Psychology For Dummies®, 2nd Edition

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Table of Contents


About This Book

Foolish Assumptions

Icons Used In This Book

Beyond the Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I: Getting Started with Psychology

Chapter 1: Seeing the Purpose of Psychology

What Is Psychology?

Whys, hows, and whats

Building a person

Finding the function

Checking the Parts List


Finding Professional Help

Putting It into Practice

Chapter 2: Making Sense of What People Do: Psychology Essentials

Finding a Framework





Humanistic and existential




Working with the Biopsychosocial Model

Feeling out the role of the body

Thinking about the role of the mind

Observing the role of the outside world

Resolving the Nature versus Nurture Debate

Branching Off

Seeking Truth

Applying the scientific method

Developing a good theory

Researching Matters

Understanding descriptive research

Doing experimental research

Measuring one, measuring all with statistics

Relating variables: Correlation versus causation

Doing nothing is something: The placebo effect

Part II: Picking Your Brain (And Body)

Chapter 3: Hardware, Software, and Wetware

Believing in Biology

Recognizing the Body’s Control Room

Tiptoeing into the periphery

Moving to the center

Running Like a Well-Oiled Machine: Body Systems




Finding Out About Cells and Chemicals

Crossing the divide

Branching out

Activating brain change

Finding Destiny with DNA

Understanding Psychopharmacology

Easing depression

Shushing the voices


Undergoing No-Knife Brain Surgery

Chapter 4: Conscious Beings

Exploring the Horizons of Awareness

Catching some zzzzs

Understanding tired brains, slipping minds

Arriving at Work Naked: Dreams

Altering Your Consciousness

Mind on the mind (meditative states)

Getting high on conscious life

Falling into hypnosis

Chapter 5: Getting Sensitive

Building Blocks: Our Senses

The sensing process



Touching and feeling pain

Smelling and tasting

Balancing and moving

Finishing the Product: Perception

Organizing by Principles

Part III: Thinking and Feeling and Acting

Chapter 6: Thinking and Speaking

Finding Out What’s On Your Mind

Thinking Like a PC




Exploring Operations of the Mind

Focusing your attention

Packing it away in the ol’ memory box


Making decisions

Thinking You’re Pretty Smart

Considering the factors of intelligence

Getting a closer look

Adding in street smarts

Excelling with multiple intelligences

Making the grade — on a curve

Figuring Out Language


Sounds, bites, pieces, and pieces

Chapter 7: How Does That Make You Feel?

Calling on Tony for Some Motivation

Trusting your instincts

Feeling needy

Arousing interest in prime rib

Getting cheaper long distance is rewarding

Facing your opponent-process theory

Knowing who’s the boss

Launching Countless Bad Poems: Emotions

Finding out which comes first, the body or the mind?

Expressing yourself

Feeling the power of love

Acknowledging anger

Checking out happy

Discovering your smart heart: Emotional intelligence and styles

Chapter 8: Barking up the Learning Tree: Dogs, Cats, and Rats

Learning to Behave

Drooling like Pavlov’s Dogs

Conditioning responses and stimuli

Becoming extinct

Classic generalizing and discriminating

Conditioning rules!

Battling theories: Why does conditioning work?

Studying Thorndike’s Cats

Reinforcing the Rat Case

Finding the right reinforcer

Using punishment

Scheduling and timing reinforcement

Becoming Aware of Stimulus Control and Operant Generalization

Discovering Operant Discrimination

Part IV: Me, You, and Everything in Between

Chapter 9: Developing an Award-Winning Personality

Knowing Who’s a Nerd

Getting into the Mood with Freud

Having unique memories

Getting down with id, ego, and superego

Thinking about sex

Being defensive? I’m not defensive!

Going Beyond Freud

Heinz Hartmann

Robert White

Erik Erikson

Relating to Object(s)

Self Psychology

Object Relations

Learning from Others

Representing Ourselves



Getting the Magic Number 5

Chapter 10: Catching the First Boat off Isolation Island

Feeling Self-Conscious

Becoming aware of your body

Keeping it private

Showing it off

Identifying Yourself

Forging a personal identity

Carving out a social identity

Mustering up some self-esteem

Getting Attached

Realizing even monkeys get the blues

Attaching with style

Cavorting with Family and Friends

Parenting with panache

Embracing your rival: Siblings

Getting chummy

Understanding Person Perception

Explaining others

Explaining yourself

Communicating Is Easier Said Than Done

Asking questions



Asserting yourself

Chapter 11: Conforming Like a Contortionist: Social Psychology

Playing Your Part

Ganging Up in a Group


Doing better with help

Kicking back

Remaining anonymous

Thinking as one


Being Mean

Acting naturally

Being frustrated

Doing what’s learned

Lending a Helping Hand

Why help?

When to help?

Who gives and receives help?

Birds of a Feather . . . or Not

Finding out about isms

Understanding discrimination

Making contact

Chapter 12: Growing Up with Psychology

Beginning with Conception and Birth

X’s and Y’s get together . . .

Uniting and dividing all in one night

Going from Diapers to Drool

Survival instincts

Motoring about

Flexing their muscles

Scheduling time for schemata

Getting your sensorimotor running

Learning within the lines

Saying what you think

Blooming social butterflies

Getting on the Big Yellow Bus

Mastering the crayon

Being preoperational doesn’t mean you’re having surgery

In the zone

Becoming even more social

Agonizing over Adolescence

Pining over puberty

Moving away from parents

Existing as a Grown-Up

Looking at you

Connecting and working

Aging and Geropsychology

Chapter 13: Modern Abnormal Psychology

Figuring Out What’s Normal

Categorizing Symptoms and Disorders

Grasping for Reality


Struggling with other types of psychoses

Feeling Funky

Staying in the rut of major depression

Riding the waves of bipolar disorder

Being Scared

Revealing panic disorder’s causes

Treating panic disorder

Understanding Young People’s Problems

Dealing with ADHD

Living in a world of her own

Part V: Building a Better You

Chapter 14: Assessing the Problem and Testing the Psyche

Naming the Problem

Documenting history

Examining mental status

Checking Under the Hood with Psychological Testing


Relying on tests

Trusting tests

Testing Types

Clinical testing

Educational/achievement testing

Personality testing

Intelligence testing

Neuropsychological and cognitive testing

Keeping Them Honest

Chapter 15: Getting Comfy on the Couch

Finding Out What’s Really Going On

Doing Analysis

Getting practical

Keeping an eye on the ball

Being (the) patient

Getting down to analyzing

Seeing the overall process

Transferring to the New School

Chapter 16: Changing Behavior, Changing Thinking

Weeding Out Bad Behavior with Behavior Therapy

Basing therapy on learning theories

Assessing the problem

Trying different techniques

Applying Some Soap to Your Mind with Cognitive Therapy

Exploring distorted thinking

Changing the way you think

Playing Together Nicely: Behavior and Cognitive Therapies

Being Aware with Acceptance and Mindfulness-Based Therapies

You’re Okay, Now Change: Dialectical Behavior Therapy

Chapter 17: Being a Person Is Tough: Client-Centered and Existential Therapies

Client-Centered Therapy: Shining in the Therapist’s Spotlight

Understanding theory of the person

Reconnecting in therapy

Being at Peace with Your Being: Existential Therapy

Hanging out with your hang-ups: Death, guilt, and anxiety

Being in the here and now: Time and transcendence

Facing freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness

Letting go of defense mechanisms

Claiming responsibility

Chapter 18: Stress, Illness, Growth, and Strength

Stressing Out

Considering ways to think about stress

Stressing to the types

Getting sick of being worried

Coping Is No Gamble

Discovering how to cope

Finding resources

Going Beyond Stress: The Psychology of Health

Preventing illness

Making changes


Harnessing the Power of Positivity

Acquiring the Bionic Brain

Doing smart drugs

Hitting the limits of the skull

Part VI: The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Tips for Maintaining Psychological Health

Accept Yourself

Strive for Self-Determination

Stay Connected and Nurture Relationships

Lend a Helping Hand

Find Meaning and Purpose and Work Toward Goals

Find Hope and Maintain Faith

Find Flow and Be Engaged

Enjoy the Beautiful Things in Life

Struggle to Overcome; Learn to Let Go

Don’t Be Afraid to Change

Chapter 20: Ten Great Psychological Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

A Clockwork Orange

12 Monkeys

Ordinary People

Girl, Interrupted

The Silence of the Lambs



The Matrix

The Boost

Cheat Sheet

Title page image


So you’ve bought Psychology For Dummies. How does that make you feel? Hopefully, you’re feeling pretty good. And why shouldn’t you be? You’re going to discover all kinds of interesting information about the basics of human behavior and mental processes.

Everybody is interested in psychology. People are fascinating, and that includes you! Humans often defy explanation and evade prediction. Figuring people out can be pretty hard. Just when you think that you’ve figured someone out, bang, he surprises you. Now I know that some of you may be thinking, “Actually, I’m a pretty good judge of people. I’ve got a handle on things.” If that’s the case, that’s great! Some folks do seem to have a more intuitive understanding of people than others. For the rest of us though, there’s psychology.

About This Book

Psychology For Dummies is an introduction to the field of psychology. I tried to write this book using plain English and everyday examples with the hope that it will be real and applicable to everyday life. I’ve always felt that tackling a new subject is more enjoyable when it has real-world importance. Psychology is full of jargon, so much jargon that it even has its own dictionary, aptly named The Dictionary of Psychology (Penguin Reference Books). This book is for those of you who are interested in what people do, think, say, and feel, but want the information presented in a clear and easily understandable manner.

warning_bomb.eps The information in this reference is not intended to substitute for expert psychological, healthcare, or medical advice or treatment; it is designed to help you make informed choices. Because each individual is unique, a psychologist, healthcare practitioner, or physician must diagnose conditions and supervise treatments for each individual health problem. If an individual is under a psychologist’s or physician’s care and receives advice contrary to information provided in this reference, the psychologist’s or physician’s advice should be followed, as it is based on the unique characteristics of that individual.

Conventional language for psychologists can sound like gibberish to someone who has never had a psychology class. As I state earlier in this chapter, I try to stay away from jargon and technical language in this book. You may come across an attempt at a joke or two. I tend to take a lighter approach to life, but sometimes people don’t get my sense of humor. If I try to crack a joke in the text and it bombs, please don’t be too harsh. I’m a psychologist after all, and I don’t think we’re known for our sense of humor. I hope I don’t come across as insensitive or cavalier either — that is certainly not my intention.

Sometimes, talking about psychology can be pretty dry, so I try to liven things up with examples and personal stories. I make no references to any patients I’ve ever had in therapy. If there appears to be a resemblance, it’s purely coincidental. In fact, I took great care in preserving the privacy and confidentiality of the people I have worked with.

Foolish Assumptions

You can find a lot of psychology books out there. Most of them are either too technical and specialized or cover too narrow an area of psychology. Here are some of the reasons why I think Psychology For Dummies is the book for you:

check.png You’ve got a lot of questions about people.

check.png You’ve got a lot of questions about yourself.

check.png You’re thinking about going into the field of psychology.

check.png You’re currently studying psychology or a related discipline, such as social work or counseling.

check.png You’re interested in psychology but don’t have the time or the money to take a psychology course.

check.png You’ve got people all figured out, and you want to see if I’m on track.

Icons Used In This Book

Throughout this book, you find icons in the margins. They’re there to help you easily find certain types of information. Here’s a list of the icons you see:

freeassociation.eps When you see this one, I’m asking you to engage in a little psychological experimentation. In other words, you’re the guinea pig when you run across this icon. What would psychology be without its guinea pigs? Don’t worry — the experiments are harmless. No shocks, I promise.

tip.eps When you see this icon, I’m trying to emphasize a bit of information that may come in handy someday.

warning_bomb.eps With this creative piece of art, I’m trying to alert you to information that is a “must know” if you’re going to learn psychology.

remember.eps Don’t forget it. When you see this icon I am reminding you of the highlights from that section. It flags the “if you learn just one thing from this chapter” type of stuff, so pay attention.

technicalstuff.eps This icon flags discussions that may rise above the level you need to basically understand the topic at hand. These sections can safely be skipped without harming your comprehension of the main point.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the chapters in this print book, you'll find lots more Psychology for Dummies information on the Web at For free!

There’s just too much good information out there, and I want you to learn as much as you can about psychology. But there was only so much space I had to work with in print. So I put the rest online for you.

Check out the eCheat Sheets for quick access to information about the differences between psychologists and other mental health professionals and coping with psychological crises.

You’ll also find three extra online “chapters” — full articles on the following topics:

check.png “Ten Ways the Internet and Psychology are Intersecting” deals with the psychology of the Internet and cyberpsychology.

check.png “Applying Psychology for a Better World” covers behavioral economics and forensic psychology.

check.png “Exploring Human Differences: Culture, Gender, and Sexuality” is a look at the differences that make us unique as individuals and groups.

For fun, you can also take a couple of mock tests to check out your intelligence and personality!

Where to Go from Here

Psychology is a broad field. I think you’ll find that the organization of this book lets you check out what you’re interested in and leave the rest of the stuff behind, if you want.

Use the table of contents and index to see what grabs your interest. If you’re new to the subject, by all means start with Chapter 1 and go. But you don’t have to read it cover to cover. Kind of like a cafeteria — take what you like and leave the rest.

But hey, if I can write an entire book on psychology, I think you can read an entire book on this stuff. Besides, I think you’ll like it. Psychology is a great subject. Enjoy!

Part I

Getting Started with Psychology


pt_webextra_bw.TIF For Dummies can help you get started with lots of subjects. Visit to learn more.

In this part…

check.png Understand what psychology is and get an overview of the field.

check.png Get in touch with your inner armchair psychologist by exploring the concept that we are all “acting” psychologists, analyzing and assessing human behavior every day.

check.png Find out about the professional practice of psychology with an introduction to its scientific nature and the different approaches psychologists use to investigate and understand people.

check.png Get to know the ethical guidelines that psychologists are expected to follow during treatment and in applied psychology.

Chapter 1

Seeing the Purpose of Psychology

In This Chapter

arrow Defining psychology

arrow Understanding how people work

arrow Figuring out how psychology can help

Most people I know have a certain idea in mind when they think about psychology.

I’m a psychologist. But what’s that? Someone who knows and studies psychology, but is that all there is to it? When I get together with family and friends during the holidays, it seems like they still don’t know exactly what I do for a living.

Some of my patients have said, “All you do is talk. Can’t you prescribe some medicine for me?” Still others grant me seemingly supernatural powers of knowledge and healing. I wrote this book to clear up some misconceptions about psychology.

What Is Psychology?

What are some of the ideas that come to mind when people think about the topic of psychology? It depends on whom you ask. Sometimes, I imagine myself as a guest on a television talk show. I’m bombarded by questions from the audience that I can’t answer. My heart starts to pound. I begin to sweat. I start to stand up so that I can run off the set, but then something comes to me that keeps me in my seat. I imagine asking the people in the audience what they think psychology is and why they think a psychologist can answer questions about psychology.

Whys, hows, and whats

freeassociation.eps Before I provide a definition of psychology, I want you to take a few minutes to jot down some of your ideas on what psychology is.

Why did this book catch your eye?

Are you looking for answers? Looking for advice?

What’s the question you’re asking here?

“Why do people do what they do?” is the question that lies beneath many of the other questions people ask psychologists. Whether you’re a professional psychologist, a researcher, or a layperson, this one simple question seems to be the root issue.

Here are some examples of the motivating questions that drive the discipline of psychology:

check.png Why did that shooting happen?

check.png Why can’t I stop feeling sad?

check.png Why did she break up with me?

check.png Why are people so mean?

Basically, psychology is a branch of knowledge that focuses on people, either as individuals or in groups.

Other fundamental questions of psychology center on the “how” of things:

check.png How can I get excited about my marriage again?

check.png How can I get my 2-year-old to stop throwing tantrums?

check.png How does the mind work?

Still other questions deal with the “whats”:

check.png What are emotions?

check.png What is mental illness?

check.png What is intelligence?

These why, how, and what questions comprise the intellectual and philosophical core of psychology.

Therefore, psychology can be defined as the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. Psychology attempts to uncover what people do along with why and how they do it.

Building a person

When I try to imagine all the reasons that people do what they do and figure out how various behaviors and mental processes come to pass, I often run with a “mad-scientist” approach. I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to answer the what and why and how questions would be to build a person. Well, not actually build one like Dr. Frankenstein did — out of parts and brains and electricity — but to create a blueprint of a person’s mind and behavior.

In therapy, when people try to explain a particular behavior or situation to me, I often say, “Can you make it happen, now? Can you show me?” For example, a parent may be telling me how his child hits him when he tells the child to do something. And I’ll say, “Show me. Make it happen.” The most common response is a puzzled or disturbed look on the parent’s face.

The point is, if they can cause it to happen, then they can un-cause it to happen, too. And that means they understand why and how it’s happening. This is a type of reverse psychological engineering for figuring out the “why” and “how” of human behavior.

I envision psychology reaching a pinnacle when it can list all the ingredients of the human mind and all the determinants of behavior. Maybe the field can figure it all out through that reverse engineering process mentioned earlier. Or, at the very least, maybe psychology will figure out people, and all the information that experts gather can be stored or formulated into an algorithm for making people that, one day, a super-intelligent robotic life form can utilize to re-create the human species thousands of years after it becomes extinct. I did say mad scientist, right?

Yes, this is the kind of blueprint or overlay I use to understand what psychology is: What are the ingredients of a person — mind, thoughts, emotions, perceptions, dreams, fears, personality, and brain — and what is the purpose of each ingredient? I’m not alone. Many psychologists engage in reverse engineering of the mind and behavior by looking at all the parts and how they work together to create . . . well, you.

Finding the function

A first principle of my mad-scientist vision of psychology is that building a human requires you to know what the person’s function is. After all, engineers don’t build things without knowing what they’re supposed to do. Only with a purpose in mind can you know what to build and what features and materials need to be considered.

So, what’s the function — the purpose — of a human being?

Like all other carbon-based living organisms on planet Earth, human beings are “staying alive” machines. (Admit it; you instantly thought of the Bee Gees, didn’t you, or John Travolta in that white bell-bottom suit?) I’m not saying there is no meaning to life. Quite the contrary; I’m saying that the function of life is to be alive, to stay alive, and to perpetuate life. What’s the meaning of it all? Wrong book; try Philosophy For Dummies or Religion For Dummies.

The field of psychology concerns itself with the study of the “how” of life — the behavior and mental processes of being alive, staying alive, and perpetuating life.

Checking the Parts List

From a psychological standpoint, what does the human machine need in order to fulfill its function of existing, staying alive, and perpetuating? Well, if you’ve ever put together a do-it-yourself piece of furniture, you know that the instructions usually start out with a parts list.

Psychological science has already put together quite an impressive psychological parts list:

check.png Bodies (and all the subparts — see Chapter 3 for more)

• Brains

• Hearts

• Hormones

• Genes

• Motor skills

check.png Minds (and all the subparts — see Chapters 4–8)

• Consciousness

• Sensations and perceptions, including vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch, balance, and pain

• Thinking, which manages attending, remembering, forming concepts, problem solving, deciding, and intelligence

• Communicating, including verbal and nonverbal expressions such as body language, gestures, speech, and language

• Motivations

• Emotions

check.png Personality (see Chapter 9)

check.png Gender and sexuality (see the free online article "Exploring Human Differences: Culture, Gender, and Sexuality" at

check.png Social skills and relationship skills (see Chapters 10 and 11)

Just like putting together that desk from IKEA seemed a lot easier on paper than it actually turned out to be, assembling this list of psychological parts is daunting as well. Psychologists are still trying to understand each component in relative isolation and figure out how they all fit together. It’s the crux of what remains a formidable task in developing a comprehensive human science.


Imagine that I’ve assembled my human being, switched it on, and let it loose to go about its primary function of surviving. I think I’ve equipped it with all it needs in order to survive.

But then it happens — change. That’s right, something unexpected happens, and my human begins floundering, struggling, and verging on failing to achieve its primary function. How could I have forgotten that the world is not a static place?

My creation is dealing with the environment in ways that I should have anticipated. So I go back to the drawing board to add the following functions and abilities (yep, more parts):

check.png Learning: Ability to learn from the environment

check.png Context: Ability to grow and develop in response to the environment

check.png Adaption: Ability to cope with change, stress, and illness

Humans need parts and procedures.

Whew, this is getting complicated.

Finding Professional Help

Often, a person’s parts are all assembled, and he’s learning, growing, adapting, and adjusting to the best of his individual ability — but something’s “off” or he’s just not functioning properly. This is where physicians, psychotherapists, counselors, social workers, educators, and consultants enter the picture.

The tools and procedures that health care providers use to diagnose, fix, and maintain people include the following and other areas of research and practice:

check.png Diagnostics: Among the specialties of diagnostics are abnormal psychology (covered in Chapter 13) and psychological assessment and testing (see Chapter 14).

check.png Biomedical therapies: Treatment for various psychological conditions may include medication and/or physiological therapies (see Chapter 3).

check.png Psychological therapy and intervention: Psychoanalysis, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and humanistic therapies (see Chapters 15–18).

check.png Applied psychology: Using psychological science to solve a wide range of human problems and issues. (See the free online article "Applying Psychology for a Better World" at

Putting It into Practice

Psychology is the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes. In case you were wondering (and worried), I am not engaged in an actual “build a human” project. But I’d have a very solid foundation and a good blueprint to get started if I ever decided to try. Each of a person’s parts, processes, and sources of help represents a chapter or section of Psychology For Dummies, 2nd Edition.

Psychology began as a type of philosophy, a mostly subjective, speculative, and theoretical way of thinking about human beings. But, as a result of the enormous contributions of such people as William James, Wilhem Wundt, Edward Thorndike, B. F. Skinner, Albert Bandura, Jean Piaget, Phillip Zimbardo, Robert Sternberg, Albert Ellis, and many, many others, it has matured over the last 100 years into an objective science. Psychology’s experimentation methods and statistical analyses continue to grow increasingly sophisticated.

Psychology has evolved from a study of intangible thought and consciousness to the study of material subject matter — as in brains and test scores — thanks to modern technological advances such as psychological testing instruments, EEG, and MRI.

This fascinating field continues to mature as its practitioners become more sophisticated in their understanding of how the environment and human differences (such as culture and ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation) impact the mind and behavior.