With Discovering Psychology, we sought to produce a textbook that reflects psychological science in the 21st century and psychology’s rightful place as a hub science—a discipline whose work provides foundational material for many other scientific fields. Psychological science is also inherently interdisciplinary. In a scientific community increasingly dominated by interdisciplinary teams, we would like students to see psychology not as an isolated area of study but as one that integrates a range of knowledge into a true science of mind. These goals and our implementation of them resonated with both instructors and students using our first edition, and we have carried this mission forward into our second edition.
The science of psychology developed in the 20th century as a collection of loosely organized, independent subspecialties. Now in our second decade of the 21st century, the discipline is moving rapidly toward maturity as an integrative, multidisciplinary science. Not only are psychologists forming rich collaborations with scholars in other fields, from medicine to business to education to law, but we are returning to original conceptions of psychology put forward by thinkers such as William James, who sought a complete understanding of the human mind and was not content to view psychology from narrow, isolated perspectives. We share a mutual excitement about this evolution of psychological science and a mutual impatience with the slow pace at which existing introductory psychology textbooks—most of which were first written in the 20th century—have adjusted to this sea change.
For many years, the introductory psychology course has served primarily as a jumping-off point for advanced courses in the field, and the textbooks prepared to support the course have reflected this goal. Each chapter in these conventional textbooks provided a capsule of stand-alone information designed to acquaint the student with the terminology and hypotheses of a single psychological perspective. Human behavior is influenced by factors across multiple perspectives, however. We see our introductory textbook as providing a unique opportunity to discuss all of psychology in one place and at one time. This approach allows us to reflect on the intersections among various perspectives as they inform the whole of our understanding of the human mind. Given that most students in our introductory classes will only take this one course in the field, we have a responsibility to provide a comprehensive structure that will support their lifelong learning and understanding of human behavior.
We see the introductory course as providing a unique opportunity to discuss all of psychology in one place and at one time. Our goal is to engage our students in the fascinating, integrated discipline of psychological science as it exists in the 21st century, and we view the second edition of Discovering Psychology as another plank in the bridge toward this goal. The structure of the bridge is a traditional chapter organization. The piers on which the bridge rests are the foundational theories of the discipline developed in the late 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries. The steel beams of which the bridge is composed consist of the theories and research painstakingly developed throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, and the rivets, trusses, and tie rods that hold the bridge together are integrative themes that have been reinvented in the past decade or so. Finally, the smooth roadbed that transports students across the bridge is a clear, inviting, warm, and lively writing style and visual narrative.
As active instructors in the introductory psychology classroom, we recognize the balance busy faculty members must find between their preparation for class and their many other duties. Our intent is to make the transition to a 21st-century textbook as seamless and effortless as possible for faculty and students alike. Our discussions of complex and emerging issues, such as epigenetics, include sufficient information and explanation to provide a sense of mastery. Clear writing, frequent examples, visual narratives, and engaging pedagogy energize students and provide the support needed for success. After completing the course, students will be able to appreciate the distinction between how laypeople and how psychologists think about human behavior.
As citizens of the 21st century, community leaders, and influencers, college graduates will need a firm foundation in the understanding of human behavior and critical thinking to confront successfully the myriad issues of privacy, genetic manipulation, free will, human dignity, health, and well-being that will face them in the future. This second edition of Discovering Psychology is designed to provide that foundation.
Our Integrative and Functionalist Approach Early writings about psychology were integrated and inclusive. Diverse elements of behavior were combined into the whole. William James (1890) cautions us about the
risks of missing the big picture by breaking the phenomenon of mind into little pieces. Mental life for James was not an entity that can be “chopped up in bits” (p. 239). Despite the long-lived popularity of his dominant psychology textbook, James did not prevail. Psychology soon split into camps of scholars who viewed behavior and mental life through their own single, narrow perspectives, rarely speaking with those who held different views and producing curricula and textbooks that emphasized the parts rather than the whole. There are good reasons for specialization in science, but introductory psychology provides an opportunity to put these pieces back together. Doing so shows students how much our notions have changed regarding how the mind and behavior work and how much this understanding can improve their lives.
As psychological science became increasingly siloed in the 20th century, its origins in the late 19th century as a unified whole were forgotten. In 20th-century introductory psychology textbooks, the writings and experiments of Wilhelm Wundt, Edward Titchener, and James are described as the discipline’s prehensile tail, long ago lost and interesting only from a historical perspective. The organization of the study of mind into separate, disconnected chapters not only transformed the topics of psychology into islands without bridges but actually built barriers to students’ understanding of the connectedness among them. A memory cannot be fully understood from one isolated point of view; only when the social, cognitive, biological and evolutionary, developmental, clinical, and individual differences perspectives are combined can it be thoroughly grasped. James (1890, Vol. 1) warns us that when mental phenomena are “superficially considered, their variety and complexity is such as to leave a chaotic impression on the observer” (p. 1). This confusion, unfortunately, is the legacy for many of our students exposed only to outdated textbooks in psychology.
Breaking from the approach of other textbooks, we reflect throughout our text on the integrative influences of the founders in our functionalist approach to the material. We seek not only to describe behavior but also to answer questions about why a particular behavior occurs. Behavior through this lens is neither random nor unexplainable and shifts into focus when we consider its goals and functions. For example, people do not just experience feelings of loneliness; instead, loneliness acts as a warning signal to remind us of the importance of social connectedness.
Our book is subtitled The Science of Mind, and unlike other contemporary texts with their occasional references to mind, the word appears in each of the chapter titles, highlighting the scientific study of the nature and behavior of the theoretical construct of the mind. Throughout the book, we emphasize the relationship between rigorous scientific methods and observations, as well as the implications of these observations for competing theories about the structure and operations of the human mind.Integration in this textbook extends in two directions, both within psychology and between psychology and other disciplines. We hope to highlight for students the many connections within the discipline of psychology, as well as its connections with other disciplines.