We know what we are, but know not what we may be.
Psychology, what is it? To get straight to the point, psychology is the science of behavior and cognitive processes. We’ll break this definition down further as to gain a firmer grasp on what psychology is. Psychologists view their field as being scientific, and very broad. Psychology involves basically everything we do, think, experience, or feel. The term behavior relates to any observable action or reaction by living organisms. Basically any and everything we say and do. Cognitive processes relates to every aspect of our mental lives, every aspect of the human mind, meaning thoughts, memories, dreams, etc…The field of psychology is undoubtedly large and it would be impossible for me to cover everything in one article. Though, in this introduction I will try to cover some key points as to build a foundation of sorts for later works…
Origins of Modern Psychology
Advances in many other scientific fields are what sparked the idea of a scientific field studying human behavior. It was found that methods of science could be applied to basically everything, including human behavior. Biology and physiology had findings which shed more important light on the nature and function of the nervous system, how our senses operate, and how we perceive the relationship between physical stimuli.
Advances in computer science and engineering provided psychologists with tools for presenting stimuli to research groups in a very precise way for measuring the speed at which they responded to these stimuli. This provided key techniques to investigate thinking, memory, as well as many other forms of mental activity.
Physics and medicine also contributed to modern psychology by providing the means for activity studying occurrences in people’s brains as they think and reason, basically making decisions. These factors, diverse as they are, together contributed greatly to the emergence and progression of modern psychology, which encompasses within its boundaries every aspect of human behavior and thought imaginable.
Facets of Behavior
Psychology uses many different perspectives to study behavior. If a psychologist were to observe an event or situation, they may interpret it differently, but they would all do it from these varying perspectives:
Behavioral – The focus on overt behavior.
Cognitive – Focuses on cognitive processes such as memory, thought, or reasoning.
Biological – Focuses on the biological processes that underlie behavior.
Evolutionary – Focuses on the possible role of evolved psychological mechanisms in human behavior.
Developmental – Focuses on changes in behavior and cognitive processes over a life span.
Psychodynamic – Focuses on the role of hidden/unconscious processes.
Cultural/Multicultural – The focus is on the role of social/cultural factors and on differences between cultural, ethnic, gender, sexual preference, and racial groups.
Though these perspectives focus on different aspects of behavior, they actually complement each other, as opposed to being competitive.
Surprisingly, up until roughly ten years ago, most psychologists would have expressed skepticism about a set of qualities or behaviors that could define humans as a unique species. Though, they would have most likely agreed that our biological nature is inherited, and some would have even said that learning and the effects of experience, rather than genes or evolution could be the main source of our behavior.
A major reason for this almost drastic shift in opinion is the development and growth of the recent field of evolutionary psychology. This branch of psychology suggests that our species has been subject to the processes of biological evolution throughout history, and that due to this processes we now have a large number of evolved psychological mechanisms that help or have helped us to deal with important problems pertaining to survival.
This modern theory of evolution is complex, but is saying that if the members of any given species are shown variation along many different dimensions, that many of these variations can be passed on from generation to generation. Over a time period, these variations that help organisms to survive and become parents of the next generation often times become more common. A change in the characteristics of a species over time, like this, is said to be the concrete outcome of evolution.
Evolutionary psychology suggests that human beings, much like other species on the planet, have always faced basic problems pertaining to survival (getting food, finding shelter, avoiding dangers, fighting diseases, etc…). Natural selection, over time, saw to it that variations that helped our ancestors survive became increasingly common. These inherited tendencies play an important role in shaping our behavior. This is not to say that our genetic behavior cannot be changed. It rather says that, as human beings, we come ready with a set of mechanisms that interact with the environment. This interaction determines whether, how much, and in what form they are actually expressed.
In example, one mechanism we inherently possess is the ability to form calluses on our hands and feet. However, we do not develop them unless we walk on hard surfaces, or handle hard objects. Walking on carpet and petting animals, will not cause us to form calluses. Evolved psychological mechanisms only provide the potential for certain behaviors or tendencies to occur. If they do or do not simply depends on external factors or experience(s). Our ability to change is proven when you consider that once we are aware of how calluses are developed, we can take steps to avoid said situations. We can wear shoes, or choose not to walk on hard surfaces. This is to say that evolutionary psychology does indeed suggest that our behavior is influenced by inherited mechanisms or tendencies, but it does not imply that it is determined solely by these mechanisms.
The existence of evolved psychological mechanisms does not mean that our genes force us to act in a certain way, or that resisting these impulses is impossible. Evolutionary psychology rather suggests that as a human being, we come ready with many mechanisms designed to help us survive in a rather complex and challenging world. The mechanisms are however real, though, they interact with the external environment and our experiences, leaving us with a large amount of room for change and individuality.
Evolutionary psychology is however only one of many different perspectives in psychology. It is only presented here in this way due to the amount of attention it has recently received. This knowledge brings us directly into another subject. A side topic that is perhaps slightly off of our currently path of discussion, but still overall important, and knowledge as we know is power.
Anxiety is the reaction that animals and humans alike use to show any stress that may be caused by the external world or our inner cognitive realms. When we display anxiety, it means that we perceive some sort of danger or hazard. Since there are many sources of stress, there are many sources of anxiety. Feeling anxiety is completely normal when there is some dangerous stimulus present to spark the anxious feelings, however, there are some individuals who express fear and anxiety in the absence of an appropriate stimulus. These individuals suffer from anxiety disorders.
Early theories regarding anxiety disorders were proposed by Sigmund Freud, who believed anxiety was a sign of conflict between desires from the id and anything that obstructs their fulfillment. In contemporary times, this theory is deemed as too simplistic and hence many disorders can be interpreted as an anxiety disorder.
Why we experience anxiety is an important question. Most people assume that the fear response and the anxiety response are very similar, if not the same. This is untrue. When viewed from a physiological perspective, the anxiety response is seen as sort of a lead-in or preparation state for the “flight or fight” fear response.
Anxiety disorders are characterized by an unrealistic or unwarranted fear or anxiety of such magnitude that it cripples the individual who is experiencing it. Generalized anxiety disorders, phobic disorders, and panic disorders all exist within the realm of anxiety disorders. This article will introduce you to two of them: panic disorders and phobic disorders.
Anxiety disorders come in many different forms. One of the most common forms of anxiety disorders is more likely to affect women than men, that disorder is none other than the panic disorders. Panic disorders are attacks that happen unexpectedly. These emotions are intense and sometimes lead a person to be incapacitated by their states of fear. There are different theories about panic disorders and they include the following:
1. The psychoanalytic theory which illustrates that perhaps some suppressed emotions from the past or childhood could be creating these horrible panic disorders. The theory is that to bring these entire negative past experiences or emotions to the fully conscious state. Then the cause for the mental illness will be removed.
2. The behavioral perspective is the idea that behavioral changes will stop the triggers that can cause the panic attack. In some cases this has worked through support groups or one on one therapy. The patient walks through the places where the anxiety or panic attack occurs and learns behaviors to counter act these symptoms. However this therapy does not always result in remission of the disorder.
3. The psychodynamic view states that these panic disorders could possibly come from hidden and unconscious wishes or impulses. These are outside of the realm of our conscious mind and in most cases these impulses or wishes are derived from negative elements of factors we need to bring to our conscious state of mind. In all of the cases above the theory is still the same that if the patient becomes aware of the negative suppressed emotions than the disorder will go away.
4. The humanistic perspective states that people are responsible for their own personal growth. This theory focuses on the present and not so much in the past. Even though the patient might have had a very destructive childhood and adult life thus far it does not mean in any way they can not become a responsible, productive member of society.
All of these theories have their successes and failures. In most cases patients need to balance therapy with medication in order to resume normal lives. If the disease is left untreated the panic attacks can lead to phobias.
Phobias are the fears that come before doing some sort of action or behavior. If the patient is having panic disorders while driving on a certain part of the highway than the patient might begin having phobias that even driving to the grocery store could trigger a panic attack. Despite the fact that she may have never had this happen to her before, the phobia keeps her at home and gradually her world would seem to become smaller and smaller.
The medications for chemically treating these conditions are benzodiazepines. This group includes varying drugs whose names are known as: Ativan, Valium, and Librium to name a few. These drugs can be very dangerous and highly addictive. Today there are other drugs that are safer and physically non-addictive. These drugs are called selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors. Among some of these drugs are Lexapro, Prozac, and Paxil. Which are drugs that are now used to treat both depression and panic disorders.
The physical symptoms of anxiety disorders and panic attacks are instant sweating and heart palpitations, the feeling as though you were going to pass out, shaking and tingling of the hands and feet, hyperventilating, the feeling as if you’re going crazy, sudden feelings of being out of control, etc… Agoraphobia is a disorder that can also come from anxiety disorder. It’s the fear of open spaces, being from home, being in public, or traveling. Phobias can occur and it can make life impossible to live. Another common phobia is social phobia. This phobia is an excessive fear of social situations in which a person may be evaluated and feel they may be embarrassed. This kind of phobia can result in a person having difficulty in finding a job for instance. The person may be too afraid to apply for the job based on the fact that they have to be interviewed and evaluated.
The causes of panic attacks can have both biological and cognitive factors in this disorder. It has been found that panic attacks and anxiety disorders can genetically predispose an individual to the disease. These predispositions can happen with other diseases such as cancer, lupus, and other mental health issues. Genetic factors such as these are also attributed to addictions, and obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD). About 50% of all people that have panic disorders also have relatives with the same issues. It has been shown that patients with this disorder who have had a PET scan suggests that even without a panic attack there brains are still functioning differently from those who do not suffer from this disorder. A portion of the brainstem known as the locus coeruleus may be hypertensive to certain stimuli, as a result these people exhibiting this disease experience intense fear in situations in which other people do not.
Persons suffering from panic attacks can literally interpret bodily sensations as being worse than they really are which can ultimately induce a full fledged panic attack.
Having an anxiety disorder can also lead to other complications such as obsessive compulsive disorders. A compulsion of this nature comes from anxiety and thoughts and images that are very disturbing can be obsessive. An example of this would be someone whom is constantly afraid they are going to contract a virus so they refrain from touching people and have to bathe and wash their hands constantly almost like a ritual in order to reassure themselves that everything will be okay. Other thoughts that can occur are undue concern that they have not preformed their work well even though they know quite well that they have. Common compulsions that people can perform to neutralize obsessions- include repetitive hand washing; checking windows and doors to make sure they are locked, making sure the coffee maker and the oven is turned off, or counting objects continuously and repeating actions over and over a number of times.
Most of us have repetitious thoughts but we some how naturally distract ourselves from these thoughts. People who have these obsessive thoughts are unable to do so. Often as they try to sleep the night before, they worry about the panic attack that could fully affect them the next day and it could interrupt their sleep. When they wake up the next morning their anxiety about the next day can almost paralyze the person from functioning. Some of these people have had embarrassing situations from these panic attacks and as a result the cycle of anxiety builds. Only by performing different actions can they ensure their safety. A perfect example is a person is afraid to drive on the beltway because they have had panic attacks in the past. The person will drive a different way just to guarantee their safety and ensure less anxiety.
Another form of an anxiety disorder is called posttraumatic stress disorder. This disorder is signified when a person relives the same traumatic experience or event over and over again. Men that return from war often experience this disorder due to the traumatic things they have seen in war. They experience persistent symptoms such as difficulty falling asleep, irritability, outbursts of anger, difficulty in concentrating, or fits of uncontrollable crying. Some people do not experience these disorders. It all depends on how the person perceives what has happened to them. It is naturally important for anyone having these disorders to seek medical attention immediately, before the disorder becomes out of hand. Through medication and therapy the symptoms of these disorders can be eradicated and a normal quality of life can be resumed.
Though this short introduction to psychology turned out to be far more, delving into a side topic that psychology relates greatly to, I do hope you received a basic understanding of what modern day psychology is. In later works I will cover many more interesting topics ranging from psychology and psi, to understanding body language, to learning how to reason more effectively. Psychology is overall a very interesting topic that has valuable information that can and will help you with day to day life, as well as for improving your thought process, and a variety of different psionics related skills.
1.Baron,R. A. , and Kalsher, M. J. (copyright 2005) Psychology: From Science To Practice.
2. Arthur NA, (publication date NA )Statistics and Facts about Anxiety Disorders,Retrieved August 20 , 2006, fromhttp://www.adaa.org/
3.Arthur NA, (publication 2001)Major Anxiety Disorders,Retrieved August 20, 2006, from http://www.adam.mb.ca/about.htmlIntroductory Psychology; Strayer University: Taken from: PsychologyFrom Science to Practice by Robert A. Baron and Michael J. Kalsher. Copywrite2005 by Pearson education, inc. Published by Allyn and Bacon Boston, Massachusetts 02116