What Are the Four Goals of Psychology?

A client reclining on a sofa while talking with her therapist.
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Psychology, or the science of behavior and the mind, is part of the social science curriculum in many universities. Other institutions teach psychology in the college of education, natural sciences or humanities, according to the American Psychological Association. Partly in response to these diverse learning environments, the APA has designed overall standards for undergraduate psychology programs. One important objective for psychology programs is to teach the four major goals of psychology.

1 Describing Thinking and Behavior

The first major goal or objective of psychology is to describe mental processes and behavior. This fact-finding step normally comes first whenever researchers step into a new area. Some methods psychologists use to learn how people think include conducting interviews and doing surveys. They also observe people in the workplace, in schools and in public areas to find out how they act. They may use additional methods such as psychoanalysis, lab experiments and personality tests.

2 Understanding Behavior

In natural sequence, the second goal of psychology is understanding people's behavior. Also sometimes called "explaining," this objective requires finding out the cause or causes behind the behavior that's been observed. For example, psychologists set up tests and examine data to find patterns of possible cause and effect. To confirm true causation, psychologists must do repeated testing and eliminate all hypothetical causes due to chance. For example, despite many studies on heredity and environment, researchers have not yet conclusively proven what causes autism.

3 Predicting Outcomes

The third goal of psychology is to predict behavior. When psychologists finally understand what causes a particular behavior, they're better able to predict when it's likely to occur. For example, if psychologists know what combination of personal circumstances and traffic conditions cause road rage, they can foretell when drivers are likely to engage in violence. Similarly, if they know what situations cause former addicts to return to drugs, they can predict when relapses are likely.

4 Controlling What People Do

The fourth goal of psychology is to control behavior. Sometimes stated less autocratically as "to influence," this goal includes preventing destructive behaviors and encouraging positive ones. This goal is exemplified by clinical, counseling or school psychologists, who typically have a state license and a graduate degree in psychology. For example, school psychologists help students improve disruptive behavior and meet learning goals, while clinical psychologists help patients overcome emotional disorders and substance abuse problems.