Psychological Terms Study Guide

Updated on Jul 15, 2011

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Psychological Terms Practice Exercises

Even though the brain is not all that large and we only use a small portion of it, it manages to achieve great things. It holds all our knowledge, dreams, imaginings, and personalities. Unfortunately, our brains—or rather, our minds—can also give us some problems now and then, and that's what this lesson is all about. It provides some of the most common psychological terms you might run into with your own behavior, the behavior of those you know, or something you've read or will read in your textbooks. Understanding what each term means may help you figure out your own quirks as well as those of your friends and family.


  • addiction   a condition in which the body requires a certain thing in order to function without physical and psychological reactions to its absence; often the result of tolerance and dependence
  • biofeedback   a self-regulating technique through which an individual gets voluntary control over nonconscious biological processes
  • bipolar   describes a disorder characterized by alternating periods of depression and mania/euphoria
  • catatonic   characterized by marked motor abnormalities such as immobility/ stupor
  • cognition   processes of knowing, including remembering and reasoning; also the content of the processes, such as concepts and memories

[Known in less formal circles as thinking.]

  • consciousness   a state of awareness of internal events and of the external environment
  • delusion   false or irrational beliefs maintained despite clear evidence to the contrary
  • fixation   a state in which a person remains attached to objects or activities more appropriate for an earlier stage of development
  • hallucination   false perception that occurs in the absence of objective stimulation
  • imprinting   a primitive form of learning in which some infant animals physically follow and form an attachment to the first moving object they see and/or hear

[Think of baby ducks following whatever moves first after they hatch.]

  • meditation   an altered state of consciousness designed to enhance self-knowledge and well-being through reduced self-awareness
  • neurotransmitters   chemical messengers released from neurons that cross the synapse from one neuron to another
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder   a mental disorder (often referred to as OCD) characterized by obsessions (repeating thoughts, images, or impulses that persist despite efforts to suppress them) and compulsions (repetitive, purposeful acts performed according to certain personal, internal rules)

[Think of the person who has to have all the books lined up on a shelf by height and all the clothes in the closet hung up in categories—always!]

  • paranoid   having unreasonable and unfounded thoughts of being persecuted or harmed by others

[It's a persistent "they're out to get me" feeling.]

  • phobia   a fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that's excessive and unreasonable, given the reality of the perceived threat

[Often there's a prefix added to this word to indicate what the fear is of—for example, arachnophobia is fear of spiders and agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your house.]

  • repression   the basic defense mechanism by which painful or guilt-producing thoughts, feelings, or memories are excluded from conscious awareness
  • schizophrenia   a severe form of psychopathology characterized by the breakdown of personality functioning, withdrawal from reality, emotional distortions, and disturbed thought processes
  • stigma   the negative reaction people have to an individual or others because of some assumed inferiority or difference
  • transference   the process by which a person in psychoanalysis attaches feelings to a therapist formerly felt toward a significant person who played a part in a past emotional conflict
  • unconscious   the part of the psyche that stores repressed urges and primitive impulses

Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Psychological Terms Practice Exercises

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