What are the 4 major goals of psychology?

Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and behavior. While it’s possible to understand what psychology is, many people are still not so sure what psychology does. What is it for? What are its objectives? 

In this article we are going to answer the question ‘’What are the 4 major goals of psychology?’’ we will present the main objectives of psychology and the methodological tools it uses to carry it out.

What are the 4 major goals of psychology?

The four major goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and change behavior.

Answering the question “What is psychology?” Is not as simple as we might think.

Most contemporary psychologists would agree that psychology is the science of behavior and mental processes, but this general definition doesn’t reflect the breadth, depth, or passion of the field.

Psychologists seek to explain how we perceive, learn, remember, solve problems, communicate, feel, and relate to other people, from birth to death, in intimate relationships and in groups.

They try to understand measure and explain the nature of intelligence, motivation, and personality, as well as individual and group differences. Psychologists can focus on mental and emotional disturbances, personal and social problems, psychotherapy, or improving group morale and relationships.

Psychology as a science

Previously we defined psychology as the science of behavior and mental processes. The keyword in this definition is science. Psychologists rely on the scientific method when trying to answer questions.

They obtain data from careful and systematic observation; they develop theories that try to explain what they have observed; they make new predictions based on those theories and then systematically test those predictions through additional observations and experiments to determine if they are correct.

In this way, like all scientists, psychologists use the scientific method to describe, explain, predict and, in the long run, gain some degree of control over what they study.

1.   Describe

It’s the basic goal of all sciences. Psychologists collect data about behavior and mental functioning to structure a coherent and accurate picture of these phenomena. This data collection raises the problem of measurement. Whenever possible, it’s directly observed or measured.

When direct strategies are impossible, or extremely difficult, indirect tactics considered less exact are used such as interviews, questionnaires, etc. Once a phenomenon has been accurately described, psychologists generally attempt to explain it.

Let’s start with this sample:

For example, consider the issue of men, women, and aggression. Many people believe that males are naturally more aggressive than females. Others claim that children learn to be aggressive because our society and culture encourages – and indeed requires – them to be combative and even violent.

How would psychologists approach this issue? First, they would try to find out whether men and women actually differ in aggressive behavior.

Several investigations have addressed this question and the evidence seems conclusive: men are more aggressive than women, especially when it comes to physical aggression.

2.    Explain

As expected, psychologists are also interested in explaining behavior, it’s not enough to just describe it.

Why do people behave the way they do? What factors contribute to development, personality, social behavior, and mental health problems?

Throughout the history of psychology, many theories have emerged to help explain various aspects of human behavior.

A few examples of such approaches include classical conditioning and attachment theories. Some theories focus on small aspects of human behavior, while other theories were created to explain the broad spectrum of human behavior.

Sample:

Girls and women may make nasty comments or yell, but boys and men are much more likely to fight. After establishing that there are sexual differences in physical assault and having described those differences, the next step is to explain them.

Various explanations are possible.

Psychophysiologists would likely attribute these differences to genetics or body chemistry; developmental psychologists may consider the ways in which a child is taught to behave “like a boy” or “like a girl”; and social psychologists can explain the differences in terms of cultural norms, which require males to “defend themselves” and teach that physical aggression is not “female.”

Each of these explanations is presented as a theory about the causes of sexual differences in aggression; each tries to extract a few principles from a large number of facts. And each theory allows us to generate new hypotheses, or predictions, about the phenomenon in question.

3.   Prediction

If a hypothesis is correct, you should be able to discover what will happen in related situations.

Sample:

If gender differences in aggression are due to men having higher levels of testosterone than women, then we might predict that extremely violent men must have higher levels of testosterone than men who are generally not.

If gender differences in aggression are due to men having higher levels of testosterone than women, then we could predict that extremely violent men must have higher levels of testosterone than generally non-violent men.

If sex differences in aggression arise from early education, then we might predict that there must be fewer sex differences in aggression in families where parents don’t emphasize gender differences.

Finally, if sex differences in aggression reflect cultural norms, then we could predict that the differences should be small in societies that don’t prohibit girls and women from fighting or in which physical aggression is considered abnormal and inappropriate for both genders.

4.   Change

It’s also another powerful test of a hypothesis. The conditions that are supposed to cause the behavior, or the mental process, can be altered or controlled to see if the phenomenon changes accordingly.

Each of these predictions or hypotheses can be tested through research, and the results should indicate whether one theory is better than another at explaining known facts and predicting new facts. If the empirical evidence supports one or more of the theories, it should be possible to control aggressive behavior to a greater degree than it was before.

A research team tested this hypothesis with a war game on a computer.

When the researcher presented participants in such a way that it was clear who was male or female, women played less aggressively than men; however, when participants were said to be anonymous to both the researchers and other opponents, the women played just as aggressively as the men.

The example that we have followed in the explanation of the different objectives of psychology, can clearly result in an absurd reduction of the factors that affect the appearance of aggressive behavior in men.

However, we must bear in mind that although each psychologist strives to understand only some aspects of behavior, they hope to be able to compile a harmonious body of information that can explain all behavior and mental functioning.

Eventually, the knowledge obtained systematically produces laws and theories. In psychology and other sciences, the laws discover regular and predictable relationships. Theories provide explanations for experimental findings or data.

Theories serve two roles: they provide the understanding that is the ultimate goal of all research, and they stimulate further research, as theories have to be tested.

Study methods in Psychology

There are many efforts being made to convert the chaos of psychological knowledge into a well-organized, systematized and empirically validated theoretical corpus, meeting the criteria of the scientific method.

For this, psychology uses a series of study methods that allow psychologists to approach the questions that are posed in the most optimal way and with the least number of biases, in order to build knowledge that will serve as the basis for new hypotheses.

Typically, research methods in psychology are divided into three main families. The correlational, descriptive and the experimental method, each with its advantages and disadvantages.

Although we will not look at the entire family of study methods, we will specify some methodologies that are particularly important for the study of psychology.

1. Correlational method

When we speak of correlation, we refer to the association between two variables. A correlation indicates how many times we observe a phenomenon A, we can simultaneously observe a phenomenon B.

For example, if we take the variables “socioeconomic level” and “academic success” we can ask ourselves if these two correlate, that is if the appearance of one predicts the appearance of the other.

If, after examining a sample, we find that an increase in one is associated with an increase in another, we could speak of a positive correlation.

A correlation indicates an association that is predictable but doesn’t provide an explanation for why it happens. Psychologists use the correlational method to obtain information about phenomena that are impossible to reproduce under laboratory conditions.

2. Descriptive method

Psychologists choose this method of study when we want to describe a phenomenon as it occurs, thoroughly and exhaustively in all its aspects. It consists of any attempt to determine or identify what the phenomenon is without going into the why, when or how.

It’s the method we choose when we want to answer questions such as: “What attitudes do people over 65 in rural settings have towards homosexuality?” Through surveys, case studies and systematic observation, it’s possible to answer non-quantifiable questions.

Likewise, it allows a first approach to a question that can be more thoroughly addressed through correlational or experimental studies

3. Experimental method

Within the study methods of psychology, the experimental method aims to elucidate what is the cause-consequence relationship through the manipulation of one of the variables. These are called laboratory studies. This method has the advantage of being objective, the researcher’s preconceptions have little weight on the results and hardly generate biases.

For this reason, it’s the method par excellence if we want to obtain safe, reliable and accurate data when the phenomenon to be studied allows it.

In experimental studies, the researcher modifies a variable that he controls, called the independent variable, to observe changes in a second variable, the dependent variable.

For example, if we want to observe the causal relationship between the administration of a drug and the disappearance of symptoms, we will use the experimental method of study.

By dividing the sample into two groups, where one is administered a drug and the other a placebo, if we measure the symptoms at various points of the investigation we will obtain experimental data about how the dependent variable “symptoms” disappears when we introduce the independent variable ” drug”.

So, what are the 4 major goals of psychology?

Like the science of behavior and mental processes, psychology is an extremely broad discipline. It seeks to describe and explain every aspect of human thought, feelings, perceptions, and actions.

It was not until the late 19th century that psychology emerged as a formal discipline. Throughout its relatively short history, a number of key people and perspectives have helped shape its directions.

As a science, psychology relies on the scientific method to find answers to questions. This method includes careful observation and data collection, efforts to explain observations by developing theories about relationships and causes, and systematic testing of hypotheses (or predictions) to rule out theories that are not valid.

FAQS: What are the 4 major goals of psychology?

What is the most important goal of psychology?

The most important goal of psychology is to control behavior, to modify it to make it positive. In this way, improve people’s quality of life.

What are the five main goals of psychology?

The study of psychology has five basic goals:

Describe 
Explain 
Predict 
Control
Improve

What are the 4 types of psychology?

There are many types of psychology, including developmental psychology, social psychology, cognitive psychology, and clinical psychology.

What are the 3 goals of psychology?

The first three goals of psychology are to describe, explain, and predict behavior and mental processes.

Why is psychology so important?

Psychology is important because it helps people to improve aspects of their behavior, such as making decisions, controlling their emotions and feelings.

In this article we answered the question ‘’What are the 4 major goals of psychology?’’ we presented the main objectives of psychology and the methodological tools it uses to carry it out.

If you have any questions or comments please let us know!

References

How the Goals of Psychology Are Used to Study Behavior. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from Verywell Mind website: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-four-major-goals-of-psychology-2795603#:~:text=So%20as%20you%20have%20learned,as%20you%20interact%20with%20others.

‌Kalat, J. W. (2016). Introduction to psychology. Nelson Education.

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