Glossary - Growth & Change

30-Second Psychology: The 50 Most Thought-provoking Psychology Theories, Each Explained in Half a Minute - Christian Jarrett 2011

Growth & Change

behaviourist Someone who subscribes to behaviourism, a school of thought that believes psychology should concern itself only with visible, and therefore verifiable, behaviour, rather than invisible, and therefore unverifiable, thought processes. This approach contends that behaviour is mainly influenced by environmental stimuli.

egocentric The inability to see a situation from someone else’s perspective. According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, this takes place during the pre-operational stage, between two and six. He devised the ’three mountains’ task’, in which a child is asked to draw model mountains from the point of view of a movable doll, to show that children cannot imagine what things look like from other people’s perspective.

environmental factors Most psychologists nowadays believe that people’s development is shaped by a combination of genetic and environmental factors (the nature/nurture argument). Chief among the environmental factors are: family background, diet, exposure to disease, educational opportunities and social milieu. All can have a significant impact on a child’s development, although it is also clear that someone brought up in an imperfect environment can develop normally and lead a happy and fulfilling life.

epistemology The study of the theoretical foundations of knowledge. It is mainly concerned with finding out what knowledge is and how it is acquired, and exploring how it relates to major life issues, such as the concept of truth.

hypothetical Assumed or theoretical, not proven. A hypothetical scenario is one that assumes certain unproven factors, which may (or may not) be proven correct through scientific observation. Most scientific theories start off as hypotheses that are over time proven true.

internalization In developmental psychology, the way a child acquires knowledge through social interaction with another person (usually a parent). First the child experiences a situation with another person, then re-experiences the situation within him/herself, until it becomes part of the child’s body of knowledge. This process is thought to apply to functions such as language, memory and abstract thought.

methodology A set of theories, rules and procedures applied to a particular field of study or other endeavour. What is appropriate in one discipline may not be in another.

moral development The process through which children learn the difference between right and wrong. Jean Piaget believed that children initially judge good and bad by the consequences of people’s actions (such as, did anyone get hurt? Was anything broken?), which then changes to a consideration of people’s intentions (e.g. did they mean to hurt someone/break something?). Kohlberg went further and divided moral development into six stages, the highest of which only 10 per cent of adults achieve.

neuroscience The study of the nervous system, including the brain functions and how they relate to human behaviour. Ultimately the task of neuroscientists is to discover the functions of all parts of the brain, what mental processes they perform and how they are affected by external stimuli. Once a branch of biology, it is now regarded as an interdisciplinary science which covers several other disciplines, such as psychology, medicine and computer science.

psychoanalyst Someone who treats emotional disorders using the techniques of psychoanalytic theory that were developed by Sigmund Freud in the 1890s. Training involves four years’ study, during which time the students themselves are obliged to undergo analysis.

schema A preconceived block of knowledge that helps us cope with unknown aspects of the world. At its best, it means we don’t have to learn everything from scratch, such as how to drive a vehicle; we simply apply our ’driving schema’ to any vehicle. At its worst, it means we presume knowledge we don’t have and make prejudiced judgments, such as not stopping in the street to talk to people because we assume they are begging.

stereotypical Characterized by stereotypes; a way of thinking which involves stereotypes. Stereotypes are generalizations that are applied to a group of people without any consideration of individual variations. Thus, the idea that Jewish people are only interested in making money is a stereotypical view that doesn’t allow for the fact that many Jewish people couldn’t care less about making money.

surrogate A person or thing that acts as a substitute for someone or something else. The term is often applied to a woman or man who takes the place of a child’s mother or father.