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Modern Psychology 101

In hopes of giving you a better understanding of the philosophical foundation at Balanced Achievement, we have created a ‘Balanced Achievement 101’ series that reviews the various components that merge together to form our teaching ideology. In each article (links can be found at the bottom of this page) we outline the given topic, discuss important historical information, and examine key educational concepts that are relevant to the teachings at Balanced Achievement. In this article on Modern Psychology 101, we explore the human brain and behavior.

Modern Psychology 101:

If I asked you to think about the field of psychology, I’d assume that the first thing that pops into your head is a vision of a bearded man, wearing glasses that belong in the 70s, sitting at his desk talking to a troubled individual as they lay on a couch. While this vision does show an aspect of the work psychologists does, it blindly excludes numerous aspects of what is actually a much more expansive field. After this article, it will be clear to see that the work of psychologists, around the globe, is much further reaching than this single concept.

The American Psychology Association currently lists 56 divisions of psychology and many professional psychologists work in industries outside of the traditionally viewed psychological framework. To help us gain an appropriate understanding of modern psychology, we will first have to define the field and examine the numerous intricacies that combine to make it a social science. After we have this understanding, we will then be able to examine other important concepts, such as Psychological perspectives/viewpoints, the branches of psychology, and important discoveries that have emerged from the study.

What is Psychology?:

So how can we define Psychology? In the simplest terms, psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the human brain and behavior, but the complexity of these things makes the work of psychologists more multifaceted and far-reaching than one would assume. Psychologists are interested in studying how the brain works, why humans behave the way they do, and what is the connection between an individual’s brain and their behavior. Within the field there are 4 overarching goals that are of primary importance:

  1. To describe various mental processes and displays of human behavior.
  2. To theorize and explain why these behaviors occur.
  3. To predict if and when these behaviors will repeat themselves.
  4. To control, or change, the behaviors of individuals who are in need of assistance.

At the most basic level, psychology can be understood by the above definition and goals, but other factors, such as the distinction between experimental and applied psychology, the use of scientific research methods, and different philosophical viewpoints, constitute the lesser-known, but equally important, aspects of the field.

The Work of Psychologists:

Since the prosperity of our businesses and overall societal well-being are greatly dependent on the behavior, and brains, of the individuals that work and reside within them, there will always be a need for psychologists in an almost endless amount of industries. The work of psychologists is constructed around two major focuses, but employment opportunities, which stem from these focuses, can be found in nearly every professional sector. An individual psychologist will either work in the discipline of experimental psychology or clinical psychology depending on their education, interests, and experience. Let’s look at each of these more closely:

  • The field of experimental psychology is focused on using scientific research methods and objective measurements to study the mind and behavior. Due to the nature of psychological work, there have oftentimes been subjective biases that reduced the legitimacy of behavioral theories. This, however, changed in 1879 when German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt, who is often referred to as the father of modern psychology, opened the first scientific laboratory for psychological research at The University of Leipzig in eastern Germany. By using the scientific method and various research methods (case studies, lab experiments, field experiments, questionnaires, observations, etc.), experimental psychologists are able to accurately describe, explain, and predict various mental processes and patterns of human behaviors. Those looking to access articles on scientific and medical topics such as this may find what they’re looking for within the 29+ million PubMed articles: order by PMID. With such a vast wealth of information, researchers, scientists, or just people interested in such things will have plenty of material to get through.
  • Clinical psychology, on the other hand, is focused on using the data from experimental psychology to determine ways that negative behavior can be changed and positively implementing these changes in the real world by working with individuals across an unbounded demographic. Psychologists will provide individuals, groups, and families with comprehensive mental and behavioral healthcare in hopes of improving the lives of each and every individual involved in a particular case. When you think about the stereotypical psychologist, you are thinking about a clinical psychologist, but employment opportunities in clinical psychology are much farther-reaching and expansive than most of us realize. For example, there are sports psychologists, military psychologists, aviation psychologists, and even media psychologists.

Perspectives and Branches of Psychology:

Throughout the history of psychology, there have been highly contested debates, stemming from contradictory viewpoints and beliefs, about the mind and human behavior. In the early developmental stages of psychology, individual psychologists would passionately promote a singular philosophical perspective for understanding, teaching, and changing behavior. Today, however, instead of relying on a single perspective approach to explain the brain and behavior, psychologists will pick and choose different ideas and concepts from the 5 widely accepted psychological perspectives. Let’s now examine these 5 perspectives:

The Psychological Perspectives:

  • Biological Perspective: If an individual were to look at a psychological case from a biological perspective, he or she would be interested in studying various biological components of the human body and try to determine how they affect human behavior. Some of the areas they would be interested in are The brain, genetics, the nervous system, and the immune system. We can think about a highly relevant modern-day example to help us understand how the biological perspective is used in modern psychology: Currently, in the United States, ongoing research is looking at the correlation between NFL football players and brain damage suffered while playing the sport, and the long-term potential of the players developing a degenerative mental disease commonly referred to as CTE.
  • Psychodynamic Perspective: The psychodynamic perspective is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who is probably the most famous and controversial psychologist in the field has ever known. Freud believed that human behavior and decision-making were primarily determined by the unconscious mind. Many of his theories revolved around the idea that repressed childhood memories and sexual desires largely played a part in determining personality, decision-making, and ultimately behavior. Today, new theories and ideas have replaced a number of Freud’s initial assumptions, but his ideas, especially about the unconscious mind, still play an important role in psychodynamics.
  • The Behavioral Perspective: Whereas Freud liked to believe that behavior was primarily determined by the unconscious mind, proponents of the behavioral perspective believed that behavior was completely learned by observing the behaviors of others. B.F. Skinner, and other prominent behavioralists, came to the assumption that behavior was dependent on the potential rewards or punishments that an individual behavior produced. Still today, Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning holds a great amount of validity in psychology circles.
  • The Cognitive Perspective: Proponents of the cognitive perspective would be interested in studying and analyzing the various cognitive functions of the brain, such as thinking, memory, internal self-talk, and decision-making. If you ever hear individuals comparing the human brain to a computer, they are discussing psychology from a cognitive perspective. One statement that can exemplify how cognitive perspectivists view behavior would be: Our internal expectations, feelings, and emotions greatly predict our outer behavior. Two of the more well-known psychologists associated with the cognitive perspective are Jean Piaget and Albert Bandura.
  • Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Modern Psychology 101The Humanistic Perspective: Within the past 50 years, we have seen the personal development industry explode in popularity. Much of the basis, for the otherwise known self-help industry, can be found within the context of the humanistic perspective. Leading psychologists Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow believed that human beings ultimately wanted to reach states of higher fulfillment and their actions were motivated by this desire. Humanist supporters believe that each and every human behavior is in some way goal-driven, and for individuals to be fulfilled they have to be continuously growing. Two important concepts that came from the humanistic perspective are Rodgers’ ideas about the self-concept and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

As you can probably see, each of these 5 perspectives brings a valuable, yet different, viewpoint to the study of the brain and behavior. Since none of these perspectives can describe human behavior completely, but can explain important components of decision-making and action, the greater psychology community has shifted its collective mindset from working with a singular perspective to working with multiple perspectives.

Now that we have improved our understanding of psychological perspectives, we can shift our attention to the various branches that are found in the field.

(It should be noted that many psychology scholars believe that there are two additional perspectives that should be considered in the analysis of human behavior: The Evolutionary Perspective and The Cross-Cultural Perspective.)

Branches of Psychology:

If psychological perspectives can be described as the viewpoints that are used to look at individual cases and help treat patients, then the branches of psychology can be defined as the particular characterizable focus of psychologists. Within the framework of the field, there are 13 major branches of psychology. Two of these branches, behavioral psychology and cognitive psychology are closely related to the perspectives described above. There are also 6 additional branches that are not a large part of the philosophical framework of Balanced Achievement. For these reasons, we will now briefly look at the remaining 5 branches:

  • Abnormal Psychology: Throughout this article, we have made references to our stereotypical views of psychologists, and the work, that this type of psychologist would conduct, falls within in branch of abnormal psychology. Psychologists who focus on abnormal psychology are interested in studying and treating individuals with unusual thoughts, behavior, and emotions. The mental disorders that we often associate with psychology and psychiatry fall within the context of abnormal psychology. For example, depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), sexual deviation, bipolar disorder, and multiple personality disorder are all considered abnormal behaviors.
  • Developmental Psychology: The branch of developmental psychology is concerned with studying and tracking developmental changes across the entire lifespan of individuals. Developmental psychologists would focus their energies on determining how, and why, people change at various life stages. The field is all-encompassing and looks at every dimension of human life. Just to name a few: Social, emotional, personality, perceptual, health, and intellectual. One important psychological debate, that continually draws opposing viewpoints, can be found within this branch of psychology. The debate of nature vs nurture.
  • Personality Psychology: The branch of personality psychology has had as big of an impact on the field of psychology as any other branch. Psychologists are interested in studying and discovering what makes each of us the unique individuals that we are. They are interested in learning about the various factors that contribute to the formation of personality, studying how personality is expressed in our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, while also trying to determine what role societal influences play on our personality. One of the most popular personality theories, The Big Five Personality Traits, states that personalities can be broken down into 5 categories that have different spectral ends (Introversion vs extroversion, agreeableness vs argumentative, self-control vs impulsive, emotionally unstable vs emotionally stable, and openness to experience vs closed-mindedness).
  • Social Psychology: The study of social psychology strives to understand how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals influence and are influenced by, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of other individuals. There are numerous social factors that are studied within the branch of social psychology because there are so many variables found in social interactions. Some of the interests in the field are group dynamics, nonverbal communication, perceptions, and emotional state changes. Social psychologists are interested in determining how these, and other, social components create internal and external changes in individuals.
  • Cross-Cultural Psychology: The field of cross-cultural psychology focuses on understanding the differences between individuals who are raised with different cultural influences and societal norms. The study pays importance to determining what, and why, behaviors vary throughout the globe and examines a number of concepts, such as Emotions, social behaviors, relationships, and language acquisition and personality. One example of cross-cultural psychology would be the personality traits of collectivism and individualism. While citizens in the West tend to be individualistic, individuals living in Eastern Asia take a more collectivist approach to life.

(The other major psychology branches are: Forensic Psychology, Experimental Psychology, Educational Psychology, Comparative Psychology, Biopsychology Psychology, and Health Psychology.)

Modern Psychology at Balanced Achievement:

It should now be quite apparent to see how complex and expansive the field of psychology is. The use of scientific methods plays an important role in verifying the theories of psychologists. It is important for us to understand that we have the ability to use these results and findings to increase our levels of happiness, success, and fulfillment. By continually becoming more knowledgeable about ideas that revolve around the human brain, behavioral patterns, emotions, and thought processes, we will increase our abilities to create permanent and beneficial changes in our own life. So how is classical psychology woven into the framework of Balanced Achievement? Here are 2 important ways:

The Ultimate Humanistic Approach:

The teaching that you will find on this website, especially the ones that are centered around the field of psychology, will typically be related to the humanistic approach that was discussed earlier. It is our belief that each and every one of us has deeper desires for complete fulfillment and self-actualization. These things, however, can be difficult to accomplish with nothing besides the humanistic approach. One of the biggest criticism that you will hear about this psychological living perspective is that individuals can become egocentric, narcissistic, and solely worried about their own well-being when they use the strategies that can be found in humanistic psychology. We believe that in order to counteract this truth, it is imperative to focus on and balance the spiritual principles of compassion and contentment in our lives.

Understanding + Awareness = Power & Freedom:

When we are able to understand the various intricacies of the brain and human behavior, we greatly increase our ability to free ourselves from negative and unconscious processes that reside within us. The truths about the workings of the human brain will remain unconscious to us unless we are willing to study and explore various psychological ideas. We remain unaware of our internal self-talk, perceptions, and conditioned internal dialogue patterns, which oftentimes are directing our behavior. By understanding these concepts, and increasing our self-awareness through meditation, we will eventually be able to disassociate ourselves from negative thought patterns and begin to live a life with true freedom of choice.

The all-encompassing study of human behavior plays a large role in the teachings of Balanced Achievement. By using the knowledge, that is found throughout the field, we hope to help you build a healthy self-concept, create a healthy societal environment, and ultimately increase your levels of fulfillment and happiness.


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