AP Psychology: Scientific Foundations of Psychology Notes

Key Takeaways: Scientific Foundations of Psychology

  1. The science of psychology is widely recognized as beginning in 1879 with Wilhelm Wundt’s founding of the first psychology lab, but it has a long prehistory in philosophy and physiology.
  2. A wide variety of theoretical orientations have emerged throughout psychology’s history, each of which represents a distinctive approach to investigating behavior and mental processes.
  3. Contemporary psychology consists of numerous specialized domains; today, there are many different types of psychologists.
  4. Psychology would not be the science that it is today without the contributions of many talented men and women.
  5. The study of psychology relies on a diverse array of qualitative and quantitative research methods, including observations, case studies, surveys, and controlled experiments.
  6. Psychological research is carefully designed so that researchers can be confident about using results to draw conclusions about real-life phenomena. This is done by controlling variables, creating representative samples, controlling for internal and external validity, and operationalizing definitions and measurements.
  7. Researchers use statistics to analyze and make sense of the data gathered in a research study. This involves the use of descriptive statistics like measures of central tendency and dispersion, as well as inferential statistics for making generalizations based on the data.
  8. Because psychological study often involves the participation of human subjects, researchers must abide by established ethical principles and practices as well as by legal guidelines while conducting research.

Scientific Foundations of Psychology Terms

Precursors to Psychology

  • René Descartes: A French philosopher and mathematician well known for his endorsement of mind-body dualism.
  • Mind-body dualism: Maintains that the mind and the body are distinct substances, each operating according to its own set of principles.
  • John Locke: An English philosopher and empiricist who believed that every human mind begins as a tabula rasa, or blank slate, which is shaped by individual experiences to become a unique person.
  • Empiricism: The idea that all knowledge comes from experience; embraced by philosophers such as Locke and Hume, it also remains influential in contemporary psychology and other experimental sciences.
  • David Hume: A Scottish empiricist and member of the Associationist School who proposed several principles of association.
  • Principles of association: Rules that govern the ways in which the mind connects one idea to another and constructs complex ideas out of simpler ones.
  • Evolution: The idea, developed by Darwin, that species change over time, adapting to their environments in order to maximize survival and reproductive success by means of natural selection.
  • Phrenology: The idea developed by German physiologists Gall and Spurzheim that personal traits could be revealed by measuring the size and location of bumps on a person’s skull; thoroughly discredited by subsequent research.
  • Psychophysics: A subfield of physiology created by the German scientists Weber and Fechner and concerned with the relationship between physical stimuli and the sensations they cause.

Theoretical Approaches

  • Introspection: A technique used by early scientific psychologists consisting of precise examination and description of an individual’s conscious experience, typically in response to stimuli presented by the researcher.
  • Structuralism: The theoretical approach developed in the late nineteenth century by Wundt and Titchener, which seeks to uncover the structures of consciousness through detailed descriptions of experience in laboratory settings.
  • Functionalism: Developed by William James in response to structuralism, an approach that emphasized the functions of the mind over its structures and focused on how aspects of consciousness allowed human beings to adapt to their environments.
  • Biological approach: An approach that maintains that all psychological phenomena have a biological basis; emphasizes neuroscience, genetics, and evolution in its explanations.
  • Eugenics: The controversial and discredited idea that the human species can be improved through selective breeding.
  • Behaviorism: A theoretical approach founded on the belief that psychology should only study observable and measurable behavior; behaviorists emphasize the impact of learning and other environmental forces on human and animal behavior.
  • Gestalt psychology: A response to structuralism developed by Max Wertheimer and others in the early twentieth century that sought to discover principles that organized the whole of perceptual experience.
  • Psychoanalysis: The therapeutic approach invented by Freud, premised on the idea that some symptoms are the results of conflicts and other problems in the unconscious mind.

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