Psi man mascot

Summary: What is Psychology?

Psychology has been defined in many ways over the years. One definition, still current, is the science of behavior and mental processes.

Slightly over half of all psychologists are engaged in psychology as a helping profession (some form of counseling or consultation aimed at helping people with their problems). Other psychologists perform a wide variety of different professional activities.

Students often have misconceptions about the field of psychology. Often they fail to distinguish between psychology and psychiatry. Many do not realize a graduate degree is required for most jobs in psychology. Students in the United States tend to overestimate typical starting salaries.

At least four distinct approaches to the subject matter of psychology can be identified. One, the biological perspective, concentrates on the nervous system and its components, especially the brain.

Another perspective, the cognitive approach, emphasizes information processing involved in mental processes. Cognitive psychology is the most common approach of psychology researchers who do experiments in laboratories or on computers.

The behavioral approach emphasizes measurable activity of the organism. A behavioral approach can be used with creatures that cannot talk, like insects, mammals, and human babies in the pre-verbal stage.

Behavioral data collection is often part of cognitive or biological research. For example, a cognitive psychologist may keep track of eye movements, or collect language responses, which are a form of behavioral data.

The fourth perspective, the subjective or phenomenological approach, is the study of things as they appear, or existence as it is experienced. All researchers except those working with animals collect phenomenological data when they debrief participants in research, explaining the purpose of the research and asking how it seemed to the participants.

Write to Dr. Dewey at

Don't see what you need? Psych Web has over 1,000 pages, so it may be elsewhere on the site. Do a site-specific Google search using the box below.