CONCEPTOS BASICOS DE PSICOLOGIA
Adolescence refers to the period between childhood and adulthood, a time of transition. It is not the same as puberty, which refers to the physiological changes that start at around 12 or 13 years old, and ends with biological sexual maturity. Adolescence refers to the psychological and social changes that, in the West, accompany puberty. These changes are important for subsequent psychological wellbeing. Adolescence is seen as a period when someone has to leave the dependence of childhood and separate from parents. Precipitated by the sexual changes of puberty, girls and boys have to develop adult gendered identities. This process is often accompanied by conflicts around sexuality and sexual relationships. Adolescence can consequently be an intense time, characterised by conflicts with parents concerning the appropriate level of independence and strong ties with peer groups as alternative point of identification.
Animal behaviour. The discipline of ethology studies animal behaviour in natural surroundings, and has provided considerable insight into the organisation of feeding, reproductive and social systems in many species. Although caution is needed against overly simplistic explanations of the complexities of human social behaviour in terms of animal studies, it can be argued that there are genuine parallels between some aspects of human and animal social behaviour. This would particularly be the case with animals who are our close relatives, such as chimpanzees. Many neuroscientistis study non-human nervous systems, whilst others concentrate on patterns of learning and task performance which may have parallels in human performance. In general, the approach of extrapolating from the behaviour of one species to that of another is called comparative psychology.
Applied Psychology uses psychological methods and findings to explore possible solutions to particular practical human problems. The term ‘applied psychology’ covers a very wide range of perspectives, techniques, and methodologies.
In World War I, psychometric tests were used in the United States to enable the rapid selection and placement of new recruits in the armed forces. In the Second World War, governments employed psychologists to help in personnel selection, changing public attitudes, propaganda, and the treatment of trauma.
Attachment. This refers to an emotional bond between people, especially used that between babies and very young children, and their primary caregiver (often, but not necessarily, the mother). Some psychologists see the quality and reliability of this bond as a key factor in the emotional development of the infant.
Attention is most often referred to as the cognitive capacity to focus on certain aspects of our perception , while (at least temporarily) disregarding information about other parts of our perceptual environment. In practice, the ‘disregarded’ items are probably still being cognitively-processed, even though we may not be consciously aware of it. A good example of this is the ‘cocktail party effect’: we may choose to focus on conversation with one other person in a busy party, but if someone in a ‘disregarded’ conversation nearby mentions our name, we will frequently notice it and look round. This shows that even ‘unattended’ material is still being processed to some extent. In evolutionary terms, it would be rather useful for our perceptual system to let us know that a sabre-toothed tiger was bounding towards us, intent on making us its next meal, while we were concentrating on lighting the fire to roast a bit of mammoth.
Attitude change. This can refer to attempts to change the ATTITUDES of others, or understanding how people’s attitudes change with changing experiences.
Attitude. This concept originally arose within social psychology as an attempt to define an individual’s (or a group’s) viewpoint about a particular person or situation. An attitude is the outcome of a combination of a person’s beliefs (cognitions) and feelings and is thought to be an influence on behaviour. Thus attitudes have often been sub-divided into affective (feeling), behaviour (action), and cognitive (thinking) aspects (easy to remember as ‘the abc’ of attitudes). The emphasis for many decades was primarily on the cognitive component. Initially, social psychologists tended to see ‘attitude surveys’ as giving information which would quite directly relate to people’s predispositions to act in certain ways. However, they now recognise that the relationship between attitudes (as revealed in typical attitude surveys) and behaviour is a much more complex one.
Autism is a profound disorder that affects physical, social, and language skills. The term itself refers to a state of increased self-absorption, which seems to go along with language problems and problems in developing normal social relationships, shown by reluctance to engage in physical contact or displays of affection. There are also difficulties in developing normal social attachments to significant adults in the child’s life, though there can also be very strong attachments developed to particular objects. Other symptoms can involve compulsive body movements such as rocking, limited reactions to sound or pain, and a strong desire to maintain a particular environment (with great distress shown at the possibility of change).
Computer-Mediated Communication is the process by which people create, exchange, and perceive information using networks or computers, for example via internet chat rooms, e-mail, bulletin boards, newsgroups and so on. CMC can be used to refer to any form of communication between people which is mediated in some significant way by computer. Although a recent innovation, it is already producing quite distinct relational patterns compared to other forms of human interaction.\nA related field is that of HCI (human-computer interaction), or the research field which studies how people interact with computers. This clearly has significant implications for both the computer hardware and software industries, looking for commercial advantage to improving the extent to which computers can facilitate successful interactions with people.
Cognitive development refers to the gradual unfolding of the child’s abilities to think, to reason, and to use language. At the other end of the life-span, cognitive development looks at how certain cognitive capacities such as memory can diminish with age.
Conformity can relate to social behaviour or personal attitudes, and refers to the tendency to follow closely the norms of a particular group concerning ‘appropriate’ ways to think and behave.
Coping involves strategies that people can evolve and draw upon to help deal with internal or external situations/factors which are seen as being stressful, and at the limits of the person’s ability to handle. Coping can be contrasted with avoidance behaviour, which involves developing patterns of behaviour which produce denial or avoidance of the worrying situation. For example, if you have many tasks to accomplish in a short time, avoidance behaviour might include procrastination. Coping behaviour would be to prioritise the tasks and construct a realistic timetable.
Creativity. The capacity to develop new and original solutions to particular problems, new artistic or cultural expressions, or new ways of thinking.
Deception. Psychologists have studied how a person’s non-verbal behaviour can betray the fact that they are engaged in deceiving the person they are talking to. The human capacity for deception has been taken up by evolutionary psychologists, as part of our recent evolutionary development relates to the human capacity for interpersonal communication and the ability to ‘read’ the views and intentions of other people. The capacity to deceive implies an ability to overcome this faculty
Dyslexia. Someone with dyslexia has normal intellectual abilities, apart from a particular inability (or great difficulty) in learning to read or spell. Dyslexia seems to be a neurological disorder, inhibiting an individual’s capacity to recognize and process symbols such as letters (and sometimes also numbers). Although the origins of dyslexia are far from clear, it does occur within particular families, which could point to possible genetic contributions. Dyslexia is also found much more commonly in boys than girls (by a ratio of three to one).
The main symptom usually emerges in early schooling, involving very poor reading skills in an otherwise bright child with no apparent problems apart from this. Other symptoms can involve reversals of words/letters in the process of reading or writing, which seems to be linked to significant difficulties in distinguishing left from right. This has led to speculation that the possible causes of dyslexia may lie in incomplete lateralization of the two brain hemispheres (see HEMISPHERIC ASYMMETRIES), although no clear evidence has yet emerged in this respect.
Education. This term originally comes from the Latin educere, meaning to ‘draw out from within’. Thence follows the concept of a teacher as a facilitator, helping his or her students to make connections with the material they are exposed to. Education has a quite distinct meaning from training, in that the latter is explicitly focused on developing an ability towards a specific practical application, whereas the former consists of a wider, more general development of the mind, which hopefully will fit its owner to be able to cope with the demands of an ever-changing environment.
Emotion. The term ’emotion’ originates from the Latin emovere, which carries the sense of movement and excitation. This captures the activating quality emotions can have upon people. Although the term is widely used within psychology, it is not easily defined. Nor it is easily studied using most of the conventional methodological tools of experimental psychology. Emotions involve the experience of various feelings, though the term ’emotion’ is usually only employed in the case of a fairly intense feeling, carrying a strong personal significance, such as joy or sadness.\nThe powerful motivating force of emotions has been of particular interest to both psychoanalysts and humanistic psychologists, with the former tending to focus more on the unconscious aspects of emotion, both positive and negative, and the latter on the possibilities for conscious experience of ‘positive’ emotions. Arguably, much of human activity can be seen in terms of a search to experience positive emotional states, and escape from negative emotions. It is perhaps interesting therefore to reflect on how little most branches of academic psychology over the last century have actually studied this topic.
Evolution. The theory of evolution is an explanatory framework for the diversity and form of organisms in the natural world. Darwin developed the theory in the nineteenth century. He argued that the many species observed by naturalists could have all diverged from a common ancestor by the gradual accumulation of small hereditary differences, each of which increased the bearer’s chances of survival and reproduction in their immediate environment. This was in sharp distinction to the traditional orthodoxy, which held the each species had been separately created, perfect and immutable, by God. Darwin’s theory, as he formulated it, was incomplete, as he had no grasp of how variations were passed from one generation to the next. \nThe synthesis of Darwin’s hypotheses with the new and independently discovered science of genetics did not happen until the twentieth century, but once done it established Darwinian evolution as the foundation stone of biology. It is often alleged that evolution is just a theory, since it can never be directly observed, but this is not in fact the case. Most bacteria today show resistance to one or more types of anti-biotic drug. This is because they have evolved under our very eyes since anti-biotics were invented some fifty years ago. When a new anti-biotic is introduced in a particular area, the subsequent changes in the genetic makeup of the local bacteria populations give us an insight into evolution in action. The debate in biology today about evolution largely concerns how much of the development of organisms can be explained by adaptation to the environment, and how much of it arises as a byproduct of other factors. This debate is particularly difficult to resolve when it comes to the application of evolutionary analysis to the behaviour of contemporary humans.
Face perception. This refers to our capacity (from quite a young age) to distinguish individual and unique faces.
Gender refers to an individual’s experience of themselves as being men or women, boys or girls (and what this implies for them). It is usually clearly distinguished from the biological or physiological concept of sex. The concept of gender identity is shaped by the influences of many significant social factors during maturation, in addition to the basic physiological distinctions between the sexes. It includes internalisation of ideas about what are appropriate social roles/behaviours for the different genders. Gender identity and sexual identity can be different. For example, a transsexual may have the physiological apparatus of a male, but may feel that they are really a woman. Sometimes a gender reassignment operation is chosen, to bring the physiological aspects in line with the experienced sense of gender.
Hemispheric Asymmetries. Asymmetries between the two halves or hemispheres of the brain can be divided into two types. An example of a structural asymmetry is the fact that the right hemisphere tends to be slightly longer and heavier than the left. An example of a functional asymmetry is the fact that language abilities are usually located in the left hemisphere. Evidence for this assertion can be found from a number of sources, such as individuals with brain damage in one or other hemisphere, and ‘brain mapping’ techniques that can show which areas of the brain are active during particular activities.
Hypnosis. Based on inducing a condition of strong SUGGESTIBILITY, through an initial period of developing a deepening relaxation. From this suggestible state, the individual being hypnotised concentrates on the voice of the hypnotist, allowing the suggestions (if it is working) to enter and affect their own mind. For example, if the aim is to help in giving up smoking, the suggestion may be ‘you no longer have any desire for cigarettes’. Trance can also be self-induced, and the suggestions chosen by, and given to oneself, in self-hypnosis.
Identity. The basic concept of identity refers to an individual’s sense of themselves as a particular person, which will usually include their perception of their own social role(s). Another term which is also used is the idea of the self. At the level of human experience, the idea of ‘self’ basically refers to a fundamental sense of continuity experienced by most human beings that a particular unique entity – themselves – persists throughout all the changes in body, mind, social role etc. that occur throughout life. However, despite this sense of continuity at a deep level, there are also shifts in identity/self-image that can occur at various stages of life (e.g. adolescence), often in response to changing social roles. If severe enough, these transition points can be called identity crises.
Ideology. Although the term ‘ideology’ is quite often used with a negative ring to it, it basically refers to a coherent philosophy or worldview made up of various ideas, values, beliefs, concepts and symbols. Therefore, we all use ideology in all our communications and interactions.
IIndustrial psychology was the original term for what is now often called occupational psychology. It involves researching ways of enhancing the productivity and well-being of people in work organizations. Key relationships studied include that between the worker and management, and workers and their machines.
Instinct. An instinct is a drive encoded in the genes. The term is used in the Freudian model of the mind to represent one of the main driving forces of the psyche (represented by the id), counterbalanced by the social programming of the superego -with the ego trying to do a balancing act between the demands of these two forces, and the demands of external reality.
Intelligence is a shorthand term covering a complex range of human capacities. There are no universally accepted definitions, but intelligence is generally taken to relate to factors such as the capacity to make sense of abstract ideas and to perceive patterns of complex relationships. There are many factors which relate to ‘intelligence’, such as capacity for insight into human relationships, verbal and numerical ability, non-verbal insights, ‘motor intelligence’ (such as ability to quickly master complex motor tasks like driving or tennis); ’emotional intelligence’; ‘spiritual intelligence’, and so on. A key assumption of many early workers in the field was that all such abilities factors simply reflected an underlying ‘general intelligence’. Such a viewpoint would probably be seen as oversimplified these days. It is more likely that intelligence involves a constellation of partly interdependent factors, such as verbal and numerical ability, visuo-spatial ability, or visual pattern-recognition.
Inter-group behaviour. This refers to how two or more groups behave in interaction with each other. Like intra-group behaviour, it has been studied from a range of perspectives. The broader term of inter-group relations is also part of the study of social identity.
Interviewing as a psychological technique is discussed in detail in the methods section on INTERVIEWS. In an applied context, the main aim of an interview is to gather information for some specific purpose, usually in terms of a job application or in a legal context (such as a police interview of a suspect). Important issues for psychology include the way in which the interviewer’s own viewpoints can seriously affect the information obtained – known as interviewer bias. This can have very serious implications if the information is to be used in a judicial context, such as a criminal trial. A particular challenge exists in terms of interviewing young children, because of their high suggestibility. Psychologists in conjunction with police forces have attempted to find ways of eliciting information from children in ways which allows courts to place a reasonable reliance on the children’s testimony.
Memory refers to our capacity to store and retrieve information. It also refers to the experience of recalling the past, in terms of images, sounds, tastes, ideas, people, and so on. Psychologists often divide memory into a number of different types. For example, short-term memory is used to refer to items recalled in the past ten or fifteen seconds, as in reading a phone number from a list, and holding it in memory long enough to make a call. This type of memory is also referred to as working memory, because of its use in holding material in temporary stores for the purposes of mental arithmetic (or similar types of processing). This type of memory is usually lost within a short period (e.g. 30 seconds), unless some kinds of special strategy are used.Long-term memory, in contrast, refers to memories that can be recalled after much longer periods: days, months, or years. Long-term memory itself can be broken up into a number of different types of memory. Semantic memory, the memory of the meanings and functions of things, is usually distinguished from episodic memory, the memory of particular events.
Learning. Although learning is usually defined in terms such as ‘acquiring knowledge’, psychology often makes use of a much more general way of defining this concept. Learning is seen as the process of acquiring changes in behaviour, knowledge, or any other type of understanding as a result of experience. To count as ‘learning’, these changes must be relatively stable and long-term. There are obvious links here with MEMORY, as the resulting behavioural or conceptual changes must be stored in some way in long-term memory.
Intra-group behaviour refers to the internal dynamics of groups, or the ways in which group members interact with one another. It has been studied from a number of perspectives, such as psychodynamic and experimental.
Neurological basis of language. Noam Chomsky postulated a ‘language acquisition device’, an innate mechanism in the brain which allows children to acquire language relatively easily. Research on brain damaged patients has shown that certain areas of the brain play a crucial role in language. Similar research has on brain damaged patients has indicated the essential roles in perception, thinking, or language of other brain areas.
Mind/body problem. The issue of how the mind and body relate is one of the perennial underlying questions, not just for psychology, but philosophy, neuroscience and biology also. The essential ‘problem’ arises because of the division often made in our culture between the ‘mind’ (or mental processes) and the ‘body’ (assumed to be physically based). The assumption is often made that mind and body are quite distinct and separate processes (or entities) – a dualism that goes back centuries to Descartes (and, indeed, thousands of years earlier to the Ancient Greek philosopher Plato). Once this ‘dualistic’ viewpoint is taken, the problem then becomes, ‘how can such separate entities/processes influence each other?’. Several approaches retain the ‘dualistic’ assumption of a separate mind and body. One of these is the philosophy of interactionism. This assumes that mind and body are quite distinct, but interact with each other. So, for example, the mind can instruct the body to raise an arm; similarly, if the body ingests alcohol, this will produce a corresponding affect on the mind. Other solutions involve denying there is any fundamental duality involved, and instead saying that there is only one fundamental entity. This is called monism, and it practice it means either the view that only the physical world is ‘real’ (materialism), or the view that the fundamental reality is a mental or spiritual one (idealism). An alternative solution sees the mind/body problem as essentially linguistic, stemming from the different ways we label different characteristics of the same entity.
Moral development refers to the unfolding of ethics, values, and the sense of right and wrong as a person grows up. Major theorists of moral development include Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg, who considered that the height of moral development involved reaching the ethic of justice. However, Carol Gilligan criticised this notion for leaving out the way women make moral judgements. Her idea of an ethic of care is now widely used.
Motivation. This term comes from the Latin term motivus (“a moving cause”). It refers to some kind of internal ‘drive’ within a person that causes them to act in a particular direction, e.g. initiating a particular behaviour. Although motivation as defined here clearly refers to an internal drive, it is often inferred indirectly from observation/measurement of external behaviours (in reaction to various stimuli).
Natural History. The term Natural History refers to the study of natural objects (plants, animals, insects etc.), particularly in the field. The natural history method is, in essence, a process of detailed observation and cataloguing and categorization. From which theories( like Darwin’s theory of natural selection) ’emerge’. Such emergent theories can then be evaluated by setting up hypotheses and testing them against the data already collected. This is an example of the interaction between induction and the hypthetico-deductive spiral.
Neuropsychological basis of the mind/consciousness. Neuropsychology examines how neurological processes in the brain affect both behaviour and the experience of consciousness. This involves studying the brain, for example by examining the structure of the brain and the corresponding neural activity within it. Another approach is to examine damaged brains, looking at the consequences of the damage for behaviour, perception and language. Many cognitive functions have specific centres in the brain, though some cannot be localised in this way, and attention has turned instead to the identification of networks of interacting brain areas.
Along with psychosis, neurosis is one of the terms used to describe mental disorders which do not obviously stem from an injury to, or physical deterioration of, the nervous system. Neurotic disorders are those which do not involve hallucination, delusion, or a loss of insight, whereas psychotic disorders do involve these elements and are thus considered more total and more serious. Examples of neuroses are phobias, anxiety and panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, as well as most depression.
Non-verbal communication. This refers to those aspects of human communication apart from the overtly verbal content, including gestures, body posture, and facial expressions. It could either refer to communication which is entirely non-verbal, or to the non-verbal ‘sub-text’ to a verbal exchange. Non-verbal communication is a key part of the communication, sometimes more important than the actual words used and sometimes in conflict with them.
Occupational/Organisational. This approach is a branch of applied psychology that looks at people’s performance and well-being in work environments, and at factors affecting their capacity to function effectively.
Perception is a very broad term, which covers all those cognitive/brain processes involved in receiving and interpreting information about our environment, via one of the sense organs. For example, vision involves an experience of objects in three dimensions, with a sense of how far they are from us, how large they are, how fast they are moving, and many other factors.Perception involves a complex chain of processing by the brain. The raw stimuli produced by sense organs such as eyes and ears is organised and interpreted by increasingly more complex brain processes into more holistic perceptions of objects having a certain size, distance, colour etc. The actual human experience of perception doesn’t just involve receiving a series of disconnected visual or auditory impulses: a great deal of brain processing goes into organising this material into coherent entities. For example, instead of seeing a series of disconnected black and white stripes and blobs, there might be a perception of your cat leaping towards you. Some psychologists have tried to simulate perception via computer models (sometimes embodied in simple robots), and this has shown what complex processes perception involves.
Personality structure and Personality development . The term ‘personality’ can have widely divergent meanings. It can be seen as the outcome of the factors that make a person different from others in their patterns of thought, values, beliefs, emotions, and social roles and relationships. But personality can also be seen as the ‘something’- the underlying construct- that leads to people’s consistency in the way they behave and what they feel, over time and across many situations. In this sense, personality may be essentially unique to each of us but it can also be seen as a profile of underlying dimensions (possibly with a biological bases) that are common to many people.\nPersonality is an important concept in clinical, psychoanalytical and psychiatric contexts, particularly in terms of diagnosing and treating people seen as having disorders of the personality (such as compulsive, psychopathic, or paranoid personality disorders).
Prejudice/ Racism. The word ‘prejudice’ basically means to ‘pre-judge’, and in this sense always refers to some kind of negative preconception held against a particular social grouping or person. The grouping may be based on religion, social class, geography, or many other factors. When the prejudice is based on ‘race’, it is termed racism. The concept of ‘race’ does not have any sound biological basis, and it must therefore be understood as a social category that is used to identify self and others. Many psychologists, from a variety of perspectives, have done research on prejudice and racism. Pre-judging, in a less negative sense, is an inevitable part of categorization in the course of everyday life. We tend to categorize stimuli and experiences on the basis of our pre-existing schemas. A schema is a mental structure containing knowledge relating to a particular kind of object. Schemas lead to schematic processing which is usually an efficient way of processing information based on pre-existing schemas. But schemas can also limit and sometimes distort what we perceive. Schematic processing leads to overgeneralizations which, in some social, cultural and personality contexts, can lead to prejudice.
Psychopathology is the study of psychological disorders and disturbances, their origins and treatment. Although sometimes used in a psychoanalytical context, it can also refer to the work of psychiatrists and neurologists.
Psychophysics measures how people respond to basic physical sensations such as temperature and loudness, looking at things such as reaction times and sensory thresholds. A typical question for investigation would be, what is the minimum stimulus needed to perceive a particular sound?
Rhetoric/Construction of knowledge. The viewpoint that human knowledge is constructed by people within their own particular historical and social contexts is characteristic of social constructionist approaches. This applies even to knowledge of ‘solid facts’ that appear to be objective descriptions of ‘reality’, such as physics or chemistry. Social constructionists will always focus on the ‘rhetorical basis’ of any particular argument, i.e. the extent to which individuals tend to shape their narratives in order to convey a certain viewpoint.
Shyness may be defined experientially as discomfort and/or inhibition in interpersonal situations that interferes with pursuing one’s interpersonal or professional goals. It is a form of excessive preoccupation with one’s own sense of self, and the corresponding thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes a physical reaction such as blushing can itself trigger embarrassment, resulting in excessive timidity and reserve, and feeling of discomfort in the presence of others.
Social cognition. This field of psychology examines the processing of social knowledge – perceiving, thinking, judging and explaining objects, events, relationships and issues in the social world. As a broad topic it involves some attempt to integrate cognitive and social psychology. It tends to depend on the experimental methods of cognitive psychology and thus is a substantial part of EXPERIMENTAL SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY.
Social influence is the process through which people or groups influence other individuals or groups. These influences can affect attitudes, beliefs, values, or behaviour, and can be passed on through personal contact or via the media and other social institutions.
Stereotyping involves making relatively rigid perceptions about some particular social grouping and is a result of the operation of schemas. The generalizations made will tend to be overly simplistic, ignoring the actual complexities involved, leading to a mental representation of a person as more like a typical member of a social category than the person actually is- an inevitable consequence of the cognitive process of overgeneralization. In principle, stereotypes can be both negative or positive. However, when negative, stereotyping can be seen as one of the mechanisms underlying PREJUDICE.
Stress.This can be seen as a long-lasting strain that has both physiological and psychological effects. Physiologically, the hormonal and nervous system changes caused by stress ultimately undermine the functioning of the immune system. Psychologically, stress can lead to chronic anxiety and reduce the capacity of the individual for coping with the demands of their life. The stress involved in a situation is a product both of the objective circumstances and the way the individual responds to them. Hence what is highly stressful for one individual, may be relatively unstressful, or even enjoyable, by another person.
Transpersonal Psychology. Essentially Transpersonal Psychology is attempting to make sense of experiences traditionally called ‘religious’ or ‘spiritual’ within a psychological framework, by looking at such issues as the unity of life, wisdom and love. It’s not easy to find good definitions of Transpersonal Psychology that are also concise. A useful shorthand might be ‘the psychology of spiritual experience’ (though that begs the question as to definitions of ‘spiritual’). The initial impetus behind Transpersonal Psychology ‘was to bring into psychology the study of a variety of experiences not commonly examined in mainstream psychology and to develop wider conceptions of the nature of mind, consciousness, human nature, and reality than were found in behaviourist, psychoanalytic, and humanistic approaches’. (Ken Wilber).
Treatment. There are a number of different forms of treatment for psychological disorders, reflecting the wide range of backgrounds of those working with patients. Clinical psychologists might use behaviour therapy or cognitive-behaviour therapy. Psychoanalysts draw upon methods such as dream analysis, or (with children), play therapy. Psychiatrists are trained in the use of physically-based therapies such as drug treatment (though they might also make use of any of the above treatments, if trained in their use). For further information on these different approaches, see perspectives on PSYCHOANALYSIS, PSYCHIATRY, NEUROPSYCHOLOGY.
Witness/courtroom procedures. A witness is someone who observes or is subjected to an event. The term is often used in a legal context, where eyewitness testimony (and its reliability or otherwise) is a key issue in many criminal trials. Researchers have shown how eyewitness memory can be unreliable, being affected by leading questions, but good interviewing can facilitate and increase the amount of accurate information recalled. Witnesses have been found to make crucial mistakes in identification of people. This obviously has a great potential for influencing juries and creating miscarriages of justice, so is an important area of research for psychologists.