wondered aloud if a human science like psychology should be forced to always be using the tools of the physical sciences. Critics of its overuse contend that the scientific method has no means of proving that it is the sole means of proving something - for that it relies on logic.
Often considered the jewel in science's crown, the "controlled experiment" is the only scientific method that can prove cause and effect. Experiments are time-consuming and difficult to do and are subject to various problems such as experimenter bias, confirmation bias, sample bias, and participant bias. A good experimental research study will account for all of these by using a variety of techniques like single or double "blind" studies, control groups, placebos, representative and cross-cultural sampling, random assignment to groups, statistical comparisons and peer review and replication.
In any controlled experiment there are three main variables to consider: the independent variable (IV), the dependent variable (DV) and extraneous variables (EV's). The concept that students have the most difficulty with is often differentiating between the dependent variable and the independent variable. The independent variable (IV) is hypothesized to be a causal variable. That is, it is supposed to cause a measurable reaction or change in another variable. The dependent variable (DV) is the one variable that is supposed to measurably react to the presence of the IV, although it can also react to other variables (EV's). Extraneous variables (EV's) are any variables that could affect the DV besides the IV. The following is an example that should help to make clear how experiments are performed by scientists.
Say you wanted to test a hypothesis of whether kids who ingest sugar then don't learn as well in school. In order to test this hypothesis (testable idea), you need to operationally define the variables in the hypothesis. An "operational definition" is a concept that is defined in measurable terms. For example, whether kids (children aged 5-7 years of age) get a sugar high (the IV) would be operationally defined as having each child drink a 12 ounce can of sugar sweetened soda (Coca Cola) in 5 minutes or less. The control group (comparison group) would have children drink a 12 ounce Diet Coke in 5 minutes or less. Then we need to operationally define the DV as scores on a reading comprehension test of a story that all the students read. Think of what other variables (EV's) could affect the outcome or results of this experiment. Could the reading level of the story or the children's ability to read affect the outcome? Could the intelligence level of the children impact the results? Psychologists think they could and "control" for these EV's by holding them constant across both the experimental group (Sugar Coke) and the control group (Diet Coke). The children will enter the study and be randomly assigned to either the Experimental group or the Control group. Thus, any differences between the children should average out by the random assignment to the two different groups. The results would be tabulated (counted and measured) and then written up in a standardized format that would then be Published in a Journal (professional magazine) where other members of the scientific community would read and review/critique the research report of the experimental study. At some point a member of the scientific community (possibly the original researcher), would try to explain WHY the experimental results occurred as they did. This explanation is called a theory.
In the experiment described above, what was the independent and dependent variable? Could you list different extraneous variables than those already mentioned?
Although the experimental process is very systematic and is reviewed by a scientist's peers, mistakes can be made. Often, other scientists will replicate (duplicate exactly) the original experiment to see if they get the same results as the original researcher. They will publish their results and eventually all of the studies will be looked at to see if there is a consistent effect caused by the independent variable. The various theories explaining why the results have occurred will be reviewed and eventually a consensus will be reached. Often, at this point textbook authors will review these studies and theories and summarize them for students to read and study in various courses. That's where you are now.
Experiments are not always practical or ethical. It would be nice to know the effects of large-scale, long-term marijuana use by adolescents, but this would certainly be an unethical experiment. In an effort to answer this question and others that can't be addressed in an experiment, psychologists turn to other ways of conducting their research. Some examples include naturalistic observation (ex: the research done by Dian Fossey whom the movie "Gorillas In The Mist" was about was naturalistic observation); surveys (we hear A LOT about them during election time - exit polls are an example of a survey); case studies (such as studies of why Rudolph Giuliani was such a successful leader in the aftermath of 9/11); and correlation studies (these are the studies that you hear about noting things like how long someone lives and how many fruits and vegetables they eat).
This course will cover six of the main psychological perspectives: behaviorism, cognitive psychology, psychodynamic theory, humanistic psychology, socio-cultural psychology, and the biological/evolutionary approach. If each of these approaches had a client suffering from depression, the behaviorism psychologist would be most interested in what ways the client had been conditioned to feel that way. A cognitive psychologist would be examining the client's thought patterns, seeking out maladaptive ones that lead to depression. A psychodynamic therapist would seek to learn of the ways the ego has been dealing with the id and superego. A humanistic psychologist would endeavor to set a proper atmosphere for the client to discover their blocked personal growth. The socio-cultural psychologist would examine the social and cultural environment of the client to determine how it is influencing the behavior. The biological/evolutionary perspective would focus on the influence of genetics on the brain chemistry and evaluate the client for medication. While these are all very different approaches, they all may indeed have valid points as to why the person is depressed and what needs to be done to help him or her.
|Types of Psychologists|
By most standards, psychology is a relatively young field. The most widely known are the clinical and counseling psychologists, but psychologists also practice in other areas. There are developmental psychologists, educational psychologists, experimental psychologists, biopsychologists, neurological psychologists, industrial/organizational psychologists, social or cultural psychologists, and business/advertising psychologists. So you see, psychology extends well beyond traditional psychotherapy and into education, parenting, marketing, management, and health/fitness. As new fields emerge, it is likely that psychology will play a role in some of them as well.
|Key Issues in Psychology|
Psychology is not a science without controversy. The chief debate revolves around how much of our behavior is a result of something that we can't change (genetics or our "nature") and how much comes from our upbringing and choices ("nurture"). This is no simple question. We can look around and see the impact of parenting, society, good teachers, and so on, and think that the influence of genetics is over-rated. Yet, on the other hand, we also can look around and see how children have traits similar to their parents and how similar identical twins really are. Psychologists continue to study how both genetics and environment influence personality and behavior. They are likely to be working on this question for a long while too.
Biology, Behavior, and Mental States
Last week, we covered how psychologists go about conducting research. This week, we want to explore the area that psychologists are studying - the human brain. The material isn't overly complex but there is a lot of vocabulary so be sure to make good use of the Study Mate cards - they'll be most helpful in getting all the terminology down.
The human brain is truly an amazing riddle. It weighs around 3 pounds yet uses approximately 20% of the oxygen a person breathes in. Psychologists have been trying to understand the enigma of the human brain since the field was born, yet despite having all sorts of new tools for research, we still have a long, long way to go.
|Want to see just how amazing your brain is? Try this!|
Your brain really is amazing. We each have a blind spot on our eyes where the nerve attaches to the eye to send the visual information to the brain. Thus, there are no cones there to receive visual input. Rather than having a hole in your visual field, your brain automatically fills it in for you based on information from the other eye and what it expects to see there. Still not convinced? Try this little experiment: Put your hand over your left eye. Stare at the asterisk on the LEFT. Hold your nose about eight or nine inches from the screen and SLOWLY move your head forward and backwards. At a certain point, the asterisk on the right will disappear from your field of view. (Remember that this will happen as you are staring at the asterisk on the left. If you look at the one on the right, it won't work.)
How many of us have actually seen a neurotransmitter? Probably not many, yet their importance can hardly be overstated. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that the body manufactures in the neurons and when released, alter activity in other neurons. Dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine are all neurotransmitters. Dopamine problems play a role in schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, and possibly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Problems with serotonin levels are often found in people with depression. Norepinephrine level problems are indicated in sleep disorders and also perhaps in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder too (particularly the inattentive type as this neurotransmitter seems to impact attention). Acetylcholine problems is a possible cause of Alzheimer's disease. It would seem that most people in our society are relatively unconcerned with neurotransmitters, but if they knew how vital they were, they might receive more attention.
Neurotransmitter levels are undoubtedly influenced greatly by genetics, but this is not to say that they are "cast in stone." Can continuous negative thinking adversely impact neurotransmitter levels? What impact do diet and exercise have? What damage do illegal drugs do? Can giving, receiving, or even observing acts of kindness raise serotonin levels? (Some internet sites claim such). These are all areas that are ripe for future research as we seek to unravel the connection among drugs, brains, and behaviors. We have learned things such as dopamine levels can be impacted by insufficient intake of vitamin B6. We don't know how much though, or how long one has to be deficient in vitamin B6 to produce a noticeable effect, or if some people's genetic make-up makes them more susceptible to such issues. As we accumulate more research on neurotransmitters, you should expect to hear more about the role of diet, but most researchers in the field would probably assert that it would be a bit of a stretch to conclude that serious mental problems are going to be resolved by taking a vitamin.
Genetics is proving to be an area that is shedding a great deal of light on psychology. Genetics is indeed important. As children, how many of us were told we looked or acted just like our father or mother? Identical twins have shed even more light on the role of genetics. Consider the famous case of the "Jim twins." XXXXX XXXXX and James Springer were born identical twins and then adopted out to different families 37 days after birth. They had no contact until they were reunited 38 years later. As boys, they both had dogs with the same name ("Toy"), and named their sons James Allan (one actually spelled the name "Alan" with one "l"). This may indeed be chalked up to coincidence, but what happens when it is noted that they both had first wives named "Linda" and second wives named "Betty," had part-time sheriff positions, had pale blue Chevrolets that they drove to Pas Grille beach in Florida for family vacations, were fingernail biters, and left love notes for their wives around the house? (Segal, 2000) Clearly, the role of genetics is not to be dismissed.
|Biologically-Related Psychological Disorders|
Bipolar disorder produces episodes of overwhelming and pervasive feelings of sorrow quite similar to major depressive disorders as well as other episodes of mania. While in the manic stage, the individual may exhibit rapid speech and thinking, delusions of grandeur, and engage in impulsive and often quite risky behaviors. Researchers studying the causes of bipolar disorders believe that problems with certain areas of the brain may cause episodes. Studies have also found evidence for genetics to play a role in bipolar disorder. Some individuals suffer the symptoms of depression in the winter months only. This is called seasonal affective disorder.
Schizophrenia is a seriously debilitating disorder that afflicts about 1% of the adult population. Common symptoms include disturbances in perception, language, thought, emotions, and behavior. Despite all the attention it has received from researchers, no one is completely certain what causes it. Biological theories focus on genetics/heredity, neurotransmitter problems (primarily dopamine), and abnormalities within the structure of the brain. Psychological theories suspect that stress is a cause in the initial episodes as well as relapse. Researchers have also suspected that highly expressed emotionality in the family may be related to symptoms becoming worse.
The Healthy Life and Perception, Cognition, and Memory
|The Healthy Life|
Most of us are well aware of how losses, frustrations, hassles, disappointments, and so on, can lead to the feeling of stress. It should be remembered that even positive events like marriage or the birth of a child cause stress as well. Change causes stress. Individuals may also differ in the amount of stress that they can handle.
Stress affects the body. It causes bodily changes such as higher blood pressure, and increased heart rate and hormone levels. Prolonged stress hinders the ability of the body to sleep and the functioning of the immune system. It leaves the body more susceptible to a host of diseases and heart problems. Meditation and getting plenty of exercise are two practical ways of helping the body avoid stress-related health issues.
Stress management is an area that has received a great deal of attention in our culture. Students taking this class are often feeling a degree of stress with all of the demands that family, work, school, and so on, make on a person. Dealing with this effectively will make the class a smoother experience. To do this, students will want to utilize emotion-focused coping strategies such as reminding oneself to keep things in perspective, and problem-focused coping strategies like taking direct action to deal with the stressor (e.g. setting and keeping to a balanced study schedule).
|The Deep Breath|
Does deep breathing really help a person relax? Well, let's find out. Take a moment and close your eyes. Notice how your body feels. When you have a good sense of how your body feels, take three, long, slow, deep breaths. Take the kind of breaths that you can feel pushing down into your hips and up into both of your shoulders. Now take another check of how your body feels. It is only three breaths, but do you feel at least a bit more relaxed?
|Drugs and Addiction|
Drugs will impact the central nervous system in a variety of ways. Depressants (also known as "downers") are drugs that depress the central nervous system. Individuals on depressants will experience relaxation. If taken at sufficient levels, they will experience sedation and could possibly lose consciousness. The most common depressants are barbiturates, anti-anxiety drugs, and alcohol. Some people are surprised that alcohol is a depressant, but it does depress the central nervous system and in a large enough quantity, it can lead to death. Alcohol may also lead to damage in the teenager's brain beyond what it does to adults.
Stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine, amphetamines, and cocaine all increase the overall activity and responsiveness of the central nervous system. Caffeine is the world's most widely used drug. Nicotine not only affects the smokers, but the bystanders who breathe it second-hand, possibly even causing breast cancer (Ritter, 2006). Smoking while pregnant has been linked to ADHD in children (Taner, 2006). Nicotine is considered the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S. In India, one in five men will die from smoking (Time, 2008).
Another stimulants that quickly addicts the user is cocaine. This drug is also well known for its potential for physical damage and psychological dependence.
Opiates include drugs such as morphine and heroin, numb the senses, and are used to relieve pain. They produce their effect by mimicking the brain's own natural painkillers, called endorphins, and they are highly addictive.
Hallucinogens include LSD and marijuana. They produce sensory distortions, including visual, auditory, or kinesthetic hallucinations. Negative consequences of marijuana include impaired memory, attention, and learning. Marijuana has also been shown to help treat glaucoma and to alleviate the nausea associated with chemotherapy. It remains a highly controversial drug
Learning and Motivation
Classical conditioning is all around you. Prejudices, phobias, advertising influences, and politicians' messages are all examples of classical conditioning. How does this work? In the case of advertising, you may note that advertisers will often pay huge amounts of money to athletes and celebrities to advertise products. As a public figure, they have certain qualities that we associate with them. By repeatedly pairing the athlete/celebrity (unconditioned stimulus) with the product (neutral stimulus), people begin to associate the qualities of the celebrity/athlete with the product. When this is done, the product becomes a conditioned stimulus which produces a conditioned response.
Does this really work? Well, how much money are celebrities getting for endorsements these days? How much celebrities know about politics is debatable, yet politicians have long been appearing on the campaign trail with celebrities. It is the same principle. Stand side-by-side with the celebrity enough and the two are associated together. Of course, there is a downside to this for the celebrity as well. If the politician shows himself or herself to be corrupt or the product of advertisers to be of poor quality, the negative qualities can be turned around and associated with the celebrity.
Operant conditioning is when reinforcement (rewards) and punishments are used to teach voluntary behaviors. Its most famous practitioner was B.F. Skinner.
Students often get confused between classical and operant conditioning. You should remember that in classical conditioning, you are "taught" without ever really doing anything. The conditioning takes place involuntarily. In operant conditioning, the process is more voluntary. You make specific choices and the consequences of those choices lay the groundwork of the learning. It is a powerful tool and used by animal trainers.
Operant conditioning can also factor into the development of prejudice. Suppose someone makes a slightly racist comment. If others laugh or in some way show they approve of the comment, then the person who made the remark is more likely to make similar comments in the future - they were reinforced for it.
Observational learning theory is the theory that leads parents to be concerned about all television violence that children see. If a child is watching their favorite superhero on television, they may be engaged in what Bandura calls observational learning. The child is attending to the television (its flashy colors, propensity for movement and action, and engaging music draw many children in), and they are already doing the first stage in the process (paying attention). The second stage is remembering the behavior they see. This may occur naturally, but with the repeating of episodes and/or commercialization of the hero, it is even more likely (how many things can you find in the store with Spiderman on it? How many of these items are for elementary school children? How many for preschoolers? Note: The first two Spiderman movies were rated PG-13). The third process is actually being able to do the behavior (children won't be able to fly like Superman, have Batman's gadgets, or Spiderman's web, but how do these superheroes solve their problems?). The fourth process is deciding if they want to repeat the behavior based on what they saw happen to the model (reinforced or punished). Now superheroes have admirable qualities as well, but at what age are children able to discern these? Lionel Tate was 13 when he killed a girl imitating "pro-wrestlers."
Psychologists use the observational learning theory to caution parents to use good judgement about what they allow their children to be exposed to. This goes beyond television (which does indeed have many wonderful programs on it). Columbine murderers XXXXX XXXXX and Dylan Klebold as well as 14-year-old school shooter Michael Carneal certainly had issues, but did playing the violent video games Doom & Quake help things? Another study raises concerns about the effects of violent music.
There are three major dimensions to communication: verbal, non-verbal, and contextual. The verbal dimension is the words themselves but also the paralanguage. Paralanguage is the way the words are spoken. Thus, one person could say to another "I want to go home" and depending on the way it is said, it could mean that the person is angry, sad, tired, being sarcastic/wants to stay, and so on. The non-verbal dimension of communication is things like eye contact, facial expressions, kinesics (body language and gestures) and proxemics (the way people use space in communicating). The contextual dimension is the background or setting in which the communication occurs. We need to pay particular attention to the non-verbal dimension as, according to the text, over half of the overall message and 90% of the emotional content comes via the nonverbal dimension. Students may note how comedians use these three dimensions to create humor.
As important as communication is, barriers to it remain. The effective communicator will eliminate or minimize these. They can include physical distractions, selective perception, semantic problems, mixed messages, lack of feedback, status differences, and communication overload. The ability to give effective feedback is especially important for people who aspire to move up within an organization. Good listening skills in general and being a good active listener in particular can be a great asset as well.
There are five main strategies for resolving a conflict: avoidance, accommodation, compromise, authoritative command, and collaboration. It may surprise some to see avoidance listed, but under certain conditions, it is indeed effective. The situation would have to be one in which things will 'blow over" with time and patience. An example might be in the case where one person is a bit of a "hothead" (always blowing up at something). Others may learn not to get "into it" with this person as it will all blow over and he or she will be off on the next thing. If one avoids a situation out of a feeling of weakness or inability to effectively assert himself or herself, avoidance will not be a productive conflict resolution strategy as it will only postpone the problem, often allowing it to grow bigger.
The ability to be effective in dealing with a conflict usually requires that the individual have a degree of assertiveness without crossing over into aggressiveness. Overly-aggressive people will perhaps "win the battle" but their lack of emotional intelligence generally leaves them "losing the war." Overly-aggressive people will also often find that individuals won't "take them on" out in the "open," but rather, will subtly seek to undermine them behind their back.
Workplace motivation is exactly what it appears to be - how to get people motivated at work. It includes theories such as positive and negative reinforcement and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but goes beyond these as well. One of these theories that applies strictly to workplace motivation deals with how things like company policies, salary, and co-workers can truly lead to dissatisfaction with a job. On the other hand, things such as achievement, growth, responsibility, and even the work itself can motivate a person. This is Herzberg's two-factor theory and despite its critics, it is still quite popular.
Another theory holds that people are best motivated when the demands of the job best match their personality. This is a very popular theory frequently used by career counselors. Other theories look at the balance between what a person puts into the workplace and what he or she gets out of it (equity theory), a person's goals (goal setting theory), and his or her feelings of self-efficacy (self-efficacy theory).
Trait theories contend that personality consists of relatively stable and consistent characteristics. The "Big 5" (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) are scales that trait theorists use to describe individuals. This may reflect a biologically-based set of universal human personality characteristics. They are also believed to be relatively stable after age 30, but it doesn't mean they are "carved in stone."
There are many misconceptions about traits though. Take the Big Five trait of extraversion, for example. The extraversion trait consists of a spectrum between highly-extraverted on one end and highly-introverted on the other. Some people mistakenly assume that it is better to be extraverted and that introverts are shy. While introverts MAY be shy, it isn't a forgone conclusion. Introverts are people who tend to be focused more on their internal world while an extravert's attention flows outward. Extraverts do tend to be better communicators and are more adept at processing emotions rather than letting things "build up," but on the other hand, introverts are better at relying on their internal world for guidance and usually can handle working for a long time on a single project (extraverts tend to prefer variety and action). No trait is better than another, though depending on the circumstances, one may hold certain advantages over the other. Thus, certain traits are preferable in certain occupations.
There are applications to trait theory in relationships as well. Individuals often seek wholeness by marrying a person with opposite traits. This can help with the skills a certain trait may be a bit short on, but it can also cause a bit of conflict. For example, suppose an extravert and introvert are married and both need to "recharge their batteries." Well, the extravert is probably going to want to go out for a "night on the town" while the introvert will prefer to spend a quiet night at home.
|Personality "Tests"? |
|Hopefully, this week students will have some fun with any number of the free personality assessments on the Web. Still, while you are doing them, remember that they aren't tests. A test implies that there is a right and wrong answer and such is not the case when dealing with personality traits. A better term than "test" would be "inventory" because the tool is merely taking stock of what your preferences are and then revealing your strengths and liabilities.|
The psychoanalytic approach to personality was founded by Sigmund Freud. This theory strongly believed in the power of the unconscious mind. To Freud, the mind (or psyche) functioned on three levels: the conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious. In Freud's theory of personality, there were also three parts: the id, ego, and superego. The ego struggles to meet the demands of the id and superego, and that isn't always so easy. The id seeks pleasure and immediate gratification. The superego is the voice of morality. When the ego has trouble meeting the demands of both the id and superego, the individual may experience anxiety. To deal with the anxiety, the ego may employ defense mechanisms.
|Jungian Theory |
Carl Jung was at one point considered to be Freud's successor when Freud retired. Jung was an independent thinker though and while he agreed with Freud on many things, he thought Freud overemphasized the role of sex and aggression in the unconscious at the exclusion of spiritual and positive forces. Jung studied a wide range of things including astrology and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. He had a near-death experience, labeled and developed three of the four types used now in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and was well versed in mythology. Still, what Jung is probably most famous for is his work with dreams - work for which he still has many fans today. Surprisingly, Jung was not a big fan of theories, at one point saying: "Theories in psychology are the very devil. It is true that we need certain points of view for orienting and heuristic value, but they should always be regarded as more auxiliary concepts that can be laid aside at any time." (Jung, 1964, p. 7)
Humanistic theories are focused on individuals' internal experiences. These internal thoughts and feelings create an individual's self-concept. The two major theorists are XXXXX XXXXX and Abraham Maslow. Rogers emphasized the concepts of self-esteem and self-concept. He believed that low self-esteem resulted from a generally poor congruence between the individual's self-concept and life experiences. For a child to reach his or her full potential, he or she needs to be raised in an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard. This unconditional positive regard means that the child is raised in an environment of being accepted no matter what he or she does. It doesn't mean that a child has a license to do whatever he or she wants to though. Maslow emphasized that a basic goodness was a part of human nature and that individuals had an innate drive towards self-actualization.
|Personality and Leadership|
Without the leadership of Abraham Lincoln, what would the United States look like today? Fortunately, we don't have to answer that question. His leadership was vital to preserving the union. Yet, what exactly is leadership? Are leaders born (Great Person Theory) or are they a function of the situation? Businesses spend a great deal of time and money on leadership training. It would all be a waste if leaders need to be born with the traits necessary for success.
There is no universally agreed upon definition of leadership. There is more agreement on what traits great leaders have. Among other things, great leaders possess self-confidence, energy/drive, emotional intelligence, and integrity. Still, many note the relationship between leadership and skills individuals are born with, but others would argue that leadership is at least in part a function of situation and a man like Lincoln might not rise to as high an office in today's society.
If rumors are correct, then when the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association comes out, the public will be hearing a great deal more about personality disorders. It seems that some professionals