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Provided by Halo Mental Health Clinic

Understanding psychology is crucial to grasping the complexities of human behavior and mental health. Halo Mental Health Clinic presents a concise overview of 85 essential psychology terms that span from fundamental concepts to specific disorders. These terms are integral to both lay understanding and professional practice in psychology and mental health.

Abnormal psychology

Abnormal psychology is the study of psychological disorders and unusual patterns of behavior, emotion, and thought, which may or may not be understood as precipitating a functional impairment. This field addresses various forms of psychological distress and the interventions designed to alleviate them.

Achievement motivation

Achievement motivation refers to an individual’s drive to complete tasks and achieve goals. It is a force that drives person’s behavior toward success in various areas of life, including education, career, and personal achievements.

Affective forecasting

Affective forecasting is the process by which individuals predict their future emotional states. It often involves underestimating one’s capacity to adapt emotionally to future events, both positive and negative.


Aggression is behavior aimed at causing harm or pain. This can be physical or verbal and is often a reaction to perceived threats. It is a significant aspect of study in both psychology and sociology.

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial Personality Disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of disregard for, or violation of, the rights of others, often leading to conflicts with societal norms and laws.

Attachment theory

Attachment theory explains the dynamics of long-term relationships between humans, particularly focusing on how parent-child relationships influence personal development. Secure and insecure attachments in early life play a crucial role in future social and emotional development.

Behavior modification

Behavior modification involves changing a person’s behavior through techniques such as reinforcement or punishment. It is commonly used in various therapeutic settings, including the treatment of phobias and other psychological disorders.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is characterized by frequent episodes of eating large quantities of food, often quickly and to the point of discomfort. It is a psychological disorder associated with feelings of loss of control and can lead to significant physical illness.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder marked by significant mood swings, including manic highs and depressive lows. It affects a person’s behavior and ability to function in daily life.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health condition characterized by intense emotional instability, impulsive behaviors, and turbulent relationships, often resulting from a deep fear of abandonment and an unstable self-image.

Classical conditioning

Classical conditioning is a learning process that occurs when two stimuli are repeatedly paired: a response that is at first elicited by the second stimulus is eventually elicited by the first stimulus alone.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time. This discomfort may lead to an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance.

Cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a therapeutic technique used to identify and challenge irrational or maladaptive thoughts. It is a cornerstone of cognitive behavioral therapy and helps individuals develop healthier, more productive thought patterns.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.


Conformity is the act of matching attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors to group norms. It is a powerful force in social behavior and is studied extensively in social psychology.

Coping mechanisms

Coping mechanisms are strategies that individuals use to deal with stress and difficult situations. These can be healthy, such as seeking social support, or unhealthy, like substance abuse.

Defense mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are psychological strategies brought into play by individuals, groups, and even nations to cope with reality and to maintain self-image. They often operate unconsciously and can include denial, repression, and rationalization.

Delay of gratification

Delay of gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for an immediate reward and wait for a later reward. It is a significant aspect of emotional intelligence and self-regulation.

Developmental psychology

Developmental psychology is the scientific study of how and why human beings change over the course of their life. This discipline looks at a wide range of theoretical areas, such as biological, social, emotion, and cognitive processes.

Difference Threshold

Difference Threshold, also known as Just Noticeable Difference, is the smallest amount by which a stimulus must be changed in order to produce a noticeable variation that an individual is able to detect at least 50% of the time.

Dissociative identity disorder

Dissociative identity disorder is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process which produces a lack of connection in a person’s thoughts, memory, and sense of identity. Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, this condition is often a complex psychological response to trauma experienced during early childhood.

Divergent Thinking

Divergent thinking is a cognitive process used in problem-solving and creativity, where a person generates many unique solutions to a single problem. In the context of psychology studies or experiments that involve divergent thinking, the approach or instruction might be the same for all participants, but neither the subjects nor sometimes even the researchers predict the direction each participant’s thoughts will take. This type of thinking encourages exploring multiple possible answers, allowing each individual’s thought process to venture in different directions, unrestricted by conventional solutions.


Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-motivated behavior. Most types of rewards increase the level of dopamine in the brain, and many addictive drugs increase dopamine neuronal activity.

Ego depletion

Ego depletion refers to the idea that self-control or willpower draws upon a limited pool of mental resources that can be used up. When the energy for mental activity is low, self-control is typically impaired, which can lead to impulsive behaviors.

Emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include at least three skills: emotional awareness, the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving, and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating one’s own emotions when necessary and cheering up or calming down other people.


Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It is a critical component of emotional intelligence.

Existential crisis

An existential crisis is a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of their life: whether their life has meaning, purpose, or value. This crisis is often part of larger discipline known as existential psychology.

Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is a psychological treatment that was developed to help people confront their fears. When people are fearful of something, they tend to avoid the feared objects, activities, or situations. This treatment involves the exposure of the patient to the feared object or context without any danger, in order to overcome their anxiety.


Extinction in psychology refers to the gradual weakening of a conditioned response that results in the behavior decreasing or disappearing. This concept is commonly applied in therapies involving both humans and animals.

False memory

False memory is a psychological phenomenon where a person recalls something that did not happen or that happened differently from the way it happened. This curious aspect of human memory shows how feelings, imagination, cues, and suggestions can rather dramatically distort one’s memory.

Flashbulb memory

Flashbulb memories are vivid, detailed memories of significant events. Typically, such memories involve learning of an event that is emotionally arousing, either personally or historically significant.

Flow (psychology)

Flow is a psychological state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity, experiencing a level of focus and enjoyment in the process of the activity. This term was popularized by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Free association

Free association is a practice in psychoanalytic therapy where a patient says whatever comes to mind without censorship as a way to explore the unconscious mind. This method is fundamental in the diagnostic processes of psychoanalysis.

Fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error is a cognitive bias whereby individuals tend to underestimate the influence of external factors and overestimate the influence of internal factors in evaluating others’ behavior. It’s crucial in the study of social psychology.

Gestalt therapy

Gestalt therapy is an existential/experiential form of psychotherapy that emphasizes personal responsibility, and that focuses upon the individual’s experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person’s life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation.

Group polarization

Group polarization occurs when a group of people discussing a given topic ends up taking a more extreme position toward an issue after the discussion. This phenomenon is significant in social psychology, particularly in the context of jury decisions, public policy, and even everyday decisions.


Habituation is a simple form of learning in which an organism stops responding to a stimulus after repeated exposure. It is seen as a form of adaptive behavior or non-associative learning in both humans and animals.


A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. These rule-of-thumb strategies shorten decision-making time and allow people to function without constantly stopping to think about their next course of action.


Hypomania is a mood state characterized by persistent disinhibition and mood elevation (euphoria), with behavior that is noticeably different from the person’s typical behavior when in a non-depressed state. It is commonly seen in those suffering from bipolar II disorder.

Id, ego, and superego

Id, ego, and superego are the three parts of the psychic apparatus defined in Sigmund Freud’s structural model of the psyche; they are the three theoretical constructs in terms of whose activity and interaction mental life is described. The id is the set of uncoordinated instinctual desires; the ego is the organized, realistic part; and the superego plays the critical and moralizing role.

Implicit bias

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involitously and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.

In-group favoritism

In-group favoritism, also known as in-group bias, is the tendency for groups to “favor” themselves by rewarding group members economically, socially, psychologically, and emotionally, to the exclusion of outsiders. This bias can result in prejudice and discrimination because the out-group is perceived as different and is treated worse than the in-group.

Intelligence quotient (IQ)

Intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a total score derived from a set of standardized tests or subtests designed to assess human intelligence. The scoring of an IQ test is based on a bell curve, with the majority of people scoring in the average range.

Learned helplessness

Learned helplessness is a condition in which a person suffers from a sense of powerlessness, arising from a traumatic event or persistent failure to succeed. It is thought to be one of the underlying causes of depression.

Locus of control

Locus of control is a psychological concept that refers to how strongly people believe they have control over the situations and experiences that affect their lives. Those with an internal locus of control believe they can influence events and their outcomes, while those with an external locus of control blame outside forces for everything.

Long-term memory

Long-term memory refers to the storage of information over an extended period. It has the capacity to store a large amount of information for potentially unlimited duration (sometimes a whole life span). Its ability to retrieve memories ranges from a few seconds ago to as far back as decades.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid. Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up. From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.

Mental set

Mental set is a tendency to approach situations the way they have been approached in the past. This is a type of cognitive bias that can block us from seeing alternative solutions to a problem, particularly if a previous method has been successful.


Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment, which can be developed through the practice of meditation and other training.

Mirror neurons

Mirror neurons are neurons that fire both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. This mirroring process may be involved in understanding, imitation, and empathy as these neurons enable the individual to perceive and understand another’s behavior.

Mood disorders

Mood disorders are a category of psychological disorders characterized by the elevation or lowering of a person’s mood, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Mood disorders can cause changes in sleep patterns and activity levels and significantly impair the person’s ability to function.


Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity, is the ability of the nervous system to change its activity in response to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganizing its structure, functions, or connections.

Operant conditioning

Operant conditioning is a method of learning that occurs through rewards and punishments for behavior. Through operant conditioning, an individual makes an association between a particular behavior and a consequence.

Panic disorder

Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks. It may also include significant behavioral changes lasting at least a month and worry about the implications or concern about having other attacks.

Paranoid personality disorder

Paranoid personality disorder is a mental disorder characterized by paranoia and a pervasive, long-standing suspiciousness and generalized mistrust of others.

Peer pressure

Peer pressure is the influence exerted by a peer group, encouraging individuals to change their attitudes, values, or behaviors in order to conform to group norms.

Perceptual constancy

Perceptual constancy is a feature of the human mind by which a perceptual object is perceived as having the same properties under varying conditions such as changes in illumination, distance, or angle.

Peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is one of the two major components of the nervous system, the other part being the central nervous system (CNS). The PNS consists of the nerves and ganglia outside of the brain and spinal cord. The primary role of the PNS is to connect the CNS to the limbs and organs, essentially serving as a communication relay going back and forth between the brain and the extremities. This system is crucial in regulating bodily functions and responding to external stimuli. The PNS is divided into two subsystems: the somatic nervous system, which controls voluntary movements, and the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary responses, highlighting its essential role in both conscious and unconscious functions.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.


Projection is a psychological defense mechanism in which individuals attribute characteristics they find unacceptable in themselves to another person.

Psychosomatic illness

Psychosomatic illness refers to physical illnesses that are thought to be caused, or exacerbated, by mental factors such as stress and anxiety. These are real illnesses that do not have a purely physical cause.

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT)

Rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) is a form of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that may lead to emotional or behavioral issues.

Reciprocal determinism

Reciprocal determinism is a concept of Albert Bandura’s social learning theory that suggests a person’s behavior both influences and is influenced by personal factors and the social environment.


Regression is a defense mechanism leading to the temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way.


Reinforcement is a term in operant conditioning and behavior analysis for the process of increasing the rate or probability of a behavior (e.g., pulling a lever more frequently) by the delivery or emergence of a stimulus (e.g., a reward) immediately or shortly after the behavior.


Resilience refers to the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by the adversities of life and come back at least as strong as before. Rather than letting difficulties, traumatic events, or failure overcome them and drain their resolve, highly resilient people find a way to change course, emotionally heal, and continue moving toward their goals.

Rorschach inkblot test

The Rorschach inkblot test is a projective psychological test consisting of ten inkblots printed on cards (five in black and white, five in color) created by Hermann Rorschach. It is used to examine a person’s personality characteristics and emotional functioning.


Schizophrenia; characterized a long-term mental disorder involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation.


Self-efficacy is the extent or strength of one’s belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals. Psychologists have studied self-efficacy from several perspectives, noting various paths in the development of self-efficacy; the dynamics of self-concept, and differences in self-belief among individuals.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that causes itself to become true, due to the simple fact that the prediction was made. This concept is closely related to the idea of a feedback loop where beliefs influence actions.

Sensory adaptation

Sensory adaptation is a reduction in sensitivity to a stimulus after constant exposure to it. It occurs in all senses, including vision, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.


Serotonin is a chemical that has a wide variety of functions in the human body. It is sometimes called the happy chemical because it contributes to wellbeing and happiness. The scientific name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT. It is mainly found in the brain, bowels, and blood platelets.

Social facilitation

Social facilitation, in psychology, is the tendency for people to perform differently when in the presence of others than when alone. Compared to their performance when alone, when in the presence of others they tend to perform better on simple or well-rehearsed tasks and worse on complex or new ones.

Social identity theory

Social identity theory proposes that a person’s sense of who they are depends on the groups to which they belong. This theory is important for understanding how people perceive and evaluate themselves and others based on group membership.

Social learning theory

Social learning theory, developed by Albert Bandura, posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. The theory has often been called a bridge between behaviorist and cognitive learning theories because it encompasses attention, memory, and motivation.

Somatic symptom disorder

Somatic symptom disorder involves having a significant focus on physical symptoms — such as pain or fatigue — that causes major emotional distress and problems functioning. The individual has intense thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to the symptoms that interfere with daily life.


Stigma is the disapproval of, or discrimination against, an individual based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society. Stigma is a powerful social process of devaluing people or groups based on real or perceived differences, and it is often connected with mental health conditions.


Sublimation is a type of defense mechanism, a way in which individuals may deal with socially unacceptable impulses, feelings, or behaviors by unconsciously replacing them with socially acceptable expressions.

Systematic desensitization

Systematic desensitization is a type of behavioral therapy based on the principle of classical conditioning. It was developed by Wolpe during the 1950s. This therapy aims to remove the fear response of a phobia, and substitute a relaxation response to the conditional stimulus gradually using counterconditioning.

Thematic apperception test

The Thematic Apperception Test, or TAT, is a projective psychological test. Historically, it has been among the most widely researched, taught, and used of such tests. Its adherents claim that the TAT taps a subject’s unconscious to reveal repressed aspects of personality, motives and needs for achievement, power and intimacy, and problem-solving abilities.


Transference is a phenomenon characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. In psychotherapy, transference refers to redirection of a patient’s feelings for a significant person to the therapist.

Type A and Type B personalities

Type A and Type B personality theory describes two contrasting personality types. In this theory, Type A personalities are described as impatient, aggressively competitive, and highly time-conscious. Type B personalities may be more relaxed, less ‘neurotic’, less competitive, and more contemplative.

Unconscious mind

The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

Visual perception

Visual perception is the ability to interpret the surrounding environment using light in the visible spectrum reflected by the objects in the environment. This is important in psychology because it’s part of how we make sense of the world visually, through processes like recognition, and categorization.

Working memory

Working memory is a cognitive system with a limited capacity that is responsible for temporarily holding information available for processing. Working memory is important for reasoning and the guidance of decision-making and behavior.


Xenophobia is the fear or hatred of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. Xenophobia can manifest itself in many ways involving the relations and perceptions of an in-group towards an out-group, including a fear of losing identity, suspicion of its activities, aggression, and desire to eliminate its presence to secure a presumed purity.

Final Thoughts

This comprehensive list provided by Halo Mental Health Clinic not only serves as an educational resource on various psychology terms but also underscores the breadth and diversity inherent in the study of mental disorders. Each term reveals the complex interactions between our mental functions and both social and physical environments, emphasizing the detailed connections outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (see here). The insights offered extend beyond what is just noticeably different, affecting how we understand the behaviors and experiences of the subjects studied, thereby highlighting the profound links between mind, body, and society.

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