One of the changes to the MCAT that took place in 2015 was the introduction of social sciences. Social sciences, especially psychology and sociology, came to be realized as important to the medical profession. Rightfully so. Doctors, like anyone else of any other profession that involves direct contact and interaction with other people, can benefit from an understanding of how the human mind works, and an understanding of human behavior. Psychology is considered by some of be a “soft science.” So, I thought that with all of these chemistry and molecular cell biology reviews, we all might benefit from the introduction of somewhat of a more relaxing topic, while we continue to study the other two. Today I am introducing you to the study of psychology, which you will need to know if you are reading this and have not taken the MCAT yet.
Anyone who has ever been interested in psychology has probably asked themselves the question “Why do we do the things we do?” Or, if you want to phrase it differently “What drives our behavior, our actions?” If you are a more advanced student, you might ponder other questions related to psychology, like “What makes some of us different – like cold-blooded killers?” All of these questions are answered by the study of psychology.
Psychology not only looks at the things that make humans alike, but it looks at those things that set some of us apart from others (Gleitman et al. 2011). And for many hardcore, hard science-lovers, there may be the lingering question of why we need to understand psychology to be good doctors anyway. Though I might’ve answered that question already for you above, there is a deeper answer to it. Psychology is intimately connected to biology, and in fact, biopsychology is a very common course to take at the university level. However, your eligibility to take such a course usually is contingent upon having taken a number of prerequisite courses, including introductory psychology, which also says a lot about the biology behind psychology. Introductory psychology is as much as is required for you to know to take the MCAT, so we will start here.
A classic example of psychology in action is not hard to find. One that we often hear about on TV shows (but which is completely real) is how the setting of an interrogation room shapes the way that a suspect thinks and answers questions. Alarmingly, there tend to be a high number of false confessions when suspects are placed in interrogation rooms. But why is this? For one, the setting of the room is made to make a suspect feel isolated, not distracted, and like it is easy to lose track of time. Coupled with the stern attitude and steadfast refusals of a suspect’s claims of innocence by a police officer/detective who is doing the interrogating, the suspect may eventually crack and confess to committing the crime, even if they didn’t do it (Gleitman et al. 2011).
Psychology is practiced in many other professions. It is possible to make the claim that, in some small way, psychology is practiced in every profession. Specifically, what is psychology? Psychology is defined as the science that seeks to explain aspects of behavior and mental processes, and apply the obtained knowledge in the service of human welfare (Bernstein et al. 2012). It is obvious that mental processes occur in the mind. So, what is the mind anyway? The mind is defined as the private inner experience of perceptions, thoughts, memories, and feelings, and can be likened to a never-ending stream of consciousness. What is behavior, then? Behavior describes actions that may be observed of human beings and other nonhuman animals (Schacter et al. 2014).
As you’ve already come to realize, psychology is practiced by a lot of different people. When someone who works for the FBI develops models that attempt to find commonalities in the backgrounds of serial killers, that person is practicing psychology. And even when someone who works for a software company attempts to find new ways to make websites on the internet more informative and more easily navigable, that person is practicing psychology (Bernstein et al. 2012). Given the definition of psychology that you just learned, you can probably now come up with dozens of other examples of how people in different professions practice psychology.
In the next post we will continue to discuss more about psychology. If you are thinking that so far the discussion has been very broad, well, not to worry. In the upcoming posts you will begin to get an outline of what exactly we will be discussing when I say we are studying “psychology.” Happy studying!
A prospective medical student, looking to help others succeed.