Why It Matters: Psychological Foundations

An illustration shows the outlines of two human heads facing toward one another, with several photographs of people spread across the background.

Figure 1. Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behavior.[1]

Clive Wearing is an accomplished musician who lost his ability to form new memories when he became sick at the age of 46.[2] While he can remember how to play the piano perfectly, he cannot remember what he ate for breakfast just an hour ago (Sacks, 2007). James Wannerton experiences a taste sensation that is associated with the sound of words.[3] His former girlfriend’s name tastes like rhubarb (Mundasad, 2013). John Nash is a brilliant mathematician and Nobel Prize winner.[4] However, while he was a professor at MIT, he would tell people that the New York Times contained coded messages from extraterrestrial beings that were intended for him. He also began to hear voices and became suspicious of the people around him. Soon thereafter, Nash was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to a state-run mental institution (O’Connor & Robertson, 2002). Nash was the subject of the 2001 movie A Beautiful Mind.

Why did these people have these experiences? How does the human brain work? And what is the connection between the brain’s internal processes and people’s external behaviors? This course will introduce you to various ways that the field of psychology has explored these questions. Psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes—in this course, we will examine the connection between thoughts and actions and better understand how and why people think and behave.

This module will introduce you to what psychology is and what psychologists do. You’ll learn the basic history of the discipline and about the major domains and subdivisions that exist within modern psychology. Lastly, you’ll consider what it means to study psychology and what career options are available for those who do.


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  1. Image credit "background": modification of work by Nattachai Noogure; credit "top left": modification of work by U.S. Navy; credit "top middle-left": modification of work by Peter Shanks; credit "top middle-right": modification of work by "devinf"/Flickr; credit "top right": modification of work by Alejandra Quintero Sinisterra; credit "bottom left": modification of work by Gabriel Rocha; credit "bottom middle-left": modification of work by Caleb Roenigk; credit "bottom middle-right": modification of work by Staffan Scherz; credit "bottom right": modification of work by Czech Provincial Reconstruction Team.
  2. How can musicians keep playing despite amnesia? https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-15791973
  3. A beautiful World: Synesthesia and tasting the London Underground. https://www.mprnews.org/story/2015/02/02/a-beautiful-world-james-wannerton
  4. https://www.britannica.com/biography/John-Nash