Psychology definitions can sometimes be hard to come by unless you purchase a book or visit a library. Given that our counseling and therapy website is all about human behavior and by extension, psychology, we thought it would be helpful to provide 100 of the common psychology definitions used in the field of behavioral science. We could not fit all of the terms here but many of the major psychology definitions are included.

Psychology TermDefinition
Absolute ThresholdIntensity at which one can detect a given stimuli 50% of the time
Action PotentialElectrical process by which information travels transmits through length of an axiom
AddictionPsychological and/or physiological dependency on a substance. Can be a behavioral addiction, such as sex addiction.
AggressionNon-subtle or subtle hostility; either innate or resulting from ongoing frustration and directed towards self and/or others. Can be fueled by anger
Anti-social personalityBehaviors that are usually not acceptable in society; i.e. setting fires, physically harming other living things
AnxietyA state of psychic tension, producing emotional and physiological stress symptoms as a result of worry and/or part of an mental health issue (disorder)
Anxiety DisordersCluster of anxiety disorders outlined in the DSM including: social anxiety, panic disorders, phobias, generalized anxiety disorder [GAD] and obsessive compulsive disorder [OCD]
AssociationismA simple association and/or co-occurrence of thoughts and/or sensations as the primary basis of meaning, thought, or learning.
AnorexiaEating disorder whereby a person experiences cognitive distortions regarding weight and body size. Clinical features include below healthy body weight
Attachment theoryForms of attachment developed by Henry Harlow; either secure or insecure
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderReferred to commonly as ADHD Characterized by a person’s difficulty holding attention. May or may not be impulsive and/or overly active
AttitudeA person’s mindset at any given point in time; does not always remain constant or match behavior
Attribution theoryA theory used to describe one’s behavior based on their situation or disposition
Avoidant behaviorsIntentional avoidance of a person, place or situation that historically has caused someone anxiety.
Behavioral scienceThe systematic analysis and investigation of human behavior through controlled and naturalistic observation
BereavementA state of sadness that is similar to depression; occurs after the loss of a loved one or a tragic event and is hallmarked by grief
BigorexiaConsidered “reverse anorexia”. Clinical features include feelings of being puny or not muscular enough
Central nervous systemMade up of brain and spinal chord
CerebellumBrain area that controls learned motor activities like walking or riding a bike
Cerebral hemispheresRight or left side of the brain
Classical conditioningA method of learning whereby a neutral stimulus is used to evoke a response that is usually a natural response to a given stimulus
Cognitive behavioral therapyA type of therapy designed to dispute irrationalthoughts to reduce anxiety and treat depression. Considered a “here and now” therapy. Also referred to as CBT
Cognitive developmentA person’s thinking, problem solving conceptual understanding, information processing and intelligence skills measured throughout the lifespan
Cognitive dissonanceA state in which a person has conflicting thoughts and perceptions of an event or situation, commonly linked to personal behaviors
Cognitive distortionThinking distortion in thinking with 10 common themes
Conditioned reflexA new response to a stimuli after conditioning. Commonly referred to as a conditioned response
Cognitive rehearsalTerm used to describe a mental rehearsal of a given situation. Used to lower anxiety and stress
Conditioned stimulusUsed in classical conditioning. A previously neutral stimulus that changes to become the elicited, conditioned response
ConformityAdjusting personal behaviors to meet a given group’s standard
ConsciousnessAn awareness of one’s environment and the self
ContrastA psychological phenomenon where two similar and related stimuli are dualistically presented simultaneously and perceived to be more different than they truly are
Control groupSubjects of an experiment who do not experience the independent variable but measured for the dependent variable
ConsumerismThe study of a person or persons’ purchasing behaviors.
ConstructA term used to describe a theory or way of thinking
CompanionateA love style theorized by Lee; companion style love
Created familyCircle of support that is outside of biological origins but functions much like a family. May have patriarch figure
Dependent VariableA variable that the researcher measures at the end of an experiment
DepressionA mind body psychiatric condition characterized by lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, sadness and helplessness. May be part of major depressive disorder or seasonal type
DeterminismDoctrine of science that suggests that all occurrences in nature take place according to natural laws
Developmental stagesVarious periods of life from birth to death that are representative of important life stages across the lifespan
DysthymiaA low grade form of depression that lasts for 2 years or more. Dysthymic disorder associated with this condition
EgoSigmund Freud’s theoretical construct of personality; ego is the mediator between ID and super-ego
EthnocentricJudging another culture based solely on one’s own personal culture
Empirical researchResearch that is conducted by strict standards of science; usually quantifiable and measurable
EtiologyStudy of origins – the beginnings of something usually connected to medicine, biology or behavioral science
EvolutionTerm linked to Darwin; theory of how life evolved in different forms
Experimental groupGroup that is exposed to a treatment; exposed to independent variable
ExtinctionClassical conditioning term; process of losing previously acquired stimulus associated with a conditioned response
ExtrovertOpposite of introvert; personality type that enjoys being social and in social settings
Family of originA person’s family. May or may not be biological
Free associationA term used in psychoanalysis and commonly used in personal journaling
Free recallTerm associated with memory recollection; words, sounds, numbers and memories
FunctionalismAdaptive survival based on a given environment
Generalized Anxiety DisorderReferred to as “GAD”. Characterized by excessive worry and is fueled by irrational thoughts
GestaltOften associated with Fredrick Pearls; German for “whole”
Gestalt PsychologyTherapy designed to integrate the person and complete the whole; resolution of unfinished business
Guided imageryUse of mental imagery, visual and sometimes auditory, to create an experience, Used in meditation
Humanistic psychologyBranch of psychology concerned with free will, creativity and human potential. Characteristically devoid of judgment. Highly influenced by Carl Rogers
HypochondriacA person who is preoccupied with becoming ill; holds irrational beliefs about becoming “sick”. Clinical term is hypochondriasis
HypothesisA prediction of the outcome of an experiment
IdSigmund Freud’s theoretical construct of personality; Id rules sex and aggression and has no sense of time or space – only knows what it wants. Often represented by “devil on shoulder”
Independent variableThe variable that can be manipulated or changed by the researcher/experimenter
Information processingThe process of information either consciously or subconsciously in humans
Instrumental behaviorBehavioral theory suggesting disorders are learned responses to traumatic experiences
IntelligenceOne’s ability to learn from a situation, add knowledge and problem solve
Intelligence quotient (IQ)Measurement of intelligence. Many tests exists for measurement. Average is around 100.
IntroversionOpposite of extroversion; characterized by the liking to be with oneself and do things in a solitary manner. Not typically social
Jungian psychologySchool of psychology coined after Carl Jung; father of Jungian psychology/theory. Can contain psycho-spiritual elements
Law of effectLaw proffered by Thorndike that positive outcomes are generally repeated
Long term memoryMemories that are stored in the brain and can be accessed for recall from long ago
Longitudinal studyStudy of a given behavior or outcome over extended periods of time as part of a research program
Munchhausen syndromeParent or caregiver who fabricates signs and/or symptoms of an illness in a child
Mental illnessPsychological condition that impairs functioning. Can be organic or non-organic in nature
Mental imageryProjection of thoughts, sensations and experiences in the mind. Used with guided meditation
MindfulnessA process of living in there here and now and using all five senses to focus on the present. Commonly connected to mindfulness based living
NarcissistPsychological disorder characterized by lack of empathy or concern for others and tied to selfishness.
Nature vs. nurtureOngoing debate between natural causes of a given dynamic vs. environmental causes
NeocortexPart of the cerebral cortex that controls higher mental functioning
NeurotransmitterChemical released by a neuron that carries information across gaps and the synapse
Non-conformistPerson who typically goes against the grain and does not conform to societal rules
ObedienceSubservient behaviors and actions towards a person perceived as an authority figure
Operant conditioningMethod of influencing desired behaviors through the use of stimuli. May involve punishment and shaping
Oedipus theoryFreudian construct suggesting male wish to eliminate their biological fathers to sexually join with biological mother
Origin of speciesCharles Darwin’s book that postulated theory of natural selection and adaptation
ParadoxA statement or behavior that seems to contradict itself but is none the less true.
Paradoxical intentA set of contradictory instructions given by a therapist used to elicit a desired outcome
PathologyThe scientific study of behavior and disease, including outcomes. Used with “pathological”
PersonalityA person’s pattern of thinking, acting and feeling
PhobiaA cluster of anxiety disorders that are pathological in nature characterized by extreme fear of an object, situation or stimuli
Placebo effectPhenomenon where a person experiences relief from illness or distress even though they did not receive a true medication.
Positive reinforcementStimulus presented after a desired response; increases probability of repeat desired behaviors
Pro-social behaviorPositive, socially acceptable behaviors. Opposite of anti-social personality
Psychoanalytic theoryBasis for psychoanalysis and based on Freud’s theory of personality
PsychosomaticPhysical illness caused by psychological beliefs
PsychosisExtreme distortions in perception, rational thinking and/or affect
PsychotherapyA term used to describe talk-therapy. Used in counseling and therapy as a treatment modality
Psycho-spiritualTerm used to describe psychological and spiritual elements as part of wellness. Often used in humanistic psychology
Short-term memoryThe ability to hold and/or recall events stored in memory from the recent past
SocializationProcess whereby children are inculcated into society and learn acceptable behaviors and beliefs in a culture
Substance abuseThe use of a substance in a way that it was not intended with the goal of producing a high
TraitsA stable set of behaviors and characteristics within a person.
ZeitgeistA term used to describe cultural and moral climate of a given era