Psychology of Human Behavior

Course No. 1620
Professor David W. Martin, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University
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Course No. 1620
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Course Overview

What comes to mind when you picture a psychologist? If you're like most people coming to this fascinating field for the first time, the answer may include a leather couch and a scholarly looking gentleman quietly taking notes and occasionally nodding. In some ways, such a picture would be accurate, a confirmation not only of the importance of Sigmund Freud in the history of psychology but also of the degree Freud dominates the popular perception of this discipline.

But the picture would be inaccurate, as well.

Freud was a physician, and the majority of psychologists are not. Both the psychoanalytic theory he pioneered and the therapeutic approach it was based on–psychoanalysis–have seen their dominance wane in recent years. And psychologists today, as indebted as they may be to Freud's landmark explorations of our psychological landscape, are involved in far more than helping people cope with inner demons.

The expansive and varied roles of contemporary psychologists create another common image—of a crowd of white-coated researchers gathered around a maze, carefully recording a white rat's performance. It's another inadequate picture because experimental psychologists today usually work with people, not animals.

Moreover, the areas of interest those psychologists are pursuing now encompass every part of the process we use to develop and function as people:

  • How we perceive, remember, and learn
  • How we select our friends and partners and retain their affection and love
  • The things that motivate us as we make our choices in life
  • Even how we relate to the vehicles, machinery, computer systems, or workspaces we encounter as we make our livings.

A Basic Introduction to a Complex Subject

The Psychology of Human Behavior is an outstanding introduction to the field of psychology, beginning with its historical context and looking ahead to some of the directions it is likely to take in the future. Though the course is not intended to be an in-depth exploration of this constantly evolving discipline, its 36 lectures work smoothly as an easy-to-follow primer and offer the ideal starting point for satisfying curiosity about how the mind works, the perspectives from which that question can be approached, and directions for further learning.

Curiosity about the human mind is something Professor David W. Martin believes is present in just about everyone–even if we don't always realize it.

"If you go to a party and see what people are talking about, they are talking about other people and other people's behavior."

"'Why did she leave him?' 'Why don't they bring up their kids in a better way?'"

"They are talking about human behavior, [something] we're all interested in–and what we are going to be talking about in this course."

In keeping with the introductory nature of the lectures, Professor Martin maintains the discussion at a straightforward level, using technical terms when necessary and always defining them clearly. He presents this broad array of topics in a way that makes it apparent why his teaching skills have been so consistently honored.

He uses his own specialty–engineering psychology–as an example of the many new research areas that now fit comfortably beneath psychology's umbrella. As an engineering psychologist, Professor Martin studies how people function as components in a larger system of human-and-machine—for instance, why they see (or ignore) data presented on a computer screen... how they process information to make decisions in a specific environment formed by person and device... or even the best way to indicate which burners on a stove are controlled by which knobs.

This kind of career path has only lately become possible. As his lectures show, Professor Martin, like psychologists working in the field's many subspecialties, are the beneficiaries of decades of increased understanding of how the psyche and brain function, how information is processed, and how to go about gaining that understanding through sophisticated, state-of-the-art research methods.

A Time When "Introspection" Was Scientific Procedure

Odd as it seems today, the major method of data collection during experimental psychology's early days, around the turn of the 20th century, was through what was called introspection: Researchers were trained in concentrating on and identifying the methods their own minds used to process a stimulus presented to them, so they could then report the results!

Today neurologists and neuroscientists can see the electrical and chemical effects within the body's most complex organ as mental, physical, and emotional processes are stimulated.

Ultimately psychology is about human behavior: what we do and why we do it. And as Professor Martin moves across the landscape of psychology today, he introduces topics as varied as major types of mental disorders; the different kinds of physical, behavioral, and "talking" therapies available to treat them; and the ways simple learning is accomplished. He includes example after example of how complex that simple idea—what we do and why we do it—can be.

  • In looking at the field of social psychology, and the ways people can be persuaded, he describes experiments in which people waiting in a long line to make copies are confronted by a person asking to be allowed to jump in at the front. Most people (94 percent) agreed if the reason given was "being in a rush"; 60 percent agreed if no reason at all was given. But even when the reason given was "because I have to make some copies" (obviously!), 93 percent still said yes! As Professor Martin explains, the key element is the use of the word "because," which functions as a heuristic, a psychological shortcut for people too busy to take in the data but who have learned through experience that the word "because" is usually a signal that a good reason is coming.
  • In exploring memory, we learn about the work of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who has demonstrated how easily memories can be implanted, sometimes just by asking whether someone remembers having experienced a nonexistent event. Subjects will initially deny—accurately—having had the experience, but about a third of them, when tested later, will remember the experience with as much certainty as if it had taken place!
  • Of the relatively new field of evolutionary psychology, we learn that in police reports, men explaining why—"for no reason at all"—they seek to kill one another in meaningless fights over insults is in fact for one of the oldest reasons on the planet. Even if the fight takes places in a bar, with no one around but male strangers for whom an insult to one's reputation would hardly matter, the violence likely stems from the evolutionary need for male status in a very small community of 60 to 100 people, at most, with a limited supply of females.

Under such circumstances, notes Professor Martin, an insult that reduces one's status–thus one's ability to attract a mate–would have been very consequential.

"Our genes are set up to have behavioral predispositions to considering these fighting words, and engaging in aggression, when somebody denigrates our status. That's apparently what's happening in these situations."

Similarly, evolution appears to have had a profound impact on the development of altruism, the ways we choose our sexual partners, why we make war, and even why we overeat. Though most of our understanding of human psychology has been gained in little more than a century, the puzzle psychologists are working to assemble and understand has been in process for a long, long time.

Psychology of Human Behavior can only begin to describe that puzzle, of course, but it is a fascinating description–both a solid summary and an ideal starting point for those eager to find the keys to the puzzle's solution.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Modern Psychology in Historical Context
    This lecture introduces psychology as the study of human behavior either from a clinical or scientific perspective—with several examples of the varieties of approaches each may take—and also traces some of the discipline's history. x
  • 2
    Experimentation as a Research Method
    Experimentation is one of the primary research methods of psychology. This lecture shows how properly conducted experiments are set up and explains the key terms used. x
  • 3
    Nonexperimental Research Methods
    Psychological researchers are not confined to experimentation in doing their work. We look at some of the other methods available, beginning with correlational observation, in which researchers attempt to determine whether there is a relationship between two behaviors. x
  • 4
    Evolutionary Theory and Modern Psychology
    During most of the history of psychology, human behavior has been considered to be largely a function of environmental influences with few innate behaviors. This lecture explores the recent trend to view behavior within an evolutionary context. x
  • 5
    Freud’s Thinking
    We look at psychology's most prominent theory of personality: the psychoanalytic theory proposed by Sigmund Freud around 1900, which set forth the three personality components of id, ego, and superego. x
  • 6
    Details of Psychoanalytic Theory
    Freud proposed that psychosexual energy is focused on various anatomical parts during a series of developmental stages, and that there are unconscious defense mechanisms at work to protect our psyches. Are his ideas still useful? x
  • 7
    Classification of Mental Illnesses
    This lecture begins a five-lecture exploration of mental illness, beginning with a look at the various criteria used to make up the multidimensional definition of abnormal behavior. x
  • 8
    Anxiety and Mood Disorders
    Two of the major classifications of mental illness are anxiety—once called neurosis—and mood disorders. This lecture discusses some of the major examples of each and discusses how modern psychology attempts to treat them. x
  • 9
    Disorders of Brain, Body, Self, Drugs, Sex
    There are several categories of mental disorders—cognitive, somatoform, disassociative, substance-related, and sexual—and varieties of treatment. x
  • 10
    Schizophrenic Disorders
    Occurring in only 1 percent of the population, schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder in which there is a break with reality that nearly always involves both positive symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, or disorganized speech and behaviors; and negative symptoms such as emotional flattening, lessened speech, or deficient will. x
  • 11
    Childhood, Retardation, Personality Disorders
    We conclude our introduction to mental illness by looking at attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, Tourette's syndrome, mental retardation, and types of personality disorders. x
  • 12
    Physical Therapies—Drugs
    This lecture begins our examination of physically oriented therapies with an examination of various psychopharmacological interventions, including a primer on how drugs work once they reach our nervous system. x
  • 13
    Physical Therapies—ECT, Surgery, Genes
    Several physical interventions besides drugs have been used to treat mental illnesses. This lecture looks at some of them, beginning with chemical and electrical means of introducing convulsions and continuing on to discuss surgical and genetic approaches to treatment. x
  • 14
    Talking Therapies—Psychoanalysis
    Psychotherapies are talking therapies based on the assumption that behavioral problems are caused by inappropriate thoughts and feelings. This lecture focuses on the therapy Freud developed, based on his own landmark psychoanalytic theory, to help patients find out what the contents of the unconscious are so that the unconscious can be restructured. x
  • 15
    Therapies—Humanistic, Cognitive, Group
    This lecture continues the sequence on talking therapies by looking at approaches other than traditional psychoanalysis that have proven useful. x
  • 16
    Behavior Therapies—Classical Conditioning
    Behavior therapies are based upon the assumption that the client has learned an inappropriate way of responding. The goal of behavior therapies based on classical conditioning is to substitute a new appropriate response for the old inappropriate response and strengthen the new stimulus-response connection to eliminate the old response. x
  • 17
    Behavior Therapies—Operant Conditioning
    Some behavior therapies (sometimes called behavior modification) are based upon operant conditioning, a form of simple learning that occurs when a voluntary response is reinforced, thereby making that response more likely to recur. x
  • 18
    Models of Motivation
    "What motivates human behavior?" Historically, answers to this question have ranged from the gods, to biological systems, to the unconscious. This lecture introduces some of the answers that have intrigued psychologists. x
  • 19
    Emotion—What Do We Measure?
    Emotion is one of the most important things for psychologists to study, but it is particularly difficult to do so because emotions are private events and not publicly observable. What can be measured, though, are emotion's by-products. x
  • 20
    What are emotions, anyway? Are they the cause of a physiological response or the result? We look at some of the theories proposed over the years to explain them. x
  • 21
    Psychoactive Drugs—Processes, Stimulants
    Legal or not, most people use psychoactive drugs to change the way they feel or act. We begin our examination with a discussion of how such drugs work and a look at some of the more common stimulants, including caffeine, nicotine, methamphetamines, and ecstasy. x
  • 22
    Drugs—Depressants, Narcotics, Hallucinogens
    We turn to other kinds of psychoactive drugs, beginning with depressants—the most dangerous class of drugs because of the risk of death that comes with their use. x
  • 23
    Social Psychology—Influence and Reciprocity
    This lecture, the first of two on social psychology, is concerned with social thinking, social influence, and social relations. We examine the phenomenon of reciprocity as a "triggering mechanism" to persuade others. x
  • 24
    Social Psychology—Additional Mechanisms
    Reciprocity is far from being the only triggering mechanism. This lecture examines some of the others, including commitment, social proof, authority, and scarcity. x
  • 25
    Simple Learning—Classical Conditioning
    We begin a two-lecture sequence on simple learning with a deeper look into a subject introduced earlier and discovered by Ivan Pavlov as he was studying glandular processes in dogs. x
  • 26
    Simple Learning—Operant Conditioning
    We conclude our discussion of simple learning with an examination of the kind of learning that takes place when a voluntary response is reinforced—a process famously pioneered by B. F. Skinner. x
  • 27
    Complex Learning
    This lecture examines several forms of complex learning, along with the argument that it cannot simply be built from the building blocks of classical and operant conditioning. Our discussion will include the differing views put forth by B. F. Skinner and linguist Noam Chomsky. x
  • 28
    We begin our examination of memory with a look at the various ways of assessing how much we remember and conclude with a discussion of memory's fidelity and the ease with which false memories can be implanted for later recall. x
  • 29
    Memory—Memory Aids and Forgetting Theories
    Are there ways to improve our memories? Why, in fact, do we forget? We look at both of these issues and spend some time exploring mnemonics, or memory aids. x
  • 30
    Perception—Forming Internal Models
    Humans are not in direct contact with the external world, but pick up cues as to what is in the external world and form internal models from these cues. This lecture looks at how we do this, as well as how we can be deceived. x
  • 31
    Perception—Finding and Organizing Cues
    This lecture continues our examination of perception with a look at several different analyses, including those of the Gestalt and perpetual constancy schools and the work of Dale Purves. x
  • 32
    Evolutionary Psychology—Basic Concepts
    Because behaviorists and their blank-slate concept of learning held sway for many years, it is only recently that the theory of evolution has had an impact on psychology. But since the subfield of evolutionary psychology was founded in the 1990s, its impact has become major. x
  • 33
    Evolutionary Psychology—Altruism and Mating
    What evolutionary advantage would accrue to helping others? Is our evolutionary wiring still determining how we choose our partners? We explore these provocative questions. x
  • 34
    Evolutionary Psychology—War, Family, Food
    This lecture examines the ways evolutionary psychology can help explain some of the problems with aggression, parenting, and overeating in today's world. x
  • 35
    Engineering Psychology
    Engineering psychology is concerned with specifying the characteristics and limitations of the human operator in a human-and-machine environment. This lecture looks at the branch of psychology that is part of the interdisciplinary area of human factors, or ergonomics. x
  • 36
    Recap, Omissions, and Into the Future
    This final lecture reviews what we have covered in the course and looks into the future to see what may yet be made possible by psychology's most cutting-edge approaches. x

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  • 36 lectures on 6 DVDs
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 208-page printed course guidebook
  • Diagrams
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider

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Your professor

David W. Martin

About Your Professor

David W. Martin, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University
Dr. David W. Martin is Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University. He earned his B.A. in Psychology from Hanover College in Indiana, where he also finished the necessary coursework for a major in physics. He earned an M.A. in Experimental Psychology and a Ph.D. in Engineering Psychology from The Ohio State University. Professor Martin is the recipient of the Roush Award for Teaching Excellence and was named to...
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Psychology of Human Behavior is rated 3.8 out of 5 by 49.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from disappointing while broadly informative, it was interesting only in spurts. The professor's presentation usually was fairly good, but unless you were seriously into the topic, it was too often too boring, with some of the lectures being very boring. A couple of pointed comments - in lecture 34, dealing with male aggression & violence, the prof explained it all in terms of sex & male need for women. Not a word that aggression/violence had anything to do with money, need or power. And, in the closing lecture (#36), he spends the first 18 (of 30) minutes briefly recapping the previous 35 lectures! In technical terms, that would be called a total waste. And, he then spends the last 12 minutes talking about 3 areas he didn't get to in the first 35 lectures + addressing expectations of the future. there's a major disconnect here.
Date published: 2020-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent over view I have 2 Granddaughters taking Psychology courses in College. I purchased each a copy plus my e-copy. We now have a real basis for communication. Professor is excellent
Date published: 2019-08-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from ok I have purchased and viewed over 50 of your courses over the past few years and have always enjoyed the content and presentation until this one. It was very difficult to concentrate on the material as the 'professor' was difficult to understand and had absolutely no ability to generate any interest due to his very boring manner of presentation.
Date published: 2019-01-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Old school but completr Reminds me of my undergraduate days in the eighties. Nevertheless the presenter is well versed and very organized and is a great speaker. Just need a companion lecture series to take us into the 21st century.
Date published: 2018-11-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative I really enjoyed the lectures. I order quite a few from The Great Courses. They are all wonderful and relaxing. Great filler for down-time.
Date published: 2018-10-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It would be nice to be give time to take the course before being asked to review it.,
Date published: 2018-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course to take. If you would like to gain a better understand of Human Behavior, this book for you. it will give you insights that will help you in all areas of your Life.
Date published: 2018-08-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Psychology of Human Behavior When I looked into the Great Courses, I was interested in Evolutionary Psychology, and the Psychology of Human Behavior was the closes fit. Unfortunately, there were only 4 lectures out of 36 on EP, so there wasn't much on the topic I was most interested in. I did find the lectures on mental illness and the drugs and psychotherapies that are used to combat the illnesses very informative. Next time, I plan to investigate more closely on the internet, the names of the lectures and make sure that most of the topics are of interest to me before I by the course. Overall, the quality of production and course material was top notch.
Date published: 2018-08-16
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