Intro to Psychology

Introduction to the Field of Psychology

The following definition of psychology is from the American Psychological Association's booklet, Psychology/Careers for the Twenty-First Century.

Why people do the things they do is an age-old question. However, psychology – the science concerned with behavior, both humans and animals –is only about 125 years old. Despite its youth, it is a broad discipline essentially spanning the subject matter from biology to sociology. Biology studies the structures and functions of living organisms. Sociology examines how groups function in society. Psychologists study two critical relationships: one between brain function and behavior, and one between environment and behavior. As scientists, psychologists follow scientific methods, using careful observation, experimentation, and analysis. 

The undergraduate psychology major at Niagara University exposes students to many content areas within the field. Students will take courses in developmental, social, physiological, cognitive, and clinical areas within the discipline, studying the interaction among environmental and biological influences on behavior. Students are required to complete 11 courses in psychology for the bachelor's degree. These courses allow each student flexibility in pursuing electives that meet their personal educational goals.

The psychology major was first available to students at Niagara in 1979.  Since then, the department has grown to be one of the largest in the College of Arts and Sciences. The department is staffed by five full-time faculty members and several adjunct professors. The faculty offices and laboratories are located in DePaul Hall. The department usually hires several undergraduate students to work in the laboratories of psychology faculty and assist with secretarial and clerical duties.

Students typically major in psychology for a number of reasons. Some hope to gain a better understanding of their own actions, emotions, and thought processes. Psychology is an excellent choice for students who are interested in obtaining a liberal arts education. Other students major in psychology because they expect to work as a psychologist after graduation. These students intend to further their education by pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree. One of the department's primary goals is to prepare students for graduate school.

The bachelor's program in psychology will provide students with:

  • A solid knowledge base of psychological terms, concepts, theories, and issues.
  • The ability to gather and synthesize information from a variety of sources.
  • Critical thinking skills necessary for analyzing and evaluating knowledge.
  • A working familiarity with a wide range of psychological methods.
  • Communication skills necessary to write and speak in a clear and convincing manner.
  • Interpersonal skills leading to tolerance of and helpfulness toward others.
  • Practical experience necessary to explore and refine post-graduate goals.

(Adapted from Dr. Drew Appleby of Marian College in Indiana)

Diversity of Careers in Psychology* 

Psychology is an extraordinary diverse field with hundreds of career paths. Some specialties, like caring for mentally ill people, are familiar to most of us. Others, like helping with the design of advanced computer systems or studying how we remember things, are less well known.

What all psychologists have in common is a shared interest in mind and behavior, both human and animal. In their work, they draw on an ever-expanding body of scientific knowledge about how we think, act, and feel, and apply the information to their special areas of expertise. Among psychologists, researchers spend most of their time generating knowledge; practitioners apply the knowledge; and some psychologists do both.

In addition to their particular mix of science and practice, psychologists can be distinguished in terms of where they work. Although about 33 percent of doctoral psychologists work at universities and colleges, many psychologists work in more than one setting. For instance, college professors often consult for industry or see clients on a part-time basis.

These links between research and practice form the backbone of the whole body of psychology.

Examples of Job Activities in Psychology*

Psychologists Conduct Research
Many psychologists conduct research that runs the gamut from studies of basic brain functions to the behavior of complex social organizations. Subjects of such scientific study include animals, human infants, well-functioning and emotionally disturbed people, elderly people, students, workers, and just about any population you can imagine. Some research takes place in carefully controlled laboratories, while some is carried out in the workplace, schools, or hospitals, where behavior is studied as it occurs naturally.

Psychologists Study and Contribute to the Work Environment
Anywhere people work, and anything they do while at work, is of interest to psychologists. Psychologists study what makes people effective, satisfied, and motivated in their jobs; what distinguishes good workers or managers from poor ones; and what conditions of work promote high or low productivity, morale, and safety. Psychologists design programs for recruiting, selecting, placing and training employees. They evaluate, monitor, and improve performance. They help make changes in the way the organization is set up.

Psychologists Promote Physical and Mental Health
Psychologists as health providers span a large and diverse spectrum of subfields. Today, many psychologists work alone, with patients and clients coming to the psychologist's office. Increasingly, psychologists in private practice are contracting with organizations to provide a wide range of services. A psychologist can join a health practice and work with a team of other health care providers to prevent or treat illness. This team approach, which is likely to become more common in the future, frequently includes efforts to change unhealthy behaviors and ensure that patients follow the recommended treatment. The team also helps patients cope with stress.

Psychologists Help People Learn
Psychologists provide a number of services to children, youth, and families in schools at all levels, from nursery school to college. Many focus on improving the effectiveness of teaching and student learning, frequently by studying motivation and cognitive processes in the classroom. School psychologists also provide counseling and crisis intervention services. They help students with learning or behavior problems, learning disabilities, and cognitive deficits. They work with students in schools to prevent violence and other disruptive behaviors. Psychologists work within specialty areas of learning too, such as the arts and sports". 

*From Psychology /Careers for the Twenty-First Century, American Psychological Association.