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Past Present and Promise

Psychology is a diverse science and it is difficult to summarize its main ideas in one sentence and to give one exact definition. Psychology is different because of people’s misconceptions and that is why lots of opinions exist.

Film “Past, Present, and Promise” is the first video in a twenty-six psychological volume set. It begins by going over main definitions, namely over definition of “psychology” itself. The video provides as introduction to psychology and its overview and development of this science in general. We explore some paths scientists take to determine relations among the behavior, the brain and the mind. The authors of the video show us some important problems which are studied by psychologists such as multiple personality disorder that used to mask true feelings and emotions, behavior and different situational factors that influence it, brain activity and brain signals, body language and dependence of behavior on society and its norms.

In the most general meaning psychology is the scientific study of people’s behavior and their mental processes. As many other sciences it is closely connected with technology which gives researchers new tools to analyze and measure behavior. The term “psychology” derives from Greek “psyche” (soul, mind). Literally it is the study of the mind but since 1920 psychologists understood that what they study is not an easy thing. First of all, mind is unobservable, but if people talk about the mind then it has to be an object or a thing. Second, mental activity is defined as a process so it may be compared with other processes like flow of the river or movement of the automobile. In the beginning of XX century scientists defined psychology as a study of behavior.

Speaking about behavior we should mention that it depends on many factors including age, situation, genetics of individuals, their health, experience and even current state (awake or asleep). Behavior is different between men and women as well as between different cultures. There are also aspects that depend on the food eaten and time of the day.

Why do people behave in this or that way? This question is considered to be the main for psychologists. In the video “Past, Present, and Promise” a good example is given. It shows some clips form Candid Camera back in 1950s. Boys and girls in Junior High have conferences with new teacher who is a handsome man/an attractive woman. Boys are paired with the woman and girls with the man. It is interesting that when the teacher walks away children break out into laughter or smile. Why do they act in such a way? In the film it is stated that there are two factors affect personality: situational and dispositional. Situational are those that some from outer world (rewards, punishments, etc.) and dispositional are those that are internal (attitude, genetics, personality). And the main task of psychology is to understand them and to explain their influence on people.

Body language is a very important aspect to study too as it can say much about attitude of an individual towards something. Today the relations between tone of voice, facial expressions and body language are studied very actively and it is proved that tone of voice may represent all feelings of a person. Paying attention to the voice we are most likely to detect a liar.

Another interesting thing to study is prejudice. Professor Mahrzin Banaji studies the reactions of people and their associations by pairing positive and negative values with white and black people. This experiment is called the Implicit Attitude Test and it can give an indirect measure of a person’s prejudice. The results of the test were expected: the major part of the white Americans showed an unconscious association of black with bad and white with good while the African Americans showed mixed results. Some people associated black with bad, others with good. Now scientists believe that such experiments bring researchers one step closer to understanding people’s behavior.

Summing up, psychology is complicated science and one may spend much time finding suitable definition. In general, it studies people’s behavior and mental processes that influence it but there are plenty of pitfalls to explore and things to think over.


Scientific Problem Solvers

When we think of psychologists we are apt to think of clinical ones who usually help worried, troubled or depressed people. In fact, clinical psychology is only one part of this diverse science about people’s behavior. Psychology also studies sensation and perception, memory and learning, attention, child development, hunger, sleep and many other things. Psychology may help us to understand many aspects of behavior and factors that influence it.

As we see, psychology is related to many issues but of course most psychologists deal with smaller questions and specialize in narrower fields. They work in different occupational settings as colleges and universities, hospitals and mental health clinics, private practice and government agencies. Among the most demanded mental health professionals who help people with psychological troubles are clinical, counseling, industrial/organizational (i/o) psychologists and psychiatrists. It is very important to distinguish among these four types.

Clinical psychologists have an advanced degree in psychology and their aim is to help and understand people with different psychological problems. Problems, which clinical psychologists deal with, range from depression and anxiety to marriage conflicts and difficulties making decisions. Such specialists try to understand why a person has problems and then help him or her to overcome the difficulties. Sometimes clinical psychologists are researchers and college professors but the majority of them are full-time practitioners.

Counseling psychologists help people with educational, marriage, vocational, health related decisions. They have a doctorate degree with supervised in counseling. In fact, their activities overlap those of clinical psychologists but here the emphasis is a little bit different. Clinical psychologists deal mainly with depression and other emotional distress while counseling psychologists deal mostly with life decisions, family readjustments and other problems with can cause depression and anxiety. Usually they work in educational institutions, rehabilitation agencies, mental health centers, businesses and private practice. Some counseling psychologists may become forensic psychologists who provide advice to police, courts and lawyers. But of course they need additional legal training and appropriate knowledge.

Today such psychological study as industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology is considered to be one of the most demanded studies. It deals with hiring the right people for a job, training them for jobs, developing work teams, determining bonuses and salaries, planning an organizational structure and organizing the workplace so that all workers be satisfied and productive, etc. I/O psychologists study the behavior of the organization and the individual and impact of economic conditions on them.

And finally, psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with emotional disturbances. In order to become a psychiatrist, one first earns an MD degree and then takes four years of residency training in psychiatry. As psychiatrists are medical doctors they have a right to prescribe tranquilizers and antidepressants whereas other mental health professionals cannot do this. More psychiatrists than clinical psychologists work in mental hospitals and they usually have clients with severe mental disorders. It may seem that the ability to prescribe drugs give them an advantage over other specialists but not always so. In some cases drugs may be useful but sometimes relying on them can be a mistake. Thus, whereas a typical visit to clinical psychologist includes a discussion of the issues troubling a person, many visits to psychiatrist are briefer and focused on checking the effectiveness of a drug. A survey found that over the years, fewer and fewer psychiatrists provide talk therapy to clients.

Apart from mentioned types of mental health professionals there are many others (psychoanalysts, human factors specialists, developmental psychologists, school psychologists, psychologists in teaching and research, behavioral neuroscientists, etc). Today psychology is one of the most popular majors in the USA, Canada and Europe and a lot of specialists exist. Despite such a variety it is very important to differentiate them properly.


Sensation and Perception

What do we feel listening to music or smelling a flower? What is taste and how does it work? How does our brain help us to contact with an outside world? These and other questions appear in the film “Sensation and Perception”. It depicts how cognitive, psychological, environmental and social factors influence our sense of reality and how researchers use people’s perceptual errors to study the constructive process of perception.

Speaking about sensation and perception, one should start with the definitions of these two notions.

Sensation is the conversion of energy from the environment into a pattern of response by the nervous system. In other words, sensation is the registration of information. Perception is the interpretation of the accepted information. In practice the distinction between sensation and perception is usually difficult to make. For example, light rays striking the eyes give rise to sensation while one’s experience of seeing and recognizing other people is a perception.

Sensation and perception are closely related but at the same time they play quite different roles in how we interpret the environment. The process of sensation refers to sensing the world through taste, touch, smell, sound, sight and sound. This information is sent to brains where perception comes into play. Perception is the interpretation of sensation and it makes sense of every thing in the world that is around us.

In other words, sensation is the process by which human senses gather information and send it to the brain. The amount of information that comes into our senses is large, but as the same time the majority of outer world never gets recognized. In most cases we don’t notice unobservable things, don’t sense all the odors around, taste different spices and finally sense only those things which are able to sense.

Perception, as it refers to interpretation of the information taken through senses, is the way we perceive our environment and what makes us different from each other.

In the film “Sensation and Perception” which is the part of twenty six volume set “Discovering Psychology” these two processes are depicted. From the program we may learn about visual illusions and their causes, the biology of perception, the visual pathway and how our brain processes the information during perception. Dr. David Hubel, who hosts the program, explains how the visual pathway between eyesight and brain processing is created by cellular structures in the nervous system.

In order to understand the word “pathway” in this meaning we should understand how cells are organized in the nervous system. As a matter of fact they are clustered and the groups aggregated are the size of a marble or a grain of rice. Different regions are connected to each other with the help of cables.

In the case of visual pathway one starts with the retina. Here cones and rods are connected by cells. The output is the optic nerve that contains a large amount of fibers. The end up in one or two regions in the brain and are connected to other regions of the brain or regions in the cortex.

Dr. David Hubel states, that nowadays the researchers study single cells very thoroughly. Current studied tell that the visual pathway consists of three sub pathways with their specific roles. One of these sub pathways is concerned with the color, another with form and the third with depth and movement. If and individual cell is recorded, it will respond to only one of these three areas and it depend on the channel.

Dr. Hubel’s aim is to see how individual cells work during perception. A couple of visual areas have already been studied intensively and there seem to be 18-24 different visual regions in the occipital lobe. Doctor also states that soon we’ll be able to know more about all the sensory pathways in the brain but before many new researches and experiments are to be held.

Thus, sensation and perception are closely related processes of getting and interpreting information with the help of which our brain helps us to sense and perceive the world around us.

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