What is Psychology?
Psychology studies the relationship between people, their emotions and behaviour. A scientific discipline, it delves into the human psyche, attempting to understand the way the brain creates and processes mental states – both consciously and unconsciously. The end goal of all Psychologists is to find ways to improve how people relate to themselves, each other and their environment. A complex discipline, this article describes the core branches traditionally covered by Psychology courses such as a Psychology Masters.
Understanding Cognitive Psychology
Cognitive Psychology deals with human cognition and mental processes relating to reasoning, thinking, problem solving, language, emotion and learning. Classically the brain was viewed as an information processor where behavioural outcomes are determined by neurological functions. Over time this school of thought expanded, with proponents arguing that the external environment can significantly contribute to shaping behaviour and emotional states.
Cognitive bias is one of the most popular areas of research in Cognitive Psychology; dealing with irrational, recurring thoughts. There is now a considerable list of cognitive biases curated by Psychologists and Economists. An example is Confirmation Bias – a tendency to search, interpret or remember information that confirm one’s own preconceptions.
Understanding Social Psychology
Social Psychology is the study of how people relate to and think about each other, covering the formation of beliefs, stereotypes and attitudes about others. It determines how people remember, process and distort information due to influence, persuasion and conformity drivers.
Traditionally, this field of study dealt with Group Dynamics, focusing on the impact of leadership and communication to influence thinking. More can be learnt about Group Dynamics by studying specialised degrees such as a Masters in Occupational Psychology. Contemporary research investigates the severity of the impact media and technology have on micro-social behaviours.
Understanding Biological Psychology
Also known as Neuropsychology, Biological Psychology studies the mind-body interface; how and to what extent chemical or physical impairments to the brain impact behaviour. This branch heavily relies on animal experiments to identify the cellular, neural and genetic mechanisms underlying functions such as memory, fear and learning.
A subset of this school is Evolutionary Psychology, which deals with the ‘why’ questions; why a particular psychological adaptation evolved in relation to the ancestral human environment.
Understanding Abnormal Psychology
Studying unusual patterns of emotions, thoughts and behaviours, Abnormal Psychology typically deals with adaptive and maladaptive behaviours in a clinical context. It is the most contentious branch of psychology as it focuses on controlling conduct defined as aberrant or deviant (morally, functionally or statistically different) – the definition of which changes significantly among cultures. Even today, much debate still hinges on what is considered ‘abnormal’ and as a result, what requires clinical intervention.
Clinical Psychology is the applied field of Abnormal Psychology, seeking to understand, asses and treat psychological conditions using clinical methods.