AP Psychology ALL Terms

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the science of behavior and mental processes

nature-nurture issue

the long-standing controversy over the relative contributions that genes and experience make to the development of psychological traits and behaviors

natural selection

the principle that, among the range of inherited trait variations, those contributing to reproduction and survival will most likely be passed on to succeeding generations


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how the body and brain create emotions, memories, and sensory experiences


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how nature selects traits that promote the perpetuation of one’s genes

behavior genetics

the perspective of psychological science that deals with how much our genes, and our environment, influence our individual differences


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how behavior springs from unconscious drives and conflicts


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how we learn observable responses


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how we encode, process, store, and retrieve information


the perspective of psychological science that deals with how behavior and thinking vary across situations and cultures

basic research

pure science that aims to increase the scientific knowledge base

applied research

scientific study that aims to solve practical problems

clinical psychology

a branch of psychology that studies, assesses, and treats people with psychological disorders


a branch of medicine dealing with psychological disorders, practiced by physicians who sometimes provide medical (for example, drug) treatments as well as psychological therapy

hindsight bias (I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon)

the tendency to believe, after learning an outcome, that one would have foreseen it

critical thinking

thinking that does not blindly accept arguments and conclusions. Rather, it examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, and assesses conclusions


an explanation using an integrated set of principles that organizes and predicts observations


a testable prediction, often implied by a theory

operational definition

a statement of the procedures (operations) used to define research variables. For example, intelligence may be operationally defined as what an intelligence test measures


repeating the essence of a research study, usually with different participants in different situations, to see whether the basic finding generalizes to other participants and circumstances

case study

an observation technique in which one person is studied in depth in the hope of revealing universal principles


a technique for ascertaining the self-reported attitudes or behaviors of people, usually by questioning a representative, random sample of them

false consensus effect

the tendency to overestimate the extent to which others share our beliefs and behaviors


all the cases in a group, from which samples may be drawn for a study

random sample

a sample that fairly represents a population because each member has an equal chance of inclusion

naturalistic observation

observing and recording behavior in naturally occurring situations without trying to manipulate and control the situation

correlation coefficient

a statistical measure of the extent to which two factors vary together, and thus of how well either factor predicts the other


a graphed cluster of dots, each of which represents the values of two variables. The slope of the points suggests the direction of the relationship between the two variables. The amount of scatter suggests the strength of correlation (little scatter indicates high correlation).

illusory correlation

the perception of a relationship where none exists


a research method in which an investigator manipulates one or more factors (independent variables) to observe the effect on some behavior or mental process (the dependent variable). By random assignment of participants the experimenter controls other relevant factors)


an inert substance or condition that may be administered instead of a presumed active agent, such as a drug, to see if it triggers the effects believed to characterize the active agent

double-blind procedure

an experimental procedure in which both the research participants and the research staff are ignorant (blind) about whether the research participants have received the treatment or a placebo. Commonly used in drug-evaluation studies.

placebo effect

any effect on behavior caused by a placebo

experimental condition

the condition of an experiment that exposes participants to the treatment, that is, to one version of the independent variable

control condition

the condition of an experiment that contrasts with the experimental condition and serves as a comparison for evaluation the effect of the treatment

random assignment

assigning participants to experimental and control conditions by chance, thus minimizing preexisting differences between those assigned to the different groups

independent variable

the experimental factor that is manipulated; the variable whose effect if being studied

dependent variable

the experimental factor–in psychology, the behavior or mental process–that is being measured; the variable that may change in response to the manipulations of the independent variable


the most frequently occurring score in a distribution


the arithmetic average of a distribution, obtained by adding the scores and then dividing by the number of scores


the middle score in a distribution; the scores are above it and half are below it


the difference between the highest and lowest scores in a distribution

standard deviation

a computed measure of how much scores vary around the mean score

statistical significance

a statistical criterion for rejecting the assumption of no differences in a particular study


the enduring behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next

Biological psychology

concerned with links between biology and behavior


building blocks of the nervous system


Branches designed to receive/send/and transport information


transports messages to different muscles/glands in the body

Action potential

a neural impulse; a brief electrical charge that travels down an axon. The action potential is generated by the movement of positively charged atoms in and out of channels in the axon’s membrane.

Myelin sheath

a layer of fatty tissue segmentally encasing the fibers of many neurons; enables vastly greater transmission speed of neural impulses as the impulse hops from one node to the next


the level of stimulation required to trigger a neural impulse


the junction between the axon tip of the sending neuron and the dendrite or cell body of the receiving neuron. The tiny gap at this junction is called the synaptic gap or cleft


chemical messengers that traverse the synaptic gaps between neurons. When released by the sending neuron, neurotransmitters travel across the synapse and bind to receptor sites on the receiving neuron, thereby influencing whether it will generate a neural impulse


a neurotransmitter that, among its functions, triggers muscle contraction


"morphine within" – natural, opiatelike neurotransmitters linked to pain control and to pleasure.

Nervous system

the body’s speedy, electrochemical communication system, consisting of all the nerve cells of the peripheral and central nervous systems.

Central nervous system (CNS)

the brain and spinal cord

Peripheral nervous system (PNS)

The sensory and motor neurons that connect the central nervous system (CNS) to the rest of the body


Neural "cables" containing many axons. These bundled axons, which are part of the peripheral nervous system, connect the central nervous system with muscles, glands, and sense organs

Sensory neurons

neurons that carry incoming information from the sense receptors to the central nervous system


central nervous system neurons that intervene between the sensory inputs and motor outputs

Motor neurons

The neurons that carry outgoing information from the central nervous system to the muscles and glands

Somatic nervous system

the division of the peripheral nervous sytem that controls the body’s skeletal muscles.

Autonomic nervous system

the part of the peripheral nervous system that controls the glands and the muscles of the internal organs (such as the heart). Its sympathetic division arouses; its parasympathetic division calms.

Sympathetic nervous system

The division of the autonomic nervous system that arouses the body, mobilizing its energy in stressful situations

Parasympathetic nervous system

The division of the autonomic nervous system that calms the body, conserving its energy


a simple, automatic, inborn response to a sensory stimulus, such as the knee-jerk response

Neural networks

interconnected neural cells. With experience, networks can learn, as feedback strengthens or inhibits connections that produce certain results. Computer stimulations of neural networks show analogous learning.


an ill-fated theory that claimed bumps on the skull could reveal our mental abilities and our character traits.


tissue destruction. A brain lesion is a naturally or experimentally caused destruction of brain tissue

EEG (electroencephalogram)

an amplified recording of the waves of electrical activity that sweep across the brain’s surface. These waves are measured by electrodes placed on the scalp

CT (computed tomography)

a series of x-ray photographs taken from different angles and combined by computer into a composite representation of a slice through the body

PET (positron emission tomography)

a visual display of brain activity that detects where a radioactive form of glucose goes while the brain performs a given task

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

a technique that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce computer-generated images that distinguish among different types of soft tissue; allows us to see structures within the brain


the oldest part and central core of the brain, beginning where the spinal cord swells as it enters the skull; the brainstem is responsible for automatic survival functions


the base of the brainstem; controls heartbeat and breathing

reticular formation

a nerve network in the brainstem that plays an important role in controlling arousal


the brain’s sensory switchboard, located on top of the brainstem; it directs messages to the sensory receiving areas in the cortex and transmits replies to the cerebellum and medulla


the "little brain" attached to the rear of the brainstem; it helps coordinate voluntary movement and balance

limbic system

a doughnut-shaped system of neural structures at the border of the brainstem and cerebral hemispheres; associated with emotions such as fear and aggression and drives such as those for food and sex. Includes the hippocampus, amygdala, and hypothalamus


two almond-shaped neural clusters that are components of the limbic system and are linked to emotion


a neural structure lying below the thalamus; it directs several maintenance activities (eating, drinking, body temperature), helps govern the endocrine system via the pituitary gland, and is linked to emotion

cerebral cortex

the intricate fabric of interconnected neural cells that covers the cerebral hemispheres; the body’s ultimate control and information-processing center

glial cells

cells in the nervous system that are not neurons but that support, nourish, and protect neurons

frontal lobes

the portion of the cerebral cortex lying just behind the forehead; involved in speaking and muscle movements and in making plans and judgement

parietal lobes

the portion of the cerebral cortex lying at the top of the head and toward the rear; includes the sensory cortex

occipital lobes

the portion of the cerebral cortex lying at the back of the head; includes the visual areas, which receive visual information from the opposite visual field

temporal lobes

the portion of the cerebral cortex lying roughly above the ears, includes the auditory areas, each of which receives auditory information primarily from the opposite ear

motor cortex

an area at the rear of the frontal lobes that controls voluntary movements

sensory cortex

the area at the front of the parietal lobes that registers and processes body sensations

association areas

areas of the cerebral cortex that are not involved in primary motor or sensory functions; rather, they are involved in higher mental functions such as learning, remembering, thinking, and speaking


impairment of language, usually caused by left hemisphere damage to either Broca’s area (impairing speaking) or to Wernicke’s area (impairing understanding)

Broca’s Area

an area of the frontal lobe, usually in the left hemisphere, that directs the muscle movements involved in speech

Wernicke’s area

a brain area involved in language comprehension and expression; usually in the left temporal lobe


the brain’s capacity for modification, as evident in the brain reorganization following damage (especially in children) and in experiments on the effects of experience on brain development

corpus callosum

the large band of neural fibers connecting the two brain hemispheres and carrying messages between them

split brain

a condition in which the two hemispheres of the brain at isolated by cutting the connecting fibers (mainly those of the corpus callosum) between them

endocrine system

the body’s "slow" chemical communication system; a set of glands that secrete hormones into the bloodstream


chemical messengers, mostly those manufactured by the endocrine glands, that are produced in one tissue and affect another

adrenal glands

a pair of endocrine glands just above the kidneys. The adrenals secrete the hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (nonadrenaline), which help to arouse the body in times of stress

pituitary gland

the endocrine system’s most influential gland. Under the influence of the hypothalamus, the pituitary regulates growth and controls other endocrine glands.


a relatively permanent change in an organism’s behavior due to experience

associative learning

learning that certain events occur together. The events may be two stimuli (as in classical conditioning) or a response and its consequences (as in operant conditioning)


the view that psychology 1) should be an objective science that 2) studies behavior without reference to mental processes. Most research psychologists today agree with 1) but not with 2).

classical conditioning

a type of learning in which an organism comes to associate stimuli. A neutral stimulus that signals an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) begins to produce a response that anticipates and prepares for the unconditioned stimulus.

unconditioned response (UCR)

in classical conditioning, the unlearned, naturally occurring response to the unconditioned stimulus (UCS), such as salivation when food is in the mouth.

unconditioned stimulus (UCS)

in classical conditioning, a stimulus that unconditionally–naturally and automatically–triggers a response.

conditioned response (CR)

in classical conditioning, the learned response to a previously neutral conditioned stimulus (CS)

conditioned stimulus (CS)

in classical conditioning, an originally irrelevant stimulus that, after association with an unconditioned stimulus (UCS), comes to trigger a conditioned response (CR)


the initial stage in classical conditioning; the phase associating a neutral stimulus with an unconditioned stimulus so that the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a conditioned response. In operant conditioning, the strengthening of a reinforced response


the diminishing of a conditioned response; occurs in classical conditioning when an unconditioned stimulus (UCS) does not follow a conditioned stimulus (CS); occurs in operant conditioning when a response is no longer reinforced

spontaneous recovery

the reappearance, after a rest period, of an extinguished conditioned response


the tendency, once a response has been conditioned, for stimuli similar to the conditioned stimulus to elicit similar responses


in classical conditioning, the learned ability to distinguished between a conditioned stimulus and other stimuli that do not signal an unconditioned stimulus

operant conditioning

a type of learning in which behavior is strengthened if followed by reinforcement or diminished if followed by punishment

respondent behavior

behavior that occurs as an automatic response to some stimulus; Skinner’s term for behavior learned through classical conditioning

operant behavior

behavior that operates on the environment, producing consequences

law of effect

Thorndike’s principle that behaviors followed by favorable consequences become more likely, and that behaviors followed by unfavorable consequences become less likely

operant chamber ("Skinner box")

a chamber containing a bar or key that an animal can manipulate to obtain a food or water reinforcer, with attached devices to record the animal’s rate of bar pressing or key pecking. Used in operant conditioning research


an operant conditioning procedure in which reinforcers guide behavior toward closer and closer approximation of a desired goal


in operant conditioning, an event that strengthens the behavior it follows

primary reinforcer

an innately reinforcing stimulus, such as one that satisfies a biological need

conditioned reinforcer (or secondary reinforcer)

a stimulus that gains its reinforcing power through its association with a primary reinforcer

continuous reinforcement

reinforcing the desired response every time it occurs

partial (intermittent) reinforcement

reinforcing a response only part of the time; results in slower acquisition of a response but much greater resistance to extinction than does continuous reinforcement

fixed-ratio schedule

in operant conditioning, a schedule of reinforcement that reinforces a response only after a specified number of responses

variable-ratio schedule

in operant conditioning, a schedule of reinforcement that reinforces a response after an unpredictable number of responses

fixed-interval schedule

in operant conditioning, a schedule of reinforcement that reinforces a response only after a specified time has elapsed.

variable-interval schedule

in operant conditioning, a schedule of reinforcement that reinforces a response at unpredictable time intervals


an event that decreases the behavior that it follows

cognitive map

a mental representation of the layout of one’s environment. For example, after exploring a maze, rats act as if they have learned a cognitive map of it.

latent learning

learning that occurs but is not apparent until there is an incentive to demonstrate it

overjustification effect

the effect of promising a reward for doing what one already likes to do. The person may now see the reward, rather than intrinsic interest, as the motivation for performing the task.

observational learning

learning by observing others


the process of observing and imitating a specific behavior

prosocial behavior

positive, constructive, helpful behavior. The opposite of antisocial behavior.


the persistence of learning over time through the storage and retrieval of information

flashbulb memory

a clear memory of an emotionally significant moment or event


the processing of information into the memory system–for example, by extracting meaning


the retention of encoded information over time


the process of getting information out of memory storage

sensory memory

the immediate, initial recording of sensory information in the memory system

short-term memory

activated memory that holds a few items briefly, such as the seven digits of a phone number while dialing, before the information is stored or forgotten

long-term memory

the relatively permanent and limitless storehouse of the memory system

working memory

a similar concept that focuses more on the processing of briefly stored information

automatic processing

unconscious encoding of incidental information, such as space, time, and frequency, and of well-learned information, such as word meaning

effortful processing

encoding that requires attention and conscious effort


the conscious repetition of information, either to maintain it in consciousness or to encode it for storage

spacing effect

the tendency for distributed study or practice to yield better long-term retention than is achieved through massed study or practiced

serial position effect

our tendency to recall best the last and first items in a list

semantic encoding

the encoding of meaning, including the meaning of words

acoustic encoding

the encoding of sound, especially the sound of words

visual encoding

the encoding of picture images


mental pictures, a powerful aid to effortful processing, especially when combined with semantic encoding


memory aids, especially those techniques that use vivd imagery and organizational devices


organizing items into familiar, manageable units; often occurs automatically

iconic memory

a momentary sensory memory of visual stimuli; a photographic or picture-image memory lasting no more than a few tenths of a second

echoic memory

momentary sensory memory of auditory stimuli; if attention is elsewhere, sounds and words can still be recalled with 3 or 4 seconds

long-term potentiation (LPT)

an increase in a synapse’s firing potential after brief, rapid stimulation. Believed to be a neural basis for learning and memory


the loss of memory

implicit memory

retention without conscious recollection (of skills and dispositions) (aka procedural memory)

explicit memory

memory of facts and experiences that one can consciously know and "declare" (aka declarative memory)


a neural center located in the limbic system that helps process explicit memories for storage


a measure of memory in which the person must retrieve information learned earlier, as on a fill-in-the-blank test


a measure of memory in which the person need only identify items previously learned, as on a multiple-choice test


a memory measure that assesses the amount of time saved when learning material for a second time


the activation, often unconsciously, of particular associations in memory

déjà vu

the eerie sense that "I’ve experienced this before." Cues from the current situation may subconsciously trigger retrieval of an earlier experience

mood-congruent memory

the tendency to recall experiences that are consistent with one’s current good or bad mood

proactive interference

the disruptive effect of prior learning on the recall of new information

retroactive interference

the disruptive effect of new learning on the recall of old information


in psychoanalytic theory, the basic defense mechanism that banishes anxiety-arousing thoughts, feelings, and memories from consciousness

misinformation effect

incorporating misleading information into one’s memory of an event

source amnesia

attributing to the wrong source an event that we have experienced, heard about, read about, or imagined (aka source misattribution). Source amnesia, along with the misinformation effect, is at the heart of many false memories


the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, and remembering


a mental grouping of similar objects, events, ideas, or people


a mental image of best example of a category. Matching new items to the prototype provides a quick and easy method for including items in a category (as when comparing feathered creatures to a prototypical bird, such as a robin)


a methodical, logical rule or procedure that guarantees solving a particular problem. Contrasts with the usually speedier–but also more error-prone–use of heuristics


a rule-of-thumb strategy that often allows us to make judgements and solve problems efficiently; usually speedier also more error-prone than algorithms


a sudden and often novel realization of the solution to a problem; it contrasts with strategy-based solutions

confirmation bias

a tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions


the inability to see a problem from a new perspective; an impediment to problem solving

mental set

a tendency to approach a problem in a particular way, especially a way that has been successful in the past but may or may not be helpful in solving a new problem.

functional fixedness

the tendency to think of things only in terms of their usual functions, an impediment to problem solving

representativeness heuristic

a rule of thumb for judging the likelihood of things in terms of how well they seem to represent, or match, particular prototypes; maybe lead one to ignore other relevant information

availability heuristic

estimating the likelihood of events based on their availability in memory; if instances come readily to mind (perhaps because of their vivdness), we presume such events are common


the tendency to be more confident than correct – to overestimate the accuracy of one’s beliefs in judgments


the way an issue is posed; how an issue is framed can significantly affect decisions and judgements

belief bias

the tendency for one’s preexisting beliefs to distort logical reasoning, sometimes by making invalid conclusions seem valid, or valid conclusions seem invalid

belief perseverance

clinging to one’s initial conceptions after the basis on which they were formed has been discredited

artificial intelligence (AI)

the science of designing and programming computer systems to do intelligent things and to stimulate human thought processes such as intuitive reasoning, learning, and understanding language. Includes practical applications (chess playing, industrial robots, expert systems) and efforts to model human thinking inspired by our current understanding of how the brain works

computer neural networks

computer circuits that mimic the brain’s interconnected neural cells, performing tasks such as learning to recognize visual patterns and smells.


our awareness of ourselves and our environments

fantasy-prone personality

someone who imagines and recalls experiences with lifelike vividness and who spends considerable time fantasizing

biological rhythms

periodic physiological fluctuations

circadian rhythm

the biological clock; regular bodily rhythms (for example, of temperature and wakefulness) that occur on a 24-hour cycle

REM sleep

rapid eye movement sleep, a recurring sleep stage during which vivid dreams commonly occur. Also known as paradoxical sleep because the muscles are relaxed (except for minor twitches) but other body systems are active.

alpha waves

the relatively slow brain waves of a relaxed, awake state


periodic, natural, and reversible loss of consciousness–as distinct from unconsciousness resulting from a coma, general anesthesia, or hibernation


false sensory experiences, such as seeing something in the absence of an external visual stimulus

sleep spindles

burst of rapid, rhythmic brainwave activity during Stage 2 sleep

delta waves

the large, slow brain waves associated with deep sleep (stage 4)


recurring problems in falling or staying asleep


a sleep disorder characterized by uncontrollable sleep attacks. the sufferer may lapse directly into REM sleep, often at inopportune times

sleep apnea

a sleep disorder characterized by temporary cessations of breathing during sleep and consequent momentary reawakenings.

night terrors

a sleep disorder characterized by high arousal and an appearance of being terrified; unlike nightmare, night terrors occur during stage 4 sleep, within 2 or 3 hours of falling sleep, and are seldom remembered


a sequence of images, emotions, and thoughts passing through a sleeping person’s mind. Dreams are notable for their hallucinatory imagery, discontinuities, and incongruities, and for the dreamer’s delusional acceptance of the content and later difficulties remember it

manifest content

according to Freud, the remembered story line of a dream (as distinct from its latent content)

latent content

according to Freud, the underlying meaning of a dream (as distinct from its manifest content). Freud believed that a dream’s latent content functions as a safety valve.

REM rebound

the tendency for REM sleep to increase following REM sleep deprivation


a social interaction in which one person (the hypnotist) suggests to another (the subject) that certain perceptions, feeling, thoughts, or behaviors will spontaneously occur

posthypnotic amnesia

supposed inability to recall what one experienced during hypnosis; induced by the hypnotist’s suggestion

posthypnotic suggestion

a suggestion, made during a hypnosis session, to be carried out after the subject is no longer hypnotized; used by some clinicians to help control undesired symptoms and behaviors


a split in consciousness, which allows some thoughts and behaviors to occur simultaneously with others

hidden observer

Hilgard’s term describing a hypnotized subject’s awareness of experiences, such as pain, that go unreported during hypnosis

psychoactive drug

a chemical substance that alters perceptions and mood


the diminishing effect with regular use of the same dose of a drug, requiring the user to take larger and larger doses before experiencing the drug’s effect


the discomfort and distress that follow discontinuing the use of an addictive drug

physical dependence

a physiological need for a drug, marked by unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued

psychological dependence

a psychological need to use a drug, such as to relieve negative emotions


drugs (such as alcohol, barbiturates, and opiates) that reduce neural activity and slow body functions


drugs (such as caffeine, nicotine, and the more powerful amphetamines and cocaine) that excite neural activity and speed up body functions


psychedelic ("mind-manifesting") drugs, such as LSD, that distort perceptions and evoke sensory images in the absence of sensory input


drugs that depress the activity of the central nervous system, reducing anxiety but impairing memory and judgement


opium and its derivatives, such as morphine and heroin; they suppress neural activity, temporarily lessening pain and anxiety


drugs that stimulate neural activity, causing speeded-up body functions and associated energy and mood changes


a powerful hallucinogenic drug, aka acid


the major active ingredient in marijuana; triggers a variety of effects, including mild hallucinations

near-death experience

an altered state of consciousness reported after a close brush with death (such as through cardiac arrest); often similar to drug-induced hallucinations


the presumption that mind and body are two distinct entities that interact


the presumption that mind and body are different aspects of the same thing

selective attention

the focusing of conscious awareness on a particular stimulus, as in the cocktail party effect

visual capture

the tendency for vision to dominate the other senses


an organized whole. Gestalt psychologists emphasize our tendency to integrate pieces of information into meaningful wholes


the organization of the visual field into objects (the figures) that stand out from their surroundings (the ground)


the perceptual tendency to organize information into coherent groups

depth perception

the ability to see objects in three dimensions although the images that strike the retina are two-dimensional, allows us to judge distance

visual cliff

a laboratory device for testing depth perception in infants and young animals

binocular cues

depth cues, such as retinal disparity and converge, that depend on the use of two eyes

monocular cues

distance cues, such as linear perspective and overlap, available to either eye alone

retinal disparity

a binocular cue for perceiving depth: the greater the disparity (difference) between the two images the retina receives of an object, the closer the object is to the viewer


a binocular cue for perceiving depth; the extent to which the eyes converge inward when looking at an object


an MC; if one object partially blocks our view of another, we perceive it as closer

relative size

an MC; if we assume that two objects are similar in size, we perceive the one that casts the smaller retinal image as farther away

relative clarity

an MC; because light from distant objects passes through more atmosphere, we perceive hay objects are farther away than sharp, clear objects

texture gradient

an MC; a gradual change from a coarse, distinct texture to a fine, indistinct texture signals increasing distance. Objects far away appear smaller and more densely packed

relative height

an MC; we perceive objects higher in our field of vision as farther away

relative motion (motion parallax)

As we move, objects that are actually stable may appear to move

linear perspective

Parallel lines, such as railroad tracks, appear to converge with distance. The more the lines converge, the greater the perceived distance

light and shadow

Nearby objects reflect more light to eyes. Given two identical objects, the dimmer one seems farther away

phi phenomenon

an illusion of movement created when two or more adjacent lights blink on and off in succession

perceptual constancy

perceiving objects as unchanging (having consistent lightness, color, shape, and size) even as illumination and retinal images change

shape constancy

perceiving the same shape for objects, even if retinal image changes

size constancy

perceiving the same size for objects, even if retinal image changes

lightness constancy (aka brightness constancy)

perceiving the same lightness for objects, even if retinal image changes; perceived lightness depends on relative luminance

perceptual adaptation

in vision, the ability to adjust to an artificially displaced or even inverted visual field

perceptual set

a mental predisposition to perceive one thing and not another

human factors psychologists

psychologists that help design appliances, machines, and work settings that harness natural perception sets.

extrasensory perception (ESP)

the controversial claim that perception can occur apart from sensory input. Said to include telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition


the study of paranormal phenomena, including ESp and psychokinesis


mind-to-mind communication


perceiving remote events, ie that a friend’s house is on fire


perceiving future events, ie a political leader’s death or a sporting event’s outcome


"mind over matter" ie levitating a table or influencing the roll of a die

cocktail party effect

ability to attend to only one voice among many


the effect of grouping nearby figures together


the effect of grouping similar figures together


the effect of perceiving smooth, continuous patterns rather than discontinuous ones


the effect of perceiving spots, lines, or areas as a single unit


the effect of filling in gaps to create a complete whole object


the process by which our sensory receptors and nervous system receive and represent stimulus energies from our environment


the process of organizing and interpreting sensory information, enabling us to recognize meaningful objects and events

bottom-up processing

analysis that begins with the sense receptors and works up to the brain’s integration of sensory information

top-down processing

information processing guided by higher-level mental processes, as when we construct perceptions drawing on our experience and expectations


the study of relationships between the physical characteristics of stimuli, such as their intensity, and our psychological experience of them.

absolute threshold

the minimum stimulation needed to detect a particular stimulus 50 percent of the time

signal detection theory

predicts how and when we detect the presence of a faint stimulus ("signal") amid background stimulation ("noise"). Assumes that there is no single absolute threshold and that detection depends partly on a person’s experience, expectations, motivation, and level of fatigue


below one’s absolute threshold for conscious awareness

difference threshold

the minimum difference that a person can detect between two stimuli. We experience the difference threshold as a just noticeable difference (aka jnd)

Weber’s Law

the principle that, to perceive their difference, two stimuli must differ by a constant minimum percentage (rather than a constant amount)

sensory adaptation

diminished sensitivity as a consequence of constant stimulation


conversion of one form of energy into another. In sensation, the transforming of stimulus energies into neural impulses


the distance from the peak of one light or sound wave to the peak of the next. Electromagnetic wavelengths vary from the short blips of cosmic rays to the long pulses of radio transmission


the dimension of color that is determined by the wavelength of light; what we know as the color names blue, green, and so forth


the amount of energy in a light or sound wave, which we perceive as brightness or loudness, as determined by the wave’s amplitude


the adjustable opening in the center of the eye through which light enters


a ring of muscle tissue that forms the colored portion of the eye around the pupil and controls the size of the pupil opening


the transparent structure behind the pupil that changes shape to focus images on the retina


the process by which the eye’s lens changes shape to focus the image of near objects on the retina


the light-sensitive inner surface of the eye, containing the receptor rods and cones plus layers of neurons that begin the processing of visual information


the sharpness of vision


a condition in which nearby objects are seen more clearly than distant objects because the lens focuses the image of distance objects in front of the retina


a condition in which faraway objects are seen more clearly than near objects because the image of near objects is focused behind the retina


retinal receptors that detect black, white, and gray; necessary for peripheral and twilight vision, when cones don’t respond


receptor cells that are concentrated near the center of the retina and that function in daylight or in well-lit conditions. The cones detect fine detail and give rise to color sensations.

optic nerve

the nerve that carries neural impulses from the eye to the brain

blind spot

the point at which the optic nerve leaves the eye, creating a "blind" spot because no receptor cells are located there


the central focal point in the retina, around which the eye’s cones cluster

parallel processing

the processing of several aspects of a problem simultaneously; the brain’s natural mode of information processing for many functions, including vision. Contrasts with the step-by-step (serial) processing of most computers and of conscious problem solving.

Young-Helmholtz trichromatic (three-color) theory

the theory that the retina contains three different color receptors–one most sensitive to red, one to green, and one to blue–which when stimulated in combination can produce the perception of any color

opponent-process theory

the theory that opposing retinal processes (red-green, yellow-blue, white-black) enable color vision. For example, some cells are stimulated by green and inhibited by red; others are stimulated by red and inhibited by green. (complete explanation pg 187)

color constancy

perceiving familiar objects as having consistent color, even if changing illumination alters the wavelengths reflected by the object


the sense of hearing


the number of complete wavelengths that pass a point in a given time (for example, per second)


a tone’s highness or lowness; depends on frequency

middle ear

the chamber between the eardrum and cochlea containing three tiny bones (hammer, anvil, and stirrup) that concentrate the vibrations of the eardrum on the cochlea’s oval window

inner ear

the innermost part of the ear, containing the cochlea, semicircular canals, and vestibular sacs


a coiled, bony, fluid-filled tube in the inner ear through which sound waves trigger nerve impulses

place theory

in hearing, the theory that links the pitch we hear with the place where the cochlea’s membrane is stimulated

frequency theory

in hearing, the theory that the rate of nerve impulses traveling up the auditory nerve matches the frequency of a tone, thus enabling us to sense its pitch

conduction hearing loss

hearing loss caused by damage to the mechanical system that conducts sound waves to the cochlea

sensorineural hearing loss

hearing loss caused by damage to the cochlea’s receptor cells or to the auditory nerves; also called nerve deafness

gate-control theory

theory that the spinal cord contains a neurological "gate" that blocks pain signals or allows them to pass on to the brain. The "gate" is opened by the activity of pain signals traveling up small nerve fibers and is closed by activity in larger fibers or by information coming from the brain

sensory interaction

the principle that one sense may influence another, as when the smell of food influences its taste


the system for sensing the position and movement of individual body parts

vestibular sense

the sense of body movement and position, including the sense of balance


a need or desire that energizes and directs behavior


a complex behavior that is rigidly patterned throughout a species and is unlearned

drive-reduction theory

the idea that a physiological need creates an aroused tension state (a drive) that motivates an organism to satisfy the need


a tendency to maintain a balanced or constant internal state; the regulation of any aspect of body chemistry, such as blood glucose, around a particular level


a positive or negative environmental stimulus that motivates behavior

hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s pyramid of human needs, beginning at the base with physiological needs that must first be satisfied before higher-level safety needs and then psychological needs become active


the form of sugar that circulates in the blood and provides the major source of energy for body tissues. When its level is low, we feel hunger.

set point

the point at which an individual’s "weight thermostat" is supposedly set. When the body falls below this weight, an increase in hunger and a lowered metabolic rate may act to restore the lost weight.

basal metabolic rate

the body’s resting rate of energy expenditure

anorexia nervosa

an eating disorder in which a normal-weight person diets and becomes significantly underweight, yet, still feeling fat, continues to starve

bulimia nervosa

an eating disorder characterized by episodes of overeating, usually of high-calorie foods, followed by vomiting, laxative use, fasting, or excessive exercise

sexual response cycle

the four stages of sexual responding described by Matsters and Johnson-excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution.

excitement phase

one of the phases of the sexual response cycle; characterized by the genital areas becoming engorged with blood, causing the man’s penis to become partially erect and the woman’s clitoris to swell and the inner lips covering her vagina to open up

plateau phase

one of the phases of the sexual response cycle; characterized by the excitement peaking as breathing, pulse, and blood pressure rates continue to increase. The penis becomes fully engorged. Orgasm feels imminent.


one of the phases of the sexual response cycle; characterized by observed muscle contractions all over the body and further increases in breathing, pulse, and blood pressure rates, followed by ejaculation in men and orgasm in women.

resolution phase

one of the phases of the sexual response cycle; characterized by the body slowly returning to its unaroused state

refractory period

a resting period after orgasm, during which a man cannot achieve another orgasm


a sex hormone, secreted in greater amounts by females than by males. In nonhuman female mammals, estrogen levels peak during ovulation, promoting sexual receptivity

sexual disorder

a problem that consistently impairs sexual arousal or functioning

sexual orientation

an enduring sexual attraction toward members of either one’s own sex (homosexual orientation) or the other sex (heterosexual orientation)

achievement motivation

a desire for significant accomplishment: for mastery of things, people, or ideas; for attaining a high standard

intrinsic motivation

a desire to perform a behavior for its own sake and to be effective

extrinsic motivation

a desire to perform a behavior due to promised rewards or threats of punishment

industrial/organizational psychology

a subfield of psychology that studies and advises on workplace behavior. Industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists help organizations select and train employees, boost morale and productivity, and design products and assess responses to them

task leadership

goal-oriented leadership that sets standards, organizes work, and focuses attention on goals

social leadership

group-oriented leadership that builds teamwork, mediates conflict, and offers support

Theory X

assumes that workers are basically lazy, error-prone, and extrinsically motivated by money and, thus, should be directed from above.

Theory Y

assumes that, given challenge and freedom, workers are motivated to achieve self-esteem and to demonstrate their competence and creativity.


a response of the whole organism, involving (1) physiological arousal, (2) expressive behaviors, and (3) conscious experience

James-Lange Theory

the theory that our experience of emotion is our awareness of our physiological responses to emotion-arousing stimuli

Cannon-Bard Theory

the theory that an emotion-arousing stimulus spontaneously triggers (1) physiological responses and (2) the subjective experience of emotion

two-factor theory

Schachter’s theory that to experience emotion one must (1) be physically aroused and (2) cognitively label the arousal


a machine, commonly used in attempts to detect lies, that measures several of the physiological responses accompanying emotion


emotional release. In psychology, the catharsis hypothesis maintains that "releasing" aggressive energy (through action or fantasy) relieves aggressive urges

feel-good, do-good phenomenon

people’s tendency to be helpful when already in a good mood

subjective well-being

self-perceived happiness or satisfaction with life. Used along with measures of objective well-being (for example, physical and economic indicators) to evaluate people’s quality of life.

adaptation-level phenomenon

our tendency to form judgments (of sounds, of lights, of income) relative to a "neutral" level defined by our prior experience

relative deprivation

the perception that one is worse off relative to those with whom one compares oneself


an individual’s characteristic pattern of thinking, feeling, and acting

free association

in psychoanalysis, a method of exploring the unconscious in which the person relaxes and says whatever comes to mind, no matter how trivial or embarrassing.


Freud’s theory of personality that attributes thoughts and actions to unconscious motives and conflicts; the techniques used in treating psychological disorders by seeking to expose and interpret unconscious tensions


according to Freud, a reservoir of mostly unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories. According to contemporary psychologists, information processing of which we are unaware


Information that is not conscious but is retrievable into conscious awareness


contains a reservoir of unconscious psychic energy that, according to Freud, strives to satisfy basic sexual and aggressive drives. The id operates on the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification.


the largely conscious, "executive" part of personality that, according to Freud, mediates among the demands of the id, superego, and reality. The ego operates on the reality principle, satisfying the id’s desires in ways that will realistically bring pleasure rather than pain


the part of personality that, according to Freud, represents internalized ideals and provides standards for judgment (the conscience) and for future aspirations

psychosexual stages

the childhood stages of development (oral, anal, phallic, latency, genital) during which, according to Freud, the id’s pleasure-seeking energies focus on distinct erogenous zones

Oedipus complex

according to Freud, a boy’s sexual desires toward his mother and feelings of jealousy and hatred for the rival father

Electra complex

counterpart to the Oedipus complex for females


the process by which, according to Freud, children incorporate their parents’ values into their developing superegos


according to Freud, a lingering focus of pleasure-seeking energies at an earlier psychosexual stage, in which conflicts were unresolved

defense mechanisms

in psychoanalytic theory, the ego’s protective methods of reducing anxiety by unconsciously distorting reality


in psychoanalytic theory, the basic defense mechanism that banishes anxiety-arousing thoughts, feelings, and memories from consciousness


defense mechanism in which an individual faced with anxiety retreats to a more infantile psychosexual stage, where some psychic energy remains fixated (ie thumb sucking)

reaction formation

psychoanalytic defense mechanism by which the ego unconsciously switches unacceptable impulses into their opposites. Thus, people may express feelings that are the opposite of their anxiety-arousing unconscious feelings. (ie changing "I hate him" to "I love him")


defense mechanism by which people disguise their own threatening impulses by attributing them to others (ie changing "I don’t trust him" to "He doesn’t trust me" … "The thief thinks everyone else is a thief")


defense mechanism that offers self-justifying explanations in place of the real, more threatening, unconscious reasons for one’s actions


psychoanalytic defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses toward a more acceptable or less threatening object or person, as when redirecting anger toward a safer outlet. (ie kicking the dog)


in psychoanalytic theory, the defense mechanism by which people rechannel their unacceptable impulses into socially approved activities

projective test

a personality test, such as the Rorschach or TAT, that provides ambiguous stimuli designed to trigger projection of one’s inner dynamics

Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)

a projective test in which people express their inner feelings and interests through the stories they make up about ambiguous scenes

Rorschach inkblot test

the most widely used projective test, a set of 10 inkblots, designed by Hermann Rorschach; seeks to identify people’s inner feelings by analyzing their interpretations of the blots

collective unconscious

Carl Jung’s concept of a shared, inherited reservoir of memory traces from our species’ history


a characteristic pattern of behavior or a disposition to feel and act, as assessed by self-report inventories and peer reports.

personality inventory

a questionnaire (often with true-false or agree-disagree items) on which people respond to items designed to gauge a wide range of feelings and behaviors; used to assess selected personality traits.

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI)

the most widely reserached and clinically used of all personality tests. Originally developed to identify emotional disorders (still considered its most appropriate use), this test is now used for many other screening purposes

empirically derived test

a test (such as the MMPI) developed by testing a pool of items and then selecting those that discriminate between groups


according to Maslow, the ultimate psychological need that arises after basic physical and psychological needs are met and self-esteem is achieved; the motivation to fulfill one’s potential

unconditional positive regard

according to Rogers, an attitude of total acceptance toward another person


all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, in answer to the question, "Who am I?"


one’s feelings of high or low self-worth

self-serving bias

a readiness to perceive oneself favorably


giving priority to one’s own goals over group goals and defining one’s identity in terms of personal attributes rather than group identifications


giving priority to the goals of one’s group (often one’s extended family or work group) and defining one’s identity accordingly

reciprocal determinism

the interacting influences between personality and environmental factors

personal control

our sense of controlling our environment rather than feeling helpless

external locus of control

the perception that chance or outside forces beyond one’s personal control determine one’s fate

internal locus of control

the perception that one controls one’s own fate

learned helplessness

the hopelessness and passive resignation an animal or human learns when unable to avoid repeated aversive events

positive psychology

the scientific study of optimal human functioning; aims to discover and promote strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive

developmental psychology

a branch of psychology that studies physical, cognitive, and social change throughout the life span.


the fertilized egg; it enters a 2-week period of rapid cell division and develops into an embryo.


the developing human organism from about 2 weeks after fertilization through the second month in which major body systems develop.


the developing human organism from 9 weeks after conception to birth in which the first bone cells appear.


agents, such as chemicals and viruses, that can reach the embryo or fetus during prenatal development and cause harm.

fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)

physical and cognitive abnormalities in children caused by a pregnant woman’s heavy drinking. In severe cases, symptoms include noticeable facial misproportions.

rooting reflex

a baby’s tendency, when touched on the cheek, to turn toward the touch, open the mouth, and search for the nipple.


decreasing responsiveness with repeated stimulation. As infants gain familiarity with repeated exposure to a visual stimulus, their interest wanes and they look away sooner.


biological growth processes that enable orderly changes in behavior, relatively uninfluenced by experience.


a concept or framework that organizes and interprets information.


interpreting one’s new experience in terms of one’s existing schemas.


all the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, remembering, and communicating.


adapting one’s current understandings (schemas) to incorporate new information.

object permanence

the awareness that things continue to exist even when not perceived.

sensorimotor stage

in Piaget’s theory, the stage (from birth to about 2 years of age) during which infants know the world mostly in terms of their sensory impressions and motor activities.


the principle (which Piaget believed to be a part of concrete operational reasoning) that properties such as mass, volume, and number remain the same despite changes in the forms of objects.


in Piaget’s theory, the preoperational child’s difficulty in taking another’s point of view.

preoperational stage

in Piaget’s theory, the stage (from about 2 to 6 or 7 years of age) during which a child learns to use language but does not yet comprehend the mental operations of concrete logic.

theory of mind

people’s ideas about their own and others’ mental states—about their feelings, perceptions, and thoughts and the behavior these might predict.


a disorder that appears in childhood and is marked by deficient communication, social interaction, and understanding of others’ states of mind.

concrete operational stage

in Piaget’s theory, the stage of cognitive development (from about 6 or 7 to 11 years of age) during which children gain the mental operations that enable them to think logically about concrete events.

formal operational stage

in Piaget’s theory, the stage of cognitive development (normally beginning about age 12) during which people begin to think logically about abstract concepts.


an emotional tie with another person; shown in young children by their seeking closeness to the caregiver and showing distress on separation.

stranger anxiety

the fear of strangers that infants commonly display, beginning by about 8 months of age.

critical period

an optimal period shortly after birth when an organism’s exposure to certain stimuli or experiences produces proper development.


the process by which certain animals form attachments during a critical period very early in life.

basic trust

according to Erik Erikson, a sense that the world is predictable and trustworthy; said to be formed during infancy by appropriate experiences with responsive caregivers.


(1) a sense of one’s identity and personal worth. (2) all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves, in answer to the question, "Who am I?"


the transition period from childhood to adulthood, extending from puberty to independence.

primary sex characteristics

the body structures (ovaries, testes, and external genitalia) that make sexual reproduction possible.


the period of sexual maturation, during which a person becomes capable of reproducing.

secondary sex characteristics

nonreproductive sexual characteristics, such as female breasts and hips, male voice quality, and body hair.


the first menstrual period.


one’s sense of self; according to Erikson, the adolescent’s task is to solidify a sense of self by testing and integrating various roles.


in Erikson’s theory, the ability to form close, loving relationships; a primary developmental task in late adolescence and early adulthood.


the time of natural cessation of menstruation; also refers to the biological changes a woman experiences as her ability to reproduce declines.

Alzheimer’s disease

a progressive and irreversible brain disorder characterized by gradual deterioration of memory, reasoning, language, and, finally, physical functioning.

cross-sectional study

a study in which people of different ages are compared with one another.

longitudinal study

research in which the same people are restudied and retested over a long period.

crystallized intelligence

one’s accumulated knowledge and verbal skills; tends to increase with age.

fluid intelligence

one’s ability to reason speedily and abstractly; tends to decrease during late adulthood.

social clock

the culturally preferred timing of social events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement.


morality at this level of Kohlberg’s theory is determined by the will of outside authority (adults such as parents and teachers) and centers around gaining reward or avoiding punishment.


morality at this level of Kohlber’gs theory is determined by approval seeking and law and order. Right and wrong is determined by society’s rules. There is respect for authority and majority rule.


in this Kohlberg level right and wrong determined by society’s rules which are viewed as fallible rather than absolute or by abstract ethical principles that emphasize equality and justice


theorist who claimed individuals went through a series of stages in the process of moral development.


theorist that developed a series of stages in which an individual passes during cognitive development.


stage theorist who focused on the adolescent crisis of Erik Erikson and came up for four stages that adolescents pass through while seeking an identity.


theorist who studied psychosocial development across the lifespan.

identity vs. role confusion

Erikson’s name for the crisis of adolescence.


an individual’s basic disposition, which is evident from infancy and is generally stable across the lifespan


researcher that highlighted the importance of physical contact comfort in the formation of attachments with parents (monkeys)


attachment style in which infants are able to explore, are upset when their caregiver leaves and happy when their caregiver returns

anxious ambivalent

attachment style in which they are less likely to explore with parent present, protest when they leave, and not comforted when they return


attachment style in which they seek little contact with their caregiver and are not distressed when the caregiver leaves

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