Introduction to Psychology

Psychology introductory course. Study the theories behind psychology. Study by distance learning, online or correspondence. Useful course for professional development or personal interest.

Course Code: BPS101
Fee Code: S1
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Study this introduction to psychology course for a thorough introduction to the theories of psychology. Study in your own time by distance learning. Enrol now to get started.

Fascinated by psychology - Looking for a place to start?

  • Learn the fundamentals of psychology.
  • Gain a foundation for counselling and psychology.
  • Improve your understanding of human basis.
  • Gain confidence in studying - use this course as a basis for further studies in areas such as psychology, counselling, coaching, and management.

Gain a strong foundation in psychology and understanding people. Enrol now in your course to start your new career.

7 Lessons and 7 assignments, comprehensive notes and self assessment tests (USB & Online study methods only).

Psychology is the study of animal and human behaviour. This course will develop your ability to analyse aspects of a person's psychological state and apply derived knowledge to motivate that person. This provides a solid introduction/foundation for further studies of psychology covering the nature and scope of psychology, neurological and environmental effects on behaviour, personality, consciousness, perception, needs, drives and motivation.


"Ever wondered what Freud said, but were afraid to ask? Do you think psychology sounds interesting and want to know more, but don’t know where to start? Well, stop right here. This course gives you an interesting and informative start to the exciting field of psychology."

 Tracey Jones, B.Sc. (Hons) (Psychology), M.Soc.Sc (social work), DipSW (social work), PGCE (Education), PGD (Learning Disability Studies), ACS Tutor

Lesson Structure

There are 7 lessons in this course:

  1. The Nature and Scope of Psychology
    • Different approaches to psychology.
    • It's all common sense isn't it?
    • Key issues in psychology.
    • Free will and determinism.
    • Applying psychology.
    • Developing questionnaires.
  2. Neurological Basis of Behaviour
    • Structures of the nervous system.
    • Central nervous system.
    • Peripheral nervous system.
    • How nerves transmit messages.
    • The brain and method.
    • Methods of investigating the brain.
    • Brain damage.
    • The strange case of Phineas Gage.
    • Split brain operations.
    • Localisation of function.
  3. Environmental Effects on Behaviour
    • Learning and behaviour.
    • Modelling.
    • Conditioning.
    • Extinction.
    • Punishment.
    • Learning and memory.
    • Memory improvement strategies.
  4. Consciousness and Perception
    • Status of consciousness in psychology.
    • Nature of consciousness.
    • Relationship between consciousness and perception.
    • Unconscious and subconscious.
    • Altered state of consciousness.
    • Day dreams.
    • Sleeping and dreaming.
    • Chemically altered perception.
    • Perception.
    • Selective attention.
    • Factors affecting perception.
    • Perceptual biases.
  5. Personality
    • Theories of personality.
    • Personality traits.
    • Theoretical approaches to human personality.
    • Id, ego and superego.
    • Oedipus Complex.
    • Electra Complex.
    • Psychological defence mechanisms.
    • Genes and personality.
    • Personality disorders.
    • Multi-trait theories.
  6. Psychological Development
    • Nature v. nurture.
    • Environment and development.
    • Stages of development.
    • Moral development.
    • Psychosexual development.
    • Psychosocial development.
    • Adolescence.
    • Adult psychological development.
    • Criticisms of stage theories.
  7. Needs, Drives and Motivation
    • Motivation.
    • Behaviourist theories of human motivation.
    • Drives.
    • Maslow's theory of human motivation.
    • Complementary and conflicting motives.

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


  • Explain the nature and scope of psychology.
  • Explain characteristics of the neurological basis of behaviour.
  • Explain environmental effects on behaviour.
  • Explain the differences between consciousness and perception.
  • Explain the effect of personality on behaviour.
  • Explain psychological development.
  • Apply different techniques to motivate people.

What You Will Do

  • Define different psychological terms such as ambivalence, apathy, behaviour, catalyst, cognition, empirical, fixation, homoeostasis, obsession, perception, performance, psychosomatic, socialisation, stereotype, temperament, trait.
  • Explain how a knowledge of psychology can be applied in different types of jobs.
  • Explain the risks involved in applying psychology in two different specified situations.
  • Differentiate between developmental and interactive explanations of behaviour, in a case study.
  • Describe how the nervous system functions to transmit messages throughout the body.
  • Explain how the disfunctioning of different parts of the nervous system, can influence behaviour.
  • Compare the function of the left and right hemispheres of the brain.
  • Explain two examples of conditioning which you observe.
  • Explain an example of behaviour affected by modelling observed by yourself.
  • Compare the likely affects of positive and negative reinforcement in a case study.
  • Distinguish between consciousness and perception in the attitude of an observed individual.
  • Explain selective attention in a case study.
  • Explain in summaries, different states of consciousness including daydreams, sleeping, dreaming and meditation.
  • Explain the relationship between consciousness and behaviour in a case study.
  • Explain three different theories of personality.
  • Distinguish between the "id" and "superego" in a person you are familiar with.
  • Compare the application of humanistic approaches with the social learning approach and the psychoanalytic approach in educating children.
  • Explain through examples different defence mechanisms including repression, displacement, rationalisation, projection, denial, evaluation, sublimation, reaction/formation, intellectualisation.
  • Explain the factors which may have influenced the psychological development of a teenager who you know.
  • Compare cognitive development with physical development in a case study.
  • Explain through a summary the four main stages of development including sensorimotor, pre-operational, concrete operational and formal operational.
  • Explain moral development in two different case studies.
  • Explain psychosexual stages of development in a case study.
  • Explain psychosocial stages of development in a case study.
  • Distinguish between needs, drives and instincts in a specific workplace.
  • Explain the cyclical nature of primary drives in a case study.
  • List examples of secondary drives.
  • Explain how to motivate a worker in a specified situation using the psychoanalytical approach.
  • Summarise Maslow's theory of human motivation.
  • Demonstrate the application of three different motivation techniques in three different specified situations through role playing.

Understand More Of What Can Go On Inside A Person's Head

Altered States of Consciousness

What is an altered state of consciousness? Most would cite an extreme example such as the hallucinatory state that certain drugs induce. Yet in normal everyday life, we do not experience consciousness in the same way, but experience different states of consciousness. We sleep, we meditate, we enter in deep concentration, and we daydream, each activity being quite different in nature to the other. Therefore, we can say that an altered state refers to a clear change in the normal, waking level of awareness, such as when we drift into a daydream, doze off, sleep or dream, or focus intently on an activity.


When we daydream, our awareness of our immediate physical surroundings decreases and is replaced by a heightened awareness of our thoughts, feelings and mental images. We allow our focus to drift from one thought to another, without defining logical connections. Some people are capable of daydreaming for sustained periods of time, creating entire imaginary stories. Daydreaming is a perfectly common and healthy activity. There are cases, however, where excessive daydreaming is regarded as a sign of psychological instability (e.g. if an individual ceases to be able to distinguish between daydreaming and reality).

Sleeping and Dreaming

While the nature of sleeping can best be left to physiologists, psychologists are concerned about the altered state of consciousness while dreaming occurs. A lot of research has been conducted to measure the depth of sleep, and noting the periods in which dreams occur. During such research a device is employed to measure electrical changes in the brains activity, and another device measures eye movements (which tend to occur when dreaming).

There are five stages of sleep. Four stages involve deep sleep. The fifth stage involves rapid eye movement, thus it is called "REM sleep". When roused from REM sleep, subjects usually report a dream. Dreams also occur during NREM (Non REM), however these dreams are not recalled as easily. Although many people claim that they do not dream much, research into REM sleep supports conclusions that we all dream, and do so approximately five times a night. Some find it more difficult to remember their dreams than others. Time of waking also affects dream recall. Those that wake easily during REM will tend to have greater dream recall. As far as the length of dreams is concerned, research suggests that incidents in dreams last about as long as they would in real life. Experimental subjects have had the duration of the REM measured. When awoken, they were asked to mime the incidents in their dreams. The pantomime lasted for approximately the same amount of time as the duration of the REM sleep.

The Origin of Dreams

The greatest pioneer in the study of the psychological origin of dreams was Sigmund Freud. Freud stated that, despite their strangeness, dreams are meaningful, giving expression to the person’s wishes and impulses that have been repressed and cannot find other expression because of guilt or social inhibitions. These hidden wishes and desires constitute the content of dreams, and are expressed through the images and experiences of our dreams.

Freud evokes the image of a "censor" at the threshold between our consciousness and our unconscious. This "censor" converts the latent content into the dream work, transforming some of the impulse-expressions that might be too disturbing into symbols that seem harmless and meaningless. In effect, the mechanism protects our sleep from too much psychological disturbance. Much of psychoanalysis is involved with trying to decipher the symbols of our dreams, and symbolic behaviours with which we disguise our true feelings when awake.

The activation-synthesis theory of dreaming formulated by Hobson and McCarley (1977) asserts that dreams have no inherent meaning, but that the mind tries to make meaning out of them by synthesising them into meaningful events. According to this theory, dreams are no more than the result of random firings of neurons in the brain. Dream images are triggered by the firing in different areas of the brain, so that firing in the part of the brain that controls balance will trigger sensations and images of falling.

Another theory of dreaming is the computer theory, which proposes that the brain is like a computer whose programs are adjusted and tested when the computer is offline (or the brain asleep). The images and sensations of our dreams are not new creations, but data being sifted and sorted: the day’s experiences, impressions, worries, ideas being organised. Yet another theory is that we dream to allow the brain to get rid of unwanted data, and the random firing of neurons that triggers images and sensations is the brain’s way of defusing unwanted neural connections.


Psychology Helps Us Understand Ourselves And Others

The study of human development focuses on behavioural and psychological development from conception through later life. Emphasis is on the processes and mechanisms underlying developmental change and stability and the contexts in which development takes place.  Psychology is the scientific study of behaviour and mental processes. For example, psychology studies the brain, sensation and perception, motivation, intelligence, emotions, memory, psychological disorders, and much more. Developmental Psychology is a subfield of psychology. Its focus is on studying the changes that take place across our life span. Development is defined as changes in our physical structure, thought, and behaviour due to genetics or the environment. Development is life long and also can be a very personal thing.

Development incorporates change over time.  We all change as we mature.  Some of those changes are due to experience and others to our physiology.  Developmental psychology is concerned with the patterns and processes of change throughout our lifetimes. A significant question in developmental psychology is the relation between innateness and environmental influence in regard to any particular aspect of development – put in more easy terms nature vs nurture.

Developmental psychology is interested in discovering the psychological processes of development.  This is also the study of progressive psychological changes that occur in human beings as they age. Originally concerned with infants and children, and later other periods of great change such as adolescence and early life aging, it now encompasses the entire life span of an individual. This ever growing field examines change across a broad range of topics including: motor skills and other psycho-physiological processes, problem solving abilities, conceptual understanding, acquisition of language, moral understanding, and identify formation. 

Although developmental psychologists begin their work by charting the changes they see in the developing human, their ultimate goal is to explain how those changes came about. This is challenging because humans are dynamic, complex beings who are shaped by different people and events. It is often difficult to draw conclusions about exactly which influences and experiences are most important for particular aspects of cognitive development. Thus, psychologists examine a variety of influences including changes in the brain, the influence of parents, the effect of a child's interaction with siblings and peers, and the role of culture. Typically, in order to accurately characterize aspects of development, psychologists must consider interactions between physiological changes in the brain and the child's or person’s social environment. For example, people often use child-directed speech when talking with young children. This type of language accentuates word boundaries and is spoken more slowly compared to adult-directed speech. This aspect of the child's environment may interact with changes in the baby's brain to help the baby comprehend the language spoken around her.

Human development scientific roots date back to fledgling observational and interview studies of children and adolescents in the early part of the twentieth century. In the beginning, description--charting age-related milestones, such as when a child first walked, spoke in sentences, formed a best friendship, and reached puberty--was the principal activity of developmental psychologists. Little attention was accorded to process--the how and why of human change.

Following World War II, the field came into it’s own. Although always a melting pot of interdisciplinary contributions, by the 1960s human development achieved the status of a distinct subdivision within psychology. Empirical work flourished, becoming more sophisticated in methodology and focusing more directly on explanation. Each research was closely tied to a specific domain, or aspect, of human functioning. Together, the grand theories and research brought tension and debate to the field, offering powerfully opposing perspectives on the course and processes of change. A passive child continuously shaped by environmental inputs was pitted against an active, sense-making being undergoing a series of staged shifts rooted in human biology.

<p">Investigators of the mid-century phase had become increasingly sensitive to social and applied issues. Besides traditional topics of enduring interest, such as perception, intelligence, language, personality, and morality, they turned to questions of burning practical concern, such as the impact of poverty, child abuse and neglect, the rising divorce rate, maternal employment and day care, and learning problems in school. In addition to theoretical advances, the field had aligned itself more closely with the goal of improving children's conditions of life.


Reasons to Study This Course

This course is the ideal course to take for anyone who has an interest in psychology but has yet to explore it. It exposes students to a number of different areas of enquiry in the field of psychology and encourages them to apply their understanding to their own lives. Through addressing key concepts and theories, graduates are able to develop a solid framework of what is involved in the field of psychology and use this as a foundation to underpin further study. It can be studied as a standalone course to see whether psychology is for you or to satisfy personal interest, or it may be taken as part of a certificate or higher level course.

This course is aimed at people working in, or planning to work in:     

  • Any job that requires interaction with people.
  • Psychology.
  • Counselling.
  • Psychotherapy.
  • Social work.
  • Caring roles.
  • Health professions.
  • Nursing.
  • Teaching.
  • Police.
  • Law.
  • Business.
  • General employment.

The course is also applicable to many other areas of life and for satisfying personal development.

Graduate comment:

"[This course] is really valuable, because we can imagine and identify people's behaviour and social/environmental effects on personality.  We can be aware of our own children's psychological aspects and their childhood development.  Very good outcome from the course."

Lanka Narsinga Rao, Australia - Introduction to Psychology course.


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Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Lyn Quirk

M.Prof.Ed.; Adv.Dip.Compl.Med (Naturopathy); Adv.Dip.Sports Therapy
Over 30 years as Health Club Manager, Fitness Professional, Teacher, Coach and Business manager in health, fitness and leisure industries. As business owner and former department head for TAFE, she brings a wealth of skills and experience to her role as a tutor for ACS.

Tracey Jones (Psychologist)

B.Sc. (Psych), M.Soc.Sc., Dip.Social Work, P.G.Dip Learning Disability, Cert Editing, Cert Creative Writing, PGCE.
Member British Psychological Society, Member Assoc. for Coaching, Member British Learning Assoc.
25 years industry experience in writing, editing, education, psychology, and business. Tracey has several books and hundreds of articles published; in both fiction and non fiction.

Jacinda Cole (Psychologist)

Psychologist, Educator, Author, Psychotherapist.
B.Sc., Psych.Cert., M. Psych. Cert.Garden Design, MACA
Jacinda has over 25 years of experience in psychology, in both Australia and England. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Psychology (Clinical) and also trained in psychoanalytic psychotherapy at the London Centre for Psychotherapy. She has co-authored several psychology text books and many courses including diploma and degree level courses in psychology and counselling. Jacinda has worked for ACS for over 10 years.

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