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Psychology Dictionary


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Accommodation     The creation of new cognitive schemas when objects, experiences, or other information does not fit with existing schemas.


Action Potential     The firing on a neuron.  Occurs when the charge inside the neuron becomes more positive than the charge outside.  


Altruism    Behavior that is unselfish and may even be detrimental but which benefits others.


Amnesia  Loss of memory.  Usually only a partial loss such as for a period of time or biographical information.

Analysis   See Psychoanalysis.

  The physiological and psychological reaction to an expected danger, whether real or imagined.


Aphasia    The impairment of the ability to communicate either through oral or written discourse as a result of brain damage.


Arousal Theory   The theory stating that we are motivated by our innate desire to maintain an optimal level of arousal. 


Assimilation    Incorporating objects, experiences, or information into existing schemas. 


Associations    The phenomenon in learning that states we are better able to remember information if it is paired with something we are familiar with or otherwise stands out.


Attachment    The strong bond a child forms with his or her primary caregiver.  


Attribution     An idea or belief about the etiology of a certain behavior.


Authoritarian [parents]     Parenting style focused on excessive rules, rigid belief systems, and the expectation of unquestioned obedience.


Authoritative [parents]    Parenting style focused on setting reasonable rules and expectations while encouraging communication and independence.


Availability Heuristic    A rule of thumb stating that information more readily available in our memory is more important than information not as easily accessible.


Aversion Therapy    A type of behavioral treatment where an aversive stimuli is paired with a negative behavior in hopes that the behavior will change in the future to avoid the aversive stimuli.


Axon     The tail-like part of the neuron through which information exits the cell.





Behavior Modification    The application of behavioral theory to change a specific behavior.


Behavior Therapy    The application of behavioral theory (e.g. conditioning, reinforcement) in the treatment of mental illness. 


Behaviorism   The school of psychology founded on the premise that behavior is measurable and can be changed through the application of various behavioral principles.


Bisexuality   Being attracted to or aroused by members of both genders.  See Sexual Orientation.


Blind Study   As a way to avoid the placebo effect in research, this type of study is designed without the subject's knowledge of the anticipated results and sometimes even the nature of the study.  The subjects are said to be 'blind' to the expected results.


Broca’s Aphasia   An aphasia associated with damage to the Broca's area of the brain, demonstrated by the impairment in producing understandable speech.


Burnout     Changes in thoughts, emotions, and behavior as a result of extended job stress and unrewarded repetition of duties.  Burnout is seen as extreme dissatisfaction, pessimism, lowered job satisfaction, and a desire to quit.





Cell Body    The main part of a neuron where the information is processed.


Centration   A young child's tendency to focus only on his or her own perspective of a specific object and a failure to understand that others may see things differently.

Chemical Imbalance 
A generic term for the idea that chemical in the brain are either too scarce or too abundant resulting in a mental disorder such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.


Classical Conditioning   The behavioral technique of pairing a naturally occurring stimulus and response chain with a different stimulus in order to produce a response which is not naturally occurring.

Client Centered Therapy  A humanistic therapy based on Carl Roger's beliefs that an individual has an unlimited capacity for psychological growth and will continue to grow unless barriers are placed in the way.


Coercive Power  Power derived through the ability to punish.


Cognition    The process of receiving, processing, storing, and using information.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy   Treatment involving the combination of behaviorism (based on the theories of learning) and cognitive therapy (based on the theory that our cognitions or thoughts control a large portion of our behaviors).


Cognitive Dissonance    The realization of contradictions in one's own attitudes and behaviors.


Cognitive Therapy    The treatment approach based on the theory that our cognitions or thoughts control a large part of our behaviors and emotions.  Therefore, changing the way we think can result in positive changes in the way we act and feel.


Compulsion    The physical act resulting from an obsession.  Typically a compulsive act is done in an attempt to alleviate the discomfort created by an obsession. 


Conditioned Response     The response in a stimulus-response chain that is not naturally occurring, but rather has been learned through its pairing with a naturally occurring chain.


Conditioned Stimulus    The stimulus in a stimulus-response chain that is not naturally occurring, but rather has been learned through its pairing with a naturally occurring chain.


Conditioning    The process of learning new behaviors or responses as a result of their consequences.


Conformity    Changing your attitudes, beliefs, thoughts, or behaviors in order to be more consistent with others.


Consciousness    Awareness of yourself and the world around you.


Conservation    The understanding, typically achieved in later childhood, that matter remains the same even when the shape changes  (i.e., a pound of clay is still a pound of clay whether is is rolled in a ball or pounded flat).


Consolidation    The physiological changes in the brain associated with memory storage.


Consolidation Failure    The failure to store information in memory.


Context Dependent Memory   The theory that information learned in a particular situation or place is better remembered when in that same situation or place.


Continuous Reinforcement      The application of reinforcement every time a specific behavior occurs.


Control Group     The group of subjects in an experiment that does not receive the independent variable.


Correlation    Statistical representation of a relationship between two or more variables which does not determine cause and effect.


Critical Period    A time frame deemed highly important in developing in a healthy manner; can be physically, emotionally, behaviorally, or cognitively.


Crowding    The psychological and psychological response to the belief that there are too many people in a specified area.


Crystallized Intelligence   The part of intelligence which involves the acquisition, as opposed to the use, of information.




Decay      Theory which states that memory fades and/or disappears over time if it is not used or accessed.


Declarative Memory     The part of long-term memory where factual information is stored, such as mathematical formulas, vocabulary, and life events. 


Deductive Reasoning     Decision making process in which ideas are processed from the general to the specific.


Defenses (Defense Mechanisms)  Psychological forces which prevent undesirable or inappropriate impulses from entering consciousness (e.g., forgetting responsibilities that we really didn't want to do, projecting anger onto a spouse as opposed to your boss).  Also called Defense Mechanisms, Defense System, or Ego Defenses.

Delusion   False belief system (e.g., believing you are Napoleon, have magical powers, or the false belief that others are 'out to get you.').


Dependent Variable     The variable in an experiment that is measured; the outcome of an experiment.


Developmental Psychology    The area of psychology focused on how children grow psychologically to become who they are as adults.


Difference Threshold     The smallest change in perception which is noticeable at least 50% of the time.


Discrimination     In behavioral theory, the learned ability to differentiate between two similar objects or situations.

 Inability to recognize or be aware of who we are (person), what we are doing (situation), the time and date (time), or where we are in relation to our environment (place).  To be considered a problem, it must be consistent, result in difficulty functioning, and not due to forgetting or being lost.


Displacement   The pushing out of older information in short term memory to make room for new information. 

Dissociation   A separation from the self, with the most severe resulting in Dissociative Identity Disorder.  Most of us experience this in very mild forms such as when we are driving long distance and lose time or find ourselves day dreaming longer than we thought.


Distinctiveness  The phenomenon in memory that states we are better able to remember information if it is distinctive or different from other information.


Divergent Thinking     The ability to use previously gained information to debate or discuss issues which have no agreed upon definitive resolution.


Double Blind Study     Research method in which both the subjects and the experimenter are unaware or 'blind' to the anticipated results.


Drive   An internal motivation to fulfill a need or reduce the negative aspects of an unpleasant situation.


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