Basic concepts of Psychology-Introduction to Psychology

This article lays out the basic concepts of psychology and at the same time gives an introduction to psychology as a subject. It is important to understand how definition of psychology evolved over time to understand the concepts of psychology.

Definition of Psychology

The term Psychology has been derived from two Greek words psyche that means soul and logos that means science. Therefore, etymologically psychology means the science of soul. After a lot of research and findings, this definition of psychology has been rejected and now psychology is defined as the science of behavior and cognitive processes.

Basic concepts of psychology

Aristotle defined psychology as the science of soul based on its literal translation. According to Greek philosophy life has no meaning without the soul. Psychology was regarded as a branch of philosophy. This definition was accepted for centuries until experimental psychology came into being and psychology became more scientific. It was now seen that the concept of soul was very vague. The philosophers failed to clearly define the origin, nature or the place of the soul. Soul is a metaphysical concept beyond experience and knowledge. One cannot observe, measure, analyze or experiment upon soul. Thus, this definition was rejected.

The structural school of psychology defined psychology as science of mind. Eventually this definition was also rejected as concept of mind was very ambiguous. Mind doesn’t exist as an object. It can be conceptualized as the whole nervous system, just the brain, a mental process or as a part of personality. Mind cannot be observed, measured or analyzed. Mind is thus an unscientific concept.

William James defined psychology as the science of consciousness. This definition was based the fact that we are always aware of mental and motor behavior. There was an argument about the meaning of consciousness and how it can be measured. It was difficult to measure consciousness in quantitative terms. Like mind and soul, the concept of consciousness is also very subjective. It is hard to observe, analyze or measure consciousness, thus this definition was also rejected.

Psychology is the science of behavior

This definition was proposed by Watson, the founder of behaviorism. By behavior he meant overt behavior that can be observed and experimented upon. Later evidences were laid and advances were made in the area of cognition.

Psychology is now defined as the science of human behavior and cognitive processes.

Basic Concepts of Psychology


Personality is one of the major concepts of psychology. Personality is a dynamic characteristic of a person that is influenced by a lot of factors. Personality is derived from a Latin word ‘persona’ which means mask. It is an organized set of characteristics that influences the environment, cognition, emotions and behavior of a person.

Personality is defined as an enduring pattern of behavior, thoughts and emotions of an individual. It predicts an individual’s reaction to other people, problems and stress. The concept of personality helps us explain why a person behaves in a certain way. It allows us to have a sense of uniqueness. It also allows us to understand, compare and explain the difference in different peoples’ behavior.  

Watson (1930) defines personality as “the sum of activities that can be discovered by actual observations over a long enough period of time to give reliable information”.

Cattell (1970) says, “Personality is that which permits a prediction of what a person will do in a given situation”.


Most of our affairs of everyday are continued with feelings and emotions. Without emotions, life would have been dull and colorless. Emotions are also responsible for the finest human characteristics as well as for the most horrible things of life. The term emotion originated from the Latin word “Emovere” which means “Stirred up state” of the individual.

Our behavior is generally calm and rational but when satisfaction of the motives is thwarted, our behavior ceases to be calm and rational and becomes emotional. Emotions are actually experiences and not behavior or thoughts. They can be positive or negative. Emotions are partly reflexive and partly learned.

According to Barron (2001), emotions are reactions consisting of subjective cognitive states, physiological reactions and expressive behaviors.

According to Morris (2003), emotions are an affective experience that involves diffused physiological changes and can be expressed overtly in characteristic behavior pattern.


Why we behave and how we behave in a certain way in a particular moment is explained through motivation. Motivation is defined as an internal process that directs and maintains behavior. It is one’s motivation which prompts, compels and energizes him to engage in a particular behavior. The forces that work in motivation are needs, drives and motives.

Introduction to Psychology

Needs are general wants that are the basis of our behavior. They can be classified as biological needs and socio-psychological needs. Biological needs include the bodily or organic needs like oxygen, food, water, sleep etc. Socio-psychological needs can be classified as need for love and affection, affiliation, self assertion, self actualization etc.

Need gives rise to drive which motivates an individual from within and directs to a goal which brings the satisfaction of the need. Biological needs give rise biological drive such as hunger, thirst, sex etc and socio-psychological needs give rise to socio-psychological drives such as fear, anxiety etc.

Need and drive then becomes motive which can be defined as an energetic force that works to compel, persuade or inspire an individual to act to achieve that satisfaction of needs.


Intelligence is understood and defined differently by different psychologists. Intelligence is understood as the mental capacity or mental energy of an individual in a particular situation.

Thorndike (1914) defined intelligence as “the power of good responses from the point of view of truth or fact”.

Terman (1921) says, “intelligence is the ability of a person to carry on abstract thinking.

Intelligence is ability to learn. It is the ability or power of making appropriate responses to certain stimuli in a given situation. Psychologists working in the area of intelligence are usually consensual in labeling a person intelligent or otherwise, but they seldom agree on what his intelligence exactly implies.


Thinking is the most complex of all psychological processes and it is thinking which differentiates man from other animals. Though experiments indicate the animals can also think, thinking being a cognitive and symbolic process, requires the function of intelligence. Thinking helps in solving a problem, in fulfilling a need or motivation.

Feldman (1996): thinking is the manipulation of mental representations of information.

Baron (2001): thinking is an activity that involves the manipulation of mental representations of various features of the external world.


Memory is clearly a central process in all aspects of behavior. It deals with the reproduction of events and experiences of the past. A person or an animal experiences ease in relearning an activity, which he had learnt previously.

Memory can be conceptualized as sensory, short term and long term memory. Sensory memory is the memory for all stimuli impinging upon the organism at any particular time. It is the memory for all the sensations that an organism has at any particular time. Short term memory is that part of the memory structure in which information is stored temporarily. It is relatively more permanent than sensory memory, but less enduring than long term memory. Information in long term memory exists indefinitely. There is no limit in long term memory.