Modern psychology is divided into several subdisciplines, each based on differing models of behavior and mental processes. Psychologists work in a number of different settings, including universities and colleges, primary and secondary schools, government agencies, private industry, hospitals, clinics, and private practices. Recent years have seen a rise in the significance of applied psychology—as can be seen from the areas contemporary psychologists concern themselves with—with an attendant decline in the importance of psychology in academia. In the United States, clinical psychology has become a significant focus of the discipline, largely separate from psychological research. Clinical psychologists are responsible for the diagnosis and treatment of various psychological problems.
Biological models of behavior have become increasingly prominent in psychological theory, particularly with the development of various tools—such as the positron emission tomography (PET) scan—for mapping the brain. The field of neuropsychology, which studies the brain and the connected nervous system, has been an outgrowth of this contemporary focus on biological explanations of human thought and behavior. Cognitive models, derived from the Gestalt school of psychology, focus on the various thinking processes which mediate between stimuli and responses.
Educational psychology, derived from the 18th and 19th cent. educational reforms of Friedrich W. Froebel, Johann Pestalozzi, and their follower Johann Herbart, was later expanded by G. Stanley Hall and by E. L. Thorndike. It is concerned with the development of improved methods of teaching and learning.
Social psychology, developed by British psychologists William McDougall and Havelock Ellis, studies the effects of various social environments on the individual. Some other branches of the field include developmental psychology, which studies the changes in thought and behavior through the course of life; experimental psychology, which is the laboratory research involved in the understanding of the mind; and personality psychology, which deals specifically with individual personality and the processes by which it is formed.
In recent years a number of new fields of psychology have emerged. Industrial/organizational psychology, emerging from social psychology, focuses on the workplace and considers such topics as job satisfaction, leadership, and productivity. Health psychology examines how psychological factors contribute to pathology, and demonstrates how psychology can contribute to recovery and illness prevention for such somatic disorders as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. In environmental psychology, research focuses on how individuals react to their physical environments, and suggests improvements which may be beneficial to psychological health. Other new areas of psychology include counseling psychology, school psychology, forensic psychology, and community psychology.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.