Psychology Topics (5 Described For You)

I describe psychology as the scientific study of behavior and mental processes. In this article, we discuss the history of psychology, including some of its most famous practitioners. We also outline several topics in psychology: clinical, research, social, and learning. Uncover some of the mysteries of psychology.

When we hear the word ‘Psychology’, most picture a leather couch where we talk about our feelings or a researcher with a clipboard watching our behavior. Psychology is so much more than that. Psychology weaves through our everyday lives. From a treatment for Bipolar Disorder to understanding how our neighbor’s political opinions shape our own thoughts, Psychology affects almost every aspect of our day. Take a look at these Psychology Topics described for you.

History of Psychology

Psychology is coined as ‘the scientific study of behavior and mental processes’. While its prominence has been mostly confined to the 20th and 21st centuries, the beginnings of the study can be dated back to ancient civilizations. The debate of nature vs. nurture began in ancient times and still continues to be argued over today. Later, Rene Descartes introduced the idea of dualism, meaning the mind and body are separate entities. In its early development, Psychology was seen as a branch of Philosophy that focused on the human mind. It wasn’t until 1879 that German scientist Wilhelm Wundt created the first laboratory dedicated solely to the study of Psychology. 

Even after Psychology had become specialized as a study, its acceptance in the scientific community wasn’t always without question. Psychology was the first scientific study whose focus wasn’t something tangible or observable. The mind and human behavior is somewhat subjective in its interpretation. As a result, other members of the scientific community raised concerns about how it could be studied and how valid the results of study could be. In the mid-late 20th century, the Psychological community found ways to set specific regulations for experiments and research to increase their standard to the level the other concentrations found acceptable. This lead to the full acceptance and growth of Psychological science.  

Famous Psychologists

Who got Psychology to where it is today? Who made those famous discoveries and conducted the most well known experiments? Take a look at the most influential psychologists in history:

  • Wilhelm Wundt: Wundt created the first research laboratory dedicated to the study of Psychology in 1879. Wundt used his background in Physiology to focus on trying to organize the mind in a measurable way.
  • Sigmund Freud: Freud made the most notable and well known advancements in the understanding of Clinical and Abnormal Psychology. Freud discovered the disconnection between mental illness and physical ailment. He also asserted that cultural differences can have an affect on Psychology and behavior.
  • Ivan Pavlov: Pavlov is most famous for his work that outlined the framework of Classical Conditioning. For example, his work with salivating dogs and a dinner bell became one of the most famous experiments in history. 
  • Erik Erikson: Erikson focused on the progression of Developmental Psychology over the lifespan. He developed the theory of Psychosocial Development from childhood into adulthood.  
  • B.F. Skinner: Skinner worked in behaviorism, developing the theories of token economies and behavior modification. Much of his work is still used today. Skinner is best known for his work with rats in Operant Conditioning. 
  • Jean Piaget: Piaget is a french researcher who focused on Clinical and Developmental Psychology of children. He created the theory of Cognitive Development and studied how it affected children over time.
  • Albert Bandura: Bandura coined the ‘Social Learning Theory’ that explained the importance of observational learning in social development. 

Clinical Psychology Topics

Clinical Psychology is the study and treatment of mental, emotional, or behavioral illnesses. This Psychology topic of study gets much of the limelight due to its real life effect on people. While you may never encounter a need to learn about classical conditioning, clinical issues like depression or anxiety have a vast effect on our society today. Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults nationwide, making them the most common in the U.S. Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in adults. These disorders are extremely common, and are equally treatable with medication and behavioral therapy.

There are many different facets of Clinical Psychology. One direction is the medical route. Psychiatry is a concentration in medical school to become a Doctor of Mental Health. Psychiatrists can diagnose and prescribe treatment or medication to those with mental or emotional illness. Since they are the only type of clinical psychologist with a medical degree, they are the only ones that can diagnose and prescribe.  

One step down from Psychiatry is the Clinical Psychologist. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication or treatment, but they carry out many of the treatments prescribed. They often administer cognitive-behavioral therapy or psychotherapy to patients. Clinical Psychologists typically earn a PhD in Psychology or clinical Psychology. Some can practice with a master’s degree in some specific areas.  

The most common branch of Clinical Psychology is the Mental Health Counselor. Patients can see counselors on their own volition, without a prescription. Counselors can help with a range of struggles from PTSD to marriage and family counseling. This type of therapy centers around face-to-face meetings and incorporates guided talking through issues and solutions. Mental health counselors earn a masters in counseling to become licensed.

Learning Psychology Topics

The Psychology of Learning is a concentration that relates to far more people than they realize. This studies the effect of unconscious experiences on our behavior. Many times, these methods of learning have lasting impacts on our life and behavior without our realizing it. Have you ever wondered how you developed that irrational fear of butterflies? There are 3 main types of learning Psychology topics.

Classical Conditioning

One type of learning we encounter is Classical Conditioning. This occurs when an event causes a previously neutral stimulus to become associated with something either positive or negative. For example, Cherry Street might be a neutral stimulus. While riding a bike, you accidentally crash because an angry dog barked at you. Your brain now associates Cherry Street with the fear and pain you felt from the bike accident. Even though Cherry Street didn’t cause the fall, you now have a negative response to that previously neutral stimulus.

 Pavlov created the most famous experiment in this area. Pavlov found that dogs salivated when he placed food in front of them. He began ringing a bell as the fed the dogs each day. After a while, the dogs would salivate to just the sound of the bell. He was able to turn the neutral stimulus, the bell, into a reactive stimulus through Classical Conditioning.

Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is another type of learning. This method shapes future behavior through reinforcement or punishment. Operant conditioning trains puppies to sit and teaches children to say please and thank you every day. Some operant learning is implemented to target specific behaviors, while some are reinforced or punished by natural forces. If we make a rude remark at lunch and it receives a negative reaction, that behavior was punished. We then learn not to continue that behavior. If we tell a joke, and everyone laughs, that behavior was socially reinforced.

B.F. Skinner made the most progress in this area. He trained rats to pull a lever for food. At first, the rats pulled the level by accident. The food would come out as a reinforcing reward. Eventually, the rats pulled the level on purpose, encouraged by the reward they learned would come. Operant conditioning taught the rats through reinforcement of behavior.

Observational Learning

The simplest form of Psychological learning is Observational Learning. The phrase ‘monkey-see-monkey-do’ applies perfectly here. Observational learning is acquiring the knowledge or ability to carry out a new task simply by watching someone else do it. This type of learning is extremely common in childhood. Kids learn many behaviors by copying adults around them. 

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Social Psychology Topics

Social Psychology is the scientific study of how society and other human beings affect our minds, perceptions, and actions. This Psychology topic dives into the many strong influences we each face daily on a social level. From peer pressure as an adolescent to the need to conform as an adult, society tries to direct our path everyday. 

Development of self

Oddly enough, social situations in development and later in life greatly affect how we create our sense of self. If you join an art class and struggle, but you excel on a soccer field, the outcomes of those social situations will begin to mold who you see yourself to be. You will most likely begin to gravitate towards what you’re good at. Once you begin to think of yourself as an athlete, you might start to prioritize socializing with other athletes. These associations will shape your thoughts and eventually develop your identity as a person. 

Interaction by Society

In addition to molding how we see yourselves, society and social situations also have great impact on how we see the world. Pressures from peers and those around can change thought patterns and develop either prejudices or preferences. For example, if you grow up in a predominantly high income area, opinions and norms around you could lead to prejudice against those in lower income levels. The societal groups you belong to create negative feelings towards out groups. Societal pressures are not always bad, however. Many times, the pressure to conform keeps us in line. For example, if everyone around us is waiting patiently in line at the grocery store, we are less likely to try to cut in line or lash out about wait times. Good behavior pressures others around to be good.

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Research Psychology Topics

Where did all those knowledge come from? How did we find out that behavioral therapy can help PTSD or that reinforcement can alter future behavior? Research is the catalyst that starts it all. Everything we know about human behavior and how it relates to the mind was discovered through those who conducted research for answers to their questions. 

Research Methods

Scientific research in psychology falls into four main types:


  • Case Study: A case study is the evaluation of a single case to determine an outcome. This research method studies extremely rare occurrences that cannot be replicated intentionally. One famous example is Phineas Gage. Gage was using explosives to clear land for a new railroad. An iron shot through his head when an explosive detonated prematurely. Evaluation of Gage showed how damage to the frontal lobe can affect personality. 
  • Naturalistic Observation: This type of research yields true data, but is often difficult to convert into a conclusion. In naturalistic observation, researchers go into an unaltered social setting and record data by watching. For example, a researcher who wants to know if men or women like chocolate ice cream more, he might go to an ice cream shop and record how many of each gender order chocolate ice cream. The downfall of this method is the difficulty in attributing the results to the conclusion. Men might truly prefer chocolate ice cream more than women, but the results could be skewed by a shortage of other flavors or an unbalanced ratio of male to female customers. 


  • Survey: Participants get a list of specific questions to learn information. For example, a survey about Presidential approval might be given to a range of participants to determine if there are any indicators, such as race or gender, on approval rating. While surveys are an extremely common and easy type of research , is can also be unreliable. Questions might not be answered truthfully and results can often be skewed in presentation.
  • Laboratory Observation/Experiments: Laboratory experiments solve many issues in research. In this method, researchers will bring participants into a lab and have them complete tasks or simply observe their behavior. This method is especially helpful in creating a specific scenario needed for data collection.  However, some data can be unreliable due to the unnatural nature of a laboratory setting. 

Through these methods, researchers attempt to answer questions and discover unknowns about the mind and human behavior. While no method is perfect, each has helped scientists move closer to understanding human Psychology. 

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Psychology in Your Life

Psychology and human nature has fascinated minds throughout history. From the way we act in social settings to how our brains function after injury, there are many topics scientists have helped shed light on. While we know more than we ever have before, there is still a great deal to learn about ourselves, our world, and our minds.  These Psychology topics can help us understand what we know and what more there is to discover!  

David A. Smith at Dave4Math

David Smith (Dave) has a B.S. and M.S. in Mathematics and has enjoyed teaching precalculus, calculus, linear algebra, and number theory at both the junior college and university levels for over 20 years. David is the founder and CEO of Dave4Math.

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