The Great Ideas of Psychology

Defining the Subject
1: Defining the Subject

Is psychology really science at all? A look at the controversy that has engulfed psychology for centuries.

30 min
Ancient Foundations-Greek Philosophers and Physicians
2: Ancient Foundations-Greek Philosophers and Physicians

The ancient philosophers-in wrestling with the problems of knowledge, good and evil, governance, and how mankind should live-lay the foundations for the discipline of psychology.

29 min
Minds Possessed-Witchery and the Search for Explanations
3: Minds Possessed-Witchery and the Search for Explanations

A look at how abnormal conduct-whether considered insanity or the act of a "witch"-has attracted society's special attention, sometimes with horrifying consequences.

28 min
The Emergence of Modern Science-Locke's "Newtonian" Theory of Mind
4: The Emergence of Modern Science-Locke's "Newtonian" Theory of Mind

A new emphasis on experimental investigation produces great achievements in natural science and technology, as well as insistent questions about whether the same methods can explain the workings of the mind and society.

29 min
Three Enduring "Isms"-Empiricism, Rationalism, Materialism
5: Three Enduring "Isms"-Empiricism, Rationalism, Materialism

An examination of the great debate over how knowledge and belief come to be and what this means for the definition of psychology.

30 min
Sensation and Perception
6: Sensation and Perception

An introduction to the methods by which sensation and perception are investigated and measure, including an introduction to the science and psychophysics.

30 min
The Visual Process
7: The Visual Process

One of the more scientific sides of experimental psychology is revealed in this look at the discipline's most studied and best known system-a true miracle of organization and function.

30 min
8: Hearing

A look at another of the body's most acute senses-and the threats posed to this complex and delicate system by the constant auditory assault of 20th-century industrial and urban life.

30 min
Signal-Detection Theory
9: Signal-Detection Theory

The more difficult a discrimination or detection task is, the harder it is to measure. A look at how signal-detection theory is providing answers, especially in the particularly difficult area of measuring perception.

30 min
Perceptual Constancies and Illusions
10: Perceptual Constancies and Illusions

Can we really trust our senses? A surprising look at how knowledge and perception work together.

30 min
Learning and Memory: Associationism-Aristotle to Ebbinghaus
11: Learning and Memory: Associationism-Aristotle to Ebbinghaus

A first look at the fascinating area of memory and how it works, including an introduction to the use of "mnemonics."

30 min
Pavlov and the Conditioned Reflex
12: Pavlov and the Conditioned Reflex

The famous "salivating dog" experiments were a harbinger of the behaviorist era to come but went well beyond what we learned about in school.

30 min
Watson and American Behaviorism
13: Watson and American Behaviorism

An impatient crusader casts his vote for a pragmatic and scientific psychology confined to observable behavior.

30 min
B.F. Skinner and Modern Behaviorism
14: B.F. Skinner and Modern Behaviorism

A first look at one of the most influential and controversial psychologists of our time and his theory of conditioning human response.

30 min
B.F. Skinner and the Engineering of Society
15: B.F. Skinner and the Engineering of Society

Skinner's theories as the model for completely changing child-rearing, education, behavior, and ultimately, society itself.

30 min
16: Language

Skinner publishes his theory of language and the resulting critique, led by the then-unknown Noam Chomsky, points the way toward a more "cognitive" interpretation of psychology.

30 min
The Integration of Experience
17: The Integration of Experience

For most developed species, survival requires more than passive absorption of disconnected stimuli. An examination of how experience is organized to help creatures actually live.

29 min
Perception and Attention
18: Perception and Attention

If perception weren't selective, we would drown in an unending flood of stimuli. A look at how we filter the input from the outside world down to what is important.

30 min
Cognitive "Maps," "Insight," and Animal Minds
19: Cognitive "Maps," "Insight," and Animal Minds

Is man the only animal that can think? A fascinating glimpse of both sides of the argument over anthropomorphic explanations suggest a surprising answer.

30 min
Memory Revisited-Mnemonics and Context
20: Memory Revisited-Mnemonics and Context

A return to the subject of memory for a deeper discussion of how we process, store, and recover experience, including the problem of "eyewitness" testimony and reconstructed memories.

30 min
Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognitive Development
21: Piaget's Stage Theory of Cognitive Development

A search for an explanation of how our mental powers are formed leads to the influential work of Jean Piaget and his theories of cognitive development in children.

31 min
The Development of Moral Reasoning
22: The Development of Moral Reasoning

Is moral development different from cognitive development as a whole? An examination of what we know about how moral reasoning evolves.

31 min
Knowledge, Thinking, and Understanding
23: Knowledge, Thinking, and Understanding

How we solve problems-how we actually function in our daily lives-including the essential psychological short-cut that makes the process possible.

31 min
Comprehanding the World of Experience-Cognition Summarized
24: Comprehanding the World of Experience-Cognition Summarized

A summary of the finding that laid the foundation for the "cognitive revolution's" alternative to the empiricistic psychologies favored by the behaviorist school.

30 min
Psychobiology-Nineteenth-Century Foundations
25: Psychobiology-Nineteenth-Century Foundations

What is the relationship between physical and mental processes? A look at how researches have answered the question, including the strange system of phrenology and its role in the foundation of modern "brain science."

30 min
Language and the Brain
26: Language and the Brain

Injuries to the brain-and resulting functional deficits-have taught us a great deal about brain function and organization, especially regarding the way language is processed.

31 min
Rationality, Problem-Solving, and Brain Function
27: Rationality, Problem-Solving, and Brain Function

A continuing examination of the workings of the brain, including the organ's remarkable ability to compensate for damage early in development.

32 min
The "Emotional" Brain-The Limbic System
28: The "Emotional" Brain-The Limbic System

Pleasure. Pain. Motivation. Rage. Fear. What we know about the fascinating part of the brain associated with these and other emotional states.

30 min
Violence and the Brain
29: Violence and the Brain

Is criminality really a pathology better understood in scientific than in moral terms? Is insanity truly a defense?

30 min
Psychopathology-The Medical Model
30: Psychopathology-The Medical Model

Is all psychopathology, all "mental" illness, ultimately the consequence of a medical or biological disturbance? A look at this viewpoint and the criticisms it has faced.

30 min
Artificial Intelligence and the Neurocognitive Revolution
31: Artificial Intelligence and the Neurocognitive Revolution

Yes, computer programs can now contend with world-class chess players-to a point. But can computers be made to actually think? A beginning discussion of the pros and cons, along with the staggering ethical implications.

30 min
Is Artificial Intelligence "Intelligent"?
32: Is Artificial Intelligence "Intelligent"?

Do the proponents of artificial intelligence understand what "intelligence" really is? Many say no.

30 min
What Makes an Event "Social"?
33: What Makes an Event "Social"?

Why a purely scientific examination of events involving people is impossible-and how researches have developed the kind of model necessary to interpret the meaning of these social events.

30 min
Socialization-Darwin and the "Natural History" Method
34: Socialization-Darwin and the "Natural History" Method

How we examine a species within its own natural context, accounting for its defining features by matching these with the conditions faced by members of the species.

30 min
Freud's Debt to Darwin
35: Freud's Debt to Darwin

Darwin's works are among the most "well-worked-over" in Freud's restored London library. This lecture explores the influence of the world's most famous naturalist on its most famous psychiatrist.

30 min
Freud, Breuer, and the Theory of Repression
36: Freud, Breuer, and the Theory of Repression

Hysterical symptoms are unlike those produced by genuine neurological disorders. This lecture discusses the discovery of the "talking cure" and how it led to Freud and Breuer's theory of repression.

30 min
Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development
37: Freud's Theory of Psychosexual Development

Freud's explanation of psychosexual development as the individual's progression from infantile stages of sexual gratification-such as thumb-sucking-to adult heterosexual activity.

30 min
Critiques of Freudian Theory
38: Critiques of Freudian Theory

Freud believed that psychodynamic processes are universal and largely independent of culture and society, but his biological interpretation has been rejected in favor of socially and culturally oriented theories.

30 min
What Is "Personality"?
39: What Is "Personality"?

The question has still not been answered definitively and has furnished the grist for many since-refuted theories. This lecture examines the debate.

30 min
Obedience and Conformity
40: Obedience and Conformity

Several classic experiments have shown the powerful influence of social context on conduct and have offered a strong challenge to both the dominant theories of personality.

30 min
41: Altruism

Why do some people act heroically? Once again, social context proves critical in determining human behavior, though a highly developed self-perception can help a person rise above the common in unlikely circumstances.

30 min
Prejudice and Self-Deception
42: Prejudice and Self-Deception

Acts of prejudice call for a reinterpretation of context and even a reinterpretation of self to justify the action. An exploration of the darker side of human behavior.

30 min
On Being Sane in Insane Places
43: On Being Sane in Insane Places

What is sanity? What is insanity? As a chilling study demonstrates, the answers often depend on who is controlling the labels.

31 min
44: Intelligence

The history of I.Q. and other so-called "intelligence" tests offer valuable lessons in what is and is not "predictable."

30 min
Personality Traits and the Problem of Assessment
45: Personality Traits and the Problem of Assessment

Is there really a test that can reveal the "underlying personality" of an individual? A look at the fundamental problem of devising such a measuring stick.

30 min
Genetic Psychology and "The Bell Curve"
46: Genetic Psychology and "The Bell Curve"

The issue of whether a given trait is rooted in genetics or the environment-long a controversial issues in the public arena-is when predicting the potential of an individual.

30 min
Psychological and Biological Determinism
47: Psychological and Biological Determinism

An exploration of the notion of determinism reveals it to be both counterintuitive and, in some respects, self-refuting.

30 min
Civic Development-Psychology, the Person, and the Polis
48: Civic Development-Psychology, the Person, and the Polis

In many ways, the fullest and most systematic theories of psychology are still those provided by Aristotle. An exploration of how rational creatures can flourish when the biological, social, and political are truly integrated.

32 min
Daniel N. Robinson

Developments in philosophy are chiefly in the form of greater clarity, an ever more refined sense of just what makes the problem problematic. If ignorance is not thereby totally overcome, at least it is exposed.


City University of New York


Philosophy Faculty, Oxford University; Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, Georgetown University

About Daniel N. Robinson

Dr. Daniel N. Robinson is a member of the philosophy faculty at Oxford University, where he has lectured annually since 1991. He is also Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, at Georgetown University, on whose faculty he served for 30 years. He was formerly Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Columbia University, and he also held positions at Amherst College and at Princeton University.

Professor Robinson earned his Ph.D. in Neuropsychology from City University of New York.

He is past president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association: the Division of History of Psychology, from which he received the Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Division of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, from which he received the Distinguished Contribution Award.

Professor Robinson is author or editor of more than 40 books, including Wild Beasts & Idle Humours: The Insanity Defense from Antiquity to the Present, An Intellectual History of Psychology, The Mind: An Oxford Reader, and Aristotle's Psychology. He is former editor of the Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology. Dr. Robinson has also published widely on the constitutional history of the U.S. and its philosophical foundations, with original research appearing in the International Journal of Constitutional Law and The American Journal of Jurisprudence. He is coeditor of The American Founding: Its Intellectual and Moral Framework (London: Continuum, 2012).

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