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The Psychology (Greek-Latin psychologia , doctrine of the soul ') is an empirical science . Its aim is to describe and explain human experience and behavior , their development in the course of life and all internal and external causes and conditions that are relevant for them.

The German word psychologie has existed since the 18th century. The term is first attested to in 1575 by Johann Thomas Freiius and has belonged to both technical and common language since the beginning of the 19th century. Linguistically, it is composed of ancient Greek ψυχή psȳchḗ , breath, breath, life, life force, soul , mind, soul 'and λογία Logia , teaching something science of something'.


As a science, psychology is interdisciplinary: it cannot be assigned entirely to the natural sciences , the social sciences or the humanities alone. An anthropology in the broadest sense and the methods of statistics form its basis. A classification from the Anglo-Saxon area divides psychology in the sense of behavioral sciences into behavioral science , cognitive science and neuroscience . Since, in the opinion of some, not all psychological phenomena can be captured by means of purely scientific-empirical research, reference should also be made to the importance of humanities psychology .

In addition to academic psychology, there is also everyday psychology . It is occasionally the subject of the academic discipline that we are talking about here. She originally uses academic-psychological concepts and terms that have flowed into everyday language, and likes to refer to what is known as “ common sense ”. Its findings do not meet scientific requirements, for example with regard to their objectivity , reliability and validity .

Psychologists are people whose job description is characterized by the application of psychological knowledge and whose designation in Germany requires a university degree with a major in psychology.

Origin and history

Psychology was founded as an independent academic discipline at the beginning of the 19th century in what were then scientific centers in Germany such as Leipzig and Königsberg .

In Leipzig, Wilhelm Wundt founded the Institute for Experimental Psychology together with Gustav Theodor Fechner in 1879 (initially as a private institute) . Within a short time a group of committed young researchers gathered around these two, including Emil Kraepelin , Hugo Münsterberg , Granville Stanley Hall and James McKeen Cattell . In 1883 the institute became an official university institute.

In particular, Johann Friedrich Herbart , from 1809 successor to Immanuel Kant in his Königsberg chair , endeavored with numerous publications to teach psychology of his own . This is not so common because Herbart is primarily considered the founder of scientific pedagogy . Nevertheless, the importance of Herbart for both disciplines should not be underestimated. Scientists of today sometimes discover that seemingly new developments are already beginning to be found in Herbart and contemporary scientists.

In addition to Herbart, Friedrich Beneke should also be mentioned as one of those who paved the way for experimental psychology. Beneke was one of the first German philosophers to be convinced of an empirical approach to psychology. His conviction initially got Beneke into trouble and he lost his job at the University of Berlin, presumably after Hegel's order. Only after his lifetime was his scientific approach recognized and continued with the establishment of experimental psychology.

In 1896 Sigmund Freud used the term psychoanalysis for the first time .

The animal psychology (now ethology ) separated themselves in the early 20th century under Konrad Lorenz as a subject of psychology from. It was also largely based on the former chair of Kant.

Location determination

Contrary to its image and public understanding, the psychology practiced and taught in academic institutions is a strictly empirical science. As an empirical science of experience and behavior, it is up to psychology to empirically test theories and models derived from them , hypotheses , assumptions for answering a specific question, etc. using suitable scientific methods. The methodology is predominantly scientific, therefore quantitative, in connection with experimental or quasi-experimental procedures. Therefore, mathematics , especially descriptive statistics , stochastics - here especially inductive statistics and statistical test procedures - as well as increasingly approaches from systems theory - especially mathematical systems analysis - are important tools for psychologists.

As empirical human science , psychology differs from related research areas in other subjects, some of which incorporate their own “psychologies”, such as philosophy , sociology , pedagogy , anthropology , ethnology , political science , economics , general linguistics , medicine and dentistry or biology , through scientific-experimental Alignment: Mental processes, concrete behavioral mechanisms as well as interactions between mental processes and the behavior of people are described and explained, whereby overlaps up to mutual interdisciplinarity are possible. This demarcation can be read as an expanded definition of psychology.

In terms of methodology, today there are not only scientific approaches but also empirical social sciences . A focus fluctuates depending on the orientation of a psychological department. Quantitative methods are predominant here , although qualitative methods also belong to the repertoire, for example grounded theory or content analysis . The separation between qualitative and quantitative social research is not always clear: Psychology rather differentiates between primarily scientific and primarily social scientific methodological approaches, which very often contain qualitative aspects in addition to the quantitative ones in a certain way. A distinction between natural and social science approaches is not always clearly possible.

In particular with mathematical and statistical modeling, as is otherwise the case in quantitative psychological working methods, the procedure is not necessarily deductive .

Little is known that in psychology, as in other natural sciences and medicine, animal experiments are carried out, both in the context of basic psychological research , primarily in general and biopsychology , and, for example, in clinical psychology . As early as the 1920s, carried out primarily in the context of learning research, they became a fundamental component of aggression , stress and anxiety research , and later also of depression research and perception research . In particular for neuropsychological questions, they were used more intensively, especially in the form of lesion experiments. Today they are primarily used in research on psychoneuroendocrinology and immunology, environmental psychology , nutritional psychology and, for example, also in research into self-harming behavior , but above all in addiction research. Psychological animal experiments are also subject to strict ethical standards worldwide.

What modern psychology is not

The conception of psychology as a scientific discipline is subject to a historical process of change, always lying in the field of tension between the humanities and the natural sciences. A purely “humanistic” psychology can best be derived from German philosophy as “ understanding psychology ” ( Wilhelm Dilthey ). According to the modern view, psychology is only a “ human science ”, at least in terms of the English meaning of humanities , as it deals with humans, more precisely with the selected aspects of human existence, precisely the experience and behavior to be observed.

It should not be overlooked that well into the 19th century, psychology was part of philosophy and, as “ speculative ” or “rational”, i.e. non-empirical, psychology was mostly assigned to metaphysics . The German Enlightenment philosopher Christian Wolff already opposed this “rational” psychology with an “empirical” one, but meant by that an introspective psychology, that is, according to current usage, is not empirical. Although introspection was initially a recognized method in the early psychological experiments and only later largely disappeared from the repertoire of psychology due to recognized methodological problems and better indirect observation methods - especially through the Gestalt psychology of the Würzburg School . In contrast to the terms soul or spirit as synonyms for psyche , they are not the subject of today's psychology in the metaphysical or theological sense. When it was founded in the 19th century, metaphysical elements were explicitly excluded, but their subjects - naturally with restriction to areas that could also be examined in the chosen methodological approach - in a combination of then new methods of biology and physics, and later also modern inferential statistics.

The development of psychology as a separate academic discipline goes hand in hand with the thoroughly compromise solution of methodological problems that have long been hotly debated within philosophy, such as by Immanuel Kant . This was made possible by new findings in experimental physics and innovations in particular in biology, more precisely: the sensory physiology of the 19th century. As a result, psychology is limited in its mode of operation as well as in its claim ( psychology is not a universal science of the “human soul” or “the human” ); much is thus also a predominantly physics and especially biology borrowed reductionism . Outside of this procedure, the methodological problems remain, so that, even according to the majority of the epistemological views that are valid today, psychology as a separate scientific discipline is only possible under these premises, analogous in particular to the natural sciences.

In this respect, areas with more “speculative” or “metaphysical” “psychological approaches” or teachings of the soul, for example embedded within philosophy and theology, partly also in cultural studies and occasionally in sociology, remain largely independent of academic psychology.

Psychology is also not to be confused - especially with regard to the presentation of its history - with the field of philosophy of mind . According to another popular misconception, psychology is primarily concerned with disordered behavior and “mental health problems”. In fact, clinical psychology only represents a sub-area of applied psychology .

Relationship to adjacent subjects

Psychology is often confused or equated with psychotherapy , psychiatry , psychosomatics and psychoanalysis . These are erroneous views.

Psychotherapy and psychiatry

Psychotherapy is the professional treatment of mental illnesses using psychological means. In order to be allowed to work as a psychotherapist in Germany, a license to practice medicine is required. In addition to a relevant academic university degree in psychology or medicine (in the latter case with a license to practice medicine), this also requires a corresponding, legally regulated further education. Even if the subject of clinical psychology has been completed, psychologists without a corresponding license to practice are not allowed to work as psychotherapists. In Germany, a distinction must be made between a (mere) psychologist and a psychological psychotherapist or between a (mere) doctor and a medical psychotherapist . There are several ways for doctors to qualify as a psychotherapist. In addition, there is the job description of a child and adolescent psychotherapist . Under certain conditions, alternative practitioners are also allowed to practice psychotherapy .


In most cases, a psychoanalyst is a psychologist or doctor who has completed further training in psychoanalysis after completing their studies. Psychoanalysis is part of depth psychology and was founded by Sigmund Freud . What is specific about psychoanalysis is its focus on exploring the unconscious . Psychoanalytic concepts play in the developmental psychology , the educational psychology , the clinical psychology , the social psychology , and in the Differentiellen- and personality psychology involved. In international psychotherapy , psychoanalysis in many modified forms does not represent individual, but rather different treatment methods for mental disorders . At the same time, psychoanalysis is not only a treatment method in psychotherapy, but also a model of humans in the sense of heuristics through induction .

Psychoanalysis according to Sigmund Freud and the theories of other representatives of depth psychology such as Carl Gustav Jung or Alfred Adler play a secondary role in today's psychology at most German universities, in many natural science faculties at the psychological institutes psychoanalysis (as opposed to cultural and humanities faculties) and are often criticized in terms of the history of science due to the induction problem. After the Second World War, depth psychological approaches briefly advanced to a research paradigm within psychology . In the areas of motivation and cognition in particular, there have been attempts to take depth psychological assumptions into account in the modeling. According to the prevailing epistemological ideas, some could be integrated and further differentiated in further models and some could be explained differently or at least more sparingly (see Ockham's razor ). As a rule, however, approaches of this kind are very far removed from the theoretical and practical concepts of psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis is often rejected as unscientific, e.g. B. by Karl Popper , who classified it as pseudoscience . Nevertheless, there are now efforts on the part of psychoanalysis to meet the demand for scientific verifiability. This became particularly clear in Germany through the transformation of the Sigmund Freud Institute Frankfurt into a pure research facility, the founding of the International Psychoanalytic University Berlin , as well as through numerous publications by the International Psychoanalytic Association , the German Psychoanalytic Society , the German Psychoanalytic Association and the German Society for psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychosomatics and depth psychology .

The physician Otto F. Kernberg , currently the most important proponent of object relationship theory , published, for example, on the integration of knowledge and ideas from different neuroscientific disciplines with psychoanalytic explanatory models. From an epistemological point of view, too, Popper's critical-rationalist standpoint is received not without being contradicted. Nevertheless, psychoanalysis was and is criticized both from psychology and from philosophy; esp. Grünbaum (1988) presented a v. a. from an epistemological point of view fundamental modern criticism of psychoanalysis.

Scientific paradigms

Within psychology, there are many fundamentally different approaches ( paradigms ) and treatment methods based on them. The most important are

  • behaviorist paradigm,
  • the information processing paradigm
  • the psychoanalytic- psychodynamic paradigm
  • the phenomenological-humanistic paradigm,
  • the property paradigm,
  • the dynamic-interactionist paradigm and
  • the sociobiological paradigm and evolutionary psychology .

These paradigms are not sub-disciplines of psychology (such as general psychology ), but each is a theoretical concept for the various sub-disciplines and research programs of psychology. These approaches, which differ in their basic assumptions and methodology, are usually not mentioned explicitly, but form a very important basis for the (correct) understanding of psychology, its theories and v. a. the psychological research results. Today, within a psychological subject (a discipline), various paradigms are usually given equal status (e.g. in current personality psychology research the information processing paradigm, the property paradigm and the dynamic interactionist paradigm). This complexity of psychology should be taken into account especially in relation to the individual disciplines: Within a discipline there are always different approaches under which a subject area must be considered, or a high methodological flexibility under which a question is answered scientifically and methodically in the best possible way can be.

Assignment to the different faculties

The connection of a psychological department to a faculty (usually natural science, social science or philosophical) does not always say something about its orientation (more natural science or more social science). These connections are usually based on historical or administrative reasons. In this respect you can z. B. also do not draw analogous conclusions about the doctoral degree of a doctorate in psychologist; In other words: As a psychologist, in the extreme, you can find a Dr. phil. with a dissertation in neuropsychology and, in the extreme, a Dr. rer. nat. with a qualitative social science thesis.


A distinction is often made within psychology between basic, application and method subjects . In addition, empirical research and the practice of applied psychology can be contrasted with a theoretical psychology ( metatheory ).

Basic subjects

Within these disciplines, a distinction can be made between those that are also part of other basic subjects and those that provide fundamental knowledge in specific contexts . The former include psychological methodology, as well as general psychology and biopsychology (which in turn are strongly interlinked with one another), while the latter includes social psychology, developmental psychology and personality and differential psychology. The newer classification (e.g. for the Bachelor of Science courses) summarizes general and biological psychology under "Cognitive and biological foundations of behavior and experience", personality, differential, social and developmental psychology under " Basics of intra- and interpersonal processes ".

Application subjects

Other areas of application of psychology include: a. the transportation , personnel psychology , media , legal , Kulturvergleichende- , geronto , sports , environmental , political psychology , management psychology , health psychology , behavioral finance , advertising psychology , drug prevention , etc.

Method subjects

  • The Psychological Methods deals with the full range of instruments ( "tools") psychological knowledge acquisition. It provides the existing process fund for other disciplines of psychology and is also an independent research area with the aim of improving and supplementing the existing methodology, for example through in-house developments (e.g. meta-analysis ) or by adapting processes from the catalogs other sciences. The spectrum of content ranges from scientific theory and ethics to experimental methodology , evaluation research and auxiliary sciences with a high priority, v. a. Mathematics (mainly statistics ) as well as computer science or special cases of psychological methodology such as mathematical psychology .
  • Another method subject is psychological diagnostics (diagnostic decision-making) with connections to methodology (e.g. test theory , construction and analysis). Diagnostics is the basis of any intervention and is therefore relevant for all areas of psychology.

In principle, other classifications of psychological sub-disciplines are also possible, e.g. B. those that name a research topic and identify it as a sub-area or work focus or describe it in a summarized manner across all disciplines that concern it (e.g. perceptual psychology, emotional psychology, etc.), or those that emphasize the underlying approaches or particular aspects of paradigms (e.g. behavioral psychology , evolutionary psychology, etc.). These more area-specific terms (with a corresponding thematic bundling of different contents) are also often found when it comes to a comprehensive conveyance of specific contents and less about research and methodological contexts, i.e. especially when psychological knowledge in the context of minor or auxiliary subjects ( e.g. in non-psychological departments, in technical college courses, etc.). In some cases, designations o. G. Basic disciplines filled out differently in terms of content, such as B. General Psychology as a general (first) overview introduction to psychology (as in the proverbial 101 courses in the USA) or Educational Psychology as psychology for educators.

Levels of analysis in psychology

Each individual is a complex system made up of several small systems, which in turn is part of a large social system . It is therefore worked on different levels of analysis that complement each other. The different levels of analysis together form a so-called bio-psychosocial approach: Here, the influences of biological, psychological and socio-cultural factors are equally considered and taken into account. These three central, different levels of analysis influence and control the behavior and mental processes of an individual.

Biological influences

The selection of adaptive traits is one of the biological influences, i.e. traits that are advantageous for the survival and reproductive success of an individual. (See Evolutionary Adaptation ). Genetic predispositions, i.e. hereditary susceptibility to certain diseases in the relevant environment, also play a major role in human behavior. In addition, the brain mechanisms and hormonal influences have different effects on the behavior and processes of thinking, imagination, language and judgment.

Psychological influences

The psychological influences that affect our behavior include learned fears, insecurities and other learned expectations. Emotional reactions, cognitive processing and interpretations of perception are also included under the psychological influences.

Socio-cultural influences

Sociocultural factors have a major influence on human behavior and mental processes . The social environment in which an individual moves and the presence of others has a significant influence on individual behavior. The expectations that culture, society and the family place on one are also part of the socio-cultural influences. Influences from peers and other groups are also particularly important.

See also

Portal: Psychology  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of psychology


Philosophical foundations

General introductions and textbooks (selection)

  • Gillian Butler, Freda McManus: Psychology. An introduction. 3. Edition. Reclam, 2019, ISBN 978-3-15-018913-9 .
  • Norbert Bischof : Psychology. A basic course for the discerning. 3. Edition. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2014.
  • David G. Myers : Psychology. 3. Edition. Springer, Heidelberg / Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3-642-40781-9 .
  • Lyle E. Bourne, Bruce R. Ekstrand: Introduction to Psychology. 4th edition (reprint). Verlag Dietmar Klotz, Frankfurt am Main 2005, ISBN 3-88074-500-5 .
  • Stefan Lautenbacher, Astrid Schütz , Herbert Selg (eds.): Psychology - An introduction to its basics and fields of application. 3. Edition. Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne 2005, ISBN 978-3-17-018373-5 .
  • Hilgard's Introduction to Psychology , front cover, Rita L. Atkinson, Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, Joachim Grabowski, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Daryl J. Bem, Akademie Verlag 2001
  • Norbert Groeben (Ed.): On the program of a social science psychology. Aschendorff, Münster 1997/1999.
  • Joachim Grabowski , Elke van der Meer (eds.): Hilgards introduction to psychology. By Rita L. Atkinson, Richard C. Atkinson, Edward E. Smith, and others. a. Spectrum textbook, 2001, ISBN 3-8274-0489-4 .
  • Richard J. Gerrig , Philip Zimbardo : Psychology. 18th edition. Pearson Studium , Munich 2008, ISBN 3-8273-7275-5 .
  • Wolfgang Metzger : Psychology - The development of your basic assumptions since the introduction of the experiment. 6th edition. Krammer, Vienna 2001 (first edition 1941).
  • Jochen Müsseler (Ed.): General Psychology. 2nd Edition. Spectrum, Heidelberg 2008, ISBN 3-8274-1780-5 .
  • Kurt Pawlik (Ed.): Handbook Psychology. Science - application - professional fields. Springer, Heidelberg 2006, ISBN 3-540-22178-6 .

Textbooks on sub-areas of psychology

  • M. Amelang, D. Bartussek: Differential Psychology and Personality Research. Kohlhammer, 2001, ISBN 3-17-016641-7 .
  • JR Anderson: Cognitive Psychology. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 1996, ISBN 3-86025-354-9 .
  • E. Aronson et al .: Social Psychology. Pearson Studies, 2003, ISBN 3-8273-7084-1 .
  • Bernad Batinic , Markus Appel (Ed.): Media Psychology. 2008, Heidelberg: Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-46894-3 .
  • Niels Birbaumer , RF Schmidt: Biological Psychology. Springer, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-540-25460-9 .
  • Jürgen Bortz , Christof Schuster: Statistics for human and social scientists. 7th edition Springer, 2010, ISBN 978-3-642-12769-4 .
  • Jürgen Bortz, Nicola Döring: Research methods and evaluation. 4th edition. Springer, 2006, ISBN 978-3-540-33305-0 .
  • GC Davison, JM Neale: Clinical Psychology. PVU, Weinheim 2002, ISBN 3-621-27458-8 .
  • Walter Hussy, Margrit Schreier, Gerald Echterhoff: Research Methods in Psychology and Social Sciences - for Bachelor. Springer, 2009, ISBN 978-3-540-95935-9 .
  • G. Felser: Advertising and consumer psychology. 2nd Edition. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg 2001, ISBN 3-7910-1944-9 .
  • KD Kubinger: Psychological diagnostics - theory and practice of psychological diagnostics. Hogrefe, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 3-8017-1693-7 .
  • G. Lienert, U. Raatz: Test setup and test analysis. PVU, Weinheim 1998, ISBN 3-621-27424-3 .
  • R. Oerter, L. Montada: Developmental Psychology. PVU, Weinheim 2002, ISBN 3-621-27479-0 .
  • Lawrence A. Pervin, Daniel Cervone, Oliver P. John: Personality Theories. With 33 tables (original title: Personality , translated by Elfriede Peschel). 5th, completely revised and expanded edition, UTB 8035 / Reinhardt, Munich / Basel 2005, ISBN 978-3-497-01792-8 (E. Reinhardt) / ISBN 3-8252-8035-7 (UTB).
  • Hans-Otto Schenk: Psychology in Commerce. Decision-making bases for trade marketing. 2nd, completely revised edition. Oldenbourg, Munich / Vienna 2007, ISBN 978-3-486-58379-3 (1st edition 1995 under the title: Handelspsychologie ).
  • Heinz Schuler, Hermann Brandstätter (ed.): Textbook organizational psychology. 4th, updated edition, Huber, Bern 2003, ISBN 978-3-456-84458-9 .

reference books

Trade journals

Web links

Wikibooks: Regal Psychology  - Learning and Teaching Materials
Wikiversity: Psychology  Course Materials
Wiktionary: Psychology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Stangl : Some data on the history of psychology .
  2. Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. Akademie, Berlin 1989 and German paperback, Munich 1995 (each with later new editions), see p. v.
  3. Uwe Laucken, Naive Behavioral Theory . Klett, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-12-925260-6
  4. Academic psychology has developed from everyday psychology. For centuries philosophy has reflected on individual themes from it, but has not formulated a coherent theory of psychology and has stimulated empirical psychological research. The impetus for scientific research into psychological facts dates back to the 19th century and came from research on the physiology of the senses in medicine (" psychophysics ") on the one hand, while on the other hand the young psychological medicine or psychiatry, which was slowly becoming more important at the time, needed more and more clarification of psychological relationships developed in the field of psychopathology (see History of Psychiatry ).
  5. ^ Precht, Richard David, 1964-: A history of philosophy . [Various editions]. Munich, ISBN 978-3-442-31262-7 .
  6. Gernot Huppmann, S. Fischnbeck (ed.): Psychology in medicine. Wuerzburg 1992.
  7. Gernot Huppmann: On the beginnings of dental psychology: work by Erich Stern (1898-1959), Wilhelm Balters (1893-1973) and Erich Heinrich (1895-1982). In: H.-G. Sergl, G. Huppmann, G. Kreyer (Hrsgg.): Yearbook of psychology and psychosomatics in dentistry. Volume 6, 1998, pp. 213-224.
  8. On this (historical) understanding of psychology, cf. the article Psychology in Friedrich Kirchner's Dictionary of Basic Philosophical Terms (1907).
  9. Keyword psychotherapy in DORSCH (Encyclopedia for Psychology)
  10. Eberhard Döring: Immanuel Kant. Introduction to his work. Marix Verlag, Wiesbaden 2004, ISBN 3-937715-00-2 , page 122 on falsification; Page 236 ff. On critical rationalism.
  11. Grünbaum, A. (1988): "The Basics of Psychoanalysis - A Philosophical Critique." Reclam: Ditzingen.
  12. ^ [Three central levels of analysis in psychology, source: David G. Myers: Psychologie. 3. Edition]. Heidelberg: Springer, 2014, ISBN 978-3-642-40781-9