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S - SAD to systems theory - Psychology Dictionary

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SAD: see seasonal affective disorder.

salience: refers to the distinctiveness or importance of something. For example, when we are thirsty, images of drink are more salient.

sample: the group of individuals selected fromthe population to participate in a study so that the researcher can make generalisations about the whole of the original population.

sampling error: an error that occurs as a result of having a non-representative sample.

sampling method: a technique by which a sample of participants is taken from a population. Includes random sampling, stratified sampling, opportunity sampling and quota sampling.

scaffolding : a term to describe how a childs learning can be advanced by a tutor who provides a framework within which the child can develop.

Schachter and Singer (1962): proposed a two-factor theory of emotion, whereby emotion is experienced as a combination of arousal and attribution (labelling).

schedule of reinforcement: in operant conditioning, sequence of presenting and withholding reinforcement.

schema: mental frameworks which structure knowledge, beliefs and expectations, of objects, people and situations, to guide cognitive processes and behaviour. 

schizophrenia: a severe form of mental disorder, characterised by distortions and disturbances of perception, thought, language and emotions.

schizophrenia in remission: a diagnostic label to indicate that at the time of diagnosis, the client is free of schizophrenic symptoms, but has had periods of schizophrenia in the past.

schizophrenogenic family: a term to describe a family with faulty communication patterns and conflict between members, and has been implicated in the development of schizophrenia.

seasonal affective disorder (SAD): a mood disorder associated with changes in season.

secondary reinforcement: serves as a reinforcer through association with a primary reinforcement.

secondary sexual characteristics: characteristics that differ between the sexes, other than reproductive organs, such as body hair, facial hair and voice pitch.

secondary territory: territory with a medium degree of occupation and perception of ownership, e.g. classroom seat.

secure attachment: an attachment bond between the mother (or primary caregiver) and infant, whereby the mother is sensitive and responsive to the childs needs, who will not experience significant distress at separation from the caregiver, but who seek comfort from caregiver when frightened. Secure attachment is related to healthy subsequent cognitive and emotional development as adults, including high self-esteem and the ability to maintain loving, trusting relationships.

sedative: a category of drugs that result in drowsiness and reduced sensori-motor skills by reducing central nervous system functioning.

selective attention:  perceptual process of focusing on specific elements of a stimulus.

self-acceptance: an acceptance of yourself as you are, warts and all.

self-actualisation : in Maslows hierarchy of needs, refers to an individuals desire to grow and reach his or her potential.  The process of becoming a person in psychological emancipation  (Carl Rogers).

self-awareness: is the explicit understanding that one exists. Furthermore, it includes the concept that one exists as an individual, separate from other people, with private thoughts.

self-categorisation theory:  proposes people are most likely to be influenced by those perceived to be similar to themselves (i.e. in-group members).

self-concept: mental representation of our sense of individuality and inter-dependence on others, and includes two aspects ? self-understanding and self-esteem.

self-disclosure: the tendency to reveal gradually more intimate information as we get to know others better.

self-efficacy: an individual's belief in ability and performance on a task or in a situation.

self-esteem: evaluative attitude towards the self of how much an individual likes themselves, influencing personal and social behaviours.

self-image: is the mental picture, generally of a kind that is quite resistant to change, that depicts not only details that are potentially available to objective investigation by others (height, weight, hair color, sex, I.Q. score, etc.), but also items that have been learned by that person about himself or herself, either from personal experiences or by internalising the judgments of others.

self-fulfilling prophecy: a phenomenon whereby expectations of how others will act or behave, affects interactions and elicits the anticipated response.

self-perception theory: suggests that by observing and perceiving how we act in a situation, shapes our attitudes and other self-characterisations.

self-realisation: the emancipation of an individual towards self-reliance in respect of the integrity, or the love of knowledge, the filognosy, of the different views, forms of logic and intelligence one finds in modern society. Self-actualisation is the more specific humanist conception of self-realisation.

self-report: a method of gathering data by asking an individual to report and identify their behaviour or mental state.

self-serving bias: the tendency to bias our judgements of our own behaviour, by emphasising external factors for failure, but attributing success to ability or effort.

Selye (1907-1982): an endocrinologist, who explored physiological responses to stress, illness and disease. This led to the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) consisting three stages of stress; an alarm state, resistance state, and exhaustion state.

semantic memory: general memories that involve general knowledge of the world, including facts.

senses: are the physiological methods of perception. The senses and their operation, classification, and theory are overlapping topics studied by a variety of fields, most notably neuroscience, cognitive psychology (or cognitive science), and philosophy of perception.

sensitive period: (or critical period): a period in development when an organism is best able to develop a response, for instance development of language.

sensitive responsiveness: the extent to which a primary carer responds to an infants signals.

sensory memory: a modality-specific form of memory, involved in temporary preservation of sensory stimuli,  serving as a buffer between the senses and short-term memory.

sensory nerves: neural pathways in the parasympathetic nervous system which transfer information from the sensory receptors to the central nervous system.

sentience: the quality or state of being sentient; consciousness; Feeling as distinguished from perception or thought.

sentient: self-aware, choice-making consciousness. Humans and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are the two sentient species on earth.

serial-position curve: a graphical representation of memory retrieval, whereby recall is highest for beginning (primacy effect) and end items (recency effect) on a list than in the middle.

serotonin: neurotransmitter that is important in the regulation of mood and control of aggressive behaviour.  Normally produces an inhibitory effect.

sex differences: commonly observed differences between males and females, that may be primary (associated with reproduction), secondary (biological, but not associated with reproduction) and differences of mental, emotional or behavioural characteristics.

sex-linked trait: any genetically-determined characteristic, that is linked to one sex more than the other, for instance male performance at tests of spatial ability is superior to women.

sexism: prejudice and discrimination against one sex by members of the other sex, for instance in employment.

sexual orientation: preference for sexual partners of the same or opposite sex

sexual selection: individuals have features that make them attractive to members of the opposite sex (intersexual selection), or help them to compete with members of the same sex for access to mates (intrasexual selection).

shadowing: used in studies of attention, involves listening to and repeating a message that is presented in one ear.

shadow juries: see mock jury.

shame: a negative affect elicited by a perceived loss of self-esteem related to a particular behaviour.

shape constancy: refers to the tendency to perceive the shape of an object, despite variations in the size of the retinal image.

shaping: in operant conditioning, reinforcing successive approximations to the desired response.

short-term memory (STM): memory process which preserves recent information over relatively brief intervals, of limited capacity and information is stored for only a short length of time without rehearsal.

sibling rivalry: inevitable rivalry between children for parental affection and other resources.

sign language: a form of gestural communication used by the deaf.

significance level: in inferential statistics, a statement of the probability that an observed outcome is due only to chance.

significance tests: in statistics, inferential statistical procedures which are used to test whether observed results reflect real differences as a result of manipulation of variables, rather than chance variations.

simultaneous conditioning: used in classical conditioning where the unconditioned (UCS) and the conditioned stimuli (CS) are presented simultaneously rather than one (the UCS) preceding the other, (the CS).

single-blind design: an experiment whereby subjects are kept uninformed of the purpose and aim of the study, to avoid bias.

situational attribution: attributing behaviour to be caused by factors outside of a persons control, for instance task difficulty or weather.

situational variables: confounding effects as a result of environmental influences, such as lighting, noise levels and temperature.

size constancy: the tendency to perceive objects as being closer to their actual size rather than the physical size registered on the retina of the eye.

skewed distribution: an asymmetrical frequency distribution, whereby the median is usually more representative than the mean as a measure of central tendency.

skill: the ability that a person has to carry out a task successfully and competently.

Skinner (1904-1990): influential behaviourist, who pioneered the principle of operant conditioning, including schedules of reinforcement, shaping and subsequent behavior modification.

sleep: a natural and periodic state of rest during which consciousness of the world is suspended.

sleep apnea: a temporary suspension of breathing occurring repeatedly during sleep that often affects overweight people or those having an obstruction in the breathing tract, an abnormally small throat opening, or a neurological disorder.

sleep disorders: include insomnia, sleep apnea and narcolepsy.

sleeper effect: the effect of persuasive messages may not have an immediate effect, but may be revealed in a change of behaviour after a period of time.

sociability: a child's inclination to interact with others and to seek their attention or approval.

social behaviour: any behaviour which involves others or is oriented towards others

social cognition: the mental processes involved in the way individuals perceive and react to social situations.

social comparison: tendency of judging our own behaviour against that of others.

social desirability: either behaving in a way to bring social approval from others, or responding in a self-evaluative situation (e.g. interview, questionnaire) to present ourselves in a way that reveals more socially desirable characteristics (whilst potentially hiding undesirable characteristics).

social development: growth of social behaviours, such as the ability to form attachments, develop healthy self-esteem and form successful relationships.

social drift theory (hypothesis): the attempt to explain the relationship between social class and serious mental illness by suggesting that those who are seriously mentally ill 'drift' down the socio-economic scale.

social facilitation and inhibition (SFI): an improvement in performance on a task due to the presence of others (social facilitation), or an impairment in performance due to the presence of others (social inhibition).

social identity theory: proposition that individuals categorise themselves and others into in-groups and out-groups. Negative comparisons are made between the two groups as a result of a need to maintain a positive social identity, subsequently giving rise to competition and discrimination.

social influence: how an individual's behaviour is affected by others, such as conformity pressures and group dynamics.

social inhibition: is what keeps humans from becoming involved in potentially objectionable actions and/or expressions in a social setting.

social learning theory: proposes that learning occurs through imitation and modelling of behaviour of role models.

social loafing: the phenomenon in which people working together on a task tend to contribute less individual effort than they would if working alone.

social norms: expected standards of acceptable and appropriate behaviour and attitudes for members of a group or society.

socially sensitive research:  research that may have direct social consequences for participants or the population represented. For instance, research into racial differences.

social skills training: a programme to teach people to improve social skills, such as making eye contact.

social psychology: an attempt to understand and explain how the thoughts, feelings and behaviour of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others.

socialisation: is used by sociologists, social psychologists and educationalists to refer to the process of learning ones culture and how to live within it. For the individual it provides the resources necessary for acting and participating within their society

Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS): a rating scale, devised by Holmes and Rahe, that scores important life events and life changes according to their psychological impact and degree of adjustment required. Higher scores on the SRRS indicate a higher risk of stress-related ill health..

social support: people and/or services that are supportive during difficult periods, including information (e.g. advice) or emotional support (e.g. reassurance that one is cared for).

socio-demographic: pertaining to or characterised by a combination of sociological and demographic characteristics

socioeconomics: or socio-economics is the study of the relationship between economic activity and social life.

sociologist: a social scientist who studies the institutions and development of human society.

sociology: is the scientific or systematic study of society, including patterns of social relations, social stratification, social interaction, and culture.

somatic treatments: treatments of mental disorders that employ physical and chemical methods, e.g Electroconvulsive Shock Treatment(ECT).

somatosensory cortex : a part of the brain responsible for processing stimulation coming from the skin, body wall, muscles, bones, tendons and joints. It plays a part in determining pain intensity.

spatial memory: is the ability of animals to form a internal representation or map of its familiar area or home range.

Spearman (1863-1945): focused on intelligence research; proposing the theoretical underlying general factor (g) of intelligence, and statistics; establishing Spearmans rank correlation coefficient and factor analysis.

species-specific behaviour: behaviours which are characteristic of all members of a particular species. These response patterns (sometimes popularly called 'instincts') apply to behaviours such as mating, finding food, defence and raising offspring.

split half reliability: an evaluation of the internal consistency of a test, by splitting test items randomly into two halves and comparing participants' performance on the two halves. The two scores should correlate highly if the test is internally reliable.

split-brain studies: refers to studies derived from split?a target="_blank" href="https://itseducation.asia/psychology/b.htm#brain">brain operations on epileptic patients, involves cutting the corpus callosum, and thereby separating the two hemispheres of the brain.

spontaneous recovery: in classical conditioning, after extinction, an extinguished conditioned response will be spontaneously produced.

spontaneous remission: in psychotherapy, improvement in an individual's condition without professional intervention, often serves as a baseline criterion to compare the effectiveness of therapies.

standard deviation: a measure of dispersion; average difference of a set of scores from the mean measure.

standardised instructions: directions given to participants in a study to ensure that each participant receives the same information to minimise variation.

standardisation : A set of consistent procedures to treat participants in a test, interview, or experiment or for recording data.

statistical infrequency: any behaviour that is statistically infrequent is viewed as abnormal.

statistical significance: a conclusion drawn from the data collected in a research study that the results are a result of the effect of the independent variable upon the dependent variable, and are not due to chance.

stereoscopic vision: the perceptual experience of a three-dimensional image through the combination of two different views of the same scene from the two eyes.

stereotype: an oversimplified, generalised and often inaccurate perception of an individual based upon membership of a particular group. Can often underlie prejudice and discrimination.

steroids: any of a number of natural or synthetic substances that regulate body function.

stimuli: irregular plural of stimulus

stimulant: a drug which increases activation of the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system; decreasing fatigue, increasing physical activity and alertness, diminish hunger, and result in a temporary elevation of mood.

stimulus: in general, any event, situation, object or factor that may affect behaviour; in the behaviourist approach, a stimulus must be a measurable change in the environment.

stimulus discrimination: in conditioning, an organism learns to differentiate between stimuli that differ from the conditioned stimulus on some dimension.

stimulus generalisation: in classical conditioning, once a response to a stimulus has been learnt, the response may also be evoked by other similar stimuli that have never been paired with the unconditioned stimulus.

stimulus-response learning: a term used to describe any type of learning which involves an association between a stimulus and a response.

storage: the retention of encoded information in memory over time.

stratified sample:  the sample reflect the composition of the population, for instance 20 per cent left handed individuals, 80 percent right handed individuals in the population would determine a selection of participants using the same percentages.

stress: a mismatch between the perceived demands of the environment and an organisms perceived ability to cope.

stress reduction: techniques used by an individual to cope with stress and reduce its adverse effects.

stressor: any event or stimulus (internal or external)  which triggers a stress response in an individual.

Stroop effect: is a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When a word such as blue, green, red, etc. is printed in a color differing from the color expressed by the word's semantic meaning (e.g. the word "red" printed in blue ink), a delay occurs in the processing of the word's color, leading to slower test reaction times and an increase in mistakes.

subconscious: in Freud's theory,  portions of the mind which are below the level of conscious awareness.

subcortical: relating to the portion of the brain immediately below the cerebral cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for most higher functions (sensation, voluntary muscle movement, thought, reasoning, memory, etc.)

subjective: a subjective assessment is one that is based on criteria that exist only or principally in the assessor. Two subjective assessors assessing the same item might differ widely in their assessment.

sublimation: in Freud's theory, a defence mechanism whereby energy is redirected towards a socially desirable creative activity.

substance abuse: a pattern of behaviour where a person relies excessively on a particular substance (e.g. alcohol or opioids such as heroin) which can ultimately interfere with the individuals daily functioning.

superego: in Freudian theory, portion of the psyche governed by moral constraints.

superordinate goal: a higher and more important goal than that normally pursued by individuals within a group.

suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN): is a bilateral region of the brain, located in the hypothalamus, that is responsible for controlling endogenous circadian rhythms. The neuronal and hormonal activities it generates regulate many different body functions over a 24-hour period.

symbiosis: a relationship between two animals where each animal benefits.

sympathetic nervous system: see autonomic nervous system.

symptom: a change from normal structure, function, or sensation as would be experienced by the patient and indicative of disease.

synapse: a small physical gap between two neurons, which is connected by the flow of neurotransmitter chemicals

synaptic transmission: refers to the process by which a nerve impulse passes across the synaptic cleft from one neuron (the presynaptic neuron) to another (the postsynaptic neuron).

systematic desensitisation: a behavioural therapy to treat phobias and anxieties, whereby a client is gradually exposed to situations that are more and more anxiety provoking until the fear response is replaced by one of relaxation.

system variables: in witness testimony, variables that affect the accuracy of witness testimony and over which the police (and justice system in general) have some influence, including interviewing techniques.

systems theory: a theoretical framework involving multiple interrelated elements, where the properties of the whole are different from the properties of the parts; systems are viewed as governed by processes of negative feedback (which promotes stability) and positive feedback (which promotes instability). Used to explain a range of phenomena, and a range of situations, for instance, Minuchins family systems theory.

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Terms Beginning With S




sampling error

sampling method


Schachter and Singer

schedule of reinforcement



schizophrenia in remission

schizophrenogenic family

seasonal affective disorder

secondary reinforcement

secondary sexual characteristics

secondary territory

secure attachment


selective attention




self-categorisation theory






self-fulfilling prophecy

self-perception theory



self-serving bias


semantic memory


sensitive period

sensitive responsiveness

sensory memory

sensory nerves



serial-position curve


sex differences

sex-linked trait


sexual orientation

sexual selection


shadow juries


shape constancy


short-term memory


sibling rivalry

sign language

significance level

significance tests

simultaneous conditioning

single-blind design

situational attribution

situational variables

size constancy

skewed distribution




sleep apnea

sleep disorders

sleeper effect


social behaviour

social cognition

social comparison

social desirability

social development

social drift theory

social facilitation and inhibition

social identity theory

social influence

social inhibition

social learning theory

social loafing

social norms

socially sensitive research

social skills training

social psychology


Social Readjustment Rating Scale

social support





somatic treatments

somatosensory cortex

spatial memory


species-specific behaviour

split half reliability

split-brain studies

spontaneous recovery

spontaneous remission

standard deviation

standardised instructions


statistical infrequency

tatistical infrequency

statistical significance

stereoscopic vision






stimulus discrimination

stimulus generalisation

stimulus-response learning


stratified sample


stress reduction


Stroop effect





substance abuse


superordinate goal

suprachiasmatic nucleus


sympathetic nervous system



synaptic transmission

systematic desensitisation

system variables

systems theory

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