Integrative Details by Subject Area
Integrative Perspectives in Detail
The separate perspectives taken by psychologists are reviewed for students in the context of the historical discussion in Chapter 1. In each subsequent chapter, we pay especially close attention to the contributions of each of the following perspectives to the topic at hand.
English writer and poet John Donne was correct in stating that “no man is an island.” The cultural differences that are increasingly apparent as we become a more global world are a testament to how strongly social structures and processes affect the operation of factors from other perspectives. We are a social species, and much of our behavior can be understood in terms of how it maintains our social relatedness with one another. The consequences of failing to maintain connectedness are severe. For example, chronic feelings of social isolation are associated with poor mental and physical health and premature mortality, and longitudinal studies in humans and experimental studies in animals indicate that perceived isolation contributes to these outcomes. In short, feeling left out can be toxic.
The human is above all else a thinking organism, and the way we process information affects our behavior. Whether we are considering the development of behavior, learned behavior, or the aberrations of behavior that accompany psychological disorders, an understanding of how we think provides considerable insight. For example, we understand that an effective way to improve depressed people’s moods is to help them restructure the way they process information. Instead of students’ thinking that flunking an exam means they are not good enough to attend college, we can encourage them to think that although flunking an exam isn’t fun, it’s not the end of the world and they can make some changes that will lead to better performance next time.
Biological and Evolutionary
We believe that all introductory psychology students, even those who will never take another psychology course, will gain a better understanding of contemporary psychology in the context of the relationships between biological processes and behavior. For example, when we discuss attraction and close relationships, we mention data showing that viewing a photograph of somebody we love, as opposed to somebody we like, activates the brain’s reward circuits and decreases activity in areas associated with social judgment. Love not only is somewhat socially blind but really does feel good. Throughout the textbook, we stress the role of evolutionary pressures in shaping both the structures and the functions of the mind. We devote a complete chapter to providing students with a foundation for understanding the interactions between genes and environment, including a basic primer on epigenetics. The importance of gene–environment interactions is woven throughout our discussion of development, but it is also highlighted in other contexts, including discussions of children’s responses to being bullied.
The structures and processes of behavior, as well as behavior itself, change over time. Knowing that most children achieve a theory of mind by the age of 4 years not only is relevant to our understanding of children and their behavior but also informs discussions of the development of language and social skills and the deficits found in individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The importance of the developmental perspective does not end in childhood either. January 1, 2011, marked the date at which the oldest of the baby boomers turn 65. From that date, about 10,000 people will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years. As a result of these demographic changes, the percentage of the U.S. population whose social role is retiree is projected to increase dramatically in the coming decades. Understanding developmental changes across the life span is therefore increasingly important.
Individual Differences and Personality
Behavioral systems are particularly prone to variation, and we illustrate how such variation can be regarded as a source of important data in its own right. In addition to exploring individual differences within the context of personality, we integrate this facet with other perspectives. For example, we discuss individual differences within the framework of a general perspective of the population and illustrate how this perspective can be used to address the nature of the mechanisms that give rise to a specific behavior.
We can understand behavior by observing what works, but it is also highly useful to see what happens when things go wrong. Just as the neuroscientist learns about normal brain function by observing changes following the damage caused by a stroke, we can learn much about behavior by observing how it changes because of a psychological disorder. For example, we consider the effects of schizophrenia on classical conditioning in the chapter on learning (Chapter 8).