THE NATURE OF PSYCHOLOGY
Why are some individuals shy and others outgoing? What causes people to become attracted to one another and fall in love? Can we predict which relationships will last? Why is it that we remember a first date from long ago yet forget information during a test that we studied for only hours before? How and where in the brain are memories stored? Was it his lack of a social life, or was something else going on?
Welcome to psychology, the discipline that studies all of these questions and countless more. We can define psychology as the scientific study of behavior and the mind. The term behavior refers to actions and responses that we can directly observe, whereas the term mind refers to internal states and processes—such as thoughts and feelings—that cannot be seen directly and that must be inferred from observable, measurable responses. For example, we cannot see Ray’s feeling of loneliness directly. Instead, we must infer how Ray feels based on his verbal statement that he is lonely.
Because behavior is so complex, its scientific study poses special challenges. As you become familiar with the kinds of evidence necessary to validate scientific conclusions, you will become a better-informed consumer of the many claims made in the name of psychology. For one thing, this course will teach you that many widely held beliefs about behavior are inaccurate. Can you distinguish the valid claims from the invalid ones in Table 1.1?
Perhaps even more important than the concepts you learn in this course will be the habits of thought that you acquire—habits that involve critical thinking. Critical thinking involves taking an active role in understanding the world around you, rather than merely receiving information. It’s important to reflect on what that information means, how it fits in with your experiences, and its implications for your life and society.
Critical thinking also means evaluating the validity of something presented to you as fact. For example, when someone tells you a new “fact,” ask yourself the following questions:
- What exactly are you asking me to believe?
- How do you know? What is the evidence?
- Are there other possible explanations?
- What is the most reasonable conclusion?
We hope that after completing this course you will be more cautious about accepting psychological claims and less likely to form simplistic judgments about why people behave and think as they do. These critical-thinking skills will serve you well in many areas of your life.
In this book, we hope to share with you our enthusiasm about psychology. As you will see, psychology relates to virtually every aspect of your life. Psychological research provides us with a greater understanding of ourselves and with powerful tools to improve our lives and promote human welfare.
Perhaps the most fascinating and mysterious universe of all is the one within us.