Psych 101: Summary & Review

Psych 101  provides an overview of psychology history with the essential facts about the most influential psychologists and psychology theories and main topics.


What Is Psychology

Psychology is the study of mental and behavioral processes.

The field of psychology took off in 1879, when German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt created the first laboratory devoted to the study of psychology.

Historical Figures & Their Psychology Theories

  • Ivan Pavlov, classical conditioning. It’s about learning something by association
  • B. F. Skinner, operant conditioning. Or to learn through rewards and punishments.
    Partial reinforcement is more resistant to extinction because the behavior is learned over time.
    To learn new behavior a fixed schedule is superior. But a variable interval schedule is more resistant to extinction
    • Positive Reinforcement: strengthening a behavior via rewards
    • Negative Reinforcement: strengthening a behavioral pattern by result of avoiding or stopping a negative condition
    • Punishment: weakening a behavioral pattern through negative conditioning (punishments)
    • Extinction: weakening a behavior by no longer providing the reinforcement that created it in the first place
  • Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis
  • Lawrence Kohlberg, stages of moral development. A modification of Jean Piaget’s work
  • Stanley Milgram, Milgram Experiment on obedience
  • Alfred Adler, individual psychology. The rejection of Freud’s “universal and biological factor” that makes everyone the same in favor of a more individual approach that takes into account individual experiences and environmental and societal factors. So no single theory can be applied to everyone.
    See Understanding Human Nature
  • Philip Zimbardo, The Stanford Prison Experiment. Albeit there has been much criticism, it successfully showed at the very least that the situation powerfully influences individual’s behavior
    See The Lucifer Effect
  • Solomon Ash, conformity & the power of social influence. 32% of the participants conformed to the answer that was obviously wrong because the rest of the group did give the wrong answer.
    Conformity increases when there are more people, when everyone else agrees, and when the right answer is less obvious. If just one person disagrees with the rest, people have a lot more “courage” to give the right answer (“social support”)
  • John B. Watson (1878–1958), behaviorism. Built on Ivan Pavlov’s operant conditioning, behaviorism sees the individual as a passive clean slate that only responds to environmental stimuli through conditioning (both classical and operant)
  • Hermann Rorschach (1884–1922), Rorschach inkblot test, a psychoanalytic test based on the answers the individual provides to a series of inkblots.
  • Harry Harlow (1905–1981), maternal love. He showed that love is vital in the development of a normal child and that love deprivation can lead to severe emotional damage
  • Jean Piaget (1896–1980), children’s development
  • Albert Bandura (1925), social learning and observational learning. He proved this with the “Bobo doll experiment
  • Carl Rogers (1902–1987), client-center therapy. Rogers founded a new approach to therapy focused on curing, rather than diagnosing, and in helping the client help himself. Today it would be considered “humanistic psychology” or even, in part, “positive psychology“.
  • Abraham Maslow (1908–1970), humanistic psychology and positive mental health. He is most famous for the “Maslow hierarchy of needs”, which has become very popular but also much criticized (and for good reasons, in this author’s opinion. Not scientific, and also a very reductionist theory to truly make sense of human psychology)
  • Kurt Lewin (1890–1947), one of the founding fathers of social psychology because he brought the Gestalt principle of looking at the full environment to understand human behavior. Also did early research on “leadership styles”
  • Carl Jung (1875–1961) was influenced by Freud but renounced his sex theory. Jung believed every person’s purpose in life was to have his or her conscious and unconscious become fully integrated to become their “true self” (individuation)
  • Henry Murray (1893–1988), came up with a list of “psychology needs”
  • Karen Horney (1885–1952), came up with a list of “psychology needs”. It includes the need to have power, for people who hate weakness but admire and desperate for strength. and are desperate for, strength. The need to exploit others, for Machiavellians who see others as tools to reach their goals.
  • John Bowlby (1907 -1990), considered to be the initiator of attachment theory
    • Mary Ainsworth, expanding attachment styles to recognize secure, avoidant, and anxious attachment types
  • Albert Ellis (1913–2007) Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) was the basis for the modern and very popular cognitive behavioral therapy
    See: How to Stubbornly Refuse to Make Yourself Miserable and How to Keep People from Pushing Your Buttons
  • David Kolb, learning styles
  • Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934), reciprocal teaching

Important Psychology Theories

  • Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger), based on people’s inner drive and desire to avoid dissonance (or disharmony) in all of their attitudes and beliefs (cognitions), and to achieve harmony (consonance) among their cognitions.
  • Drive reduction theory (Clark Hull), trying to explain behavior with a mathematical formula based on biological needs or “drives”. It’s largely ignored today.
  • Attribution theory, explaining how people explain the events around them, and why people do what they do.
    • Self-serving bias, to blame external events when we fail, and to credit our success to our qualities
  • Heuristics and biases
    See: Thinking Fast and Slow
  • Self-discrepancy theory

Schools of Thoughts

  • Gestalt psychology & visual perception (Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Kohler). Behavior and mind should be looked at as a whole.
  • Cognitive psychology, focusing on how an individual acquires, processes, and stores information. For 2 decades from the 1950s it replaced behaviorism as the dominant school of thought focusing more on internal processes such as attention, memory, intelligence, problem-solving, perception, decision making and language processing.
    Contrary to psychoanalysis, it uses the scientific method of investigation.
    Also see The Invisible Gorilla

Basic Theories On Groups

Groups have a powerful and sometimes even dramatic effects on individuals.

The most basic theory regarding social psychology is that when a person is alone, he or she is more relaxed and not concerned about the appearance of their behavior. By adding just one other person to
the equation, behaviors begin to change and people become more aware of what is going on around them.

  • Social facilitation, a person can perform simple or well-learned with a greater performance level when there are people around. But they perform less well if it’s a new or difficult task.
  • Groupthink, a tendency to stifle any dissent when the group has agreed on a certain topic (or when people think that the group has agreed on a certain topic)
  • Group polarization, when group dynamics push for extreme positions and most people agree but wouldn’t have agreed individually. To avoid it, homogeneity should be avoided, dissent welcome, and no dominant leader with an agenda should overwhelm the group’s individuals
  • Bystander effect: as a group gets larger, individuals are less likely to help those in need

Theories of Intelligence

Intelligence is one of the thorniest and most divisive subjects in psychology.
One of the reasons, says the author, is that we lack a standard definition for what intelligence actually is.

While some believe it to be a single ability, others believe intelligence is a variety of talents, skills, and abilities. For the most part, however, it is agreed that intelligence includes a person’s ability to think rationally, problem-solve, understand social norms, customs, and values, analyze situations, learn from experience, cope with life’s demands, and think with reason.

We made a case for our own measure of intelligence here.

Power Intelligence (PI): What Is it, How to Increase It

Leadership Theories

There are many different theories of leadership and, as the author says:

But how does one make a great leader? To put it simply: many different ways

Also see:

How to Be A Leader: 13 Laws From Social-Psychology


Personality includes the thoughts, behaviors, and emotions that make an individual unique.

The key characteristics that psychologists tend to agree on when defining “personality” are:

  • Consistency over time and space, behave in the same or similar ways in different types of situations, and often consistent over a lifetime
  • Behavioral influence, being either the cause of a certain behavior, or a heavy influence within a certain situation
  • Includes biology
  • Relationships, thoughts, and emotions are also part of personality

The Big Five is currently the most popular theory of personality.


  • Poor Researchers Can Be Nasty & Play Power Moves

I was 1/3 amused, 1/3 angry, and 1/3 saddened by this:

Because Jung renounced Freud’s sex theory, the psychoanalytic community turned against Carl Jung, and he was cut off from several associates and friends.


  • Too much space on unproven theories?

Almost a whole chapter based on the interpretations of inkblots answers in my opinion was too much.

  • I’d have liked a more “critical” account

Such as, not just listing theories and schools of thought, but also including why they may be less popular today, why they’re incomplete, or what was wrong with a certain old belief.
To be sure, the author does that and there are plenty of “criticism” sections. But I would have liked even more 🙂

  • Unproven theories may need a bigger “warning”

Interpretations of dreams or inkblots aren’t scientific.

In my opinion, they should come with that “not science” warning.

Take this part for example:

Seeing a spider can symbolize fear, a feeling of entanglement, or a feeling of being trapped in an uncomfortable situation as a result of telling lies. It can also symbolize an overbearing mother and feminine power.

Yeah, sure, and it can also symbolize… Pretty much anything because it’s wholly unscientific and only limited by the “psychoanalyst” own fervid imagination.

I think that if psyhcology wants to be a “proper” science, psychologists should be quicker to highlight what’s NOT science.


Psych 101  is a very good overview of psychology history, prominent psychologists, and many theories and famous experiment.

I very much enjoyed it and even as a non-beginner I could learn something new.
And it helped to put a few things in perspective.

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