The Major Goals of Psychology

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. While you might understand what psychology is, many people are not quite so sure about what psychology does. What purpose does psychology serve? What are its goals?

Let's take a closer look at the major goals of psychology, what psychologists strive to accomplish, and how psychology is used to solve real-world problems.

4 major goals of psychology
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Psychology Describes Behavior

One of the first goals of psychology is simply to describe behavior. Through describing the behavior of humans and other animals, we are better able to understand it and gain a better perspective on what is considered normal and abnormal.

Psychology researchers utilize a range of research methods to help describe behavior including naturalistic observation, case studies, correlational studies, surveys, and self-report inventories.

Researchers might start by observing human behavior and then describing a problem. By understanding what is happening, psychologists can then work on learning more about why the behavior happens and even how to change it.

For example, imagine that researchers want to learn more about consumer behavior. They might begin by observing what is already happening in a population. Market research surveys, direct observation, and other data collection methods would then be used to gather information on what people are doing when they shop. This gives researchers greater insight into what is really happening in a particular population.

Psychology Explains Behavior

As you might imagine, psychologists are also interested in explaining behavior in addition to merely describing it. Why do people do the things they do? What factors contribute to development, personality, social behavior, and mental health problems?

Throughout psychology's history, many theories have emerged to help explain various aspects of human behavior. A few examples of such approaches including classical conditioning and attachment theories.

Some theories focus on just a small aspect of human behavior (known as mini-theories) while others serve as all-encompassing theories designed to explain all of human psychology (known as grand theories).

In the previous example, researchers wanted to get a better understanding of what consumers are purchasing and why. Data was previously collected on purchasing behaviors. Psychologists would then conduct research to understand why certain things are happening. They might ask questions about why people purchase certain items or what factors motivate them to make certain purchases.

Psychology Predicts Behavior

Not surprisingly, another primary goal of psychology is to make predictions about how we think and act. Once we understand more about what happens and why it happens, we can use that information to make predictions about when, why, and how it might happen again in the future.

Successfully predicting behavior is also one of the best ways to know if we understand the underlying causes of our actions.

Prediction can also allow psychologists to make guesses about human behavior without necessarily understanding the mechanisms underlying the phenomena.

For example, if researchers notice that scores on a particular aptitude test can be used to predict high school dropout rates, that information can then be used to estimate how many students in a particular group might drop out of school each year.

In the previous example looking at consumer behavior, psychologists would use the information they have collected to try to make predictions about what consumers will purchase next. Businesses and marketers often employ consumer psychologists to help them make such predictions so that they can create products that will appeal to buyers.

Psychology Changes Behavior

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, psychology strives to change, influence, or control behavior to make constructive and lasting changes in people's lives.

In our previous example, researchers might take what they know about the link between scores on an aptitude test and dropout rates and use the information to develop programs designed to help students stay in school.

From treating mental illness to enhancing human well-being, changing human behavior is a huge focus of psychology.

Marketers and businesses often use the understanding gained from psychological research to try to influence and persuade buyers to behave in certain ways. For example, they might design advertising campaigns designed to make a message appeal to a target audience. By tailoring their messaging to specifically appeal to a certain type of buyer, those individuals are often more likely to respond.

A Word From Verywell

So as you have learned, the four primary goals of psychology are to describe, explain, predict, and change behavior. In many ways, these objectives are similar to the kinds of things you probably do every day as you interact with others.

When dealing with a child, for example, you might ask questions like "What is he doing?" (describing), "Why is he doing that?" (explaining), "What would happen if I responded in this way?" (predicting), and "What can I do to get him to stop doing that?" (changing).

Psychologists ask many of the same types of questions, but they utilize the scientific method to rigorously test and systematically understand both human and animal behavior.

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