The first thing that comes to mind when considering the amount of topics covered in psychology would be many. The first half of this class has covered many topics from the modern definition of psychology and ways to gather psychological data to memory processes and distinguishing between semantic, episodic and procedural memory. We’ve covered the study of consciousness and its different states and explored the biological make up of the brain and what makes it tick. This paper will provide a summary of what has been covered throughout the first half of this class.
Beginning with the subject matter from week one, we learned psychology can be defined as the science of mental and behavior processes and it’s immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases presumably for the benefit of society. We learned the difference between a theory and a hypothesis when it comes to psychological studies. A theory is a well-established principle that has been developed to explain some aspect of the natural world.
A theory arises from repeated observation and testing and incorporates facts, laws, predictions, and tested hypotheses that are widely accepted. A hypothesis however is a specific, testable prediction about what you expect to happen in your study. Then we went over methods to uncover psychological data. One method is through natural observation, which researchers obtain a realistic picture of how behavior occurs by actually watching the behavior. Another method includes laboratory observation, which can be used to control the subject and the environment.
Case studies can be used to study an individual in great detail and Surveys can provide a lot of information as it comes from a representative sample. Week 2 we covered many of the biological aspects of the brain. One of the cells used in the body, the neuron has a cell body, dendrites and axon. They communicate with other cells through the synapse which can be described as a junction that permits a neuron to pass an electrical signal to another cell. This occurs in the nervous system which consists of several divisions.
The Central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. The somatic nervous system consists of peripheral nerve fibers that send sensory information to the central nervous system AND motor nerve fibers that project to skeletal muscle. The Autonomic nervous system is divided into three parts: the sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls smooth muscle of the viscera (internal organs) and glands. Sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions typically function in opposition to each other.
The parasympathetic system specifically is responsible for stimulation of “rest-and-digest” activities that occur when the body is at rest while the Sympathetic system’s general action is to mobilize the body’s resources under stress; to induce the fight-or-flight response. Moving focus to the anatomy of the brain, we learned it is divided into four lobes. The frontal lobe is located at the front of the brain and is associated with reasoning, motor skills, higher level cognition, and expressive language. At the back of the frontal lobe lies the motor cortex.
This area of the brain receives information from various lobes of the brain and utilizes this information to carry out body movements. The parietal lobe is located in the middle section of the brain and is associated with processing tactile sensory information such as pressure, touch, and pain. The temporal lobe is located on the bottom section of the brain. This lobe is also the location of the primary auditory cortex, which is important for interpreting sounds and the language we hear. The hippocampus is also located in the temporal lobe, which is why this portion of the brain is also heavily associated with the formation of memories.
It is through understanding the processes and components of the brain that can help have a better understanding of sensory and perception and the difference between the two. One of the most interesting weeks thus far was covered in week 3. We learned and discussed the different sleep stages, consciousness and relation to dreams, different stages of consciousness and concepts of conditioning and learning. Firstly the definition of Consciousness is a person’s awareness of everything that is going on around them and inside their own head at any given moment. This includes thoughts, sensations, and feelings.
One state of consciousness is known as Waking consciousness and it is the time you spend awake. Experiencing states of consciousness when you are not awake are considered altered states of consciousness. Altered states of consciousness include sleep, daydreaming, meditation, or drug induced. The main altered state experienced would be sleep. Sleep is required by humans and the sleep-wake cycle is controlled through the hypothalamus, a section of the brain. There are two theories on sleep. The adaptive theory of sleep proposes that animals and humans evolved sleep patterns to avoid predators.
The restorative theory states that sleep is necessary to the physical health of the body. There are four stages of sleep. Stage one or light sleep, averaging 10 minutes and are characterized by theta brain waves. Stage two lasts 20 minutes and is marked by brief bursts of brain wave activity known as sleep spindles. Stage three and four are considered deep sleep, averaging 30 to 40 minutes in each stage, where delta brain waves are present. There are also different types of disorders to sleep. Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get a good quality sleep.
Sleep apnea is described as when a person stops breathing for nearly a half minute or more. Narcolepsy is a genetic disorder, and the person may slip suddenly into a REM sleep during the day. Also discussed were two different theories on Hypnosis. One was using hypnosis as a dissociation theory, Ernest Hilgard believed that hypnosis worked only on the immediate conscious mind of a person, while a part of that person’s mind remained aware. The other theory was social cognitive theory which assumes that people who are hypnotized are not really in an altered state.
They are role playing what is expected of them. The last week was all about memory and cognition which basically covered how people think, language and intelligence. Some forms and tools of thought processes include mental images or representations that stand in for objects or events. This form of thought process is handy for things such as remembering where you parked your car in a parking garage. Concepts are another form of thought processes which are ideas that present a class or category of objects, events, or activities. These allow you to identify new objects or events.
Formal concepts are concepts with specific rules and natural concepts are formed by real-world experience. An example of a concept that closely matches the defining characteristics of a concept are known as prototypes. Culture and upbringing impact the formation of prototypes. Discussed were ways of solving problems through logic and learned behavior but also through creativity. Creativity allows one to solve problems by combining ideas and behaviors in new ways. One kind of problem solving is Convergent thinking which is based on having only one answer, and all lines of thinking lead to that single answer.
Divergent thinking is the opposite as there can be many different ideas and possible solutions. We then covered how language is used for the purpose of communicating and that languages across the world share some common characteristics such as word order, word meanings, rules for making words, sounds within the language, communicating with others, and sentence and phrase meanings. We saw a relationship between language and thought and discussed whether language influences thought or vice versa.
Also we learned the definition of intelligence, which is the ability to understand the world, to think rationally and logically, and to use resources. From all the topics covered in the class so far, The most interesting to me is in relation to consciousness and dreaming. Is a dream just us accessing another part of our consciousness? Are you more conscious and knowledgeable when you sleep than you ever are awake? There are many controversies surrounding this field and should see increased focus and attention over the next twenty years in my opinion.