Back to:   Glossary - S

Safety needs
The second of Maslow's lower order deficiency needs, these concern our need to feel secure. Safety needs would be met in a safe family environment.

Sampling bias
Found where the research sample used does not reflect the target population onto which you later generalise your results.

The name given to the descriptive statistic used to illustrate a correlation between two covariates. See trend line.

In the Piagetian sense, an organized body of knowlege/abilities that changes due to experience.

About 1 in every 100 people are affected by schizophrenia Its onset may start in a person's late teens or early twenties, Schizophrenia is a condition where an individual suffers disturbances to their thinking, perception, affect (mood, or how one feels) and behaviour. Schizophrenia does not equate to dangerousness. Symptoms of schizophrenia fall into two categories. Positive Symptoms include auditory hallucinations: hearing voices, hearing thoughts spoken aloud, hearing thoughts echo, the voices may come from outside or from within. Visual hallucinations: not as common as 'voices'. Tactile hallucinations: sensations of being touched, or feeling insects crawling (again, less common). Delusions: fixed, false beliefs, not in keeping with reality or the person's normal beliefs. For example delusions where the sufferer believes that others are trying to hurt or kill him/her. Delusions, where they believe others are somehow inserting thoughts into their head. Delusions where they believe their thoughts are being broadcast. Delusions of grandeur (believing you are someone else, John Lennon, Jesus Christ) etc. Thought disorder: thought blocking where there are sudden breaks in trains of thought, extremely interesting 'knights move' thinking where thoughts jump from one to another without appearing to be linked, 'word salad' where there is loss of the grammatical structure of speech, and 'neologisms' where the sufferer appears to invent their own words. Negative symptoms include a gradual lack of motivation in life, which is often accompanied by social withdrawal. Incongruity of affect can occur where the person laughs when the appropriate response should be sadness. Blunting of mood, where an individual become emotionless towards others. Deterioration in personal hygiene, poor social skills, recklessness etc. Schizophrenia is treatable. See dopamine hypothesis.

As can be seen from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualisation is our ultimate growth need. Self-Actualisation is 'the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming' (Maslow, 1955), and is the epitome of personal growth. Originally, Maslow said that only the most eminent of people such as Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein had 'self-actualised'. This he later revised in 'Towards a Psychology of Being' (1968), and today it is accepted that self-actualisation is available to all who strive for it. Self-actualisation is embodied by what Maslow calls episodic peak experiences. An episodic peak experience is sometimes referred to as transcendence, and occurs when we get an insight into what it means to be human. An episodic peak experience might be the personal triumph and insight gained into yourself by coming through on something when all the odds seemed against you. Self-actualisation and episodic peak experiences are available to us all. When achieved, your perception of yourself and your world is never quite the same again. You understand more fully what it means to be human. You are a fully functioning person according to the humanistic approach.

Self-generated Attitude Change
Quite often deep thought about something causes our attitudes to crystallise. Tesser (1978) has suggested that thinking about one's attitude serves to make that attitude more extreme, i.e. the attitude is said to polarize. Tesser and Conlee (1957) asked participants their attitudes to topics such as prostitution, social revolution and political revolution. They were then asked to think about one of these topics for a period of time. Later their attitude to the issue they thought was measured again. The independent variable was the amount of time the subjects thought about the issue - either 30, 60, 90 or 180 seconds. Tesser and Conlee found that the longer the participant thought about the issue the more extreme their attitude became.

Self-perception Theory
Bem (1967) links our actual behaviour to what we think about an attitude object. It is our behaviour that determines the attitude we hold. To use one of Bem's examples, 'since I eat brown bread then I must like brown bread.' Self-perception theory states that a person forms his or her attitudes through self-observation of their behaviour.

Self, the
Humanistic term for who we really are as a person. The self is our inner personality, and can be likened to the soul, or Freud's psyche.

Self is formed by our phenomenology, our acts of personal agency, and our existentialism. Knowing and analysing what forms self gives us good gestalt in a better understanding of ourselves as a person(ality). Our self is who you are as an individual. The good and the bad! The formation of self affects our self-image and self-esteem, and thus who we think we are. This need not be the case as in unlocking experiences that affect our self-image and self-esteem we can strive towards our ideal self, or who we really are, or want to be, in terms of our personality.

Self-esteem concerns how much an individual comes to regard, or value, him or herself as a person. Self-esteem is influenced by the reaction of others to us, and the comparisons made of us by other people. (Argyle, 1983). If you have been told a number of times that you are 'crap' at something, you will come to believe this to be true. The thing is that this observation is merely someone else's opinion! It usually is not the case. Ask any number of social science students at Kilmarnock College and they'll attest this to be so. They arrive at our door having done not-too-brilliantly at school. Teachers have earlier told them that the student life was not for them. This was maybe confirmed at home. Maybe they were compared to a more successful brother or cousin? They got the message they were not academic, whatever that is! In a fairly short time however more and more of my students prove this earlier perception, that they and others held, to be completely wrong. Their self-esteem is now not-too-surprisingly much higher than before.

Self-image is how we see ourselves as individuals, which is important to good psychological health. At a simple level this might see you perceive yourself as a good or a bad person, beautiful or ugly. Self-image, and how it comes about (see self), has an effect on how we as individuals think, feel, and behave in relation to our world. A number of girls I have known have been what some would call 'fat'. So fat that they have been teased and ridiculed unmercifully throughout childhood and their teenage years. As a consequence they suffer from rock bottom self-image and extremely poor self-esteem. Their interpretation of their experiences at the hands of others can be psychologically devastating. A number have attempted suicide, and some have succeeded. So please stop this and other such bullying!

Semantic Differential Scale, the
This was first used by Osgood, Suci and Tannenbaum (1957), and provides both a measure of attitude strength and other information concerning the significance of the attitude towards the person.

The Semantic Differential entails rating or indicating your strength of feeling about something along a seven-point bipolar attitude scale. For example, here are a number of bipolar adjectives related to attitudes to pornography.

Semantic Differential Scale

Participants are asked to tick above one of the lines corresponding to their feelings towards pornography. Semantic Differential gives us three types of information about the attitude object; evaluative information, potency information, and activity information. Taking the above the evaluative dimension (good-bad; clean-dirty; beautiful-ugly) measures favourableness or unfavourableness towards the object. The potency dimension (strong-weak; cruel-kind) and the activity dimension (active-passive) provide additional information about the significance of that object for the individual whose attitude is being measured. Generally the evaluative dimension has been regarded as the most important of the three, as it is the dimension that measures the strength with which a person holds a particular attitude.

Such direct measures used to measure attitudes are popular mainly because they are extremely easy to construct and administer, and provides reasonably valid and reliable measures.

Semantic encoding
This is our encoded memory of a stimulus on the basis of just how meaningful it is to us. If something is meaningful/made meaningful for us we remember much more about it. You never forget what you were doing when you hear a parent has died, and all the events surrounding the next few days. Losing a parent is hugely meaningful for us. A good teacher will use stories, jokes, interactives, etc. in the teaching of their subject. As a result the student semantically encodes important information. As a result they are better able to recall it later. To remember what you need to know in psychology, or indeed any other subject, make it meaningful.

Semantic memory
Our LTM store for general knowledge about our world, including its concepts, rules and language. It is our 'mental thesaurus, organised knowledge about words and other verbal symbols, their meaning and referents' (Tulving, 1972).

Semantic mode
[something here soon]

Semi-structured interview
A type of structured interview where the researcher has pre-set questions, but will occasionally ask some spontaneous ones.

Perception is understood in terms of our senses, gestalten, and previous past experience working together. We have at least six senses. These are Touch; Smell; Taste; Sight; Hearing and Balance. Each of our senses has a fancy name. Touch is our tactile sense. Smell our olfactory sense. Taste our gustatory sense. Sight our visual sense. Hearing our auditory sense. And balance, which is our kinaesthetic sense. Our kinaesthetic sense is a result of our visual, auditory, and tactile senses working together. Each sense has a particular accessory structure equipped with special transducer cells, which convert the incoming energy of what we touch (pressure), see (light), hear (sound) etc. into electrical, or electrochemical energy. Electrical/electrochemical energy is the only type of energy our bodies can understand at an internal level. This is then sent to particular parts of our brain associated with each sense, to be further organised, analysed and acted upon. What we visually sense hits our retina in terms of light energy. This is converted into neural signals (electrochemical pulses) that leave the back of each of our eyes via each optic nerve. Eventually this information arrives at our visual cortex, a part of our brain just above our neck. When here, the degree and intensity of electrochemical signal is compared to previous input in visual memory. We then put meaning on what it is we have visually sensed. Experience makes the difference between sensation, or what our senses pick up, and perception, the meaning we put on what it is our senses pick up.

Sensory neurons
Sensory neurons (also called afferent neurons) respond directly to external stimuli from our environment. Sensory neurons carry messages from our sense organs to the spinal cord and brain.

A hormone/neurotransmitter important to our mood state. See Depression!

Situational Variables
These are types of confounding variable found in the experimental setting, which influence behaviour/performance of participants over and above any manipulations of the independent variable, and include such things as as temperature, lighting, background noise etc. You, the researcher controls such situational variables by keeping them constant.

Born in 1904 near New York, Burrhus Frederick, or B. F. Skinner's development of the idea of reinforcement helped to establish the Behaviourist approach, and the Programmed Learning movement. During his 60-year career, Skinner developed operant conditioning, where positive reinforcement such as rewards, and negative reinforcement such as unpleasant consequence are found to influence learning. A brilliant man with a brain the size of a house, BF Skinner died in 1990.

Cell body/nucleus that houses our genetic code.

Somatic nervous system, the
A major branch of our peripheral nervous system, the somatic nervous system consists of two types of nerves. The first sensory nerves transmit information about our outside world to our CNS. Sensory nerves allow us to experience pain, pressure and changes in temperature. The somatic nervous system also has motor nerves, which carry impulses from the CNS to the muscles of the body, prompting us to do things, such as walk, smile and balance.

Cell body/nucleus that houses our genetic code.

An event in psychology such as a quasi-experiment that takes place at one particular time and place. As it is one-off it is impossible to replicate. As a result confirmation of results through replication of it are difficult.

Spearman's rho
A popular correlation coefficient used by psychology students to calculate the degree of relationship between two covariates in a correlation.

For details see the likes of

Spontaneous Recovery
The reappearance of learning, thought to be extinct.

To ensure better control in psychological research it is important that any instructions/questions given to participants are standardised. This means that all receive the same instructions and/or questions after these have been rigorously checked for ambiguity before the research itself takes place. This is done using a pilot study.

Psychological term for an object, event, or person. Plural stimuli.

Stimulus discrimination
A feature of classical conditioning. This is where we learn to respond only to a stimulus that is the same as the original conditional stimulus. See stimulus generalisation.

Stimulus generalisation
A feature of classical conditioning. Stimulus generalisation is our associated behavioural response to similar stimuli we come across in our environment. If an object, event, or person is similar to the original stimulus to which we were conditioned, we behave towards that similar stimulus in the same way fashion. See stimulus discrimination.

According to the behaviourist approach we learn, or become conditioned, to behave the way we do. We form learnt behaviours as a result of associating a particular stimulus with a particular response. If we want a bus to stop, on seeing it, we stick out our hand. Very often reinforcement helps in the formation of stimulus-response units of behaviour.

Short-term memory according to Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) is our working memory. STM has two functions. It helps us from, and update a picture of our world on a minute-by-minute basis, and also helps us think and problem solve. STM has a decay rate of between 15-20 seconds. We must use STM information in this time otherwise it is lost to us.

Structural Approach to attitudes, the
The structural approach reflects the traditional tri-component model of attitudes by looking at beliefs, emotions, values, and behaviour regards the attitude object. The structural approach thinks that attitude(s) is/are learned through experience; attitudes predispose people to behave (respond) in a particular way(s) towards the same, or similar attitude object, and that attitudes and behaviour conform to a principle of consistency. Attitudes when expressed by behaviours reflect how we feel about something. Acting in a favourable or unfavourable manner towards or about something indicates the evaluative component of attitudes. The structural approach suggests that the merging of our beliefs and values forms our attitudes. The attitude will be a positive or negative evaluation about the stimulus; though you can also feel neutral about it. According to the structural approach attitudes give rise to intentions to behave in a certain way, which in turn gives rise to the behaviour itself.

Structured interview
A structured interview sees you plan what questions to ask participants beforehand. This standardisation of questions is a key feature of the structured interview. The questions asked will depend on the issue investigated. Another more recent feature of the structured interview is its mode, or how it is conducted. Nowadays structured interviews are conducted by telephone, videophone, the Internet, or in the traditional face to ace situation.

Structured observation
Structured observation is the planned watching and recording of behaviours as they occur within a controlled environment. Used particularly with infants and young children.

See Ainsworth, MDS., Blehar, MC., Waters, E., Wall, S. (1978) Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation'. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Inc.

Click on for more information on Mary Ainsworth and attachment theory.

A subject in psychological research is a non human animal. (See participant).

Something that is subjective is personal. Subjective data such as our opinions are non-factual.

third and last part of Freud's psychodynamic structure of personality. Superego develops between age 4 and 6. It is our internal parent or conscience. Superego makes us feel guilty about the things we do in life. It thus operates on the morality principle. Individuals with a superego personality often show anxiety and irrational behaviour. Like Dot Cotton in Eastenders who in one episode famously turned herself in to the police for murder, after she became wracked with guilt over her role in her best friend's suicide.

Survey method
The survey method of research asks a representative sample of people oral or written questions to find out about their attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, opinions, and values.

Sympathetic branch, the
The human nervous system is divided into the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and the central nervous system (CNS).

Our peripheral nervous system is divided into two branches, the sympathetic branch, and the parasympathetic branch.

The sympathetic branch of the PNS prepares our body for emergencies, such as "fight or flight". In fight or flight, the sympathetic branch distributes the release of noradrenaline. This stimulates our heart, raises our blood pressure, dilates the pupils, dilates our trachea and bronchi, stimulates the conversion of liver glycogen, shunts blood away from the skin and viscera to the skeletal muscles, brain, and heart, inhibits peristalsis (smooth muscle contractions) in the gastrointestinal tract, and inhibits contraction of the bladder and rectum. (Think about this last one, I've always found it funny. Old Sigmund's influence I guess!)

Synaptic knob
Can contain between 10 and 100 000 neurotransmitters. The chemical messengers of our body.

Systematic desensitisation
Type of behaviour therapy, where for example a the person's phobia is broken down into the discreet S-R units that go to make it up. These are ranked from least stressful aspect, to most stressful aspect. The therapist works though each S-R unit in the ascending hierarchy, helping the person to replace each dysfunctional response of being afraid, with a more functional response of feeling relaxed.
Dyslexia and Myers-Irlen
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Dyslexia & Myers-Irlen syndrome

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