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Key concepts

The  key concepts in psychology are best understood by researching what determines human and non-human behaviour. Psychologists pose a variety of theories to explain the degree to which biological factors are primary influences or whether environmental and ecological factors provide better explanations.

Brain and behaviour

Human behaviour is complex. Psychology attempts to unpack the complexity in mental processes throughout the life span by investigating learning, perception, memory, cognitive development, and emotion. Psychologists interested in behaviour ask questions around the mental and physical processes within the brain that contribute to different behaviours.

Individual differences

Individuals vary in their personality, motivation and intelligence. The fundamental role of psychology is to explore how these aspects interact and how individuals develop their identity.


The term ‘personality’ refers to a person’s unique behavioural and cognitive patterns. Personality is closely linked to identity. Psychologists use broadly applicable conceptions of personality. They have developed a number of theories that help explain how and why different personality traits arise.


Motivation is largely about values and rewards. Motivation theories tend to assume that every learned response is the result of some motivation.


While intelligence is one of the most widely discussed subjects in psychology, psychologists have very different views as to what it actually consists of. Some believe that intelligence is a single, general ability, while others believe it encompasses a range of aptitudes, skills, and talents.

Group behaviour

Humans are social beings and our behaviour changes in group situations. Psychologists may explore both pro-social and anti-social behaviours that may result from the influence of others. Social psychology can investigate how people might conform to social roles or obey a person in authority. Social psychology can also research how culture and gender roles can shape a person’s behaviour or what may influence helping behaviour in emergency situations. 

Last updated November 15, 2017