Among all the sciences, psychology is perhaps the most mysterious to the general public, and the most prone to misconceptions. Even though its language and ideas have infiltrated everyday culture, most people have only a hazy idea of what the subject is about, and what psychologists actually do. For some, psychology conjures up images of people in white coats, either staffing an institution for mental disorders or conducting laboratory experiments on rats. Others may imagine a man with a middle European accent psychoanalyzing a patient on a couch or, if film scripts are to be believed, plotting to exercise some form of mind control.
Although these stereotypes are an exaggeration, some truth lies beneath them. It is perhaps the huge range of subjects that fall under the umbrella of psychology (and the bewildering array of terms beginning with the prefix “psych-”) that creates confusion over what psychology entails; psychologists themselves are unlikely to agree on a single definition of the word. “Psychology” comes from the ancient Greek psyche, meaning “soul” or “mind,” and logia, a “study” or “account,” which seems to sum up the broad scope of the subject, but today the word most accurately describes “the science of mind and behavior.”