Science

Are You Analysing Me?

A friend of mine was a director of one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets and travelled a great deal. He would often find himself on a long flight and inevitably would be asked ‘What do you do for a living?’ His response? ‘I manage a local corner shop’. To answer anymore definitively resulted in many hours of being told the ills of supermarkets in general.

Psychologists often use the same sort of subterfuge as using the ‘P’ word usually results in ‘I hope you’re not analysing me’. It is not surprising then that psychology is a mystery to many. Oh, and no we do not go around analysing people so you are quite safe in our company!

Psychology, in a sentence, is the science of mind and behaviour but studying it is not a simple matter.

If we look inside the cavity of the skull at the brain all that would be seen is a greyish gloopy like structure. In that case how do psychologists go about finding out what our mind does and why it does it? These days we can observe brain activity using imaging technology but even with the most up-to-date methods we cannot directly observe emotions, memories or motivations etc.

We cannot observe how the brain makes us who we are and, more importantly, how it makes us all different. Just like nuclear scientists who study protons, electrons and neutrons which they cannot see, psychologists generate hypotheses and then scientifically test them to confirm or refute predictions.

The characteristic that sets psychology apart from the other sciences is that humans are all psychologists with a small ‘p’. We all subconsciously predict the behaviour of others. When we drive we predict that normally pedestrians will not step into the road. If someone smiles we predict they are friendly. Psychologists with a capital ‘P’ investigate how and why humans do what they do.

The human mind is the most complex machine on earth and is likely to remain so for many years to come despite the advances of Artificial Intelligence. We still know relatively little about how the brain does what it does so effectively and efficiently and what to do when the brain goes ‘wrong’.

Psychology remains one of the most popular ‘A’ level subjects and a typical syllabus includes aggression, eating behaviour, intelligence, learning, cognition, development of morality, phobias, OCD, addiction, and issues of gender plus much more besides. Purchasing just one book, say the AQA Exam Board AS & A2 Psychology Revision guide can keep a U3A psychology group going easily for 12 months or so. Another book which provides much food for thought is ‘The Psychology Book’.

Here many provocative topics are covered for example ‘Autism is an extreme form of the male brain’ or ‘What happens when you put good people in an evil place’ and even ‘Who likes competent women?’ The internet is packed full of good psychological knowledge but be sure to check the reliability of the source. Try searching ‘The psychology of driving’. Articles on ‘texting and driving’, speeding and road user behaviour of all sorts are available. To investigate any subject simply preface whatever you are interested in with ‘The psychology of…’

To explore psychology within a U3A group it is not necessary to find a specialist to lead it however, if in your U3A you have a member with experience and who is willing to share their knowledge or guide your group then that is ideal.

If you want to start a group go to www.u3a.org.uk/resources and click on ‘subject advice’ to obtain a document entitled ‘Psychology: Starting or rejuvenating a psychology group’. In it you will find a list of resources to help and guide your particular interests. That is probably all you need to get you started but if not contact me, the subject adviser, directly. My details are in every edition of Third Age Matters.

Finally, remember, don’t take it too seriously. Use your own experience to contribute to discussions. By the time we retire we all have lots of personal experiences to draw on!

References:
AS-Level Psychology Exam Board: AQA ISBN 978 1 84762 422 2
‘The Psychology Book’ by Nigel Benson and Catherine Collin et al. Published by Dorling Kindersley ISBN 860140200236