Psychology

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Posted by kaori 04/02/2009 @ 00:09

Tags : psychology, social sciences, sciences

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K-State Psychology Researchers Find That Even in Hostile Working ... - PR Newswire (press release)
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(AP) — John Yettaw left his 10-year-old and three teenagers in southern Missouri, visited his former wife in California last month and told her he had to go to Asia to work on a psychology paper about forgiveness. That was bad enough for his ex-wife,...
Quotes on Science and Psychology - Beliefnet.com
William Tiller - Professor of Physics, Stanford University "Sooner or later nuclear physics and the psychology of the unconscious will draw closer together as both of them, independently of one another and from opposite directions, push forward into...
Stanford Psychology Professor Claude M. Steele Appointed Columbia ... - Media Newswire (press release)
Steele comes to Columbia from Stanford University, where he has served as a professor of psychology since 1991, leading the department as chair from 1997 to 2000. He is currently the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences and director of...
Psychology Behind Unthinkable Crimes - My Fox Boston
(myfoxboston) - It all seems so random, so bizarre, so irrational – explosive crimes where a person seems to just snap. A mother kills her children. A man opens fire on strangers. So how do we make sense of the senseless? "I have been working as a news...
Society, psychology and suspense - Calcutta Telegraph
Till May 15 at Academy of Fine Arts, Central Gallery; 3 pm - 8 pm: An exhibition of bronze sculpture by Jyotirmoy Roy Chowdhury. Till May 15 at Eye on Art Gallery, 3 Pretoria Street, 2nd floor; 12 noon - 8 pm: Forms of Narration, featuring the works of...

Psychology

Social psychology studies the nature and causes of social behavior.

Psychology (Greek: Ψυχολογία, lit. "study of the mind", from ψυχή psykhē "breath, spirit, soul"; and -λογία, -logia "study of") is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of human mental functions and behavior. Occasionally, in addition or opposition to employing the scientific method, it also relies on symbolic interpretation and critical analysis, although these traditions have tended to be less pronounced than in other social sciences such as sociology. Psychologists study such phenomena as perception, cognition, emotion, personality, behavior and interpersonal relationships. Some, especially depth psychologists, also study the unconscious mind.

Psychological knowledge is applied to various spheres of human activity, including issues related to everyday life—such as family, education and employment—and to the treatment of mental health problems. Psychologists attempt to understand the role of mental functions in individual and social behavior, while also exploring the underlying physiological and neurological processes. Psychology includes many sub-fields of study and applications concerned with such areas as human development, sports, health, industry, media and law. Psychology incorporates research from the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. A person who studies or practices psychology is called a psychologist.

The study of psychology in philosophical context dates back to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, China and India. Psychology began adopting a more clinical and experimental approach under medieval Muslim psychologists and physicians, who built psychiatric hospitals for such purposes.

In 1802, French physiologist Pierre Cabanis helped to pioneer biological psychology with his essay Rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme (On the relations between the physical and moral aspects of man). Cabanis interpreted the mind in light of his previous studies of biology,arguing that sensibility and soul are properties of the nervous system.

Though the use of psychological experimentation dates back to Alhazen's Book of Optics in 1021, psychology as an independent experimental field of study began in 1879, when Wilhelm Wundt founded the first laboratory dedicated exclusively to psychological research at Leipzig University in Germany, for which Wundt is known as the "father of psychology". The year 1879 is thus sometimes regarded as the "birthdate" of psychology. The American philosopher William James published his seminal book, Principles of Psychology in 1890, laying the foundations for many of the questions that psychologists would focus on for years to come. Other important early contributors to the field include Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), a pioneer in the experimental study of memory at the University of Berlin; and the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov (1849-1936) who investigated the learning process now referred to as classical conditioning.

From the 1890s until his death in 1939, the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud developed a method of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. Freud's understanding of the mind was largely based on interpretive methods, introspection and clinical observations, and was focused in particular on resolving unconscious conflict, mental distress and psychopathology. Freud's theories became very well-known, largely because they tackled subjects such as sexuality, repression, and the unconscious mind as general aspects of psychological development. These were largely considered taboo subjects at the time, and Freud provided a catalyst for them to be openly discussed in polite society. While Freud is perhaps best known for his tripartite model of the mind, consisting of the id, ego, and superego, and his theories about the Oedipus complex, his most lasting legacy may be not the content of his theories but his clinical innovations, such as the method of free association and a clinical interest in dreams.

Freud had a significant influence on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose analytical psychology became an alternative form of depth psychology. Other well-known psychoanalytic thinkers of the mid-twentieth century included Sigmund Freud's daughter, psychoanalyst Anna Freud; German-American psychologist Erik Erickson, Austrian-British psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, English psychoanalyst and physician D. W. Winnicott, German psychologist Karen Horney, German-born psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, and English psychiatrist John Bowlby. Contemporary psychoanalysis comprises diverse schools of thought, including ego psychology, object relations, interpersonal, Lacanian, and relational psychoanalysis. Modification of Jung's theories has led to the archetypal and process-oriented schools of psychological thought.

Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper argued that Freud's psychoanalytic theories were presented in untestable form. Psychology departments in American universities today are scientifically oriented, and Freudian theory has been marginalized, being regarded instead as a "desiccated and dead" historical artifact, according to a recent APA study. Recently, however, South African neuroscientist Mark Solms and other researchers in the emerging field of neuro-psychoanalysis have argued for Freud's theories, pointing out brain structures relating to Freudian concepts such as libido, drives, the unconscious, and repression.

Behaviorism arose partly due to the popularity of laboratory-based animal experimentation and partly in reaction to Freudian psychodynamics, which was difficult to test empirically because, among other reasons, it tended to rely on case studies and clinical experience, and dealt largely with intra-psychic phenomena that were difficult to quantify or to define operationally. Moreover, in contrast with early psychologists Wilhelm Wundt and William James, who studied the mind via introspection, the behaviorists argued that the contents of the mind were not open to scientific scrutiny and that scientific psychology should only be concerned with the study of observable behavior. There was no consideration of internal representation or the mind. Founded in the early 20th century by American psychologist John B. Watson, behaviorism was embraced and extended by Americans Edward Thorndike, Clark L. Hull, Edward C. Tolman, and later B.F. Skinner.

Behaviorism differs from other perspectives in a number of ways. Behaviorists focus on behavior-environment relations and analyze overt and covert (i.e., private) behavior as a function of the organism interacting with its environment. Behaviorists do not reject the study of covert or private events (e.g., dreaming), but rather reject the proposition that an autonomous causal entity inside the organism causes overt (e.g., walking, talking) or covert (e.g., dreaming, imagining) behavior. Concepts such as "mind" or "consciousness" are not used by behaviorists because such terms do not describe actual psychological events (such as imagining) but are used as explanatory entities hidden somewhere in the organism. By contrast, behaviorism treats private events as behavior, and analyzes them in the same way as overt behavior. Behavior refers to the concrete events of the organism, overt or private.

American linguist Noam Chomsky's critique of the behaviorist model of language acquisition is regarded by many as a key turning point in the decline of behaviorism's general prominence. But Skinner's behaviorism has not died, perhaps in part because it has generated successful practical applications. The ascendancy of behaviorism as an overarching model in psychology, however, gave way to a new dominant paradigm: cognitive approaches.

Humanistic psychology was developed in the 1950s in reaction to both behaviorism and psychoanalysis. By using phenomenology, intersubjectivity and first-person categories, the humanistic approach seeks to glimpse the whole person--not just the fragmented parts of the personality or cognitive functioning. Humanism focuses on uniquely human issues and fundamental issues of life, such as self-identity, death, aloneness, freedom, and meaning. There are several factors which distinguish the humanistic approach from other approaches within psychology. These include the emphasis on subjective meaning, a rejection of determinism, and a concern for positive growth rather than pathology. Some of the founding theorists behind this school of thought were American psychologists Abraham Maslow, who formulated a hierarchy of human needs, and Carl Rogers, who created and developed client-centered therapy; and German-American psychiatrist Fritz Perls, who helped create and develop Gestalt therapy. It became so influential as to be called the "third force" within psychology, along with behaviorism and psychoanalysis.

Influenced largely by the work of German philosopher Martin Heidegger and Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, psychoanalytically-trained American psychologist Rollo May developed an existential breed of psychology in the 1950s and 1960s. Existential psychologists argued that people must come to terms with their mortality and that, in so doing, people will be obligated to accept that they are free—that they possess free will and are at liberty to defy expectations and conventions in order to forge their own, meaningful paths through life. May believed that an important element of the meaning-making process is the search for myths, or narrative patterns into which the individual may fit.

From the existential perspective, not only does the quest for meaning follow from an acceptance of mortality, but the attainment of meaning can overshadow the prospect of death. As Austrian existential psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl observed, "We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way".

May helped to pioneer the development of existential therapy, and Frankl created a variety of it called logotherapy. In addition to May and Frankl, Swiss psychoanalyst Ludwig Binswanger and American psychologist George Kelly may be said to belong to the existential school. Both existential and humanistic psychologists argue that people should strive to reach their full potential, but only humanistic psychologists believe that this striving is innate. For existential psychologists, the striving only follows an anxiety-producing contemplation of mortality, freedom, and responsibility.

Behaviorism was the dominant paradigm in American psychology throughout the first half of the 20th century. However, the modern field of psychology largely came to be dominated by cognitive psychology. Noam Chomsky's 1959 review of B. F. Skinner's Verbal Behavior challenged the behaviorist approaches to studies of behavior and language dominant at the time and contributed to the cognitive revolution in psychology. Chomsky was highly critical of what he considered arbitrary notions of 'stimulus', 'response' and 'reinforcement' which Skinner borrowed from animal experiments in the laboratory. Chomsky argued that Skinner's notions could only be applied to complex human behavior, such as language acquisition, in a vague and superficial manner. Chomsky emphasized that research and analysis must not ignore the contribution of the child in the acquisition of language and proposed that humans are born with a natural ability to acquire language. Work most associated with psychologist Albert Bandura, who initiated and studied social learning theory, showed that children could learn aggression from a role model through observational learning, without any change in overt behavior, and so must be accounted for by internal processes.

With the rise of computer science and artificial intelligence, analogies were drawn between information processing by humans and information processing by machines. This, combined with the assumptions that mental representations exist and that mental states and operations could be inferred through scientific experimentation in the laboratory, led to the rise of cognitivism as a popular model of the mind. Research in cognition was also backed by the aim to gain a better understanding of weapons operation since World War II.

Cognitive psychology differs from other psychological perspectives in two key ways. First, it accepts the use of the scientific method, and generally rejects introspection as a method of investigation, unlike symbol-driven approaches such as Freudian psychodynamics. Second, it explicitly acknowledges the existence of internal mental states—such as belief, desire and motivation—whereas behaviorism does not. In fact, like Freud and depth psychologists, cognitive psychologists are even interested in unconscious phenomena, including repression; but cognitive psychologists prefer to explore these phenomena in terms of operationally-defined components, such as subliminal processing and implicit memory, that are amenable to experimental investigation. Moreover, cognitive psychologists have questioned the very existence of some of these components. For example, American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has used empirical methods to demonstrate ways in which apparent memories can be brought to light via fabrication rather than through the elimination of repression.

Preceding the cognitive revolution by several decades, Hermann Ebbinghaus had pioneered the experimental study of memory, arguing that higher mental processes are not hidden from view, but instead could be studied using experimentation. Links between psychological activity and brain and nervous system function also became understood, partly due to the experimental work of people such as English neuroscientist Charles Sherrington and Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb, and partly due to studies of people with brain injury. These mind-body links are explored at length by cognitive neuropsychologists. With the development of technologies for measuring brain function, neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience have become increasingly active areas of contemporary psychology. Cognitive psychology has been subsumed along with other disciplines, such as philosophy of mind, computer science, and neuroscience, under the umbrella discipline of cognitive science.

Various schools of thought have argued for a particular model to be used as a guiding theory by which all, or the majority, of human behavior can be explained. The popularity of these has waxed and waned over time. Some psychologists may think of themselves as adherents to a particular school of thought and reject the others, although most consider each as an approach to understanding the mind, and not necessarily as mutually exclusive theories. On the basis of Tinbergen's four questions a framework of reference of all fields of psychological research can be established (including anthropological research and humanities).

In modern times, psychology has adopted an integrated perspective towards understanding consciousness, behavior, and social interaction. This perspective is commonly referred to as the biopsychosocial approach. The basic tenet of the biopsychosocial model is that any given behavior or mental process affects and is affected by dynamically interrelated biological, psychological, and social factors. The psychological aspect refers to the role that cognition and emotions play in any given psychological phenomenon—for example, the effect of mood or beliefs and expectations on an individual's reactions to an event. The biological aspect refers to the role of biological factors in psychological phenomena—for example, the effect of the prenatal environment on brain development and cognitive abilities, or the influence of genes on individual dispositions. The socio-cultural aspect refers to the role that social and cultural environments play in a given psychological phenomenon—for example, the role of parental or peer influence in the behaviors or characteristics of an individual.

Psychology encompasses a vast domain, and includes many different approaches to the study of mental processes and behavior. Below are the major areas of inquiry that comprise psychology. A comprehensive list of the sub-fields and areas within psychology can be found at the list of psychology topics and list of psychology disciplines.

Abnormal psychology is the study of abnormal behavior in order to describe, predict, explain, and change abnormal patterns of functioning. Abnormal psychology studies the nature of psychopathology and its causes, and this knowledge is applied in clinical psychology to treat patients with psychological disorders.

It can be difficult to draw the line between normal and abnormal behaviors. In general, abnormal behaviors must be maladaptive and cause an individual significant discomfort in order to be of clinical and research interest. According to the DSM-IV-TR, behaviors may be considered abnormal if they are associated with disability, personal distress, the violation of social norms, or dysfunction.

Biological psychology is the scientific study of the biological substrates of behavior and mental states. Seeing all behavior as intertwined with the nervous system, biological psychologists feel it is sensible to study how the brain functions in order to understand behavior. This is the approach taken in behavioral neuroscience, cognitive neuroscience, and neuropsychology. Neuropsychology is the branch of psychology that aims to understand how the structure and function of the brain relate to specific behavioral and psychological processes. Neuropsychology is particularly concerned with the understanding of brain injury in an attempt to work out normal psychological function. The approach of cognitive neuroscience to studying the link between brain and behavior is to use neuroimaging tools, such as to observe which areas of the brain are active during a particular task.

Cognitive psychology studies cognition, the mental processes underlying behavior. Perception, learning, problem solving, memory, attention, language and emotion are all well-researched areas. Cognitive psychology is associated with a school of thought known as cognitivism, whose adherents argue for an information processing model of mental function, informed by positivism and experimental psychology.

On a broader level, cognitive science is a conjoined enterprise of cognitive psychologists, neurobiologists, researchers in artificial intelligence, logicians, linguists, and social scientists, and places a slightly greater emphasis on computational theory and formalization. Both areas can use computational models to simulate phenomena of interest. Because mental events cannot directly be observed, computational models provide a tool for studying the functional organization of the mind. Such models give cognitive psychologists a way to study the "software" of mental processes independent of the "hardware" it runs on, be it the brain or a computer.

Comparative psychology refers to the study of the behavior and mental life of animals other than human beings. It is related to disciplines outside of psychology that study animal behavior such as ethology. Although the field of psychology is primarily concerned with humans the behavior and mental processes of animals is also an important part of psychological research. This being either as a subject in its own right (e.g., animal cognition and ethology) or with strong emphasis about evolutionary links, and somewhat more controversially, as a way of gaining an insight into human psychology. This is achieved by means of comparison or via animal models of emotional and behavior systems as seen in neuroscience of psychology (e.g., affective neuroscience and social neuroscience).

Counseling psychology seeks to facilitate personal and interpersonal functioning across the lifespan with a focus on emotional, social, vocational, educational, health-related, developmental, and organizational concerns. Counselors are primarily clinicians, using psychotherapy and other interventions in order to treat clients. Traditionally, counseling psychology has focused more on normal developmental issues and everyday stress rather than psychopathology, but this distinction has softened over time. Counseling psychologists are employed in a variety of settings, including universities, hospitals, schools, governmental organizations, businesses, private practice, and community mental health centers.

Clinical psychology includes the study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists may also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. Some clinical psychologists may focus on the clinical management of patients with brain injury—this area is known as clinical neuropsychology. In many countries clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

The work performed by clinical psychologists tends to be done inside various therapy models, all of which involve a formal relationship between professional and client—usually an individual, couple, family, or small group—that employs a set of procedures intended to form a therapeutic alliance, explore the nature of psychological problems, and encourage new ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving. The four major perspectives are Psychodynamic, Cognitive Behavioral, Existential-Humanistic, and Systems or Family therapy. There has been a growing movement to integrate these various therapeutic approaches, especially with an increased understanding of issues regarding culture, gender, spirituality, and sexual-orientation. With the advent of more robust research findings regarding psychotherapy, there is growing evidence that most of the major therapies are about of equal effectiveness, with the key common element being a strong therapeutic alliance. Because of this, more training programs and psychologists are now adopting an eclectic therapeutic orientation.

Critical psychology applies the methodology of critical theory to psychology. As such, it critiques not only the psychic substrates of the status quo, but also the elements of mainstream psychology that are, themselves, seen as contributors to oppressive ideologies. Critical psychology operates on the belief "that mainstream psychology has institutionalized a narrow view of the field’s ethical mandate to promote human welfare" by promoting individual remedies to social ills, encouraging trivial and inconsequential research, and engaging in other practices that its positivistic methods fail to place under critical scrutiny.

A critical psychologist might ask whether a case of "work stress" warrants efforts to change the macro-level systems that control the work, rather than merely to treat the individual who experiences the stress—or, more accurately, who shares the stress with countless other individuals. One might also ask why "mainstream trauma efforts fail to incorporate a focus on human rights and social justice" in war-ravaged communities. In short, critical psychology seeks, where it deems appropriate, to raise psychology's level of analysis from the individual to society, and to render psychology more transformative than ameliorative. Critical psychology has been applied to a wide array of psychology's other subfields, and many of its theorists are employed in mainstream psychological professions.

Mainly focusing on the development of the human mind through the life span, developmental psychology seeks to understand how people come to perceive, understand, and act within the world and how these processes change as they age. This may focus on intellectual, cognitive, neural, social, or moral development. Researchers who study children use a number of unique research methods to make observations in natural settings or to engage them in experimental tasks. Such tasks often resemble specially designed games and activities that are both enjoyable for the child and scientifically useful, and researchers have even devised clever methods to study the mental processes of small infants. In addition to studying children, developmental psychologists also study aging and processes throughout the life span, especially at other times of rapid change (such as adolescence and old age). Developmental psychologists draw on the full range of theorists in scientific psychology to inform their research.

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn in educational settings, the effectiveness of educational interventions, the psychology of teaching, and the social psychology of schools as organizations. The work of child psychologists such as Lev Vygotsky, Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner has been influential in creating teaching methods and educational practices. Educational psychology is often included in teacher education programs, at least in North America, Australia, and New Zealand.

Evolutionary psychology explores the genetic roots of mental and behavioral patterns, and posits that common patterns may have emerged because they were highly adaptive for humans in the environments of their evolutionary past—even if some of these patterns are maladaptive in today's environments. Fields closely related to evolutionary psychology are animal behavioral ecology, human behavioral ecology, dual inheritance theory, and sociobiology. Memetics, founded by British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is a related but competing field that proposes that cultural evolution can occur in a Darwinian sense but independently of Mendelian mechanisms; it therefore examines the ways in which thoughts, or memes, may evolve independently of genes.

Forensic psychology covers a broad range of practices including the clinical evaluations of defendants, reports to judges and attorneys, and courtroom testimony on given issues. Forensic psychologists are appointed by the court or hired by attorneys to conduct competency to stand trial evaluations, competency to be executed evaluations, sanity evaluations, involuntary commitment evaluations, provide sentencing recommendations, and sex offender evaluation and treatment evaluations and provide recommendations to the court through written reports and testimony. Many of the questions the court asks the forensic psychologist go ultimately to legal issues, although a psychologist cannot answer legal questions. For example, there is no definition of sanity in psychology. Rather, sanity is a legal definition that varies from place to place throughout the world. Therefore, a prime qualification of a forensic psychologist is an intimate understanding of the law, especially criminal law.

Global psychology is a subfield of psychology that addresses the issues raised in the global sustainability debate. Like critical psychology, global psychology expands the objective of psychology to macro-level trends; it examines the overwhelming consequences of global warming, economic destabilization and other large-scale phenomena, while recognizing that global sustainability can best be achieved by psychologically sound individuals and cultures. Global psychologists advocate a simple and sensible, yet comprehensive, psychology, whose strength is its focus on the long-term well-being of all of humanity.

Health psychology is the application of psychological theory and research to health, illness and health care. Whereas clinical psychology focuses on mental health and neurological illness, health psychology is concerned with the psychology of a much wider range of health-related behavior including healthy eating, the doctor-patient relationship, a patient's understanding of health information, and beliefs about illness. Health psychologists may be involved in public health campaigns, examining the impact of illness or health policy on quality of life and in research into the psychological impact of health and social care.

Industrial and organizational psychology (I/O) applies psychological concepts and methods to optimize human potential in the workplace. Personnel psychology, a subfield of I/O psychology, applies the methods and principles of psychology in selecting and evaluating workers. I/O psychology's other subfield, organizational psychology, examines the effects of work environments and management styles on worker motivation, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Legal psychology is a research-oriented field populated with researchers from several different areas within psychology (although social and cognitive psychologists are typical). Legal psychologists explore such topics as jury decision-making, eyewitness memory, scientific evidence, and legal policy. The term "legal psychology" has only recently come into use, and typically refers to any non-clinical law-related research.

Personality psychology studies enduring patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion in individuals, commonly referred to as personality. Theories of personality vary across different psychological schools and orientations. They carry different assumptions about such issues as the role of the unconscious and the importance of childhood experience. According to Freud, personality is based on the dynamic interactions of the ego, superego, and id. Trait theorists, in contrast, attempt to analyze personality in terms of a discrete number of key traits by the statistical method of factor analysis. The number of proposed traits has varied widely. An early model proposed by Hans Eysenck suggested that there are three traits that comprise human personality: extraversion-introversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism. Raymond Cattell proposed a theory of 16 personality factors. The "Big Five" or Five Factor Model, proposed by Lewis Goldberg currently has strong support among trait theorists.

Quantitative psychology involves the application of mathematical and statistical modeling in psychological research, and the development of statistical methods for analyzing and explaining behavioral data. The term Quantitative psychology is relatively new and little used (only recently have Ph.D. programs in quantitative psychology been formed), and it loosely covers the longer standing subfields psychometrics and mathematical psychology.

Psychometrics is the field of psychology concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement, which includes the measurement of knowledge, abilities, attitudes, and personality traits. Measurement of these unobservable phenomena is difficult, and much of the research and accumulated knowledge in this discipline has been developed in an attempt to properly define and quantify such phenomena. Psychometric research typically involves two major research tasks, namely: (i) the construction of instruments and procedures for measurement; and (ii) the development and refinement of theoretical approaches to measurement.

Whereas psychometrics is mainly concerned with individual differences and population structure, mathematical psychology is concerned with modeling of mental and motor processes of the average individual. Psychometrics is more associated with educational psychology, personality, and clinical psychology. Mathematical psychology is more closely related to psychonomics/experimental and cognitive, and physiological psychology and (cognitive) neuroscience.

Social psychology is the study of social behavior and mental processes, with an emphasis on how humans think about each other and how they relate to each other. Social psychologists are especially interested in how people react to social situations. They study such topics as the influence of others on an individual's behavior (e.g. conformity, persuasion), and the formation of beliefs, attitudes, and stereotypes about other people. Social cognition fuses elements of social and cognitive psychology in order to understand how people process, remember, and distort social information. The study of group dynamics reveals information about the nature and potential optimization of leadership, communication, and other phenomena that emerge at least at the microsocial level. In recent years, many social psychologists have become increasingly interested in implicit measures, mediational models, and the interaction of both person and social variables in accounting for behavior.

School psychology combines principles from educational psychology and clinical psychology to understand and treat students with learning disabilities; to foster the intellectual growth of "gifted" students; to facilitate pro social behaviors in adolescents; and otherwise to promote safe, supportive, and effective learning environments. School psychologists are trained in educational and behavioral assessment, intervention, prevention, and consultation, and many have extensive training in research. Currently, school psychology is the only field in which a professional can be called a "psychologist" without a doctoral degree, with the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recognizing the Specialist degree as the entry level. This is a matter of controversy as the APA does not recognize anything below a doctorate as the entry level for a psychologist. Specialist-level school psychologists, who typically receive three years of graduate training, function almost exclusively within school systems, while those at the doctoral-level are found in a number of other settings as well, including universities, hospitals, clinics, and private practice.

Research in most areas of psychology is conducted in broad accord with the standards of the scientific method, encompassing both qualitative ethological and quantitative statistical modalities to generate and evaluate explanatory hypotheses with regard to psychological phenomena. Investigation may be pursued by experimental protocols, but alternative methods are sometimes preferred due to research ethics, the state of development in a given research domain, and other reasons.

Psychology tends to be eclectic, drawing on knowledge from other fields to help explain and understand psychological phenomena. For example, evolutionary psychologists may synthesize data from multiple subfields of psychology, biology, and anthropology. Additionally, they make extensive use of two distinctive types of reasoning. While often employing the deductive-nomological reasoning of strict positivism, they also rely on inductive reasoning to generate accounts of hunter-gatherer life that could explain the adaptive value of different thoughts and actions.

Qualitative psychological research utilizes a broad spectrum of observational methods, including action research, ethnography, exploratory statistics, structured interviews, and participant observation, to enable the gathering of rich information unattainable by classical experimentation. Research in humanistic psychology is more typically pursued via ethnographic, historical, and historiographic methods than via science. Psychodynamic research has traditionally entailed interpreting clinical case studies, and subschools ranging from Freudian psychoanalysis to Neo-Jungian archetypal psychology have employed myth as a vehicle of interpretation. Recent developments, particularly in neuro-psychoanalysis, have demanded a relatively high degree of scientific rigor.

A precursor to critical psychology, liberation psychology, cited traditional surveys in its emancipatory quests. There is debate amongst critical psychologists as to whether they should be the ones to apply the research they conduct—as to how action-oriented or awareness-oriented they should be. In general, though, their methods tend to be critical rather than positivistic, and therefore tend not only to avoid the scientific method, but also to identify the ways in which this method is improperly used and downright abused. A key concept in critical-psychological research is reflexivity, or critical self-examination that entails "a conscious exploration of how own values and assumptions affect theoretical and methodological goals, activities, and interpretations". Taking a reflexive approach, critical psychologists both scrutinize the current state of psychological affairs, and seek defensible positions on the "old questions—such as free will vs. determinism, nature vs. nurture, consciousness vs. unconscious forces".

The testing of different aspects of psychological function is a significant area of mainstream psychology. Psychometric and statistical methods predominate, including various well-known standardized tests as well as those created ad hoc as the situation or experiment requires.

Academic psychologists may focus purely on research and psychological theory, aiming to further psychological understanding in a particular area, while other psychologists may work in applied psychology to deploy such knowledge for immediate and practical benefit. These approaches are not mutually exclusive, and many psychologists will be involved in both researching and applying psychology at some point during their career. Many clinical psychology programs aim to develop in practicing psychologists both knowledge of and experience with research and experimental methods, which they may interpret and employ as they treat individuals with psychological issues.

When an area of interest requires specific training and specialist knowledge, especially in applied areas, psychological associations normally establish a governing body to manage training requirements. Similarly, requirements may be laid down for university degrees in psychology, so that students acquire an adequate knowledge in a number of areas. Additionally, areas of practical psychology, where psychologists offer treatment to others, may require that psychologists be licensed by government regulatory bodies as well.

Experimental psychological research is conducted in a laboratory under controlled conditions. This method of research relies on the application of the scientific method to understand behavior. Experimenters use several types of measurements, including rate of response, reaction time, and various psychometric measurements. Experiments are designed to test specific hypotheses (deductive approach) or evaluate functional relationships (inductive approach). They allow researchers to establish causal relationships between different aspects of behavior and the environment. In an experiment, one or more variables of interest are controlled by the experimenter (independent variable) and another variable is measured in response to different conditions (dependent variable). Experiments are one of the primary research methods in many areas of psychology, particularly cognitive/psychonomics, mathematical psychology, psychophysiology and biological psychology/cognitive neuroscience.

Experiments on humans have been put under some controls, namely informed and voluntary consent. After World War II, the Nuremberg Code was established, because of Nazi abuses of experimental subjects. Later, most countries (and scientific journals) adopted the Declaration of Helsinki. In the US, the National Institutes of Health established the Institutional Review Board in 1966, and in 1974 adopted the National Research Act (HR 7724). All of these measures encouraged researchers to obtain informed consent from human participants in experimental studies. A number of influential studies led to the establishment of this rule; such studies included the MIT and Fernald School radioisotope studies, the Thalidomide tragedy, the Willowbrook hepatitis study, and Stanley Milgram's studies of obedience to authority.

Statistical surveys are used in psychology for measuring attitudes and traits, monitoring changes in mood, checking the validity of experimental manipulations, and for a wide variety of other psychological topics. Most commonly, psychologists use paper-and-pencil surveys. However, surveys are also conducted over the phone or through e-mail. Increasingly, web-based surveys are being used in research. Similar methodology is also used in applied setting, such as clinical assessment and personnel assessment.

A longitudinal study is a research method which observes a particular population over time. For example, one might wish to study specific language impairment (SLI) by observing a group of individuals with the condition over a period of time. This method has the advantage of seeing how a condition can affect individuals over long time scales. However, such studies can suffer from attrition due to drop-out or death of subjects. In addition, since individual differences between members of the group are not controlled, it may be difficult to draw conclusions about the populations. Longitudinal study is a developmental research strategy that involves testing an age group repeatedly over many years. Longitudinal studies answer vital questions about how people develop. This developmental research follows people over years and the outcome has been an incredible array of findings, especially relating to psychological problems.

In the same way Jane Goodall studied the role of chimpanzee social and family life, psychologists conduct similar observational studies in human social, professional and family lives. Sometimes the participants are aware they are being observed and other times it is covert: the participants do not know they are being observed. Ethical guidelines need to be taken into consideration when covert observation is being carried out.

Research designed to answer questions about the current state of affairs such as the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals is known as descriptive research. Descriptive research can be qualitative or quantitative in orientation. Qualitative research is descriptive research that is focused on observing and describing events as they occur, with the goal of capturing all of the richness of everyday behavior and with the hope of discovering and understanding phenomena that might have been missed if only more cursory examinations have been made.

Neuropsychology involves the study of both healthy individuals and patients, typically who have suffered either brain injury or mental illness.

Cognitive neuropsychology and cognitive neuropsychiatry study neurological or mental impairment in an attempt to infer theories of normal mind and brain function. This typically involves looking for differences in patterns of remaining ability (known as 'functional disassociations') which can give clues as to whether abilities are comprised of smaller functions, or are controlled by a single cognitive mechanism.

In addition, experimental techniques are often used to study the neuropsychology of healthy individuals. These include behavioral experiments, brain-scanning or functional neuroimaging, used to examine the activity of the brain during task performance, and techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation, which can safely alter the function of small brain areas to reveal their importance in mental operations.

Computational modeling is a tool often used in mathematical psychology and cognitive psychology to simulate a particular behavior using a computer. This method has several advantages. Since modern computers process extremely quickly, many simulations can be run in a short time, allowing for a great deal of statistical power. Modeling also allows psychologists to visualize hypotheses about the functional organization of mental events that couldn't be directly observed in a human.

Several different types of modeling are used to study behavior. Connectionism uses neural networks to simulate the brain. Another method is symbolic modeling, which represents many different mental objects using variables and rules. Other types of modeling include dynamic systems and stochastic modeling.

Animal learning experiments are important in many aspects of psychology such as investigating the biological basis of learning, memory and behavior. In the 1890s, physiologist Ivan Pavlov famously used dogs to demonstrate classical conditioning. Non-human primates, cats, dogs, rats and other rodents are often used in psychological experiments. Controlled experiments involve introducing only one variable at a time, which is why animals used for experiments are housed in laboratory settings. In contrast, human environments and genetic backgrounds vary widely, which makes it difficult to control important variables for human subjects.

Criticisms of psychology often come from perceptions that it is a "fuzzy" science. Philosopher Thomas Kuhn's 1962 critique implied psychology overall was in a pre-paradigm state, lacking the agreement on overarching theory found in mature sciences such as chemistry and physics. Psychologists and philosophers have addressed the issue in various ways.

Because some areas of psychology rely on research methods such as surveys and questionnaires, critics have asserted that psychology is not scientific. Other phenomena that psychologists are interested in such as personality, thinking, and emotion cannot be directly measured and are often inferred from subjective self-reports, which may be problematic.

The validity of probability testing as a research tool has been called into question. There is concern that this statistical method may promote trivial findings as meaningful, especially when large samples are used. Some psychologists have responded with an increased use of effect size statistics, rather than sole reliance on the traditional p<.05 decision rule in statistical hypothesis testing.

Sometimes the debate comes from within psychology, for example between laboratory-oriented researchers and practitioners such as clinicians. In recent years, and particularly in the U.S., there has been increasing debate about the nature of therapeutic effectiveness and about the relevance of empirically examining psychotherapeutic strategies. One argument states that some therapies are based on discredited theories and are unsupported by empirical evidence. The other side points to recent research suggesting that all mainstream therapies are of about equal effectiveness, while also arguing that controlled studies often do not take into consideration real-world conditions.

There is also concern about a perceived gap between scientific theory and its application, in particular with the application of unproven or unsound clinical practices. Researchers such as Beyerstein (2001) say there has been a large increase in the number of mental health training programs that do not emphasize science training. According to Lilienfeld (2002) "a wide variety of unvalidated and sometimes harmful psychotherapeutic methods, including facilitated communication for infantile autism... suggestive techniques for memory recovery (e.g., hypnotic age-regression, guided imagery, body work), energy therapies (e.g., Thought Field Therapy, Emotional Freedom Technique)... and New Age therapies of seemingly endless stripes (e.g., rebirthing, reparenting, past-life regression, Primal...therapy, neurolinguistic programming, alien abduction therapy, angel therapy) have either emerged or maintained their popularity in recent decades." Allen Neuringer made a similar point in the field of the experimental analysis of behavior in 1984.

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Buddhism and psychology

Part of the Tipitaka written in Thai on traditional wood slices.

Yet no phenomena exists for either ordinary people or for enlightened Saints other than the continuum (santana) of their own mind (citta).

In human experience, a particular station of sentient beings, all phenomena or dharmas are mediated through and by the mind. Importantly, mind as embodied in the cartesian dualism of mind and body does not exist in the Buddha Dharma and instead is replaced with the mindstream which may be conveyed in a traditional metaphorical relationship where the mindstream is the flame of the candle of the skandha: where in exegetical commentary, the flame never touches the wick of the candle.

The establishment of Buddhism predates the field of psychology by over two millennia; thus, any assessment of Buddhism in terms of psychology is necessarily a modern invention. One of the first such assessments occurred when British Indologists started translating Theravada Buddhism's Abhidhamma from Pali and Sanskrit texts. Long-term efforts to juxtapose abhidhammic psychology with Western empirical sciences have been carried out by such Vajrayana leaders as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and the 14th Dalai Lama.

Western recognition of the phenomenological-psychological aspect of the Abhidhamma started over a century ago with the work of British Indologists.

Buddhism's psychological orientation is a theme Rhys Davids pursued for decades as evidenced by Rhys Davids (1914) and Rhys Davids (1936).

British barrister Christmas Humphreys has referred to mid-twentieth century collaborations between psychoanalysts and Buddhist scholars as a meeting between "two of the most powerful forces operating in the Western mind today." Ever since, a variety of renowned teachers, clinicians and writers such as D.T. Suzuki, Carl Jung, Erich Fromm, Alan Watts and Jack Kornfield have attempted to bridge and integrate psychology and Buddhism in a manner that offers meaning, inspiration and healing. More recently, some traditional Buddhist practitioners have expressed concern that attempts to view Buddhism through the lens of Western psychology diminishes the Buddha's liberating message.

Since Watts's early observations and musings, there have been many other important contributors to the contemporary popularization of Buddhism-informed psychology including Kornfield (1993), Epstein (1995) and Nhat Hanh (1998).

For over a millennium, throughout the world, Buddhist practices have been used for non-Buddhist ends. More recently, Western clinical psychologists, theorists and researchers have incorporated Buddhist practices in widespread formalized psychotherapies. Buddhist mindfulness practices have been explicitly incorporated into a variety of psychological treatments. More tangentially, psychotherapies dealing with cognitive restructuring share core principles with ancient Buddhist antidotes to personal suffering.

Fromm attributes techniques associated with the latter to Buddhist mindfulness practices.

Two increasingly popular therapeutic practices using Buddhist mindfulness techniques are Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Marsha M. Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Other prominent therapies that use mindfulness include Steven C. Hayes' Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and, based on MBSR, Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) (Segal et al., 2002).

Not surprisingly, in terms of clinical diagnoses, MBSR has proven beneficial for people with depression and anxiety disorders; however, the program is meant to serve anyone experiencing significant stress.

Controlled clinical studies have demonstrated DBT's effectiveness for people with borderline personality disorder.

Broadly speaking, differences between traditional Buddhism and contemporary institutionalized Western psychology can be conceived in terms used in the following table.

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AP Psychology

Free response section booklet

The Advanced Placement Psychology (AP Psychology, AP Psycho, or AP Psych) course and corresponding exam is part of the College Board's Advanced Placement Program. This course is tailored for students interested in the field of psychology and as an opportunity to earn placement credit or exemption from a college-level psychology course. It was the shortest AP exam until AP Physics C exam was split into two separate exams in 2006.

The exam includes two sections: a 70 minute multiple choice section (about 100 questions) and a 50 minute free response section (2 prompts). The multiple choice forms two-thirds of the grade and the free-response provides the remaining third.

In the 2007 administration, 116,128 students took the exam from 4,257 schools. The mean score was 3.09.

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Psychology of religion

Group photo 1909 in front of Clark University. Front row: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung. Back row: Abraham Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi.

Psychology of religion is the psychological study of religious experiences, beliefs, and activities.

U.S. psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910) is regarded by most psychologists of religion as the founder of the field. He served as president of the American Psychological Association, and wrote one of the first psychology textbooks. In the psychology of religion, James' influence endures. His Varieties of Religious Experience is considered to be the classic work in the field, and references to James' ideas are common at professional conferences.

James distinguished between institutional religion and personal religion. Institutional religion refers to the religious group or organization, and plays an important part in a society's culture. Personal religion, in which the individual has mystical experience, can be experienced regardless of the culture. James was most interested in understanding personal religious experience. The importance of James to the psychology of religion - and to psychology more generally - is difficult to overstate. He discussed many essential issues that remain of vital concern today.

In studying personal religious experiences, James made a distinction between healthy-minded and sick-souled religiousness. Individuals predisposed to healthy-mindedness tend to ignore the evil in the world and focus on the positive and the good. James used examples of Walt Whitman and the "mind-cure" religious movement to illustrate healthy-mindedness in The Varieties of Religious Experience. In contrast, individuals predisposed to having a sick-souled religion are unable to ignore evil and suffering, and need a unifying experience, religious or otherwise, to reconcile good and evil. James included quotations from Leo Tolstoy and John Bunyan to illustrate the sick soul.

William James' hypothesis of pragmatism stems from the efficacy of religion. If an individual believes in and performs religious activities, and those actions happen to work, then that practice appears the proper choice for the individual. However, if the processes of religion have little efficacy, then there is no rationality for continuing the practice.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) gave explanations of the genesis of religion in his various writings. In Totem and Taboo, he applied the idea of the Oedipus complex (involving unresolved sexual feelings of, for example, a son toward his mother and hostility toward his father) and postulated its emergence in the primordial stage of human development.

In Moses and Monotheism, Freud reconstructed biblical history in accordance with his general theory. His ideas were also developed in The Future of an Illusion. When Freud spoke of religion as an illusion, he maintained that it is a fantasy structure from which a man must be set free if he is to grow to maturity.

Freud views the idea of God as being a version of the father image, and religious belief as at bottom infantile and neurotic. Authoritarian religion is dysfunctional and alienates man from himself.

The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (1875-1961) adopted a very different posture, one that was more sympathetic to religion and more concerned with a positive appreciation of religious symbolism. Jung considered the question of the existence of God to be unanswerable by the psychologist and adopted a kind of agnosticism.

Jung postulated, in addition to the personal unconscious (roughly adopting Freud's concept), the collective unconscious, which is the repository of human experience and which contains “archetypes” (i.e. basic images that are universal in that they recur regardless of culture). The irruption of these images from the unconscious into the realm of consciousness he viewed as the basis of religious experience and often of artistic creativity. Some of Jung's writings have been devoted to elucidating some of the archetypal symbols, and include his work in comparative mythology.

Jung had a very broad view of what it means to be empirical. Suppose, for example, that I hear a voice from a deity but you do not, even though we are sitting next to each other. If only one person experiences something, for Jung it is an empirical observation. For most contemporary scientists, however, it would not be considered an empirical observation. Because of this, there has been little research in the psychology of religion from a Jungian perspective.

Austrian psychiatrist Alfred Adler (1870-1937), who parted ways with Freud, emphasised the role of goals and motivation in his Individual Psychology. One of Adler's most famous ideas is that we try to compensate for inferiorities that we perceive in ourselves. A lack of power often lies at the root of feelings of inferiority. One way that religion enters into this picture is through our beliefs in God, which are characteristic of our tendency to strive for perfection and superiority. For example, in many religions God is considered to be perfect and omnipotent, and commands people likewise to be perfect. If we, too, achieve perfection, we become one with God. By identifying with God in this way, we compensate for our imperfections and feelings of inferiority.

Our ideas about God are important indicators of how we view the world. According to Adler, these ideas have changed over time, as our vision of the world - and our place in it - has changed. Consider this example that Adler offers: the traditional belief that people were placed deliberately on earth as God's ultimate creation is being replaced with the idea that people have evolved by natural selection. This coincides with a view of God not as a real being, but as an abstract representation of nature's forces. In this way our view of God has changed from one that was concrete and specific to one that is more general. From Adler's vantage point, this is a relatively ineffective perception of God because it is so general that it fails to convey a strong sense of direction and purpose.

An important thing for Adler is that God (or the idea of God) motivates people to act, and that those actions do have real consequences for ourselves and for others. Our view of God is important because it embodies our goals and directs our social interactions.

Compared to science, another social movement, religion is more efficient because it motivates people more effectively. According to Adler, only when science begins to capture the same religious fervour, and promotes the welfare of all segments of society, will the two be more equal in peoples' eyes.

In his classic book The Individual and His Religion (1950), Gordon Allport (1897-1967) illustrates how people may use religion in different ways. He makes a distinction between Mature religion and Immature religion. Mature religious sentiment is how Allport characterized the person whose approach to religion is dynamic, open-minded, and able to maintain links between inconsistencies. In contrast, immature religion is self-serving and generally represents the negative stereotypes that people have about religion. More recently, this distinction has been encapsulated in the terms "intrinsic religion", referring to a genuine, heartfelt devout faith, and "extrinsic religion", referring to a more utilitarian use of religion as a means to an end, such as church attendance to gain social status. These dimensions of religion were measured on the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross (1967). A third form of religious orientation has been described by Daniel Batson. This refers to treatment of religion as an open-ended search (Batson, Schoenrade & Ventis, 1993). More specifically, it has been seen by Batson as comprising a willingness to view religious doubts in a positive manner, acceptance that religious orientation can change and existential complexity, the belief that one's religious beliefs should be shaped from personal crises that one has experienced in one's life. Batson refers to extrinsic, intrinsic and quest respectively as Religion-as-means, religion-as-end and religion-as-quest, and measures these constructs on the Religious Life Inventory (Batson, Schoenrade & Ventis, 1993).

Erik Erikson (1902-94) is best known for his theory of psychological development, which has its roots in the psychoanalytic importance of identity in personality. His biographies of Gandhi and Martin Luther reveal Erikson's positive view of religion. He considered religions to be important influences in successful personality development because they are the primary way that cultures promote the virtues associated with each stage of life. Religious rituals facilitate this development. Erikson's theory has not benefited from systematic empirical study, but it remains an influential and well-regarded theory in the psychological study of religion.

The American scholar Erich Fromm (1900-1980) modified Freudian theory and produced a more complex account of the functions of religion. Part of the modification is viewing the Oedipus complex as based not so much on sexuality as on a “much more profound desire”, namely, the childish desire to remain attached to protecting figures. The right religion, in Fromm's estimation, can, in principle, foster an individual's highest potentialities, but religion in practice tends to relapse into being neurotic.

According to Erich Fromm, humans have a need for a stable frame of reference. Religion apparently fills this need. In effect, humans crave answers to questions that no other source of knowledge has an answer to, which only religion may seem to answer. However, a sense of free will must be given in order for religion to appear healthy. An authoritarian notion of religion appears detrimental.

Rudolf Otto (1869-1937) was a German Protestant theologian and scholar of comparative religion. Otto's most famous work, The Idea of the Holy (published first in 1917 as Das Heilige), defines the concept of the holy as that which is numinous. Otto explained the numinous as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self." It is a mystery (Latin: mysterium tremendum) that is both fascinating (fascinans) and terrifying at the same time; A mystery that causes trembling and fascination, attempting to explain that inexpressible and perhaps supernatural emotional reaction of wonder drawing us to seemingly ordinary and/or religious experiences of grace. This sense of emotional wonder appears evident at the root of all religious experiences. Through this emotional wonder, we suspend our rational mind for non-rational possibilities.

It also sets a paradigm for the study of religion that focuses on the need to realise the religious as a non-reducible, original category in its own right. This paradigm was under much attack between approximately 1950 and 1990 but has made a strong comeback since then.

Since the 1960s psychologists of religion have used the methodology of psychometrics to assess different ways in which a person may be religious. An example is the Religious Orientation Scale of Allport and Ross, which measures how respondents stand on intrinsic and extrinsic religion as described by Allport. More recent questionnaires include the Religious Life Inventory of Batson, Schoenrade and Ventis, and the Age-Universal I-E Scale of Gorsuch and Venable. The former assesses where people stand on three distinct forms of religious orientation - religion as means, religion as end, and religion as quest. The latter assesses Spiritual Support and Spiritual Openness.

Some questionnaires, such as the Religious Orientation Scale, relate to different religious orientations, such as intrinsic and extrinsic religiousness, referring to different motivations for religious allegiance. A rather different approach, taken, for example, by Glock and Stark (1965), has been to list different dimensions of religion rather than different religious orientations, which relates to how an individual may manifest different forms of being religious. (More on Stark's work can be found in the article on Sociology of Religion.) Glock and Stark's famous typology described five dimensions of religion - the doctrinal, the intellectual, the ethical-consequential, the ritual, and the experiential. In later work these authors subdivided the ritual dimension into devotional and public ritual, and also clarified that their distinction of religion along multiple dimensions was not identical to distinguishing religious orientations. Although some psychologists of religion have found it helpful to take a multidimensional approach to religion for the purpose of psychometric scale design, there has been, as Wulff (1997) explains, considerable controversy about whether religion should really be seen as multidimensional.

What we call religious experiences can differ greatly. Some reports exist of supernatural happenings that it would be difficult to explain from a rational, scientific point of view. On the other hand, there also exist the sort of testimonies that simply seem to convey a feeling of peace or oneness - something which most of us, religious or not, may possibly relate to. In categorizing religious experiences it is perhaps helpful to look at them as explicable through one of two theories: the Objectivist thesis or the Subjectivist thesis.

An objectivist would argue that the religious experience is a proof of God's existence. However, others have criticised the reliability of religious experiences. The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes asked how it was possible to tell the difference between talking to God in a dream, and dreaming about talking to God.

The Subjectivist view argues that it is not necessary to think of religious experiences as evidence for the existence of an actual being whom we call God. From this point of view, the important thing is the experience itself and the effect that it has on the individual.

Attempts have been made to apply stage models, such as that of Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, to how children develop ideas about God and about religion in general.

By far the most well-known stage model of spiritual or religious development is that of James W. Fowler, a developmental psychologist at the Candler School of Theology, in his Stages of Faith. He follows Piaget and Kohlberg and has proposed a staged development of faith (or spiritual development) across the lifespan in terms of a holistic orientation, and is concerned with the individual's relatedness to the universal.

The book-length study contains a framework and ideas considered by many to be insightful and which have generated a good deal of response from those interested in religion, so it appears to have at least a reasonable degree of face validity. James Fowler proposes six stages of faith development as follows: 1. Intuitive-projective 2. Symbolic Literal 3. Synthetic Conventional 4. Individuating 5. Paradoxical (conjunctive) 6. Universalising. Although there is evidence that children up to the age of twelve years do tend to be in the first two of these stages, there is evidence that adults over the age of sixty-one do show considerable variation in displays of qualities of Stages 3 and beyond. Fowler's model has generated some empirical studies, and fuller descriptions of this research (and of these six stages) can be found in Wulff (1991). However, this model has been attacked from a standpoint of scientific research due to methodological weaknesses. Of Fowler's six stages, only the first two found empirical support, and these were heavily based upon Piaget's stages of cognitive development. The tables and graphs in the book were presented in such a way that the last four stages appeared to be validated, but the requirements of statistical verification of the stages did not come close to having been met. The study was not published in a journal, so was not peer-reviewed, and never drew much attention from psychologists. Other critics of Fowler have questioned whether his ordering of the stages really reflects his own commitment to a rather liberal Christian Protestant outlook, as if to say that people who adopt a similar viewpoint to Fowler are at higher stages of faith development. Nevertheless, the concepts Fowler introduced seemed to hit home with those in the circles of academic religion, and have been an important starting point for various theories and subsequent studies.

A recent contributor here has put forward a stage model, Vicky Genia (see information in Psychometric Approaches to Religion).

Psychologists of religion have looked at how individuals may use religion as a resource in coping with stress. A major contributor to this theory is Kenneth Pargament, whose work shows the influence of attribution theory. Pargament has distinguished styles of coping into the deferring, in which people leave God to see to their problems; the non-religious, in which they do not appeal to God; and the collaborative, in which people believe that a co-operation of God and their own efforts are necessary to help them to cope with stress. Some of Pargament's papers have been published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion.

There is considerable literature on the relationship between religion and health. Psychologists consider that there are various ways in which religion may benefit both physical and mental health, including encouraging healthy lifestyles such as abstinence from tobacco, providing social support networks and encouraging an optimistic outlook on life; prayer and meditation may also help to benefit physiological functioning. The journal "American Psychologist" published important papers on this topic in 2003. Haber, Jacob and Spangler have considered how different dimensions of religiosity may relate to health benefits in different ways.

Evolutionary psychology is based on the hypothesis that, just like hearts, lungs, livers, kidneys, and immune systems, cognition has functional structure that has a genetic basis, and therefore evolved by natural selection. Like other organs and tissues, this functional structure should be universally shared amongst humans and should solve important problems of survival and reproduction. Evolutionary psychologists seek to understand cognitive processes by understanding the survival and reproductive functions they might serve.

Pascal Boyer is one of the leading figures in the cognitive psychology of religion, a new field of inquiry that is less than fifteen years old, which accounts for the psychological processes that underlie religious thought and practice. In his book Religion Explained, Boyer shows that there is no simple explanation for religious consciousness. Boyer is mainly concerned with explaining the various psychological processes involved in the acquisition and transmission of ideas concerning the gods. Boyer builds on the ideas of cognitive anthropologists Dan Sperber and Scott Atran, who first argued that religious cognition represents a by-product of various evolutionary adaptations, including folk psychology, and purposeful violations of innate expectations about how the world is constructed (for example, bodiless beings with thoughts and emotions) that make religious cognitions striking and memorable.

Religious persons acquire religious ideas and practices through social exposure. The child of a Zen Buddhist will not become an evangelical Christian or a Zulu warrior without the relevant cultural experience. While mere exposure does not cause a particular religious outlook (a person may have been raised a Roman Catholic but leave the church), nevertheless some exposure seems required - this person will never invent Roman Catholicism out of thin air. Boyer says cognitive science can help us to understand the psychological mechanisms that account for these manifest correlations and in so doing enable us to better understand the nature of religious belief and practice. To the extent that the mechanisms controlling the acquisitions and transmission of religious concepts rely on human brains, the mechanisms are open to computational analysis. All thought is computationally structured, including religious thought. So presumably, computational approaches can shed light on the nature and scope of religious cognition.

Boyer moves outside the leading currents in mainstream cognitive psychology and suggests that we can use evolutionary biology to unravel the relevant mental architecture. Our brains are, after all, biological objects, and the best naturalistic account of design in nature is Darwin's theory of evolution. To the extent that mental architecture exhibits intricate design, it is plausible to think that the design is the result of evolutionary processes working over vast periods of time. Like all biological systems, the mind is optimised to promote survival and reproduction in the evolutionary environment. On this view all specialised cognitive functions broadly serve those reproductive ends.

For Steven Pinker the universal propensity toward religious belief is a genuine scientific puzzle. He thinks that adaptationist explanations for religion do not meet the criteria for adaptations. An alternative explanation is that religious psychology is a by-product of many parts of the mind that evolved for other purposes.

The American psychologist James H. Leuba (1868-1946), in A Psychological Study of Religion, accounts for mystical experience psychologically and physiologically, pointing to analogies with certain drug-induced experiences. Leuba argued forcibly for a naturalistic treatment of religion, which he considered to be necessary if religious psychology were to be looked at scientifically. Shamans all over the world and in different cultures have traditionally used drugs, especially psychedelics, for their religious experiences. In these communities the absorption of drugs leads to dreams (visions) through sensory distortion.

William James was also interested in mystical experiences from a drug-induced perspective, leading him to make some experiments with nitrous oxide and even peyote. He concludes that while the revelations of the mystic hold true, they hold true only for the mystic; for others they are certainly ideas to be considered, but hold no claim to truth without personal experience of such.

The drugs used by religious communities for their hallucinogenic effects were adopted for explicit and implicit religious functions and purposes. The drugs were and are reported to enhance religious experience through visions and a distortion of the sensory perception (like in dreams in a state of sleep).

The large variety of meditation techniques shares the common goal of shifting attention away from habitual or customary modes of thinking and perception, in order to permit experiencing in a different way. Many religious and spiritual traditions that employ meditation assert that the world most of us know is an illusion. This illusion is said to be created by our habitual mode of separating, classifying and labelling our perceptual experiences. Meditation is empirical in that it involves direct experience. Though it is also subjective in that the meditative state can be directly known only by the experiencer, and may be difficult or impossible to fully describe in words.

Concentrative meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness characterised by a loss of awareness of extraneous stimuli, one-pointed attention to the meditation object to the exclusion of all other thoughts, and feelings of bliss.

Roberts, T. B. (editor) (2001). Psychoactive Sacramentals: Essays on Entheogens and Religion. San Francosco: Council on Spiritual Practices.

Roberts, T. B., and Hruby, P. J. (1995-2002). Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments An Entheogen Chrestomathy. Online archive.

Roberts, T. B. "Chemical Input—Religious Output: Entheogens." Chapter 10 in Where God and Science Meet: Vol. 3: The Psychology of Religious Experience Robert McNamara (editor)(2006). Westport, CT: Praeger/Greenwood.

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Source : Wikipedia