Psychology: meaning, definition, scope, nature, and types

 |   |  Disclaimer: Links to some products earn us a commission

What is psychology? 

What does the word Psychology mean? People use it so often. Do people know what it means?

Here are some usages of the word I’ve come across.  

  • I want to understand the psychology of people who just pick up a gun and shoot.   
  • What is the psychology of a customer?   
  • Are you going to study my psychology and tell me who I am?   
  • You have to understand the psychology of farmers to understand what troubles them.   
  • Architects have to understand the psychological needs of their clients so their house becomes a home. 
  • Psychological experiments show that people do not understand what they really desire.  
  • I am going to study psychology and help people.   
  • Is psychology a science? Is it the same as philosophy?   
  • Economics depends on the psychology of people.   
  • Darling, help me understand your psychology.
  • Why can’t we go to the reunion, you have psychological issues.   
  • What is the psychology of an abused kid?   
  • Your psychology is very bad. Your psychology is very good.    

These are just sentences. It may not be hard to understand them at first but let’s put the word under a microscope and study it.

Some more examples of what people think psychology means  

  • Personality (personality wins)
  • Emotions
  • Thinking
  • Something inside the mind
  • Relationship of strong/impactful events in life and one’s thoughts, behavior, and emotions
the meaning of psychology: nature and scope of psychology
What does psychology mean?

What do people think psychology does?

What do they think people who learn psychology do?

  • Predict behavior
  • Reveal the truth
  • Understand the personality
  • Mind reading (this never happens)
  • Analyze people
  • Sex, Relationships, Life advice

This is what people often assume, however, this is NOT always true. 

What do people assume (incorrectly) about psychologists?

  • They can read minds
  • They can analyze you better than anyone else on the planet
  • They can talk and cure your problems
  • They have no psychological issues and never have conflicts (this one is my favorite)

What do psychologists actually do?

  • Help people understand their mental health and work with them to cope & adjust in life.
  • Study how many aspects of life relate to each other.
  • Conduct studies to understand patterns of behavior & thoughts.
  • Implement studies to provide therapy, counseling, and consultation
  • Work alongside different professionals to improve aspects of business, products, services, technology, communication, etc.
  • Create self-help resources for people to independently cope.

This article on psychology career options could help you understand the wider industrial scope of psychology.

Note: The funny thing about personality is that people don’t see personality as their enduring pattern of behavior, reactions, thinking, world-view, etc. They think of personality as a broad term that accounts for everything about an individual. That is partly the reason why people associate personality & psychology so tightly. From a scientific perspective, psychology does study personality but it is just one of the many factors that it studies.

The nature and scope of psychology

Psychology definition:

  American psychological association 

  • Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. The discipline embraces all aspects of the human experience — from the functions of the brain to the actions of nations, from child development to care for the aged. In every conceivable setting from scientific research centers to mental health care services, “the understanding of behavior” is the enterprise of psychologists. 

  Merriam Webster 

  • The science of mind and behavior
  • The mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group
  • The study of mind and behavior in relation to a particular field of knowledge or activity

  Some more variations of the meaning of psychology: 

  • Psychology is the scientific investigation of how people behave, think, and feel. It includes underlying mechanisms that involve the environment, biology, and the mind. 
  • Psychological investigations try to describe, predict, analyze, and create actionable outcomes that help people. Actionable outcomes include therapy, learning design, altering protocols at a workplace, etc.
  • Today, psychology is closely related to fields such as cognitive science, neuroscience, economics, law, public health, UX & UI. 

Specializations and branches of psychology

The following broad branches of psychology will elucidate the overall nature and scope of psychology:

  1. Clinical psychology – the study, assessment, prevention, coping, and treatment of mental health issues and disorders such as depression & schizophrenia (example)
  2. Organizational & industrial psychology – the study of how professional environments function with respect to employment, assessment & recruiting, workplace wellbeing, conflict resolution, team building, etc. (example)
  3. Social psychology – the study of how people interact in social contexts and what variable affect social behavior, identity, and cognition (example)
  4. Cognitive psychology – the study of mental processes that enable thinking, feeling, language, art, etc. (example)
  5. Behavioral psychology – the study of human and animal behavior (example)
  6. Developmental psychology – the study of specific factors relevant to a certain age group or developmental stage across a lifespan and trends across the lifespan 
  7. Evolutionary psychology – the study of human and animal behavior in an evolutionary context and the study of adaptability and deeply rooted tendencies (example)
  8. Forensic psychology – the study of how criminals behave and think
  9. Neuropsychology – the assessment of brain functioning in a clinical setting
  10. Positive psychology – the study of wellbeing and living a good life (example)
  11. Neuroscience – the study of the brain as a biological unit and its specifics that may or may not directly relate to behavior, thoughts, or feelings. It includes an understanding of how neurons communicate and function.  (example)
  12. Sports psychology – the study, training, and coping of sportsmen
  13. School psychology – the study of a variety of psychological variables in a school context (example)
  14. Cyber-psychology – the study of human behavior with a focus on internet-based behavior (example)

These are just 14 of the broad specializations. There are many many more – geriatric psychology, engineering psychology, counseling psychology, experimental and quantitative psychology, etc. You can snowball around these terms.       

Psychology book recommendations

These introductory textbooks & popular books are ideal for bachelor students and enthusiasts who want to learn psychology with a higher commitment than a quick google search. Links to the books are Amazon affiliate links. Which means I might receive a commission if you buy them, but with no extra cost to you:)

  1. Cognitive Psychology for Dummies (basic introduction to cognitive psychology)
  2. Cognitive Psychology: Mind and Brain (cognitive psychology textbook)
  3. Oxford Dictionary of Psychology (one of the best psychology dictionaries, must-have for all levels)
  4. The Skeleton Cupboard: The making of a clinical psychologist (insights from a clinical psychologist’s experience)
  5. Psychology by Pearson (standard reference book covering most topics for competitive exams)
  6. Abnormal Psychology by Pearson (perfect foundation for clinical psychology)
  7. Games people play (a good slightly casual book on social psychology and relationships)
  8. Theories of Personality (a good loose-leaf book on the basics of personality)
  9. The Cyber Effect (a must-read book on the psychology of internet & technology use)
  10. Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts (a magnificent merger of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and philosophy)
  11. Clinical Neuroscience: An illustrated colour text (ideal introduction to neuroscience & brain disease)
  12. Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry (Animal psychology with all the fun and cuteness)
  13. The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive (detailed insights into sports psychology)

Overview of psychology as a discipline

People often mean to say personality, thoughts, behavior, thinking, issues, motives, needs, etc. when they talk about psychology. And sometimes, vice-versa.  As you you’ve seen the scope of psychology is huge and it is now related to many allied fields.   

I’d like to point out the following key aspects of psychology: It is a scientific investigation. That means, there are experiments, there are numbers, there is data, there is sampling, there is a rigorous use of psychological tools, description, prediction, logical criticism,  systematic observation, and beyond all, it is evidence-based.

Psychology looks at all kinds of people and social groups, animals included. It is the study of the mind and behavior – everything included.    

Psychologists, like others, live a life, some drink, have sex, have fights, have mental health issues, are sometimes better at dealing with a lot of hard things, sometimes really screw-up, etc. And, they take a variety of career paths.

Psychology blog resources

There is a lot of psychology content available on the internet. Where do you begin? Well, my site for starters. But, I want you to check out Dennis Relojo’s site Psychreg too. He is the first blog psychologist and he has compiled the ultimate list of psychology blogs on the internet. So, if you ever need to read 100s of articles on 100s of topics, that list will help you get started and quench your thirst for everything psychology. Check it out here.

Let’s look at the history of the word. Quoting it from Merriam-webster.

The word psychology was formed by combining the Greek psychē (meaning “breath, principle of life, life, soul,”) with –logia (which comes from the Greek logos, meaning “speech, word, reason”). An early use appears in Nicholas Culpeper’s mid-17th century translation of Simeon Partliz’s A New Method of Physick, in which it is stated that “Psychologie is the knowledg of the Soul.” Today, psychology is concerned with the science or study of the mind and behavior. Many branches of psychology are differentiated by the specific field to which they belong, such as animal psychology, child psychology, and sports psychology.

Final Book recommendation:

Here is a psychology textbook that has a little bit about everything. It is usually the standard undergraduate or 12th standard psychology textbook in many countries including India & the USA. Check it out if you are considering psychology as more than a hobby. Click the book’s image to buy it from Amazon. It’s an affiliate link – I might make some money on selling that book from Amazon.


The Heart vs. The Mind (scientific explanation) – A false dichotomy by the mind.

Intelligence quotient, Sentience quotient, Encephalization quotient… novel ways to measure intelligence


Join 1,999 other subscribers

5 thoughts on “Psychology: meaning, definition, scope, nature, and types”