8 Basic Psychology Facts You Need to Know

Two women sitting in a circle

Hero Images/Getty Images

Psychology is a source of fascination for many people, and for good reason. By learning more about the basics of the human mind and behavior, people are able to gain a greater understanding of themselves and others. Psychologists also play a vital role in the health care system by helping individuals experiencing mental health issues, performing psychotherapy, investigating different treatment options, and teaching patients how to manage their symptoms effectively.

For some people, an interest in psychology is fueled by a desire to pursue a career in the field. Others may simply want to learn more out of curiosity or because they are thinking about consulting a psychologist for help with a health concern. No matter what the reason, building a better understanding of topics such as emotion, motivation, cognition, love, communication, and research methods will serve you well in many different areas of life.

Psychology may seem like a vast and daunting topic at first, but understanding a few basic facts can make it easier to get started. The following are just a few of the important things you need to know about this fascinating subject. Once you have a strong understanding of the basics, you will be better prepared to explore different ways that psychology may help improve your everyday life, health, and well-being.

Psychology Is the Study of the Mind and Behavior

First, let's start by addressing exactly what psychology involves. Psychology can be defined as the study of mental processes and behavior. The term psychology comes from the Greek word psyche meaning "breath, spirit, soul" and the word logia meaning "study of."

Psychology has not always existed as it has today. In fact, it is considered a relatively young discipline, although as one eminent psychologist explained, it has a short past but a long history.

Psychology emerged from biology and philosophy and is closely linked to other disciplines including sociology, medicine, linguistics, and anthropology.

While psychology may be a young subject in the grand scheme of things, it has grown to play a tremendous role in the world today. Psychologists are employed in hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, colleges and universities, government agencies, private businesses, and private practice and perform a wide variety of tasks and roles ranging from treating mental illness to influencing public health policy.

Psychology Relies on Scientific Methods

One of the most common myths about psychology is that it is just "common sense." The problem with this is that psychological research has helped demonstrate that many of the things that we believe are just common sense are actually not true at all. After all, if common sense were as common as people say it is, then people wouldn’t engage in behaviors that they know are bad for them like smoking or eating junk food.

By challenging some of our misconceptions about how and why people behave as they do, psychologists are able to provide answers that help solve real-world problems.

Unlike common sense, psychology relies on scientific methods to investigate questions and arrive at conclusions. It is through using empirical methods that researchers are able to discover relationships between different variables. Psychologists use a range of techniques to study the human mind and behavior, including naturalistic observation, experiments, case studies, and questionnaires.

Psychologists Tackle Problems From Multiple Perspectives

Topics and questions in psychology can be looked at in a number of different ways. Let's take the topic of violence as an example. Some psychologists may look at how biological influences contribute to violence, while other psychologists might look at how factors such as culture, family relationships, social pressure, and situational variables influence violence.

Some of the major perspectives in psychology include the:

  • Biological perspective
  • Cognitive perspective
  • Behavioral perspective
  • Evolutionary perspective
  • Humanistic perspective

Each perspective helps contribute a new level of understanding to a topic.

Imagine, for example, that psychologists are trying to understand the different factors that contribute to bullying. Some researchers might take a biological perspective and look at how genetics and the brain contribute to this type of behavior. Another psychologist might take a behavioral perspective and look at the different ways that bullying behaviors are reinforced by the environment. Other researchers might take a social perspective and analyze the impact that group pressure might have on bullying behaviors.

No single perspective is "right." Each contributes to how we understand a topic and allows researchers to analyze the myriad influences that contribute to certain actions and come up with multi-faceted solutions to combat problematic actions and encourage better outcomes and healthier behaviors.

Psychology Subfields Treat Different Problems

In addition to many different perspectives, there are many branches of psychology. Psychologists often opt to specialize in a particular area. The type of psychologist that you need may depend upon the type of problem you are facing.

Some of the biggest subfields within psychology are clinical psychology, personality psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and social psychology. If you are experiencing emotional or psychological symptoms, you might need to refer to a clinical or counseling psychologist. If you have a question about whether your child is developing normally, then you might want to ask a developmental psychologist.

Some psychologists work in the field of mental health to treat patients experiencing psychiatric disorders and psychological distress. Subfields such as clinical, counseling, and health psychology are focused on helping people with mental and physical health issues.

Other psychologists work in applied subfields, such as forensic psychology and industrial-organizational psychology, to solve real-world problems.

Still other psychologists focus their work on research to contribute to our understanding of the human mind and behavior. Such psychologists may specialize in a particular area such as development, social behavior, cognition, or personality.

Psychology Is About More Than Mental Health

When you think of psychology, do you envision a therapist jotting down notes as a client recounts childhood experiences? While therapy is certainly a big part of psychology, it is not the only thing that psychologists do. In fact, many psychologists don't work in the field of mental health at all. Psychology encompasses other areas including teaching, research, and consulting.

Psychologists work in a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Colleges and universities
  • Private corporations
  • K-12 Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Government offices

Mental health is certainly a major area of interest in psychology, but psychologists also do things such as help athletes hone their motivation and mental focus, help design products that are safe and useful and help businesses understand how to influence consumers.

Psychology Is All Around You

Psychology is not just an academic subject that exists only in classrooms, research labs, and mental health offices. The principles of psychology can be seen all around you in everyday situations.

The television commercials and print ads you see every day rely on psychology to develop marketing messages that influence and persuade people to purchase the advertised products. The websites you visit on a regular basis utilize psychology to understand how people read, use, and interpret online information.

Psychology can also play a role in improving your health and well-being. For example, understanding some of the basic principles of behavioral psychology might come in handy if you are trying to break a bad habit and establish new routines. Knowing more about some of the things that motivate behavior can be useful if you are trying to stick to a weight loss plan or exercise regimen. Overcoming phobias, managing stress, improving communication skills, and making better decisions are just a few of the things with which psychology can help.

If You Have a Problem, There's Probably a Psychologist Who Can Help

There are many different types of psychologists; each one focused on solving different types of problems in the world. For example, if your child is experiencing problems at school, you might seek advice from a school psychologist who specializes in helping kids deal with academic, social, emotional, and other issues. If you are concerned about an elderly parent or grandparent, you might want to consult with a developmental psychologist who is specially trained and knowledgeable in issues related to the aging process.

In order to determine which professional is right for your needs, it helps to understand some of the different training and licensing requirements for different specialty areas. If you are trying to select a psychotherapist, it may also be helpful to learn more about which professionals are able to provide therapy services.

If you are thinking about majoring in psychology, then you should be pleased to discover that there are many career paths to choose from. Different career options depend largely on your educational level and work experience, so it is important to research the required training and licensing requirements of your chosen specialty area. Just a few of the possible career options include clinical psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology.

Psychologists Focus On Making Human Lives Better

Among the major goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and improve human behavior. Some psychologists accomplish this by contributing to our basic understanding of how people think, feel, and behave. Other psychologists work in applied settings to solve real-world problems that have an impact on everyday life.

And finally, many psychologists devote their lives to helping people who are struggling with psychological issues. You may find these professionals working in hospitals, mental health clinics, private practices, and other settings to diagnose psychological disorders and provide psychotherapy to people from all walks of life.

While the work of psychologists may be highly varied, they all share one overriding goal: to help people live better lives.

A Word From Verywell

As you can see, psychology is a rich and fascinating subject that has practical applications in many areas of life. If you have ever wanted to learn more about why people think and act the way they do, then studying psychology is a great way to gain greater insight into the human experience.

Psychology has a powerful impact on the world today, which is why it is so important to understand the role that this discipline plays in areas including academics, research, and mental health. Our daily lives are deeply impacted by the interaction of our biology, our relationships, and our mental processes. Psychologists are skilled at understanding the role these factors play in influencing health, happiness, and overall well-being. By learning more about the basics of psychology, you can gain a richer understanding of the many ways that this subject can affect your own life.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Smith KV, Thew GR. Conducting research in clinical psychology practice: Barriers, facilitators, and recommendations. Br J Clin Psychol. 2017;56(3):347–356. doi:10.1111/bjc.12142

  2. Lench HC, Darbor KE, Berg LA. Functional perspectives on emotion, behavior, and cognition. Behav Sci (Basel). 2013;3(4):536–540. Published 2013 Oct 1. doi:10.3390/bs3040536

  3. American Psychological Association. Helping People Improve Their Lives. Psychology: Science in Action.

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists. September 4, 2019