Unity: Psychology Defined

Unity 2

[Photo by rbs]

For me it’s very difficult to understand what psychology is really about and what it consists of. Everyone seems to have different ideas which are often mutually exclusive. Not only that but psychologists seem to make little effort to bridge the enormous gaps that have been obvious for decades, or even centuries. Formally, psychology is a disaster zone.

The most fundamental distinction is between the mentalism of Freud and the anti-mentalism of Skinner. Is it important what goes on in your head or just what you do, your behaviour? Obviously both are important and any ‘psychology’ of humans has to incorporate both of these elements, but how is that done?

And then there’s this jumble of sub-disciplines all with similar sounding names: biopsychology and psychobiology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioural neuroscience. How does it all fit together? How is it possible to make sense of it all?

Any effort towards unifying psychology, as discussed in this previous post, has to be carefully examined. Any kind of insight we can gain into how to solve this jigsaw puzzle of a discipline should be welcomed. It’s possible a coherent picture will emerge.

Henriques (2004) puts forward the idea that psychology should be split into two separate areas. First is the field of psychological formalism. This includes the cognitive sciences such as cognitive neuroscience, animal cognition and cognitive ethology, and neurosciences like psychobiology and behavioural neuroscience.

Second is human psychology which is effectively a sub-discipline of psychological formalism. Human psychology should properly be defined as a hybrid between psychological formalism and the social sciences.

The problem for Henriques’ idea is that it reminds us that we are animals, clever animals yes, but still animals. People don’t want to be reminded of that, and, in fact, are reluctant to even accept it. For many people humans represent a separate class of being, rather than occupying the extreme end of a continuum of abilities like intelligence. Nevertheless, for this approach to work, acceptance of ourselves as animals is vital to unity in psychology.

Henriques (2004) Psychology Defined [Abstract]
How Gregg Henriques explains his paper’s high citation levels
Read more PsyBlog posts on Unity in Psychology

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 6 August 2006

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