What Are the Four Major Goals of Psychology?

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Psychology is still a vastly misunderstood study and practice. Many people still think that it’s all about reading other people’s thoughts, or worse, controlling other people’s minds. In truth, if you look at the science and the goals of psychology, there is nothing supernatural about it. 

What is psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychology is the study of both the mind and human behavior. Psychology has several branches and sub-fields, including clinical psychology, human development, cognitive process, social behavior, health, and even sports.

Psychology as a science is relatively new. Unlike older sciences, most of the significant advancements in the field have only occurred in the past hundred years or so. However, its origins can be traced as far back as the time of ancient Greece with philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. 

More modern philosophy concepts were pioneered by people like Wilhelm Wundt, William James, Sigmund Freud, and later on Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson.  

What are the four goals of psychology?

Psychology has four primary goals: describe, explain, predict, and control or change behavior.


“Describing” in psychology is vastly different from how we describe things in everyday life. The first goal of psychology is to describe our problems, issues, and behavior accurately.

Describing is crucial in psychology because it allows psychologists to determine if a thought or behavior is typical or atypical. It also allows them to understand behavior and thoughts better.

In a more practical sense, describing grants us better awareness and understanding of our thoughts and actions. This way, we can make better sense of them. When telling what you are thinking or feeling, it is essential to be as specific as you can and break it down as much as you can. The more detail you include in your description, the more valuable it will be for the next goal.


The next goal of psychology is to explain. Apart from describing thoughts and behavior, psychologists also aim to explain why they occur and answer questions regarding why people think or act a certain way. 

Sometimes, psychologists may use experiments that measure how people react to certain variables. Afterwhich, they try to formulate theories and explanations for human behavior. Over time, many psychologists developed theories that either stood the test of time or have been debunked by newer, more correct theories.

From a councilor’s standpoint, they may look at hard evidence to explain a specific issue or behavior. This may involve conducting physical and psychological tests, delving into a person’s past experiences, deep personal research, all aimed at answering why.

Why does a person behave this way? Why do certain situations make them act the way they do? Are there any supporting physical, emotional, historical, or psychological data that may explain why they think and act a certain way?


The third goal of psychology is to predict patterns of future behavior. By noting the observations in past behaviors, they may predict how and when those same behaviors may recur in the future, how they might change, and what circumstances might trigger them.

From a research standpoint, they can use data previously collected or even from previous studies to make predictions. Prediction is essential in psychology as it enables psychologists to help change or control behavior to achieve a certain psychological effect. 

On the flip side, predictions are not only based on hard evidence but also more qualitative information. For example, you may study a person’s relationship with their parents to predict their relationship with their children. However, you can also explore the same person’s thoughts from the first two goals of psychology before concluding.

In a personal capacity, prediction is a valuable psychological practice that we may or may not be aware that we are practicing. For example, you may know that you are usually in a sour mood when hungry or lack sleep. You may know that your spouse gets upset if you come home late. You may also predict that your best friend will likely worry if you do not text them for more than a week. All of these predictions affect how we act every day around others and with ourselves. 

Change or Control

The final goal of psychology is to change or control behavior by handling situations and taking control. This culmination endeavors to bring about positive change and increased meaning in people’s lives. This effect should be lasting enough to improve a person’s quality of life.

It can be a great relief for some people. For example, learning how to manage or control a panic attack is an essential skill learned with the help of psychology. Lessening stress, maintaining anger, and improving overall mood are still some other examples.

How can you apply the four goals of psychology?

Ivan Pavlov’s dog experiment is a striking example of the four goals of psychology at work. Pavlov noticed that his dogs would salivate whenever the lab technician brought in food. He thought this was learned behavior since they previously did not do that. It was only over time that the dogs would get stimulated and would salivate whenever they saw him.

To test his theory, Pavlov rang the bell every time the dogs were fed. As a result, the dogs associated the bell with food over time and would salivate as they heard the sound. As simple as that, he replaced old behavior with a new one. This experiment is considered of paramount importance in the field of psychology.

In your personal life, you can apply the goals of psychology to improve yourself, your relationships, your business, and even your career. For example, you can use it to develop a healthier lifestyle with new habits. 

Come up with a goal and describe your current thoughts and behaviors related to that goal in full detail. Try to introspect and explain why you may have behaved the way you currently do and predict your future thoughts and actions based on what you described and illustrated. Finally, try to change or control the behavior that is limiting you from reaching your goals. 

For example, if you have a terrible habit of eating junk food whenever you’re stressed, describe in detail your feelings during these moments. Explain why you may have behaved in such a way. Predict how you might behave in similar situations in the future, and substitute it with better behaviors like cooking and eating a healthy meal, munching on fruit, or even chewing some gum.


The four goals of psychology have many different applications -business, marketing, education, medicine, and personal. It is helpful to be aware of these goals to apply them to your life to exhibit behaviors that can improve your quality of life. Learn more about psychology from this course.

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