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The Four Primary Goals Of Psychology

Updated on January 12, 2012


There are basically four goals of psychology: to describe, to explain, to predict and to influence behavior. Sometimes the fifth goal of observing in order to understand a problem further is added, but the first four are generally those recognized as the main goals of the field. Some even place observe and describe in the same goal. Still, others may add the goal of improving. However, it is possible to understand the basics of psychology by examining and understanding its four main goals.


Describing and Explaining Behavior

The first goal of psychology is to observe and describe behavior. Differentiating between normal, healthy and unhealthy behaviors is the cornerstone of psychology, so it is important that psychologists have a keen sense of observation. Not only does the psychologist have to observe one’s actions but also his or her attitudes, feelings, goals, motivations, reactions and thoughts to the best of his or her abilities. In addition to observation, psychologists have to use other methods to describe behavior including case studies, correlation studies, surveys and other testing.

Of course, these studies also go into the second goal of psychology, explaining. The attempt to explain behavior based on observation is actually rather difficult due to many factors. For instance, behavior varies among culture and can change over time. An accepted behavior in one culture may not be acceptable in another. Furthermore, as the world continues to expand (or grow smaller) through the use of technology, transferring acceptable modes of behavior to new technology can become confusing or create new modes of behavior.

Predicting and Influencing Behavior

The third goal of psychology is to predict behavior. Psychologists try to determine if a person is likely to make healthy or unhealthy decisions when confronted with certain situations. Most of the time, they will use experiments to make their predictions. A subject can be placed in an environment and given a stimulus or stimuli to see how he or she will perform. Sometimes, a psychologist will look at past behavior in order to predict. In any case, predictions can sometimes be wrong.

The last of the goals of psychology is to influence behavior. This can be to change unhealthy behavior as well as encourage already existing healthy behavior. There are many methods used to influence behavior such as positive reinforcement or rewarding good behavior. Cognitive discourse is also a well known method in which the psychology helps the subject get to the true underlying issues that may be behind unhealthy behaviors and attitudes.

Although the goals of psychology are universally the same, many psychologists will go about achieving these goals in different ways. Furthermore, they have to keep in mind that there are always exceptions. In other words, sometimes the behavior of a group does not necessarily mean that an individual that fits into that group will behave in a consistent manner and vice versa. However, psychology can be a useful tool despite its limitations to predict and prevent destructive behavior and reinforce healthy and positive attitudes and behaviors.

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