What is Psychology?

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind. Observing, experimenting, and analyzing human and animal minds is our focus. How we do this varies greatly. We can, of course, look at the brain itself to understand the mind - and we increasingly do so, as new technologies allow. But the measure of behavior is our primary method to understand the mind. 

These are just some of the many questions psychologists attempt to answer, and which Psychology undergraduate students consider in our many courses and research opportunities:

  • How do we perceive the physical world?
  • Is our view of the physical world consistent with reality?
  • How do we make sense of the social world?
  • Can we really understand the minds of others?
  • Do the groups others belong to matter?
  • How do memories form and how do we forget?
  • What are the rules by which we reason and think?
  • Are we rational beings, or only boundedly so?
  • How much of our behavior is influenced by conscious mental processes, and how can we study our own consciousness?
  • What is the role of emotion as expressed in the joy, surprise, sadness, anger, and fear of everyday life, as well as in depression, schizophrenia, and other disorders?
  • What are the causes of these kinds of disorders, and how can they be treated?
  • How do all these processes develop from infancy to adulthood, including the ability for language?

To answer these and other questions about the mind, psychologists observe evolutionary factors, biological bases of behavior, cultural and social inputs, and the day to-day situations in which individuals find themselves. Most of the research conducted in Harvard’s Department of Psychology concerns basic psychological processes such as attention, perception, memory, categorization, reasoning, decision-making, language, cognitive and social development, social cognition, intergroup relations, and morality. In addition, some members of the department conduct research on the etiology, development, and treatment of psychopathology. All members of the department share the common goal of understanding mind, brain, and behavior through empirical investigation, and our teaching reflects this goal.