In the broadest of terms, psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behaviour, and compared to many of the other sciences, it is one of the most modern and is certainly the most progressive. 150 years ago, psychology was structured in two core theoretical forms; Structuralism and Functionalism.
Structuralism was a theoretical approach developed by Wilhelm Wundt, focused on breaking down mental processes into basic components. However, while Structuralism relied on trained introspection, this was proven to be unreliable.
In disagreement with Structuralism, William James, an American psychologist created a theoretical approach that he named Functionalism. With the mind constantly changing and developing, James found that studying the structure of the conscious experience was pointless. Instead, he proposed that the focus should be on how and why an organism does something.
Since the development of both Structuralism and Functionalism, psychology has developed and moved on, with several other dominant and influential approaches taking their place. Subsequently, figureheads of psychology have all created forward thinking theories, such as; Freud, Jung, Adler, Erikson and Kuhn.
Psychology now has 5 unique and core sub-fields that we will explore below.
1) Developmental Psychology
This is a scientific approach which aims to explain growth, change and consistency through a lifespan, by looking at how thinking, feeling and behaviour changes throughout a person’s life.
Commonly, the vast majority of theories within Developmental Psychology focus on the period of life where most changes occur; in childhood. Therefore, it is a Developmental Psychologist’s standpoint to study theoretical areas such as; biological, social, emotional, and cognitive processes.
2) Health Psychology
This scientific branch is dedicated to untangling the effects that community and environmental elements have on general health and illness rates. Mainly, exploring health conditions that are largely linked to the psychological science of their inner-workings. With psychology at hand, it aims to prevent illness and help people develop healthier lifestyles that boost their overall experiences. This had led to the sub-field study of Sports Psychology, too.
Health Psychology is one of the youngest subfields of the science, one of the most rapidly expanding, and most interesting to study.
Often perceived to be the ‘rocket-scientist’ strand of the field of psychology, Neuropsychology is the theoretical work that analyses how the brain and the rest of the nervous system influence a person’s cognition and behaviours, and the impact that injuries and neuro-illnesses have on cognition. With this knowledge, new behaviours can be learnt to unlearn unhelpful habits and patterns from past traumas.
Neuropsychology closely informs Criminal Psychology as well, as understanding the motivations for a person’s crime is closely linked to their cognition.
4) Experimental Psychology
The common workplace of Experimental Psychologists has transitioned from private medical and pharmaceutical companies, to research facilities in universities and government-led enterprises.
This experimentation typically uses human and animal subjects engaged in sensory, perception, memory, cognition, motivational and social testing to prove, in practice, the theory behind psychological statements. Many people learn about the results of these experiments when taking A-Level Psychology.
5) Industrial Psychology
Often called occupational psychology, Industrial Psychology, is the science of human behaviour relating to work and applies psychological theories to humans while they are in their work setting.
The objective of Industrial Psychology is to enable businesses to understand their workforce better. It gives businesses the capacity to ‘get more’ out of their workforce. This is one of the most commercialised forms of psychology, and can be one of the highest earning subfields.
Psychology is a broad and ever-changing scientific field. Unlike many more traditional and aged forms of science, psychology is always evolving. The evolution of theory has led to the discovery that many prominent approaches are inaccurate, decades after they were established. This ever shifting landscape makes it one of the most interesting social sciences to study, with great career opportunities.