The study of human behavior and mental processes. Psychology is sharply divided into applied and experimental areas. However, many fields are represented in both research and applied psychology.
Researchers in psychology study a wide range of areas. Cognitive research is often included as part of subdiscipline called cognitive science. This area examines central issues such as how mental process work, the relation between mind and brain, and the way in which biological transducing systems can convert physical regularities into perceptions of the world. Cognitive science is carved from the common ground shared by computer science, cognitive psychology, philosophy of mind, linguistics, neuropsychology, and cognitive anthropology. The study of human attention is a cognitive area that is central in the field. See also Cognition.
The study of consciousness involves such basic questions as the physiological basis of mental activity, the freedom of will, and the conscious and unconscious uses of memory. The latter topic can be classified under the rubric of implicit memory. See also Instinctive behavior; Memory; Psycholinguistics; Sensation.
Social psychology includes the study of interactions between individuals and groups, as well as the effects of groups on the attitudes, opinions, and behavior of individuals. The field covers such topics as persuasion, conformity, obedience to authority, stereotyping, prejudice, and decision making in social contexts. See also Motivation; Personality theory.
Developmental psychology has three subfields: life-span development, child development, and aging. Most research in the area concentrates on child development, which examines the development of abilities, personality, social relations, and, essentially, every attribute and ability seen in adults. See also Aging; Intelligence.
A clinical psychologist is usually known by the term psychologist, which in some states is a term that can be used only by a registered practitioner. A psychiatrist is a physician with a specialty in psychiatric treatment and, in most states, with certification as a psychiatrist by a board of medical examiners. A psychoanalyst is typically trained by a psychoanalytic institute in a version of the Freudian method of psychoanalysis. A large number of practitioners qualify both as psychoanalysts and psychiatrists. See also Psychoanalysis.
Neuropsychologists are usually psychologists, who may come from an experimental or a clinical background but who must go through certification as psychologists. They treat individuals who have psychological disorders with a clear neurological etiology, such as stroke.
Clinical practice includes individual consultation with clients, group therapy, and work in clinics or with teams of health professionals. Psychological therapists work in many settings and on problems ranging from short-term crises and substance abuse, to psychosis and major disorders. While there are definite biases within each field, it is possible for a practitioner with any background to prefer behavior therapy, a humanistic approach, a Freudian (dynamic) approach, or an eclectic approach derived from these and other areas.
Nonclinical professional work in psychology includes the human-factors element, which traditionally is applied to the design of the interface between a machine and its human operator. Cognitive engineering is a branch of applied psychology that deals mainly with software and hardware computer design. Industrial psychology also includes personnel selection and management and organizational planning and consulting.
The use of psychology in forensic matters is a natural result of the fact that much of law is based on psychology. Psychologists have been involved in jury selection, organization of evidence, evaluation of eyewitness testimony, and presentation of material in court cases. Psychiatrists and psychologists are also called on to diagnose potential defendants for mental disorders and the ability to stand trial.