Psychology in the 21st century
Psychology in the 21st century

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Psychology in the 21st century

2.3.2 Inner experiences

A second kind of data is people's inner experiences, including their feelings, beliefs and motives. These cannot be directly seen from the outside; they remain private unless freely spoken about or expressed in some other way. Examples of these inner experiences include feelings, thoughts, images, representations, dreams, fantasies, beliefs and motivations or reasons. These are only accessible to others via verbal or written reports or as inferred from behaviours such as non-verbal communications. Access to this insider viewpoint relies on people's ability and willingness to convey what they are experiencing, and it is always problematic to study. This is because we often do not have the words to say what we experience, or we are not sufficiently aware of what we are experiencing, and/or cannot describe experiences quickly enough or in ways that others would understand. And parts of our inner worlds may be unavailable to consciousness. The psychoanalytic approach suggests, for example, that much of what we do is driven by unconscious motives, making it difficult or impossible to give accounts of our motivations. An example of the kind of data that comes from the insider viewpoint is people's answers to the question ‘Who am I? Notice, however, that there is a paradox here. Although the data are essentially from the inside, the very process of collecting and interpreting the data inevitably introduces an outsider viewpoint. Sometimes the researcher can focus as far as possible on the subjectivity of the data – its meaning for the individual concerned – in effect, trying to see and think about the data ‘through the eyes of the other’. This is what happens most of the time in psychoanalytic sessions. But for other purposes the researcher may stand further back from the individual and impose ‘outsider’ categories and meanings on the data. This, too, happens in psychoanalytic sessions when the analyst makes an interpretation of the patient's account from an outside, theoretical or ‘expert’ position.

Figure 4
Figure 4 Psychologists at Birkbeck College, University of London, have pioneered a method of studying brain activity in infants as they attend to different pictures

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