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Psychology is the study of people, so it is natural to assume that computers have no role in this discipline. However, that would be misleading. Psychology, like many academic fields in the social sciences, relies very heavily on the use of computers. Computers are important in providing psychologists with the tools and capabilities to study the human mind and human behavior. They are necessary to expand psychological research and are present in almost all aspects of psychological practice.
EEG Imaging Techniques
EEG (Electroencephalography) is an important brain-imaging technique that could not be performed without the use of computers for recording and analyzing the output. EEG is a technique that is performed on psychological and psychiatric patients to detect any abnormalities related to electrical activity in the brain. Brain cells communicate through the use of electrical impulses. These can in turn be detected and recorded at the surface of the scalp through an EEG procedure, which tracks and records these electric patterns in the brain. Normal activity in the brain produces electrical signals that form a recognizable pattern. Psychologists most often use EEG to diagnose and treat monitor seizures and epileptic disorders, but EEG can also be used to identify causes of many other disorders, including sleep disorders and changes in normal behavior, or problems in language development. It is also used when psychologists are evaluating brain activity after a severe physical trauma, to determine whether the patient has experienced any cognitive abnormalities due to the injury.
Another significant brain-imaging technique that would not be possible without computers is fMRI -- functional magnetic resonance imaging. This process uses an extremely powerful magnetic field, sound frequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed images of the brain (and other organs) and to measure the small metabolic changes that are apparent when a part of the brain becomes active. fMRI is particularly important to the study of psychology because it allows researchers to match specific parts of the brain to specific cognitive tasks such as reading, memory and speech.
Instructional technology is a rapidly growing sub-field of educational psychology that is focused on studying the impact that digital media (such as computers) have on education and child development. Research in educational psychology focuses on the different implementations of computers for the benefit of classroom instruction. It studies digital whiteboards, video games, social networks, and digital mind-mapping programs -- all of which could not exist without computers, and all of which are at the cutting edge of current educational theory and practice.
Research and Analysis
Computers are also very important in psychological research, particularly because contemporary psychological research is so statistically intensive. Computers are often used in conjunction with specialty software (such as SPSS and SAS) for processing and analyzing large data sets. Psychological research, in many cases, is focused on studying large populations over long periods of time. Computers and software technology is necessary to process this data in a speedy and constructive way to facilitate psychological research and create a data store for future researchers to draw upon.
Computers have recently become quite ubiquitous, but it is still important to remember that they are a relatively recent innovation, and that many academic fields, particularly psychology, have existed without them for a very long time. Computers make the lives of all professionals and researchers significantly better, but it is also possible to become overwhelmed with the many technological possibilities that computer present. Thus, sometimes, it is best to treat them as just one tool out of many and to not rely on them too heavily in designing psychological practices and research agendas.
Based in New York City, Irina Paley has been writing education-related articles since 1999. Her articles have appeared in "AACE" and "Comparative Education." Paley received a Bachelor of Science degree in industrial engineering from Columbia University in 2002, and a Master of Arts degree in instructional technology from Teacher's College in 2005. She is currently working toward a PhD in cognitive psychology.