The Diverse Nature of PsychologyFrom its philosophical roots—Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Bacon—through its systematic origins—Pavlov, Wundt, Watson—by way of its theoretical postulations—Freud, Adler, Jung—and into its scientific revolution—psychopharmacology, empirically validated treatments (EVT), the scientific method—psychology has always held out this singular promise: to leverage the faculties of reasoning, the tools of observation, and the methods of science to understand behavior (Goodwin, 2005; Stanovich, 2010). Psychology is a discipline that has broad implications for other areas of science while simultaneously maintaining a narrow concern for the derivation of scientific knowledge about human and non-human behavior. More specifically, scientific knowledge is not defined by its subject matter or experimental apparatus, but by the use of systematic empiricism, the examination of solvable problems, and the production of public knowledge (Stanovich, 2010). Collectively then, the discipline of psychology is the use of systematic empiricism, the examination of solvable problems, and the production of public knowledge to the end of understanding human and non-human behavior. This paper is concerned with the assessment of three sub-areas within psychology, the impact of diversity on the discipline of psychology, and the practical application of psychology to two disciplines outside psychology, to the end of better defining the field of psychology.
Three Sub-areas of PsychologyWithin the APA there exist 54 different unique divisions, defined by either area of research/study or area of practice (Stanovich, 2010). Because of this enumeration of divisions, psychology is best characterized by the collection of individual theories covering a limited aspect of behavior than the pursuit of one grand theory. For instance, environmental psychology (EP) studies the role individuals have in the conservation or destruction of our environment (Pelletier, Lavergne & Sharp, 2008; Stewart, 2007). EP goes further to posit that, “…the cumulative behaviors of individuals affect environmental quality” (Pelletier, Lavergne & Sharp, 2008, p. 307). Hence, the implication of individual behavior, as an expression of human psychology, has broad implications on our entire ecosystem, but the field of EP is only concerned with how the individual interacts with the environment. Another clear example of the “collection of individual theories” take on psychology is industrial and organization psychology (I/O), in that I/O seeks to use a fundamental understanding of human behavior to inform considerations of practical use (Kanfer, 2005). In essence, I/O takes the universal laws of psychology—as devised through the use of scientific knowledge, and applies them to individual, everyday situations in industries and organizations. As a last example, educational psychology has long endeavored to develop, “…specific affective and cognitive psychological capabilities of students in ways intended to enhance both their achievement inside and outside of school” (Martin, 2006, p. 310). In this case, educational psychology uses the edicts and discoveries of psychology to develop the affective and cognitive capabilities of students. In all of these examples of sub-areas of psychology the general principles elucidated through scientific discovery are used to mediator or address a limited aspect of human behavior.
Impact of Diversity of PsychologyAs mentioned above, there are 54 different divisions of psychology within the APA, which constitutes a range of diversity not seen in most other sciences (Stanovich, 2010). The levels of diversity within psychology have caused some to suggest the term psychological studies to describe the scientific study of behavior, rather than the blanket term psychology. Notwithstanding, there exist two features of psychology that set it apart from other disciplines: 1) psychology utilizes the techniques of science to study the full range of human and non-human behavior; 2) the application of these studies are resulting from avenues that are scientifically based. It is these two defining features of psychology that set it apart from philosophy on the one hand—purely abstract—and sciences that study the only the external world—purely empirical. Psychology stands at the crossroads of the external and internal worlds of human and non-human behavior, bridging the gap between the metaphysical and the corporeal. It is the diversity of psychology that supplies the tools necessary to bring together the metaphysical world within and the physical world without, by way of scientific discovery.
Practical Application of Psychology to Two DisciplinesThe implications of psychological discovery are far-reaching and widely applicable—due to the diverse nature of psychology—but each individual division only theorize about a limited aspect of behavior. Case in point, environmental psychology is applicable to environmental science through: 1) research on problems related to the improvement of the environmental situation; 2) the use of evidence-based psychological findings to engage policymakers and; 3) the use of psychological findings pertaining to the environment to reinforce interdisciplinary findings (Pelletier, Lavergne & Sharp, 2008). In this way, findings in the field of environmental psychology can have a practical and academic effect on environmental policy, interdisciplinary findings, and the environment itself. Another clear-cut instance of interdisciplinary applicability is the use of educational psychology to inform teaching and instruction in the classroom. The current institution of psychological findings in the public school system seeks to develop, “nonauthoritarian pedagogical approaches that would attend simultaneously to students’ needs for…self-governance in ways that appeared to reconcile…production of independent persons” (Martin, 2006, p. 310). Consequently, educational psychology attempts to use the general theories of psychology to advise the specific example of student self-governance in an instructional situation. In all, both environmental psychology and educational psychology postulate transferable scientific data, which can be used in the areas of environmental science and classroom instruction, respectively.
ConclusionIn conclusion, the wide diversity of psychology is at once its greatest strength and potentially its greatest weakness. There exists a movement within the general field of science to surmise generalize, all-encompassing theories that can be applied across all disciplines (Stanovich, 2010). In the field of psychology quite the opposite is true: each sub-area of psychology theories about only a narrow dimension of human behavior, so psychology is best explained as a collection of individual theories than one general theory. Furthermore, the sub-areas of I/O, EP, and educational psychology cover a limited field of human behavior, but have far-reaching implications across many different scientific domains, and further EP and educational psychology have clear interdisciplinary applicability to the areas of environmental science and classroom instruction, respectively. In all, psychology brings together many sub-areas under the banner of the scientific study of behavior.
ReferencesGoodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Kanfer, R. (2005). Self-regulation research in work and I/O psychology. Applied Psychology: An International Review, 54(2), 186-191. doi:10.1111/j.1464-0597.2005.00203.x
Martin, J. (2006). Self research in educational psychology: A cautionary tale of positive psychology in action. Journal of Psychology, 140(4), 307. doi:Article
Pelletier, L. G., Lavergne, K. J., & Sharp, E. C. (2008). Environmental psychology and sustainability: Comments on topics important for our future. Canadian Psychology, 49(4), 304-308. doi:10.1037/a0013658
Stanovich, Keith. (2010). How to think straight about psychology (9th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.
Stewart, A.E. (2007). Individual psychology and environmental psychology. Journal of Individual Psychology, 63(1), 67-85. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from Academic Search Complete database.