Questions That Psychologists Ask (OLI)


Although psychology has changed dramatically over its history, several questions that psychologists address have remained constant:

  • Nature versus nurture. Are genes or environment most influential in determining the behavior of individuals and in accounting for differences among people? Most scientists now agree that both genes and environment play crucial roles in most human behaviors, and yet we still have much to learn about how nature (our biological makeup) and nurture (the experiences that we have during our lives) work together. In this course we will see that nature and nurture interact in complex ways, making the question “Is it nature or is it nurture?” very difficult to answer.
  • Mind versus Body. How is the mind—our thoughts, feelings, and ideas—related to the body and brain? Are they the same, or are they different and separate entities? The relationship between the mind and body/brain has been debated for centuries and the early predominate belief was that the mind and body were separate entities. This belief became known as the mind-body dualism in which the body is physical and the mind is nonphysical, mysterious, and somehow controls the body. Others believe that the mind and body are not separate in that the mind is a result of activity in the brain. For example, we know that the body can influence the mind such as when feelings of passion or other emotions take over our better judgment. Just like the debate of nature versus nurture, the debate of mind versus body does not have an either-or answer; we know today that the mind and body are intricately intertwined. Today biological psychologists are most interested in this reciprocal relationship between biology and behavior. 
  • Automatic versus controlled processing. One of the great contributions of Sigmund Freud to psychology was his emphasis on unconscious mental activities that influence and even control our thoughts and behaviors. Now, in the age of neuroscience, Freud’s ideas have been radically updated and revised. Much of our normal thinking, perceiving, and acting occurs through brain processes that work automatically, often because we have learned to do them so well and practiced them so much that they occur whether or not we are aware of their occurrence. For example, as you read these words, your visual system quickly and effortlessly translates black lines on a white background into words that have meaning. This is automatic processing, and you can’t avoid it. (Look at the following word but do not read it: FORK). However, you can also process information in a slow, analytic way, focusing attention on an object or an idea. For example, if I ask you how many different meanings the word “bank” has, the answer comes slowly and you probably use conscious strategies to search your mind for possible meanings (“Hmm, the side of a river and a place you put money. Oh, and the inward tilting movement of an airplane. And an elevated part of the ocean floor. And...."). The study of automatic and controlled processes is an important part of our study of child and adolescent development, clinical conditions, and communication through language, to name just a few areas of application. 
  • Differences versus similarities. To what extent are we all similar, and to what extent are we different? For instance, are there basic psychological and personality differences between men and women, or are men and women by and large similar? And what about people from different ethnicity and cultures? Are people around the world generally the same, or are they influenced by their backgrounds and environments in different ways? Personality, social, and cross-cultural psychologists attempt to answer these classic questions.

Did I get this

Traits, capacities, and limitation that we each receive from our biological parents are said to be a result of 
nature OR nurture
The term ‘nature’ refers to our biological makeup of every gene that we have inherited from our parents.


A classmate tells you, “Genetic influences on how intelligent you are can’t be changed.” Your classmate’s viewpoint reflects which question that psychologists attempt to answer?
mind versus body OR nature versus nurture OR differences versus similarities
This classmate’s statement is a reflection of where intelligence comes from; is intelligence heredity (genes) and remains constant throughout one’s life or is intelligence developed by our experiences. This is an example of the enduring question of nature versus nurture that has been questioned throughout time and scientists continue to provide new information about the interaction of our biological composition and our life experiences.


The question as to whether our thinking tells muscles how to act and feel or whether our thoughts, feelings and emotions are interconnected with the actions of our muscles is called 
mind versus body OR automatic versus controlled processing ?
This statement represents the enduring question of how mind and body relate to each other in terms of control and giving or receiving directions. The questions of mind versus body have been studied since the early philosophers and while today most psychologists believe that the mind and body are interconnected, much research is still conducted to learn more about questions posed in field of neuroscience.


Psychological research has answered all of the questions about the similarities and differences among the genders, ethnicities, and cultures
true OR false
The questions as to the similarities and differences among people continue to be a major, enduring question of psychologists especially by those who study personality, social and cross-cultural issues. This is one of several enduring questions that have remained constant throughout the history of psychology. Other enduring questions include nature versus nurture, mind versus body, and automatic versus controlled processing.

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