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Introducing psychology(7)


Areas of psychology

Psychology, as we’ve seen, is about people. But people have complex lives, and we need to gather information about them in many different ways. So professional psychologists need to understand the different areas of psychology, and how each of them contributes to our understanding. There six of these, roughly speaking, and each one gives us a different kind of information.





The amount of psychological knowledge which has been accumulated over the past century is so large that modern psychologists have to specialize – nobody could know everything there is to know about psychology because there’s just too much of it.



One of the areas of modern psychological knowledge is known as cognitive psychology. This has to do, in essence, with how we think.



It includes mental processes such as taking in information and making sense of it (a process we call perception), remembering things, or recognizing them, and also thinking and reasoning.



These mental processes are known as cognition, which is how cognitive psychology gets its name.


Psychologists studying cognition have discovered a great deal about how people’s minds work, and that information is often useful when we are trying to understand why someone is acting in a particular way.



Another important branch of modern psychology is concerned with other people – how they influence us, and how we influence them in turn.


This is known as social psychology.


It ranges from looking at our body language to understanding cultural norms and expectations, or why people obey those in authority, or when someone will or won’t help a person in need.


Social psychologists are also interested in how we make sense of our social experience.


That part of social psychology is about the mental side of social life, so it is known as social cognition.



Some psychologists focus on what makes people different from one another.


Some people seem to be more intelligent than others; some people are highly creative while other people are not, and each of us has our own special personality.


We also differ in motivation: some of us are keen to get ahead in life, while others are concerned mainly with establishing a happy home and family.


Individual psychology is concerned with what motivates people, as well as with how people are different form one another.



All this makes it seem as though understanding people is really just about looking at what they do, or how they process information.


And that is a large part of it.


But, sometimes, what we do or how we think is also influenced by our physical state.


If we are tried or stressed, for instance, we often don’t make decisions very well, or we can become irritable with the people around us.


So an important part of psychology is concerned with understanding how our physiological state influences us, and this is known as physiological psychology or sometimes, bio-psychology.


Physiological psychologists look at areas like effects of brain damage, how drugs work, sleep and dreaming, or understanding stress.



Each year that passes adds its store of experience and knowledge, but how do we use that experience?


And do we inevitably decline as we get older?


Development psychology is concerned with understanding how changes in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age affect us, and what those changes actually involve.


Interestingly, the picture which emerges when we really begin studying the processes of maturity and ageing is much more optimistic than society often assumes – but we will look into that in more detail in ChapterⅡ.

興味深いことに、我々が加齢と成熟の過程を研究することを始めた時に判明した像は、しばしば想定する社会よりも肯定的なものであった。ー 詳細はⅡ章に詳しい。


Comparative psychology, as its name suggests, is all about making comparisons.


But what are we comparing ourselves with?


As we know from evolutionary biology, human beings are kind of animal – even if rather a special one.


So that leads us to some very interesting questions about how close we are to other animals, and whether we have anything in common with us.


Comparative psychologists are interested in animal behaviour in its own right, but they are also interested in studying how animals interact with one another because this might give us some clues to understanding human beings.



We can see, then, that psychology is really quite a broad topic.


It covers a great many levels of explanation, ranging from research at the molecular levels as physiological psychologists investigate how drugs work in the brain, to research into the shared beliefs of whole cultures, as social psychologists investigate social representations.


And it tries to bring together the insights obtained from these levels, and from the different areas of psychological research, to make sense of what people do and how they understand their worlds.