Introduction to Psychology

Figure 1.1 The study of the human mind and behaviour
Figure 1.1 The study of the human mind and behaviour

Psychology is the scientific study of mind and behaviour. The word “psychology” comes from the Greek words “psyche,” meaning life, and “logos,” meaning explanation. Psychology is a popular major for students, a popular topic in the public media, and a part of our everyday lives. Television shows such as Dr. Phil feature psychologists who provide personal advice to those with personal or family difficulties. Psychological television crime dramas such as Cracked, Criminal Minds, Psyche, CSI, and others feature the work of forensic psychologists who use psychological principles to help solve crimes. And many people have direct knowledge of psychology because they have visited psychologists, such as school counsellors, family therapists, and religious, marriage, or bereavement counsellors.

Because we are frequently exposed to the work of psychologists in our everyday lives, we all have an idea about what psychology is and what psychologists do. In many ways I am sure that your conceptions are correct. Psychologists do work in forensic fields, and they do provide counselling and therapy for people in distress. But there are hundreds of thousands of psychologists in the world, and most of them work in other places, doing work that you are probably not aware of.

Most psychologists work in research laboratories, hospitals, and other field settings where they study the behaviour of humans and animals. For example, if you browse through the research labs in the Psychology Department at the University of Alberta, you will see how varied the field of psychology is; one group of researchers seeks to understand how animals solve problems they face in the wild (Animal Cognition Research Group) while another investigates human spatial memory and navigation with the use of immersive virtual environments (Virtual Environments and Spatial Cognition Lab). Perhaps a little closer to home, at the University of Calgary you will find research specializing in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, such as team performance, and also Brain and Cognitive Science, such as speech development in childhood. You might be surprised at the variability in work that psychologists do, and this is just the research side. Psychologists also work in hospital settings, schools and businesses, as counsellors, therapists, and consultants on human behaviour.


Learn more about the psychology research labs at the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary.
Read about what a psychologist does and careers options through the University of Calgary’s Department of Psychology.

This chapter provides an introduction to the broad field of psychology and the many approaches that psychologists take to understanding human behaviour. We will consider how psychologists conduct scientific research, with an overview of some of the most important approaches used and topics studied by psychologists, and also consider the variety of fields in which psychologists work and the careers that are available to people with psychology degrees. I expect that you may find that at least some of your preconceptions about psychology will be challenged and changed, and you will learn that psychology is a field that will provide you with new ways of thinking about your own thoughts, feelings, and actions.


You can learn more about the broad field of psychology on the website for the Canadian Psychological Association (

  1. Look at the different CPA Sections – which one looks most interesting to you, and why?
  2. Given the incredible diversity among the various areas of psychology that were described in this section, how do they all fit together?




Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Introduction to Psychology Copyright © 2021 by Southern Alberta Institution of Technology (SAIT) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book