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Dunn & Halonen
The Psychology
Major’s Companion

Chapter 2:
The Nature of Psychology and the Psychology Major

Psychology, unlike chemistry, unlike algebra, unlike literature, is an owner’s manual for your own mind. It’s a guide to life.
~Daniel Goldstein, Cognitive Psychologist

Chapter Objectives

What does the discipline of psychology entail?

What can you expect from the psychology major?

Student Learning Outcomes

By the end of this chapter, students should be able to:

Define the psychological discipline.

Discuss ways to refute psychology myths.

Identify several subdisciplines in psychology that interest them.

Describe the typical structure of the psychology major and the minors that complement the psychology major.

Identify myths about the psychology major.

Psychology and Public Perception

Stereotypes about psychology mislead.

Most people think of “Dr. Phil” as a good representation.

Most would also not be able to identify psychology’s Nobel Prize winners.

Dramatic film treatments further obscure psychology’s true nature.

Defining Psychology (1 of 5)

The scientific study of mind and behavior in human and nonhuman animals
(how organisms behave, learn, think, and feel)

Psychology’s Short History

A relatively young science born in 1879

Wilhelm Wundt established the first experimental lab in Leipzig, Germany.

Psychologists broke away from philosophy.

A history of many competing orientations (schools of thought) but no shared, unifying paradigm

Defining Psychology (2 of 5)

The scientific study of mind and behavior in human and nonhuman animals

Science =

Reliance on systematic empiricism (direct observation)

Commitment to making findings public

Application of key ideas in solving problems

Defining Psychology (3 of 5)

The scientific study of mind and behavior in human and nonhuman animals

Psychological science emphasizes:

careful observation

precise description

operational definitions


statistical analysis

Defining Psychology (4 of 5)

The scientific study of mind and behavior in human and nonhuman animals

Orientations emphasize different elements:

sensory phenomena

BEHAVIORISTS: observable behavior

covert behavior (e.g., dreaming, thinking)

Psychology’s Identity Woes (1 of 2)

William James (arguably the founder of American psychology)

promoted functionalism, which shifted attention away from structure to purpose or function.

later described psychology as “a nasty little science.”

Psychology’s Identity Woes (2 of 2)


NATURAL SCIENCE explains biological phenomena

SOCIAL SCIENCE explains how people relate to one another


RESEARCHERS create new knowledge through scientific activity

HELPERS apply existing knowledge to solve problems (e.g., clinicians, consultants)

Defining Psychology (5 of 5)

The scientific study of mind and behavior in human and nonhuman animals

Although animal experimentation is not as prominent in the major as it used to be, animal researchers must abide by strict regulations to protect and care for animals, human and nonhuman.

Psychology’s American Professional Organizations

American Psychological Association APA established in 1892 (distributed across 54 specialty divisions)

Association of Psychological Sciences APS established in 1988 (emphasizing science and research)

Myths About Psychology (1 of 6)

Psychology is nothing more than common sense.

Hindsight bias makes some conclusions obvious  ”we knew it all along.”

Psychology produces counterintuitive results  outcomes that are not easy to predict.

Humans are prone to make cause-effect connections that aren’t real.

Myths About Psychology (2 of 6)

Whatever it is, psychology is not a science.

Science is not what is being studied, but how.

The scientific method involves hypothesis testing, careful observation and experimentation, manipulation and measurement of variables, rigorous analysis, and replication (the capacity to reproduce the experiment and results).

Myths About Psychology (3 of 6)

Psychology is a pseudoscience.

Pseudoscience (false science) gives the appearance of being scientific but has no empirical support.

Examples include astrology, numerology, and handwriting analysis.

Myths About Psychology (4 of 6)

Psychologists know how to “read minds.”

If a psychologist has insight into the human condition, it is the result of years of study, careful observation and inference, and honest hard work, not being a mentalist.

Myths About Psychology (5 of 6)

Psychologist = Therapist

Only some—by no means all—psychologists do counseling or therapy. Others work in hospitals, at universities, in businesses, in government, and in other settings that require expertise about human behavior.

The majority of courses will not be clinically oriented.

Myths About Psychology (6 of 6)

Psychology is personally defined.

Personal experience is not proof.

Cognitive psychology demonstrates that personal reasoning and judgment are flawed.

Some orientations (e.g., humanism, phenomenology) are more friendly to personal experience than others.

Measuring Up

What are some strategies you might use when people respond to the news of your choice of major with a misconception?

“You won’t be able to get a job…”

“Are you trying to analyze me?”

“Isn’t psychology just common sense?”

Psychology’s Popularity

The Nature of the Psychology Major

Pathways into the major:

Commitment from the outset

The “found” major

Which was your path?

Typical Major Structure

30−40 Hours of Specialized Courses

Introductory Psychology

Research and methods core

Content courses, some with labs

Applied courses


Capstone (a final, integrating course)

Structural Variations

BS (emphasizing STEM) or BA (emphasizing humanities)?

Specializations or concentrations?


Double majors?

What the Major Is NOT (1 of 6)


Because it isn’t just common sense, examinations can be surprisingly hard.

If the major is taught correctly, it will be rigorous and give a sense of achievement at the end.

What the Major Is NOT (2 of 6)

A Therapist Producer

Becoming a therapist with professional credentials requires years of graduate school and supervised practice.

Therapy is more than being “a good listener” or giving sound advice.

What the Major Is NOT (3 of 6)

Where Students Solve Their Own Problems

Very little in the psychology curriculum is geared toward deep personal insight and change.

What the Major Is NOT (4 of 6)

A Pathway to Riches

Although some majors will go on to do very well in entrepreneurial ventures, entry-level salaries will mostly be small.


Starting Salaries for Class of 2017 College Graduates

Computer science $72,677
Engineering $65,539
Mathematics and statistics $60,631
Health science $53,872
Business $52,456
Social science $46,707
History $38,997
Communications $38,897
Visual and performing arts $37,887
English $37,825

What the Major Is NOT (5 of 6)

A Pathway to Riches

Clinical fees (~$200 per hour) are misleading due to operational expenses (e.g., advertising, insurance, office costs).

What the Major Is NOT (6 of 6)

What the Psychology Major IS

A means to study living organisms scientifically

A passport to the workforce to apply psych principles to solve problems

A training ground for graduate school for those interested in professional psychology

Discussion Questions (1 of 2)

Why is the discipline of psychology so frequently misunderstood?

In what way does psychology qualify as a science?

What myths complicate lay understanding of psychology?

Discussion Questions (2 of 2)

What are the key features of the undergraduate psychology curriculum?

What are some profitable minors that can enhance the value of a psychology major?

What are some inaccurate ideas about the nature of the psychology major?





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