119 Psychological Concepts (for Beginners)

psychology theories, explained below

Psychology is the study of the mind. Its various subfields explore how we obtain, store, retain, recall, and use information. This is useful for a wide variety of applications, from negotiation to interpersonal communication to mental health therapy.

The various subfields have developed their own terms and concepts to help explain their theories.

Below, I’ve categorized the major psychological concepts into their respective subfields in psychology, including:

  • Psychoanalytic Psychology
  • Behavioral Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Humanist Psychology

Let’s get into it.

Psychological Concepts

Psychoanalytic Psychology

Psychoanalysis is a field of psychology that explores the subconsciousness and how it affects our conscious thoughts and behaviors. Founded by Sigmund Freud, it has progressed into a range of branches including Freud’s psychosexual approach and Erikson’s psychosocial approach, and Jung’s offshoot analytical psychology.

Learn more about psychoanalysis in my full guide on psychoanalytic theories here.

Key concepts include:

  • Anima and animus: According to Jung, these are the male and female archetypes residing in the unconscious of individuals, respectively. The anima exemplifies the feminine principle in men, while the animus signifies the masculine principle in women.
  • Archetypes: In Jungian psychology, these represent universal, primal, and collective mental representations inherited from our earliest ancestors. They are prevalent in literature, art, and religious iconography across cultures and serve to channel experiences and emotions, resulting in recognizable behavior patterns.
  • Collective unconscious: A term coined by Carl Jung, it posits the existence of a shared part of the unconscious mind among all humans, deriving from ancestral memory. It’s believed to contain archetypes, universal images, patterns, and instincts inherent in all of us.
  • Countertransference: This refers to a therapist’s emotions and responses to a client, which can stem from the therapist’s own personal history. It’s typically considered as hindrance to therapy but can provide insight into the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship.
  • Death drive (Thanatos): This is a compelling concept from Freud that suggests humans possess an inherent drive towards death and self-destruction. It counterbalances Eros (the life drive) and is often associated with aggressive behaviors.
  • Defense mechanisms: These are strategies employed by the ego to mediate the conflict between the id and superego. They are unconscious mental processes that guard the individual from anxiety or unacceptable thoughts and feelings.
  • Displacement: This defense mechanism in psychoanalysis involves shifting of impulses from an unacceptable target to a safer or more acceptable one. An example is redirecting aggression from a boss to a less-threatening loved one.
  • Dream analysis: This is a key technique in psychoanalysis that interprets dreams to unearth unconscious desires or concerns. Freud viewed dreams as ‘the royal road to the subconscious,’ conveying unspeakable desires.
  • Electra complex: This concept, proposed by Carl Jung, is the female counterpart of the Oedipus complex. It entails a girl’s psychosexual competition with her mother for her father’s attraction.
  • Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development: This proposes a lifespan model of development, comprising eight stages from infancy to late adulthood. Every stage presents a crisis deriving from a conflict between personal impulse and the social world, resolution of which leads to competence in a specific area of life.
  • Extraversion: A term representing one pole of a personality dimension, extraversion is characterized by sociability, assertiveness, and a preference for company. Extraverts are energized by social interaction.
  • Free association: A method employed during psychoanalysis, it involves the patient speaking freely about memories, dreams, or thoughts. It’s a tool that helps uncover repressed feelings and experiences.
  • Freudian slip: This is an unintentional error — verbal or memory — which unveils repressed feelings or thoughts. According to Freudian theory, these slips hint at the workings of the subconscious mind.
  • Id, ego, and superego: These are the three agents comprising the psychic apparatus defined by Freud. The Id is driven by primitive desires, the ego moderates between desires and reality, and the superego acts as the moral compass.
  • Introversion: The opposing trait to extraversion in personality psychology, introversion involves drawing energy from one’s internal world of thoughts, feelings, and ideas. Introverts tend to prefer solitude, intimate interactions over large gatherings, and often engage in introspective activities.
  • Libido: In psychoanalytic theory, this term defines the sexual energy or force. Apart from strict sexual desire, this also extends to creative or productive drives in general.
  • Object relations: This refers to interpersonal relations, emphasizing the internalization of experiences with significant others, particularly primary caretakers during early life. The term originates from psychoanalytic theory where “object” refers to the target of one’s drives and “relations” refers to interpersonal relationships.
  • Oedipus complex: This is a term from psychoanalytic theory, stating a child’s feelings of desire towards their opposite-sex parent and rivalry with their same-sex parent. Coined by Sigmund Freud, it’s considered a crucial stage in the formation of an individual’s sexual and social identities.
  • Pleasure principle: This Freudian concept is the governing force of the id, striving for immediate satisfaction of all wants, needs, and urges. Essentially, the urge to reduce tension by fulfilling desires characterizes human nature according to the pleasure principle.
  • Projection: As a psychological defense mechanism, projection involves attributing thoughts, feelings, or motives that are unacceptable or unwanted in oneself to someone else. Essentially, the individual “projects” undesired aspects onto others as a means of avoidance.
  • Reality principle: This concept, contrasting with the pleasure principle, is managed by the ego and seeks to satisfy the id’s desires realistically and in a socially appropriate manner. It nudges an understanding of the real world and adjusts actions accordingly.
  • Repression: This defense mechanism involves burying distressful or unpleasant memories deep into the subconscious mind. It provides an escape from pain but can trigger anxiety, guilt, etc., indirectly influencing feelings and behaviors.
  • Shadow: In Jung’s psychoanalytic theory, the shadow represents the unconscious part of the personality that the conscious ego rejects or ignores. It’s often the source of negative human traits, but also consists of creativity and insight.
  • Sublimation: This defense mechanism involves transforming unacceptable impulses or energies into socially acceptable actions or behaviors. It’s considered a mature way of dealing with inner conflict as the result is typically positive or beneficial.
  • Synchronicity: This Jungian concept refers to meaningful coincidences that seemingly lack a causal connection. Jung proposed synchronicity could be an explanation for parapsychological phenomena.
  • Transference: In psychoanalytic therapy, this features the redirection of feelings for a significant person to the therapist. It’s an unconscious process where the client projects feelings coming from past experiences onto the therapist.

Behavioral Psychology

When behavioral psychology emerged on the scene in the 1890s and into the 1900s, it positioned itself as a mature and scientific contrast to psychoanalysis, which it saw as mere pseudo-psychology. The behavioral psychologists didn’t believe in creating theories about the subconsciousness. Rather, they were only concerned with what could be seen and observed in a scientific manner – behaviors.

Learn more about behavioral psychology in my full guide on behaviorism here.

Central to this theory was Ivan Pavlov, who observed his dog learning to associate a bell with food in the famous Pavlov’s Dog experiment, and B.F. Skinner who trained animals to run through mazes and play the piano, all through rewards and punishments.

Below are some key concepts from this sub-field:

  • Aversion therapy: This is a behavioral treatment technique, used mainly to cease harmful habits and behaviors. It employs negative stimuli paired with the behavior to create a revulsion and thus condition the individual to avoid it.
  • Behavior chain: This denotes a sequence of responses where each act serves both as a condition for the next and a result of the previous one. It’s a structure where one behavior leads to another, creating a ‘chain’ of actions.
  • Behavior modification: Broadly, it’s a therapeutic approach that aims to change maladaptive behaviors through altering environmental factors, reinforcers, and consequences. It employs techniques derived from operant and classical conditioning and has its roots in behaviorism.
  • Classical conditioning: A process envisaged by Ivan Pavlov, it involves forming an association between two stimuli. The former neutral stimulus becomes a conditioned stimulus evoking a conditioned response after repeated pairing with an unconditioned stimulus that naturally elicits an unconditioned response.
  • Continuous reinforcement: This is a reinforcement schedule where each occurrence of a specific behavior is reinforced. It’s the simplest schedule where reinforcement occurs every time the desired behavior happens.
  • Counterconditioning: A therapeutic technique used to replace unwanted responses to stimuli with desired ones. It occurs when an individual associates something feared or avoided with positive outcomes, effectively undoing the condition.
  • Extinction: In conditioning, this refers to the progressive decrease and disappearance of a conditioned response. Occurs when the association between the conditioned stimulus and conditioned response weakens due to absence of reinforcement.
  • Fixed-interval schedule: This reinforcement schedule delivers reinforcement after a certain, fixed interval of time following the desired response. Here, the behavior increases as the time for potential reinforcement nears.
  • Fixed-ratio schedule: This is designed to reinforce behavior after a fixed number of responses. Responding occurs at a high rate provided the number of behaviors required is not excessively high.
  • Habituation: This instinctive learning process involves decreased response to a recurring stimulus. Essentially, organisms become ‘used to’ stimuli through repeated exposure and respond less.
  • Motivating operations: Motivating operations are environmental variables that alter the effectiveness of a reinforcer and the frequency of behaviors that have previously been reinforced by that stimulus.
  • Negative punishment: A type of operant conditioning, it involves subtraction of something desirable to curtail undesired behavior. For example, taking away a favorite toy when a child misbehaves.
  • Negative reinforcement: This aspect of operant conditioning strengthens a behavior through removal of a negative condition. For instance, taking painkillers (behavior) to alleviate pain (negative condition).
  • Observational learning (modeling): Albert Bandura theorized this process where individuals learn by observing others’ behavior. Modeling involves imitation, where behaviors are copied based on the perceived consequences to the model.
  • Operant conditioning: This is a learning method which manipulates the consequences of behavior as an incentive for response. It’s divided into reinforcement (strengthening behavior) and punishment (weakening behavior).
  • Partial (intermittent) reinforcement: Here, only some responses are reinforced, making the behavior more resistant to extinction. This can occur on a variety of schedules, including the fixed and variable schedules based on ratio or interval.
  • Positive punishment: This aspect of operant conditioning weakens the probability of a behavior by adding an undesirable consequence. For example, an individual receives a parking fine (addition of negative element) for parking illegally (behavior).
  • Positive reinforcement: This principle of operant conditioning strengthens a behavior by providing a positive stimulus or reward as a consequence. For instance, praise can reinforce the act of completing homework on time.
  • Premack principle: An idea from behaviorism, it dictates a more preferred activity can reinforce a less preferred one. Known as “grandma’s rule” — first, you work, then you play — it encourages good behavior with the promise of a desired reward.
  • Shaping: A conditioning paradigm, it gradually teaches new behaviors through reinforcement of successive approximations towards the desired outcome. Thus, it shapes behavior, bringing it closer to the desired final act.
  • Stimulus discrimination: A differentiation process in learning and conditioning, it enables an individual to distinguish between similar stimuli. The organism learns to respond differently as only one of the stimuli is consistent with the conditioned response.
  • Stimulus generalization: Contrary to stimulus discrimination, it describes a situation where similar stimuli elicit the same response. For instance, a child conditioned to fear a specific dog may start fearing all dogs.
  • Systematic desensitization: A behavioral therapy technique designed to reduce phobias and other abnormal fears. It entails a gradual process where individuals face the feared object or situation in a safe and controlled way until anxiety declines.
  • Token economy: A positive reinforcement strategy in behaviour therapy, using tokens as rewards for appropriate behavior. Collected tokens can, thereafter, be exchanged for desired rewards or privileges.
  • Variable-interval schedule: This reinforcement schedule provides reinforcement for the first response after an inconsistent period. It causes a steady, moderate rate of response, with the individual unaware of the exact timing of reinforcement.
  • Variable-ratio schedule: This schedule reinforces behavior after a fluctuating number of responses. Typically, it leads to a high and stable rate of responding with the reinforcement always remaining uncertain.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology, burgeoning in the 1950s and onwards, saw a pivot back to observing what’s in the mind, not merely behaviors. But the cognitive psychologists maintained the scientific rigor of the behaviorists, creating theories about how we perceive, store, retrieve, and use information.

A key cognitive psychologist was Jean Piaget, who studied child development, taking scrupulous notes on how they develop in stages, going through developmental leaps as they develop increasingly complex ways of interacting with and learning from their environments.

Learn more about cognitive psychology in my full guide on cognitive psychology theories.

Many of these concepts you may recognize as still highly influential today, especially in educational psychology:

  • Accommodation: This is a cognitive adaptation process wherein existing frameworks of understanding are adjusted to incorporate new information. It’s a part of Jean Piaget’s paradigm of cognitive development.
  • Anchoring and adjustment: This refers to a cognitive bias where initial pieces of information are used as the reference point for future judgments. Individuals adjust their assessments from this initial ‘anchor,’ often insufficiently, hence being misled.
  • Assimilation: In Piaget’s cognitive development theory, this is the process of integrating new information into existing cognitive schemas. It’s basic to learning and incorporates the novel experience within the prevailing understanding without changing the structure.
  • Attentional resources: This theory asserts that attention is a resource distributed among tasks. Cognitive processes compete for these limited resources, hence it becomes difficult to adequately concentrate on multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy: This is a classification of learning objectives within education proposed by Benjamin Bloom in 1956. It’s a framework for categorizing educational goals into six levels of complexity: Knowledge (Remember), Comprehension (Understand), Application (Apply), Analysis (Analyze), Synthesis (Evaluate), and Evaluation (Create). This hierarchy not only defines intellectual activities but also supports educators in creating more comprehensive lessons or tests.
  • Cognitive dissonance: Leon Festinger’s theory proposes discomfort arises when individuals face conflicting beliefs or actions. For resolution, they either change their beliefs, acquire new ones to create coherence, or trivialize the conflict.
  • Cognitive load: This term refers to the total mental effort being used in the working memory. It delineates the load related to a specific task, which can impede learning if it exceeds the individual’s cognitive capacity.
  • Cognitive map: This is an internal mental representation of spatially arranged elements in the world. Tolman’s theory suggests organisms have such maps which help in navigation and understanding of the environment.
  • Cognitive restructuring: A core part of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), it involves changing negative or irrational thoughts to reduce psychological discomfort. This approach helps individuals counteract cognitive distortions, often associated with mental health disorders.
  • Cognitive Tool: Based on the work of David Jonassen, this term refers to any device assisting with cognitive processes, such as memory, reasoning, and learning. Examples include mnemonics, mind maps, calculators, and digital technology like learning apps or cognitive training programs. These tools amplify cognitive abilities and compensates for cognitive deficits or weaknesses.
  • Confirmation bias: This pervasive cognitive bias leads individuals to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses. It often leads to statistical errors and poor decision-making.
  • Divided attention: Refers to the cognitive capacity to attend to multiple tasks at once. It’s a component of multitasking but can often result in decreased overall performance due to attentional resources being split.
  • Dual-coding theory: Paivio’s proposition suggests information is processed in two ways: verbal and visual. Therefore, learning can be enhanced by using both channels simultaneously to encode information.
  • Explicit memory: Also known as declarative memory, it pertains to conscious, intentional recollection of factual information, prior experiences, and concepts. It can further be divided into episodic (personal events) and semantic (general facts) memory.
  • Flashbulb Memory: These are highly detailed and vivid ‘snapshot’ memories of momentous events. Often marked by strong emotional content, they feel as vivid as photographs, hence the name.
  • Functional fixedness: A cognitive bias limiting a person to use objects only in the traditional way. This inhibition of viewing things from a novel perspective hampers problem-solving and creativity.
  • Heuristics: These are mental shortcuts or ‘rules of thumb’ used for quick decision making. While often helpful, heuristics can also lead to cognitive biases and systematic errors.
  • Higher-order thinking: This involves complex cognitive processes that go beyond basic information processing. Popularized by Bloom’s Taxonomy, this encompasses critical, logical, reflective, and creative thinking, requiring individuals to synthesize, analyze, reason, comprehend, and interpret information. Higher-order thinking is intricately linked with problem-solving, decision making, and the transfer of knowledge across contexts.
  • Implicit memory: Unconscious memory or automatic memory, it’s demonstrated in tasks where previous experiences help perform a task without conscious awareness of these experiences. These may be procedural skills or conditioned responses.
  • Long-term memory: Referring to the storage system holding unlimited amounts of information for an extended period, it includes knowledge, beliefs, experiences, images, skills, etc. Its accuracy may degrade over time.
  • Mental set: This term describes a habitual approach to problem-solving or a tendency to approach a scenario from a singular perspective. It aids in speedy decision-making but may hinder creativity and novel solutions.
  • Metacognition: Known as ‘thinking about thinking,’ metacognition involves awareness and control over one’s cognitive processes. It enhances learning and problem-solving capabilities as it relocates the individual’s control over cognitive functions.
  • Prospective memory: It’s the memory of actions to be taken in the future or remembering to remember. For example, remembering to take medication at a particular time showcases prospective memory.
  • Representativeness heuristic: It’s a cognitive shortcut applied when making judgments about the probability of an event under uncertainty. It entails basing judgments on stereotypes or perceived category representativeness, often leading to errors in decision-making.
  • Schema: These are cognitive frameworks or concepts that help individuals organize and interpret information. Schemas can be beneficial in assimilating new information but can lead to stereotypes if they over-generalize categories.
  • Script: A type of schema, scripts are knowledge about specific events or situations and the typical sequence of actions that they involve. For example, a restaurant script associates the events of arriving, ordering, eating, and paying.
  • Selective attention: This cognitive process allows individuals to focus on one particular stimulus while ignoring others. It’s a crucial resource, given the brain’s limited capacity to process information.
  • Working memory: Formerly termed short-term memory, working memory engages in processing information held temporarily. It’s involved in higher-level cognitive functions such as comprehension, learning, and reasoning.

Social Psychology

Social psychology explores how our social and cultural interactions affect our thinking and behavior. While overlapping significantly with cognitive psychology (i.e. in Bandura’s social-cognitive theory), its key divergence is that it holds that many cognitive psychology ideas fail to consider the role of social interaction in shaping the mind.

For example, Lev Vygotsky famously disagreed with Piaget’s stages of cognitive development in childhood, believing that Piaget’s ideas were too deterministic and universal – instead, Vygotsky argued, social interaction is a key driver of child development. Later, Barbara Rogoff demonstrated that children in different societies develop along differing paths based on the social situations in which they found themselves in, on a daily basis.

Learn more about social psychology in my full guide on social psychology here.

Some key concepts from social psychology include:

  • Bystander effect: This social psychological phenomenon suggests individuals are less likely to offer help to a victim when others are present. The greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is for any single person to help due to diffusion of responsibility.
  • Cognitive apprenticeships: This process involves learning through the guided experience on cognitive and metacognitive, rather than physical, skills and knowledge. It’s about cultivating critical thinking and problem solving in the learner, akin to the traditional apprenticeship’s trade skills.
  • Conformity: This social behavior involves individuals adjusting their attitudes, feelings, or behaviors to align with those of a group or social norms. Most people conform due to the desire for social acceptance and avoiding discomfort of being the outlier.
  • Elaboration likelihood model: This is a dual process theory describing the change of attitudes. It suggests two routes to persuasion: central (reasoning based on quality of arguments) and peripheral (superficial cues like attractiveness of the source).
  • Groupthink: Coined by Irving Janis, it refers to faulty decision-making in a group due to pressures for conformity, discouraging creativity or individual responsibility. This can lead to poor and irrational decisions.
  • Guided participation: A concept related to cognitive development, it’s the process where individuals learn from others by taking part in mutually shared activities. As opposed to direct teaching, it emphasizes shared learning through interaction.
  • In-group bias: This refers to the tendency to favor one’s own group. It’s a form of prejudice, leading to preferences for people who belong to our own group, sometimes fostering discrimination and conflicts.
  • Obedience: Fundamental to social order, it’s a form of social influence where individuals follow directives from authority. While being a building block of social structure, it can lead to harmful consequences if the authority is malevolent.
  • Observational learning: This occurs when an observer’s behavior changes after viewing the behavior of a model. The observer does not necessarily need to perform any observable behavior during learning, the process may be internal.
  • Out-group homogeneity effect: This cognitive bias refers to perceiving members of an out-group as more similar to each other than members of one’s in-group. It often results in stereotyping and promotes in-group favoritism.
  • Prejudice: This refers to preconceived opinions, attitudes, or beliefs about a person or group that aren’t based on experience or reason. Prejudice can spark stigma, stereotype, and discrimination, often rooted in ignorance.
  • Private Speech: Often observed in young children, private speech is the act of talking aloud to oneself, assisting in thinking and guiding behavior. Vygotsky theorized it as an important tool in children’s cognitive development.
  • Reciprocity norm: This social norm suggests individuals repay what another has provided us. It’s seen across cultures and forms the basis of social cooperation and trust.
  • Scaffolding: A concept central to Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, it involves a more experienced individual aiding a lesser-skilled one in learning a new task. Supports are gradually reduced as the learner becomes more proficient.
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy: This concept involves expectations about a subject which influence individuals’ behavior towards the subject. It consequently influences the subject to behave according to those expectations, making the ‘prophecy’ come true.
  • Self-serving bias: A common cognitive bias, it involves attributing one’s successes to personal characteristics, while blaming failures on situational factors. This bias nurtures self-esteem but can hinder personal growth and lead to skewed social perception.
  • Social cognition: This refers to how people process, store, and apply information about others and social situations. It involves understanding and predicting others’ behavior and interpreting social cues.
  • Social comparison theory: Leon Festinger proposed this theory that suggests individuals define themselves through comparison with others to evaluate abilities and opinions. It emphasizes the intrinsic human drive to gain accurate self-evaluations.
  • Social exchange theory: This posits that social behavior results from an exchange process aiming to maximize benefits and minimize costs. Essentially, people assess the worth of an interaction by subtracting the costs from rewards.
  • Social facilitation: This is a phenomenon where individuals tend to perform simple tasks better when others are present. However, for complex tasks, the presence of others may lead to decreased performance.
  • Social identity theory: Proposed by Tajfel and Turner, this theory suggests individual’s self-concept comes from perceived membership in social groups. It explains intergroup behavior, particularly the bias and prejudice perceived between in-group and out-group members.
  • Social loafing: This is a behavior where individuals exert less effort when working in a group than when working alone. A common phenomenon, it may foster inefficiency in group projects.
  • Stereotyping: A cognitive shortcut, it’s the act of attribiting characteristics to a group of people. Stereotypes can be based on race, gender, nationality, occupation, etc., and can often lead to prejudice and discrimination.
  • Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD): A central concept in Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, the ZPD includes tasks that a learner can’t perform alone but can learn with guidance. It depicts the difference between what a child can do independently and what they can do with assistance.

See More Social Psychology Concepts Here

Humanist and Motivational Psychology

I tend to cluster humanist and motivational psychology together, although they do differ. The humanists focus on the innate good in people, arguing that the right environmental conditions are essential for helping people reach their best and truest version of themselves. This was promoted most prominently by Abraham Maslow (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) and Carl Rogers’ person-centered therapy model.

Learn more about humanist psychology on my full guide on humanism here.

Motivation theories often build upon humanist ideas, exploring how motivation and drive emerge within a person. Oftentimes, they highlight how the right conditions in a person’s life (as determined by humanism) can help give people intrinsic and longstanding motivation.

Key concepts in humanist and motivational psychology include:

  • Actualizing tendency: Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers proposed this as the inherent motivation present in every life form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible. This fundamental construct is considered the primary motivator for all behavior.
  • Autonomy: This psychological need refers to a sense of volition and self-endorsed behavior. It’s a core concept of Ryan and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory, promoting well-being and quality performance.
  • Congruence: According to Rogers, congruence is the degree of consistency between individuals’ self-perceptions and their experiences in reality. Higher levels of congruence result in a greater sense of comfort and lesser vulnerability.
  • Extrinsic motivation: This kind of motivation arises from outside an individual, often involving rewards like money or grades, or consequences like punishment. It’s a significant concept in understanding motivation and facilitates performance on simple tasks.
  • Flow state: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. It’s an optimal psychological state leading to high performance and personal satisfaction.
  • Growth needs vs. deficiency needs: In Maslow’s hierarchy, deficiency needs are necessary for survival whereas growth needs are related to psychological development and self-actualization. Unlike deficiency needs, growth needs keep reinforcing even after being satisfied.
  • Intrinsic motivation: Originates within an individual, driven by interest or enjoyment in the task itself. It’s generally tied to more meaningful learning and creativity, compared to extrinsic motivation.
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: This is a motivation theory proposed by Abraham Maslow, organized in a hierarchy, starting with physiological needs at the base, followed by safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization at the top. According to Maslow, individuals need to meet lower level needs before progressing to higher level ones.
  • Mastery: The innate desire to become competent and skilled in specific domains. It’s one of Daniel Pink’s elements of intrinsic motivation, central to the individual’s sense of fulfillment and achievement.
  • Peak experiences: Maslow coined this term to describe intense moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, lacking any negative feelings. Self-actualized people are seen as having many such experiences.
  • Person-centered therapy: Developed by Carl Rogers, this non-directive form of talk therapy assumes that clients are the best authorities on their own lives. Therapists offer an accepting and understanding environment where clients can explore their feelings and actions.
  • Self-actualization: The highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it refers to fulfilling one’s personal potential. It involves the pursuit of authentic identity, purpose, self-awareness, and personal growth.
  • Self-concept: This refers to the overall view individuals have of themselves, including beliefs about physical attributes, personality traits, and social roles. According to Rogers, congruence between self-concept and experience promotes positive psychological wellbeing.
  • Self-determination theory: Ryan and Deci’s theory suggests humans are motivated by needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy. It emphasizes intrinsic motivation and psychological needs as essential for well-being and success.
  • Unconditional positive regard: Introduced by Rogers, it’s the complete acceptance, love, and acknowledgement from others irrespective of one’s actions. This crucial element of person-centered therapy creates a supportive environment for self-exploration and change.


Psychology is one of the most important fields of study within the social sciences, helping us to develop deeper understandings of the human mind and humanity in general. While there are wide schisms between the different sub-fields, evidently, psychology as a whole has given us a wide range of concepts that have seeped into everyday human thought and language, helping us to better explain ourselves, our behaviors, and our observations of the human mind.

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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

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