Often psychologists can’t perform experiments on humans for ethical reasons and may use animals to try to gain understanding of human behaviour.  For example, by trying to teach monkeys to talk, researchers have gained insight into how humans may develop their language skills.

As psychology is a science, – it is vital that it be studied scientifically and objectively. We can study, experiment with and objectively talk about manifest behaviour.  However, the experience of that behaviour is a subjective experience, where we rely on the individual to tell us how it feels.

Definitions:

Subjective – Usually used to refer to something existing inside oneself and not capable of being experienced by others.

This contrasts with Objective – dealing with facts in a way that are unaffected by feelings or opinions.

Positivism – A philosophical doctrine describing scientific knowledge as limited to observed fact and experience.

Manifest – Expressed or observable.

Therefore, a generally accepted definition of psychology is “the study of human behaviour”. Behaviour can provide us with valuable windows into a person’s emotional and cognitive states, and if we can understand the psychological influences on behaviour, we can try to better understand a person’s inner experience.

BUT IT’S ALL COMMON SENSE ISN’T IT?

Many people argue that psychology is just common sense.  Many people will say things like someone behaves like this because of that – we are all “armchair psychologists”.  But how do we know that what we are saying is correct?  This is the starting point that psychologists use when studying human behaviour.  An example of common sense being not so ‘common’ is the murder of Kitty Genovese.  She was stabbed to death in the middle of a busy residential area of New York.  Thirty-eight witnesses saw the attack and none of them did anything to intervene, not even to phone the police.  Why?  The common-sense answer might be that they thought someone else had or would intervene, or that the witnesses didn’t care.

Darley and Latane (1968) carried out research into why the witnesses did nothing.  They arranged for students to discuss personal problems over an intercom.  Only one actual student was involved the others were confederates (i.e. working with the researchers, pretending to be students).  During the conversations, a confederate would appear to have an epileptic seizure.  If the real student thought that five other people were also listening to this person have a seizure, it took them three times as long to react as if they thought there were only two people in the discussion.  This suggests that in emergency situations, if we think lots of other people are involved, we may be less likely to do anything – we think someone else will. This is called bystander apathy.

Definitions:

Bystander Apathy – The tendency of people in social situations not to help strangers in an emergency.  The more bystanders there are, the greater the apathy, as responsibility is perceived as not belonging to one individual.

Apathy – Listlessness, passiveness.

So when you consider this, if psychologists had not carried out this research, the overriding view would be that New Yorkers did not care that a woman was being murdered.

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