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Psychology Dictionary


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Latent Learning   Learning that occurs without apparent reinforcement but is not demonstrated until such time as reinforcement occurs.


Law of Effect   Theory proposed by Thorndike stating that those responses that are followed by a positive consequence will be repeated more frequently than those that are not.


Learned Helplessness   A condition that occurs after a period of negative consequences where the person begins to believe they have no control. 


Learning Theory    Based on the idea that changes in behavior result more from experience and less from our personality or how we think or feel about a situation.


Legitimate Power  Power derived through one's position, such as a police officer or elected official.


Libido   Sigmund Freud’s terminology of sexual energy or sexual drive.


Locus of Control   A belief about the amount of control a person has over situations in their life.


Long Term Memory   Relatively permanent memory.


Lucid Dream   A dream in which you are aware of dreaming and are sometimes able to manipulate the dream.





Maturation   Changes due to the natural process of aging as determined by your genetics

Mean   A method of determining an average where the sum of the scores are divided by the number of scores.


Measure of Central Tendency   An average (see Mean, Median, and/or Mode)


Median   A method of determining an average by using the score that falls in the middle of the distribution.


Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, 2nd. Edition    An Objective test utilizing 567 items which have been empirically derived to measure a variety of psychological concerns.

  See Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, 2nd. Edition.


Mode   A method of determining an average by using the score(s) which occurs most frequently.


Motivation   The process that energizes and/or maintains a behavior.





Naturalistic Observation   A research method where the subject(s) is(are) observed without interruption under normal or natural circumstances.


Negative Correlation   A correlation where as one variable increases, the other decreases.


Neurotransmitter   A chemical found in animals that plays a role in our behavior, cognitions, and emotions.


Nightmare   A frightening dream occurring in REM sleep.


Nondeclarative Memory   A subsystem within Long term memory which consists of skills we acquire through repetition and practice (e.g., dance, playing the piano, driving a car)


Normal Curve   A graphical interpretation of a population that is ‘bell shaped’ as it has the highest frequency in the middle and this frequency diminishes the farther you get from the center on either end.


Norm   An expectation based on multiple observations.





Object Permanence   The understanding that objects exist even when they are not directly observed.

Objective Techniques   A generic term for the psychological procedures used to measure personality which rely on measurable or objective techniques such as the MMPI-2 and WAIS-III.


Obsession   A persistent and seemingly uncontrollable thought.


Olfaction   The sense of smell.


Operant Conditioning   Learning that occurs due to the manipulation of the possible consequences.


Overlearning   A technique used to improve memory where information is learned to the point that it can be repeated without mistake more than one time.




Panic Attack   Period of extreme anxiety and physical symptoms such as heart palpitations, shakiness, dizziness, and racing thoughts.  Initial attacks are often reported to feel like a heart attack due to the heart palpitations.  A medical exam should be conducted to rule out any such condition. 


Perception   The process of organizing and using information that is received through the senses.


Person Centered Therapy   The therapeutic technique based on humanistic theory which is non-directive and empathic.

Personality   The stable set of individual characteristics that make us unique. 

Permissive [parents]    Parenting style consisting of very few rules and allowing children to make most decisions and control their own behavior.


Persuasion   The deliberate attempt to influence the thoughts, feelings or behaviors of another.

Phobia   An intense fear of a specific object or situation.  Most of us consider ourselves to have phobias, but to be diagnosable, the fear must significantly restrict our way of life.

Placebo   A treatment condition used to control for the placebo effect where the treatment has no real effect on its own.


Placebo Effect   The phenomenon in research where the subject’s beliefs about the outcome can significantly effect the outcome without any other intervention.


Plasticity   The ability of the brain, especially in our younger years to compensate for damage.


Pleasure Principle   Freud’s theory regarding the id’s desire to maximize pleasure and minimize pain in order to achieve immediate gratification.


Population   The entire group to which research is hoping to generalize  (e.g., males, adults, U.S. citizens).


Positive Correlation    A correlation where as one variable increases, the other also increases, or as one decreases so does the other.  


Positive Reinforcement    Something positive provided after a response in order to increase the probability of that response occurring in the future.


Prejudice     Negative beliefs, attitudes, or feelings about a person's entire character based on only one characteristic.  This belief is often based on faulty information.


Primacy Effect    The tendency to remember the first bit of information in a series due to increased rehearsal. 


Primary Reinforcer   A reinforcer that meets our basic needs such as food or water.

Projection   In Psychoanalytic Theory, the defense mechanism whereby we transfer or project our feelings about one person onto another. 

Projective Techniques   A generic term for the psychological procedures used to measure personality which rely on ambiguous stimuli.


Psychiatrist   A medical doctor with training in mental illness.

   Developed by Sigmund Freud, this type of therapy is known for long term treatment, typically several times per week, where the unresolved issues from the individual's childhood are analyzed and resolved.  These issues are considered to be primarily unconscious in nature and are kept from consciousness through a complex defense system.

Psychodynamic Therapy   A modern adaptation of psychoanalytic therapy which has made sometimes minor and sometimes major changes to Freud's original theories.

Psychology   The study of emotion, cognition, and behavior, and their interaction.

   Break from reality, usually identified by hallucinations, delusions, and/or disorientation.


Punishment   The adding of a negative stimulus in order to decrease a response (e.g., spanking a child to decrease negative behavior). 



The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient, site visitor, or student and his/her existing psychologist, mental health provider or college instructor.

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  visitors since September 23, 2002