Addiction: A physical and/or psychological dependence on something that produces reward stimuli, such as drugs or gaming. Individuals with addictions develop a tolerance to their addictions (needing more to produce the same effect) and suffer withdrawal syndrome (unpleasant symptoms, such as anxiety) when they are taken away.
Agentic state: A state where an individual mentally considers themselves as an agent (tool) of an authority figure and thus not personally responsible for their actions. It is the opposite of the autonomous state.
Attachment: An emotional connection between an individual and another person (an attachment figure). For example, a baby will typically develop an attachment to its caregiver.
Androcentrism: A bias that sees the male perspective as default. For example, using all-male participants in a study and assuming the findings apply to all humans.
Anisogamy: A form of sexual reproduction where gametes of different size – the male sperm and the female egg – fuse. Differences between these male and female sex cells give rise to different reproductive pressures and different reproductive behaviours.
Anorexia nervosa: An eating disorder characterised by an obsession with losing weight, body image distortion, restriction of food consumption, and low bodyweight.
Anxiety: An unpleasant emotional state of unease, worry, and/or fear. It is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as increased heart rate and behaviours such as fidgeting.
Autism: A developmental disorder characterised, in part, by difficulties with social cognition. For example, people with autism may have difficulties interacting and communicating with other people.
Autonomous state: A state where an individual is freely and consciously in control of their actions and thus takes responsibility for them. It is the opposite of the agentic state.
Aversion therapy: A form of classical conditioning that seeks to create negative associations with a substance or behaviour in order to make that substance or behaviour less desirable. For example, emetic drugs cause sickness and so can be combined with alcohol in order to create an association with drinking alcohol and feeling sick. This reduces the desire to drink alcohol.
Avolition: A lack of desire or motivation to do anything. It is a common symptom of schizophrenia.
Axon: The long part of a neuron through which an electrical signal is carried away from the cell body towards the axon terminal and terminal boutons.
Behaviourism: See behavioural approach.
Behavioural approach: A learning approach to psychology that analyses the mind based on external observations of stimulus and behaviour as opposed to, for example, the inner workings of the mind (cognitive approach) or as a consequence of physical and chemical processes (biological approach).
Bias: A systematic deviation from an accurate perception of reality in favour of some less accurate interpretation. For example, a person with an optimism bias may believe they have a better than 50/50 chance of winning a coin flip, even though the true odds are 50/50.
Biological approach: An approach to psychology that analyses the mind physiologically, looking at things like genetics and the chemical processes that cause mental states and behaviours. The biological approach can be contrasted against other approaches to psychology, such as those that focus on the inner workings of the mind (cognitive approach) or external observations of stimulus and behaviour (behavioural approach).
Biological rhythms: The regular cycles of bodily processes. These cycles may be circadian (~24 hours in length), infradian (>24 hours in length) or ultradian (<24 hours in length).
Biopsychology: See biological approach.
(Storage) Capacity: How much information can be stored in a given component of memory.
(Neuron) Cell body: The part of a neuron that contains the cell nucleus and genetic information.
Central executive: The component of the working memory model of short term memory that filters and co-ordinates the various components of working memory. This filtering process involves sending information to its 3 slave systems: the phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer.
Coding: The format that information in memory is stored as.
Cognitive approach: An approach to psychology that analyses the mind from the perspective of the subject’s thoughts and thought processes by inferring them from behaviour. The cognitive approach can be contrasted against other approaches to psychology, such as those that analyse the mind in terms of physical and chemical processes (biological approach) or external observations of stimulus and behaviour only (behavioural approach).
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): A treatment approach for psychological disorders that seeks to identify and challenge the irrational and maladaptive thought patterns that cause them. Patients are encouraged to replace these thought patterns, which in turn changes their behaviour.
Cognitive dissonance: An uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two or more beliefs that contradict each other.
Compliance: The weakest type of conformity where a person publicly changes their behaviour and beliefs to fit that of a group and avoid disapproval. Privately, though, the person does not accept these behaviours and beliefs. For example, pretending to like a film you hate so as not to stand out from the group.
Concordance rate: The extent to which twins in a twin study share a trait. A high concordance rate – particularly among identical twins – suggests that the trait is genetically determined.
Concurrent validity: The extent to which a study’s results are consistent with similar studies. A study has high concurrent validity if its results are the same as a similar study.
(Classical) Conditioning: When someone is conditioned to associate a neutral stimulus with a natural (unconditioned) response. For example, psychologist Ivan Pavlov demonstrated how dogs could be conditioned to salivate (a natural response to food) in response to a bell ringing (a neutral stimulus) by ringing the bell at the same time as presenting the dog with food. The repeated occurrence of the bell ringing with the presentation of food eventually produced a conditioned response in the dogs, who would salivate at the sound of the bell even when there was no food.
(Operant) Conditioning: When a behaviour is reinforced because of consequences, making it more likely that the behaviour is repeated. Reinforcement can be positive (e.g. getting praised for doing your homework), negative (e.g. doing your homework to avoid getting told off for not doing it), or as a result of punishment (e.g. getting told off by your teacher for not doing your homework, so you do it next time).
Confederate: A fake subject (actor/stooge) in an experiment who is pretending to be part of the experiment.
Conformity: A form of social influence where a person changes their beliefs or behaviours to fit with those of a larger group. Kelman identifies 3 types of conformity: compliance, identification, and internalisation.
Contralateral: Information from the left side of the body is processed by the right hemisphere of the brain and information from the right side of the body is processed by the left hemisphere of the brain. For example, images presented to the left visual field will be processed in the right hemisphere.
Control group: A group of participants who are not exposed to the independent variable being tested. This group provides a benchmark against which you can compare whether the independent variable had an effect or not. For example, in order to test whether caffeine has an effect on test scores, you need to have a control group that doesn’t take caffeine to compare against the group that does take caffeine.
Covert sensitisation: A form of classical conditioning similar to aversion therapy but using imagination rather than real-life unpleasant stimuli in order to make a substance or behaviour less desirable. For example, a therapist may get a cigarette addict to imagine smoking cigarettes covered in faeces and feeling sick, which reduces their desire to smoke cigarettes.
Cue reactivity: A form of classical conditioning where neutral stimuli associated with an addictive substance cause urges to use that addictive substance. For example, an alcoholic may condition himself to feel a strong urge to drink alcohol when going inside the environment of a pub. In isolation, the pub is a neutral stimulus but because it becomes associated with the pleasant sensations of alcohol, it causes a conditioned response (urge to drink alcohol).
Cultural bias: A bias where the researcher assumes their own culture is the default. For example, conducting a study on British teenagers and assuming the findings apply to all teenagers in the world.
De-individuation: When a person loses their sense of personal identity and responsibility due to anonymity. For example, a person wearing a mask, or in a dark area where they can’t be seen, or in a large crowd may become de-individuated.
Dendrite: The part of a neuron that receives a signal (in the form of a neurotransmitter) from another neuron.
Dependence: A symptom of addiction where a person feels like they need a substance. Physical dependence is when someone experiences withdrawal syndrome without the substance. Psychological dependence is when a person has a strong desire to use the substance.
Dependent variable: Something that is measured by researchers in an experiment. For example, participant reaction times.
Depression: A mental disorder characterised by feelings of low mood, loss of motivation, and inability to feel pleasure.
(Hard) Determinism: The belief that human behaviour is entirely caused by physical processes beyond our control. This means free will is impossible.
(Soft) Determinism: The belief that human behaviour is to a large extent caused by processes beyond our control (e.g. biology, upbringing, etc.) but that we can overrule these processes and exert free will when necessary.
Diathesis-stress model: An explanation of schizophrenia that explains the disorder as the result of interaction between biological factors (biological diathesis) and environmental factors (stress).
DSM: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a manual produced by the American Psychiatric Association to diagnose psychological disorders.
(Storage) Duration: How long information can be stored for in a given component of memory.
Ecological validity: The extent to which findings from a study apply in real-life situations outside the study. A study where the same results are seen in similar real world situations has high ecological validity.
Endogenous pacemaker: Things within the body that regulate biological rhythms (your ‘body clock’).
Enmeshment: Where the family members have little individual identity but instead blur into one single unit. According to the family systems theory of anorexia, people with the disorder often come from such enmeshed families.
Episodic buffer: The component of the working memory model of short term memory that combines and temporarily stores information coded in all forms. For example, visual and semantic information may be combined in the episodic buffer to create a coherent working memory of a story.
Episodic (long-term) memory: A type of long-term memory for autobiographical events in a person’s own life. For example, remembering your first holiday.
Ethics: Whether something is morally right or wrong, good or bad. Psychological studies must consider ethical issues in the study design (e.g. any harm that might be inflicted on the participants) as well as ethical implications of the results for society in general (e.g. whether the study’s results could be used to justify discrimination).
Ethnocentrism: A bias where researchers assume behaviour from one culture is the default and normal, and so (falsely) conclude that behaviours considered normal in other cultures are abnormal.
Exogenous zeitgeber: Cues in the external environment that inform endogenous pacemakers to regulate biological rhythms. For example, light is an exogenous zeitgeber because it is used to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
Extraneous variable: An unwanted variable in an experiment that might skew the results.
Face validity: The extent to which a test looks like it is an accurate measure of what it is supposed to measure. A test has high face validity if it is highly plausible (at face value) that the test is an accurate measure of what it is supposed to measure.
Falsifiability: A theory or hypothesis is falsifiable if there is some possible observation that could disprove it. For example, the hypothesis “water boils at 100°c” is falsifiable because it is conceivable that you could heat water to 9999°c and it doesn’t boil over. Even though this would never physically happen, it is a possible observation that would count against the hypothesis. An unfalsifiable hypothesis, in contrast, is consistent with every possible observation and so cannot be disproved – this is considered unscientific.
Forensic psychology: The application of psychology to criminal behaviour.
Free will: The belief that humans are able to freely choose their thoughts and actions. It is the opposite view of determinism.
Gender: Whether a person’s psychology, personality, and behaviour is masculine and/or feminine. It is related to, but not the same as, a person’s biological sex (i.e. whether they are male or female).
(Alpha) Gender bias: A bias that exaggerates differences between genders.
(Beta) Gender bias: A bias that ignores differences between genders.
Gender dysphoria: When a person’s psychological gender does not match their biological sex. For example, a person born biologically female (XX chromosomes) may have a male gender.
Gender identity disorder: See gender dysphoria.
Gene: A biological unit of information inherited from either the mother or the father that encodes for a physical or psychological trait. For example, if someone inherits the SLC1A1 gene from their parents, it increases their risk of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Gland: An organ of the body that produces and releases hormones. For example, the thyroid gland produces and releases the thyroxine hormone.
Heredity: The passing of traits (e.g. psychological or physical) from parents to children via genes.
Holism: An approach to psychology that seeks to understand behaviour using all levels of explanation. For example, a holistic approach to depression would look at the biological, cognitive, and social causes rather than just zooming in on one. It is the opposite approach to reductionism.
Homeostasis: A state of stable and normal functioning within the body. For example, drinking alcohol disrupts homeostasis and so the body processes the alcohol in order to return the body to homeostasis.
Hormone: A chemical produced in a gland of the body that communicates information and has an effect in the body. For example, the growth hormone stimulates cell division and growth.
Humanistic psychology: An approach to psychology that emphasises the subjective experience and free will of the individual, encouraging them to achieve self-actualisation.
Hypothesis: A scientific theory or explanation for something. The hypothesis is tested by comparing its predictions with the results of an experiment.
ICD: The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, a manual produced by the World Health Organisation to diagnose psychological and other health disorders.
Identification: A type of conformity where a person both publicly and privately changes their behaviour and beliefs to fit that of a group they want to be part of. Identification is a stronger form of conformity than compliance due to the additional private acceptance, but a weaker form of conformity than internalisation because the individual does not maintain the beliefs and behaviours after leaving the group. For example, adopting the same music tastes and fashion as your friendship group.
Idiographic: An approach to psychology that seeks to understand each individual as a unique case rather than through general laws that apply to all humans. It is the opposite of the nomothetic approach.
Informational social influence (ISI): When an individual is motivated to look to the behaviours and beliefs of a group in order to be correct. For example, if you are at a formal restaurant and don’t know which cutlery to use, you might look to what someone else is doing for information as to the correct course of action.
Independent variable: Something that is changed by researchers to see if it has an effect on the dependent variable. For example, researchers might change the independent variable of the time of day in some experiments to see if this has an effect on the dependent variable of reaction times.
Insecure-avoidant attachment: A type of infant attachment characterised by low stranger anxiety, low separation anxiety, and minimal reaction upon reunion with the mother.
Insecure-resistant attachment: A type of infant attachment characterised by wariness of strangers, high separation anxiety, and rejection upon reunion with the mother.
Interactional synchrony: In the context of attachment, interactional synchrony is the way interactions between caregivers and infants are synchronised (i.e. co-ordinated). For example, a baby and mother may ‘take turns’ in a synchronised manner that is similar to the way adults take turns to talk in a conversation.
Internalisation: The strongest type of conformity where a person both publicly and privately changes their behaviour and beliefs to those of a group. Unlike identification, individuals who internalise beliefs and behaviours maintain them even after leaving the social group. For example, a person who undergoes a genuine religious conversion will still pray and believe in God even if they move away from the social group of their church.
Introspection: Looking ‘inward’ and examining one’s thoughts, emotions, and sensations. For example, a person might be shown a picture and then asked to examine how it makes them feel. Psychologist Wilhelm Wundt pioneered introspection as an experimental technique. In Wundt’s experiments, subjects were trained to report their inner experiences in a highly systematic and controlled way.
Learning approach: An approach to psychology that explains behaviour as the result of learning experiences from environment. Examples of learning approaches are behaviourism and social learning theory.
Locus of control: A way of characterising how much control a person believes they have over their life. If someone has an internal locus of control, they believe their own choices shape their life. If someone has an external locus of control, they believe their life is primarily shaped by forces outside their control such as luck and fate.
Long-term memory: A long-lasting or permanent store of information. It is the third system of the multi-store model of memory. Some psychologists differentiate between 3 types of long-term memory: episodic, semantic, and procedural.
Longitudinal study: A type of study that involves following someone or something over an extended time period.
Majority influence: See conformity.
Mediating processes: A term from social learning theory that covers the cognitive processes after observing another person’s behaviour that determine whether the observer imitates that behaviour. They are attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.
Meta-analysis: A study of studies. Researchers take several smaller studies within a certain research area and use statistics to identify trends across those studies to create a larger study.
Minority influence: A form of social influence where a person rejects the beliefs and behaviours of the majority and instead adopts those of a smaller group.
Mirror neuron: A neuron that fires both when an action is performed and when that action is observed being performed by someone else.
Multi-store model (MSM): A cognitive theory that explains memory as information flowing through 3 storage systems: sensory register, short-term memory, and long-term memory. Each system uses different coding for the information, and has different storage capacity and duration.
Neophobia: A dislike or phobia of anything new. Innate neophobia may explain food preferences, as new foods could potentially be poisonous.
Nervous system: The main system that controls the mind and body. It consists of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), which is connected to the external world and the rest of the body via the peripheral nervous system.
Neuron: The components through which information is transmitted through the nervous system. For example, a sensory neuron may transmit information from the fingertips (via an electrical impulse) to the central nervous system.
Neuroplasticity: The ability of the brain to change its physical structure in order to perform different functions.
Neurotransmitter: A chemical used by neurons to communicate with each other. A neurotransmitter is released by a neuron, where it crosses a synapse and binds to a receptor in the next neuron.
Nomothetic: An approach to psychology that seeks to identify general laws of human behaviour by looking at the similarities between them. It is the opposite of the idiographic approach.
Normative social influence (NSI): When an individual is motivated to look to the behaviours and beliefs of a group in order to be accepted by the group and not stand out. For example, pretending to agree with the group’s opinions on politics.
Obedience: A form of social influence where a person complies with the instructions of an authority figure.
Objective: Something that takes place in the external world. It is the opposite of subjective, which is something that takes place in the inner world of the mind.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): An anxiety disorder characterised by continuous and repeated thoughts (obsessions) and uncontrollable behaviours and rituals resulting from these thoughts (compulsions). For example, an obsessive fixation on germs may lead to compulsive hand-washing behaviour.
Parasocial relationship: One-sided relationships where a person gets attached to someone they don’t know in real life. For example, someone might engage in a parasocial relationship with a celebrity or social media star.
Phobia: An anxiety disorder characterised by extreme and irrational fear towards something. For example, arachnophobia is an extreme fear of spiders.
Phonological loop: The component of the working memory model of short term memory that deals with auditory information (i.e. sound) – in particular, words.
Privation: An extreme form of deprivation which, in the context of attachment, means an infant never forms an attachment bond with a caregiver.
Procedural (long-term) memory: A type of long-term memory for skills, actions, and how to do things. For example, remembering how to ride a bike.
Psychodynamic approach: An approach to psychology that analyses behaviour as a consequence of conflicts between different parts of the mind. For example, Freud believed unconscious desires (e.g. towards violence or sex) often conflict with one’s conscious beliefs and attitudes (e.g. a moral belief that punching people is wrong).
Psychopathology: The study of psychological conditions whereby an individual’s behaviour and mental states are considered abnormal. Abnormality can be defined in several ways: Deviation from social norms, failure to function adequately, statistical infrequency, and deviation from ideal mental health.
Reactance: When an individual is motivated to assert their free will by rebelling against rules or authority figures that the individual believes are attempting to restrict their free will.
Recidivism: Committing further crime(s) after being sentenced for a previous crime.
Reciprocity: In the context of attachment, reciprocity is the way interactions are reciprocal (i.e. two-way). For example, when a baby smiles, the mother will smile back.
Reductionism: An approach to psychology that seeks to understand behaviour by breaking it down into smaller parts. For example, biological approaches may analyse depression purely on the basis of neurochemistry without considering higher levels of explanation such as thought patterns or social factors. It is the opposite view to holism.
Reliability: A study’s results are reliable if the same results can be replicated under the same circumstances (i.e. the results are consistent).
Schema: Patterns of thought developed from experience that the individual uses to categorise information and experiences more easily. Stereotypes (e.g. dark alley at night = dangerous) are an example of schema.
Schizophrenia: A psychological disorder characterised by loss of contact with reality. Positive symptoms of schizophrenia include hallucinations and delusions, negative symptoms include avolition and speech poverty.
Secure attachment: A type of infant attachment characterised by low stranger anxiety when the mother is present, high separation anxiety, and happiness upon reunion with the mother.
Semantic (long-term) memory: A type of long-term memory for meaning, understanding, and general knowledge. For example, remembering “Paris is the capital of France”.
Sensory register: The first storage system in the multi-store model of memory. It temporarily stores the immediate ‘raw’ data that comes in from the senses.
Separation anxiety: When an infant demonstrates symptoms of anxiety when separated from an attachment figure.
Social change: The process through which the social norms of society (which are generally determined by majority influence) change to give way to new social norms. For example, the suffragette movement inspired the social change of acceptance of women’s voting rights.
Social learning approach: A learning approach to psychology that explains behaviour in terms of observing and imitating others’ behaviour (in addition to learning via standard behaviourist principles).
Social learning theory: See social learning approach.
Social roles: The different roles we play in order to conform to the social norms of the situation. For example, in the role of customer in a shop, you are expected to join the queue and pay for your items. In the role of employee at a company, you are expected to show up on time and go to meetings.
Soma: See cell body.
Short-term memory: A temporary store of information (i.e. less than 30 seconds). Short-term memory is the second system of the multi-store model of memory. The working memory model adds further detail to this system by differentiating between 4 separate information-processing components.
Stress: The physiological response and unpleasant feeling a person gets when they feel that they are unable to cope with the demands of a situation. For example, if you feel that you don’t know enough to pass your psychology exam (whether this is true or not), this will cause feelings of stress.
Stressor: Something that causes stress.
Subjective: Something that takes place in the inner world of the mind. It is the opposite of objective, which is something that takes place in the external world.
Symptoms: A characteristic of a disorder or disease. Positive symptoms are behaviours/experiences in addition to normal functioning whereas negative symptoms are a lack of behaviours/experiences associated with normal functioning.
Synapse: A gap between two neurons.
Synaptic transmission: The process of sending information from one neuron to another over a synapse.
Temporal validity: The extent to which a study’s results stay true over time. A study has high temporal validity if its results are still accurate and valid decades later.
Terminal bouton: The part of a neuron at the end of the axon that contains the neurotransmitters which are released in order to pass information on to the next neuron.
Theory of mind: The ability to imagine and model the mental states of other people’s minds. For example, if you see someone crying, your theory of mind tells you that this person is feeling upset.
Twin study: A study that compares the concordance rate of a trait among sets of twins. If the concordance rate for a trait is higher among monozygotic (identical) twins than dizygotic (non-identical) twins, that suggests the trait is genetically inherited rather than environmentally determined.
Validity: A study’s results are valid if the accurately measure what they are supposed to (i.e. the results are true and correct). There are several forms of validity, including ecological validity, concurrent validity, face validity, and temporal validity.
Variable: A factor in an experiment. Different kinds of variables include independent variables, dependent variables, and extraneous variables.
Vicarious reinforcement: A term from social learning theory whereby a person is more likely to imitate the behaviour of someone else if they see that person being rewarded for it. Or vice versa: where a person is less likely to imitate someone else’s behaviour if they observe them being punished for it.
Visuo-spatial sketchpad: The component of the working memory model of short term memory that deals with visual information and its location in space (i.e. pictures). Also called the mind’s inner eye.
Withdrawal syndrome: A symptom of addiction where a person develops unpleasant symptoms – e.g. shaking, headaches, anxiety – upon stopping use of an addictive substance.
Working memory model (WMM): A model of short-term memory consisting of 4 components, which hold and process different types of information. The components of the WMM are: the central executive, the phonological loop, the visuo-spatial sketchpad, and the episodic buffer.