The Development of a Field

Even though a clear and generally agreed-upon definition of psychology has not emerged, psychology today is a vigorous and broad scholarly field and profession, extending from biological subdisciplines and animal research laboratories to the study of humans in social, political, economic, industrial, educational, clinical, and religious contexts. It is not surprising, therefore, that psychologists have made contributions in a wide variety of areas. Among the most notable are those having to do with cognitive and emotional development, child rearing, formulating new ways to view and treat psychological problems, devising ways to deal with the crises of life associated with each stage of human experience from infancy to old age, consumer research and marketing, group dynamics, and the development of tests and educational procedures.

Psychology is one of the most popular majors in American colleges, and the discipline has experienced dramatic growth since the 1940's. There were about 4,000 psychologists in the United States during the 1940's; by the early 1990's, there were approximately 100,000. Since the mid-1970's, the number of women majoring in psychology has held steady, while the number of men has decreased significantly; as a consequence, by the late 1980's, more women than men were earning Ph.D.'s in psychology.

One of the most challenging new areas of study is health psychology, which emerged during the 1980's in response to the health care crisis, brought about by increasing costs associated with an aging population, expensive high-technology medical techniques, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) epidemic, economic restructuring and stagnation, and a variety of other factors. Pressures have also been emerging for people to reexamine their values and roles and, in a sense, their personal and national identities. These pressures derive from such powerful forces and dynamics as the women's and multicultural movements, the emergence of nontraditional social and child-rearing arrangements, and the change from a production to a service society. A mass identity crisis may, in fact, provide the psychologists of the twenty-first century with their major challenge.

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