Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Discovering Psychology logo
History of Psychology
Research Methods
The Human Brain
Human Development
Therapeutic Approaches
link to Series Glossary
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Link to Series Who's Who

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E - G


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Q - S


T - Z

Acculturation: The process of acquiring or adapting to a new culture, its traditions, customs, and patterns of daily living.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS): A severe immunological disorder caused by a virus that destroys the body's immune system and weakens the ability to fight harmful bacteria.

Activation Synthesis Theory: The idea that during sleep, an automatic activation system in the brain produces a series of random electrical discharges that the sleeper roughly ties together by creating a storyline. An opposing theory to the traditional Freudian idea that dreams are secrets, fears, and the like rising from the unconscious.

Addiction: The physical and mental state of dependence on a substance or stimulus, to the point where withdrawal symptoms occur whenever the substance is not present in the body.

Affective Disorders: Any disorder in which the primary symptoms are associated with mood disturbances, such as extreme depression, excessive elation, or both.

Agoraphobia: An extreme fear of public places or open spaces.

Amygdala: A portion of the limbic system considered to be the center for certain memories, as well as for emotional reaction, such as aggression.

Anxiety Disorder: A mental disorder in which an individual experiences physiological arousal and feelings of tension, tremor, shaking, and general apprehension without obvious reason or provocation.

Apnea [sleep] : Heavy, disruptive snoring with repetitive pauses in breathing. Results include fatigue, memory loss, impotence, and high blood pressure.

Autonomic Arousal: The involuntary change in bodily activities that relates to the peripheral nervous system, such as a person's heart rate or sweating, in response to physical or psychological stimuli.

Availability Heuristic: A general principle used in reasoning under conditions of uncertainty; based on dependence on one's personal experiences.

Behavior Therapy: Treatment which focuses on the environment that surrounds the patient, as well as reinforcement and conditioning principles that affect the patient and his or her illness.

Behaviorism: A framework for understanding human behavior through observable, measurable data. This view emphasizes objective stimulus and response over more subjective analysis of internal states. Key figures in behaviorism include American psychologists John B. Watson (1878-1958) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990).

Biofeedback: The process of acquiring voluntary control over non-conscious biological functions, such as those of internal organs and disease. Revolutionized by Neil Miller.

Biological Biasing: The idea that people are genetically "primed" for a disorder, and therefore more likely to get it than others in the general population.

Biological Senescing: The process of growing older physically.

Biomedical Therapy: Therapy used to treat psychological disorders by associating the disorders with changing biological or physical mechanisms, i.e., treating mental disorders as diseases and administering medical treatment.

Biopsychosocial Model: The concept of treating not just the body, but the whole person in his or her social context. A synthesis of biomedical and psychoanalytical approaches to treatment; also called the holistic approach.

Brain Stem: The main structure of the nervous system that connects the brain to the spinal cord.

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Chunking: The process of taking single items of information and collecting them based on similarity, association, or other organizing principles, into larger wholes.

Circadian Rhythm: Consistent pattern of cyclical body activities which lasts approximately 24 hours; also known as the biological clock.

Classical Conditioning: A form of learning in which behavior (conditional response) comes to be elicited by a stimulus (conditional stimulus) that has acquired its power through an association with a biological stimulus, such as food, and repetition. Also called Pavlovian conditioning, after the Russian physiologist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, whose experiments with dogs revolutionized the concept of memory and response.

Cognitive Control: The ability to create subjective realities for oneself, or as directed by a leader; the power of an individual or group to give different meanings to situations.

Cognitive Dissonance: The theory that tension is created between what we think and what we do, and that the discontent created motivates groups or individuals to reduce that tension in whatever way necessary.

Cognitive Illusion: An error in judgement caused by a systematic way of thinking.

Cognitive Psychology: The study of higher mental processes and structures, such as the storage, transformation, and manipulation of information.

Cognitive Tests: Tests that measure an individual's learning in a specific subject area and quantify aspects of one's mental abilities.

Computer Assisted Tomography (CAT scan): An instrument for measuring and analyzing the brain's structure.

Corpus Callosum: The connecting nerve bundle that bridges the two halves of the brain and provides continuity between the right and left hemispheres as electrical impulses pass to each side.

Crystallized Intelligence: The facet of intelligence involving a person's acquired knowledge and her or his ability to access it.

Dementia: A severe deterioration of cognitive abilities, such as memory, reasoning, judgement, and other higher mental processes.

Dendrites: The branched fibers of neurons that receive signals from other neurons. One of the parts of the physical brain known to respond to stimulus, such as touch, by growing and expanding over time.

Depth Perception: The ability to understand the relationship among objects in space. Human beings develop a sense of depth perception as infants.

Developmental Psycholinguistics: The study of language and its development in children, as seen from a psychological point of view.

Disassociation: The functioning of consciousness at different levels without the awareness of relevant information on other levels.

Displacement: The phenomenon of redirecting one's anger or frustration towards individuals other than the ones who are the source of anger.

Distal Stimulus: A distant stimulus, as opposed to the proximal, or near, stimulus. An object, such as a tree, which reflects light waves, is a distal stimulus with respect to the eye.

Double-Blind Procedure: An experimental technique used to determine the effect of a treatment or stimulus, while eliminating biased expectations. In the process, all parties are unaware of which participants are the subjects and which are the controls in an experiment.

Drapetomania: A fictitious mental illness believed to cause slaves to run away from their masters and obsessively seek freedom. An example of the misuse of the medical model of psychopathology.

Dyslexia: A condition in which the high-speed language processing area of the brain fails to activate, causing difficulty in reading and deciphering particular sounds.

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Ego: In Freudian theory, the aspect of the personality involved in self-preservation activities, and directing instinctual drives (the id) into appropriate social channels. The moderator between the id and the superego.

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT): Treatment in which an electric current is applied to a patient's temples in order to induce upheaval in the central nervous system; also called shock therapy.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): The process of recording the brain's electrical activity by attaching electrodes to the scalp and analyzing wave patterns.

Engram: The hypothesized chemical change in the brain resulting from the storing of memory information; also called memory traces.

Event-Related Potentials (ERP): An instrument used to measure and record brainwaves during specific cognitive events.

Explanatory Style: How individuals describe their successes and failures to others, indicating an optimistic or pessimistic bent, which researchers believe tells much about the teller's psychological state.

Fluid Intelligence: The aspect of intelligence involving the ability to see, infer, and analyze relationships and solve problems.

Formal Operational Thought: The capacity for abstract, scientific thinking.

Free Association: The principle technique in Freudian psychoanalysis in which patients give a running account of thoughts, feelings, mental images, and physical sensations as they occur, in order to derive a repressed or hidden motivation for their psychological disorder.

Functional Amnesia: A severe type of memory loss caused by psychological factors such as anxiety, hysteria, or repression.

Functionalism: The perspective on mind and behavior that focuses on the examination of the organism's interactions with its environment. The study of the contents of consciousness, associated with William James.

Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE): The dual tendency of observers to underestimate the impact of situational factors, and to overestimate the influence of dispositional factors on an actor's behavior.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS): A pattern of non-specific adaptational physiological mechanisms that occurs in response to a serious stressor.

Genetic Variability: The biological reality that offspring of any given species will differ from its parents, and that some offspring will survive by adapting to changing conditions.

Group Think: The tendency of a decision-making group to filter out undesirable input in order to reach a consensus, especially if it is in accordance with the leader's viewpoint.

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Habituation: The change in one's response when a stimulus is presented repeatedly.

Hypnagogic State: An alternate state of consciousness at the onset of sleep, and the perceptions, fantasies, and energy levels provoked by that state.

Id: In Freudian theory, the primitive, unconscious part of the personality that operates irrationally and acts on impulse, passion, and animalistic urges.

Implicit Attitudes Test (IAT): A method of measuring biological and psychological reaction time when a pair of values are presented.

Individuation: The process of separation and unique personal growth, i.e., the gradual separation and independence of a child from its mother.

Inherited Behavioral Differences: Human characteristics, such as shyness, which may result from inherited genetic traits.

Instrumental Conditioning: Learning about the relationship between a response and its consequences.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): Index derived from standardized tests of intelligence. Originally obtained by dividing an individual's mental age by his or her chronological age and then multiplying by 100; now directly computed as an IQ test score.

Job Burnout: The deterioration of one's job performance due to factors such as stress and lack of support.

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Language Acquisition Device (LAD): Proposed biologically based mental structure that theorists believe plays a major role in children's language learning. Linguist Noam Chomsky revolutionized the idea that an infant's innate ability to understand a language structurally, before actually being able to speak it, allows for the possibility that children can learn any language intuitively before a certain age.

Law of Effect: The basic law of learning that states that the power of a stimulus to evoke a response is strengthened when the response is rewarded, and weakened when it is not rewarded.

Life-Span Development: The study of the continuities, stabilities, and changes in psychological and physical processes that characterize human functioning, from conception through the final phases of life.

Lucid Dreaming: The state of being consciously aware, while sleeping, that you are dreaming.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A technique for exploring the human brain, using magnetic fields and radio waves to generate and record energy pulses within the brain.

Mid-Life Crisis: A personal identity conflict that comes during middle adulthood, usually around one's forties. The result of feelings of worthlessness and unresolved problems with intimacy and identity; frequently manifested in self-indulgent acts reflective of adolescent behavior.

Mind Guarding: The tendency for members of a group to protect the leader or other decision-makers from input that might influence the leaders to change their minds or raise questions, therefore disrupting the harmony of the organization.

Mnemonic: Technique or device used to aid in memorization.

Motivation: The process of starting, directing, and maintaining physical and psychological activities; includes preferences for one activity over another and persistence of responses.

Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD): A dissociative disorder in which different aspects of a personality function independently of one another, creating the appearance of two or more distinct personalities within an individual.

Mutual Constitution: The reciprocal way in which an individual is shaped by the surrounding culture and simultaneously shapes the culture with his or her behavior. The two modes of mutual constitution are independent (focus on the uniqueness of the individual, being unique) and interdependent (focus on group or community, sense of connection, and responsibility to larger group).

Myelination: The process in which the brainís neural fibers are coated with an insulating fatty sheath (called myelin), facilitating quicker, more efficient transmission of messages.

Nature vs. Nurture Debate: The persistent controversy about whether behavior or other human characteristics are genetically predetermined, or if they are shaped predominantly by the environment and events in an individual's life.

Nerve Impulse: An electrical discharge passed along a neuron's internal fiber.

Neuroethologist: A psychologist who specializes in applying the methodologies of brain science to the study of animal behavior.

Neuron: The basic element of the nervous system; a cell that allows rapid communication between adjacent cells, including receiving, processing, and transmitting information.

Neurotransmitter: A chemical messenger, released from neurons, that crosses the synapse and interacts with receptors.

Nonverbal Communication: Communication between people without the use of words.

Object Permanence: The understanding that physical objects continue to exist even though we cannot see them; an early stage in the psychological development of a child.

One-Word Stage: The stage in a child's language development when the elemental aspects of speech have been mastered, and complete words are used to express relationships between people and objects. In other words, the understanding and use of words as symbols, usually at the end of a baby's first year.

Operant Behavior/Conditioning: A variation on instrumental conditioning in which behavior operates upon the environment and produces consequences, and conditioning manifests as the change that takes place when those consequences have a particular effect.

Organic Amnesia: A permanent form of memory loss, resulting from biological devastation to the brain, such as disease, alcoholism, chemical poisoning, and senility.

Parietal Cortex: The part of the brain that determines where objects are in space, and consequently how one needs to react to them.

Personality Tests: Tests that measure the non-cognitive parts of human personality, such as interests, values, and personality traits.

Phobia: An intense, irrational aversion to something; an overwhelming fear of an objectively harmless stimulus that interferes with normal functioning.

Placebo Effect: The clinical response to a treatment that occurs independent of its physiological effect. In medicine, a placebo is a substance that has no direct pharmacological effect, such as a sugar pill.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET): A method of obtaining detailed pictures of activity in the living brain. Involves injecting a radioactive substance that is taken up by the active neurons, and allows one to view the blood flow in localized areas of the brain as certain tasks are preformed.

Post-Hypnotic Amnesia: Forgetting selected events due to suggestion while under hypnosis, including the suggestion itself.

Practical Intelligence: The idea of a general cognitive, physical, and spatial awareness that is innate in individuals, and which allows them to navigate spaces and social situations.

Prefrontal Lobotomy: An operation that severs the nerve fibers that connect the brain's frontal lobe to the thalamus. Performed on individuals with severe mental disorders that have not responded to other treatments.

Protestant Ethic: A phrase that describes and relates to early American culture, emphasizing individual achievement, personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, and control over the environment.

Prototype: A representative example of a category, or its most typical member.

Proximal Stimulus: A near stimulus, that acts directly on an aspect of the nervous system. The effect of the light waves on the retina of the eye is an example of proximal stimulus (see Distal Stimulus).

Psychoanalytic Therapy: Freudian technique of exploring unconscious motivations, conflicts, and repressed emotions for a prolonged period of time; an alternative to biomedical treatment.

Psychological Adolescing: The process of growing up to full adulthood and realizing the personal potential of oneself; one part of the aging process that develops along with growing older physically.

Psychological Androgyny: Individuals with both male and female psychological characteristics; a blend of masculinity and femininity that results in a greater behavioral adaptability.

Psychometric Research: Studies in the field of psychology that specialize in mental testing and developing standardized methods for collecting data and assessing psychological phenomena.

Psychometrics: Mental testing and measurement.

Psychopathology: The study of mental disorders, or any significant behavioral or psychological syndrome that is an impairment to an individual's areas of functioning.

Psychosocial Dwarfism: A syndrome in which children's normal development is inhibited by traumatic psychological surroundings or events. For instance, physical growth may be stunted when young children experience stress due to family trauma, abandonment, or lack of human touch. Also known as stress dwarfism.

Psychology: The scientific study of behavior and mental processes.

Psychosurgery: Surgical procedures performed on brain tissue to alleviate psychological disorders.

Pygmalion Effect: Positive change in a person's performance or perception of a situation, based on expectation and encouragement by others.

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Rapid Eye Movement (REM): Reliable behavioral sign that a sleeper's mental activity is centered around dreaming.

Reflex: A natural reaction to an external stimulus which causes a physical response. Also an unlearned response induced by specific stimuli that have biological relevance to the organism.

Repression: Freudian theory of expelling or excluding painful thoughts or memories from conscious awareness by storing them in the subconscious.

Retina: The interior rear surface of the eye, containing light-sensitive cells, called photoreceptors, which collect information and transfer it to other parts of the brain for processing and comprehension.

Retinotopic Mapping: The process of recording images photographically in the visual cortex for visual processing.

Schizophrenia: A psychotic disorder consisting of the breakdown of integrated personality functioning, withdrawal from reality, emotional disturbance, or all of the above.

Scientific Method: A framework of approaches and procedures for forming a hypothesis and gathering and interpreting objective information through experimentation. Seeks to minimize sources of bias and to yield dependable, and independently testable, information.

Selective Optimization: A strategy for fulfillment throughout the aging process, where one maximizes gains and minimizes losses associated with growing older. In other words, making the best of what you have.

Self-Concept: An individual's awareness of his or her continuing identity as a person.

Serial Position Effect: A characteristic of retrieval in which a person's recall of first and last items in a list is better than recall of other items.

Soma: The cell body of a neuron, containing the nucleus and cytoplasm of the cell.

Stereotype Threat: The theory that an individual's sense of self and personal performance can be affected when the individual is reminded of a negative or positive stereotype of him or herself, including gender, race, and religion.

Strategic Self-Presentation: An individual's awareness of the social aspects of self-concept; how people present themselves to others.

Structuralism: The view that all human mental experience can be understood as the combination of simple events or elements, and that the underlying structure of the human mind can be revealed by analyzing all basic elements of sensation. The study of the how and why of experience, associated with Wilhem Wundt.

Subconscious Awareness: The mental processes involving information not currently in consciousness but retrievable by special recall procedures, such as hypnosis.

Superego: In Freudian theory, the aspect of the personality representing the internalization of society's values, standards, and morals; the inner consciousness, in direct opposition to the id.

Survival of the Fittest: A key concept in the theory of evolution; the idea that those organisms best adapted to their environment will be more successful than those who are not. Although a concept from biology, survival of the fittest, and natural selection began to be used in other spheres as early as 1900.

Symbolic Reasoning: The cognitive ability to relate one concept to another that represents it in some way. For example, a young child's ability to reason symbolically can be tested by placing a small doll in a model room, and then asking the child to find the full-size doll in an analogous place in a normal-size room.

Synapse: The junction between one neuron and the membrane of the next neuron.

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Telegraphic Stage: The last stage in early language development, when a child begins to form simple sentences and maintains a cognitive word order that can be understood as reflecting a native language.

Theory of Self-Efficacy: Albert Bandura's concept of an individual's belief that he or she can perform adequately in a particular situation.

Thought-Stopping: A behavior modification technique in which critical and independent thinking is discouraged or disallowed.

Trios: Psychologist James Jones's theory that the residual influences and harsh experiences of slavery surface in some African-Americans' conceptions of time, rhythm, improvisation, speech, and spirituality.

Two-Word Stage: The early stage of language development when a child begins to use phrases to express common functions, such as locating and naming objects, demanding and desiring things, questioning, modifying, and qualifying.

Universal Adaptability: In linguistics, the point (believed to be before the age of one) when an infant can distinguish sounds from any language and reproduce them. This flexibility is lost after the child begins to specialize in his or her native language.

Visual Cortex: Region of the brain's cerebral cortex that processes visual information.

Volume Perception: The understanding that containers of different shapes or proportions may hold the same volume.


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