Best Psychology Questions of All Time

Updated on August 9, 2018
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie Frank, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, publishes on topics in psychology, health, behavioral science and social science among others

As the joke goes, “Ask a psychologist a question and you will always get a question in return.”

“Why do we have emotions?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Why do need to answer that?”

“Is there a reason you don’t want to?”

“Why won’t you just answer the question?”

“Is it making you upset?”

“Why are you answering all my questions with other questions?”

“Do you think you need to know the reasons for everything to feel secure?”

As you can imagine, at this point in a therapy session, the client is likely to start screaming and perhaps may even tear out of the room, running far away, never to return. Truthfully, though, psychologists ask and answer important question about numerous topics such as behavior, how the mind functions, personality, the causes of prejudice, psychological responses to terrorism, how to teach a child to cope with loss and everything in between. After searching both popular and scholarly sources on the internet I have compiled a list of questions that seem to be asked most often by regular people.

While there has been a great deal of research as to the mechanics of dreaming and it’s relationship to REM sleep, the question of why we dream is still unanswered. Some researchers believe dreaming may have evolved for physiological reasons. These individuals suggest that dreams may just be a meaningless side-effect of the activity that occurs within the neurons during REM sleep.

Others theorize that dreams serve an important function and in fact, research has shown that REM sleep and dreaming can have important health functions. In several studies, it was shown that when people were awakened during REM sleep and not allowed to dream, they had a number of negative physical and psychological effects including a tendency to become psychotic.

There are many theories regarding why we dream. Freud believed that dreams were a way to act out urges and desires that were considered unacceptable by society. More recent theorists say dreams are a primary means of fixing memories in the brain, solving problems and handling strong emotions. The lack of conscious oversight while dreaming which allows for bizarre and uncontrollable images and scenes to occur in our dreams has been pointed to as the reason we can generate novel solutions we didn’t think of when awake. Others believe that dreams have a cathartic function, allowing us to express emotions in a safe manner resulting in the relief of distress caused by emotional conflicts in our life.

Some of the other theories about dreaming involve memories and information processing. For example, researchers believe that dreams serve as a means of sorting through all the memories we have created during the day and seperate the important ones to be kept from the unimportant ones which are not stored. Similarly, dreams may allow us to consolidate information from the past and present in order to prepare for the future. In this way, dreams may allow us to prepare ahead of time for various challenges we must face.

Some of the most recent research has shown that dreaming is associated with the brain’s processing of recent memories. This is a first step towards determining beyond the theoretical what functions dreaming serve. It is also hoped that this information may help develop a sort of passive therapy to encourage memory formation and emotional processing.


What is intelligence is one of psychology's big questions. Intelligence has been studied for generations and opinions as to how it should best be defined have changed and multiplied in this time. Obviously the definition of the construct will largely determine how or even if it can be measured.

Probably the most general definition of intelligence states that it is the ability to acquire and use knowledge and skills. Over the years, different people have suggested that intelligence includes such factors as the ability to reason, think logically, adapt, learn, plan, and solve problems and some have included empathy and understanding, self-awareness, emotional knowledge and creativity as parts of intelligence.

The current trend in defining intelligence looks at it as a series of abilities or as encompassing multiple intelligences. These theories take into account aspects of ability that people may be exceptional at but which weren’t included in more traditional definitions of the construct that tended to consider only language and mathematics related abilities.

One of the first to propose a theory of multiple intelligences was Robert Sternberg. He stated that intelligence was composed of three factors; analytical intelligence, creative intelligence, and practical intelligence.

Later, Howard Gardner created a theory of multiple intelligences which has become widely respected in recent years. He stated that there are nine different types of intelligence that exist which allow us to learn about ourselves and how to function in the world. While we all possess each of these types of intelligences each person differs as to the pattern of which are strongest. The types of intelligence are:

  • Visual Spatial

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic

  • Musical

  • Interpersonal

  • Intrapersonal

  • Linguistic

  • Logical-Mathematical

  • Naturalistic

  • Existential

In the future, it is likely that new types of intelligence will be proposed and accepted as part of what gives us the ability to learn and to apply what we learn to the way we function in the different areas in our lives. Already there is a great deal of interest in emotional intelligence and other have proposed that there may be a spiritual intelligence, sexual intelligence and digital intelligence.

One thing is clear in regards to how intelligence is defined, it is a judgement call based on the opinions of the most respected theorists in the field and not based on an algorithm. Most experts working towards a more universal definition of intelligence state that it should include at least three main components: A type of practical intelligence (street smarts), intelligence that involves self-awareness and self-understanding (emotional intelligence), and an intelligence that involves an understanding of others (wisdom, empathy). As for what other aspects are involved in intelligence, it may be left to first defining the purpose of intelligence and then determining what practical functions and abilities are needed to accomplish this purpose.


Extrasensory perception or ESP is a controversial topic in psychology. Essentially ESP is defined as an awareness of the world that is obtained through a means other than the senses. While many scientists dismiss the existence of ESP, to the surprise of many academics, there is a collection of scientific evidence that exists which may suggest that ESP is real, although many have stated that the methodology used to collect this data was faulty. Minimally, critics state that cases of reported ESP are more likely the result of an exceptionally well developed ability to read other people and signals of future events.

Many people believe in ESP and a large number these individuals believe they have actually experienced some form of this or another type of psychic phenomena. There are thousands of case reports documenting ESP that have been collected by social scientists. Some of the top scientists in psychology and other fields believed in psychic experiences including William James, Carl Jung and Nobel Prize winning physiologist Charles Richet.

Such anecdotal evidence continues to be established despite the skeptics in the scientific community who scoff at the existence of these types of psychic experiences. Critics of anecdotal evidence, attribute the reports to low IQ and gullibility on the part of those claiming to have these abilities. Yet studies have shown that there is no relationship between belief in the existence of psychic abilities and low IQ or poor reasoning abilities. Actually, education and IQ have been demonstrated to be positively associated with ESP.

While the nature of ESP makes it difficult to study scientifically, Daryl Bem reported evidence for ESP from a research study he had conducted (Bem, 2011). In this article, the results provided support for two types of ESP, which the author termed precognition (conscious cognitive awareness) and premonition (affective apprehension) of future events that were unable to be predicted through any other means. He collected and coded the data before the time the predicted event was due to occur. The article reported the results of nine different experiments with over 1000 participants.

Unfortunately, these findings could not be replicated by other researchers or even by Bem himself. In a series of seven studies, Galak and colleagues, (2012), failed to find any significant effects that supported Bem’s initial study. Furthermore, they did a meta-analysis on all of the attempted replications that had been conducted and found that the effect sizes essentially were zero. At the same time, these authors note that their attempted replication differed from Bem’s methodology in three different ways which may have affected their ability to find differences. They also didn’t rule out the possibility that ESP and other psychic abilities exist. They stated they believed that a set of conditions that allowed for these abilities to be reliability measured had not been created.

There is a question of whether the strict requirements for psychological research may put a limit on what can be determined regarding ESP and psychic phenomena. Although accepted as the best possible criteria currently for research, this methodology makes the discovery and establishment of new mental phenomena which aren’t firmly based on prior research almost impossible. Other researchers are looking to other disciplines to devise ways to measure possible psychic phenomena including quantum mechanics. Potential methodologies are being proposed that may allow for proof of ESP in ways that would be acceptable to mainstream science (e.g. Klein & Cochran, 2017).


We know that in changing or motivating behavior we respond better to the carrot than the stick. Using rewards to help us the things we need to but may not want to is an effective way to keep ourselves on the right path. The first step is to determine what you find rewarding enough to help you change. List four of five rewards that you know you will work to get.

If you find that the rewards aren’t as motivating as you need them to be, or you are still failing to meet the goals you set for yourself, you can use activities you enjoy and which are a natural part of your day. In particular, social interactions can be a really useful motivator. If you finish a task, let yourself call a friend or family member you love to speak to for 15 minutes. If you clean the room you have been avoiding let yourself meet someone for dinner.

Do you love reading, jogging or watching t.v.? Use those activities to reinforce your successful achievement of a goal. The key is to not allow yourself to do these regularly scheduled activities unless you fulfill the goal you have set so they can’t become a means of procrastination and can serve as a reward for you. If you still aren’t successful or feel overwhelmed, break tasks into smaller segments and give yourself a small reward for achieving each step.

For this method to be successful, you have to be very concrete in your goals and the behaviors you want to change. “Be more social,” is not a measurable activity and so you won’t know exactly when you should give yourself a reward. “Call two friends today,” “Identify five possible social events to attend this week,” “Attend two of the events identified,” are conceptualized goals for which success can be easily determined. Start with easy tasks that you know you will have little problem achieving then progress to more difficult tasks to give yourself some success experiences before tackling the hard stuff.

While positive reinforcement, giving ourselves something we want for achieving a goal, is the most rewarding, negative reinforcement can also be used if additional motivation is needed. There is often some confusion about negative reinforcement because many people view reinforcement as always being pleasant and seeing negative reinforcement as punishment. Actually, punishment and negative reinforcement are two different things. Punishment is adding something aversive to decrease behavior. Reinforcement on the other hand, always increases behavior. The term negative refers to removing something unpleasant to increase behavior.

So, if you need to send a resume in for a job application and have been avoiding it, have a friend call or text you every few hours to inquire if you have done it and sternly remind you that you need to do so. This will likely serve to motivate you to send in the resume in order to get them to stop calling and reminding you. Removing the annoying phone calls negatively reinforces you for completing the task. These two types of reinforcement, used together can effectively motivate you to change a number of different types of behavior.


This question has been posed for decades although at this time it is generally accepted that one isn’t more important than the other but that they both operate together and effect each other. The questions that involve nature and nurture at this point are how each is important in what we experience and express and how they work together. For example, it is believed that intelligence has a genetic component. So, a child is born with a certain genetic predisposition to having a certain level of intelligence. But that is not the end of the story.

Many experts posit that there is neuroplasticity in the brain minimally in young children if not in everyone across the lifespan. This means that our brains can form new connections to compensate for injury and illness and to respond to changes in the environment. Intelligence is said to be able to be altered to some degree as a function of neuroplasticity. So the environment the child is raised in and everything they come into contact with will affect their physiological predispositions.

The genetic component of intelligence means that one or both parents are likely also intelligent. This increases the likelihood that they will provide a stimulating and enriching environment for their child which will further enhance their child’s predisposition. But it has also been shown that children actively seek out situations that will support their predispositions. So intelligent children will seek out situations that will enable them to utilize and strengthen their intelligence and they will seek out other intelligent children to interact with. All of these things influence the child’s intelligence directly and through the way they interact.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Natalie Frank

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      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        43 hours ago from Chicago, IL

        Why do you think why wouldn't have treated them that way, Peggy? (: There are a lot of topics many people wouldn't think psychology focuses in that are quite interesting. I've had a couple of messages asking me to write another article with different questions which I'm hoping to do soon. If there are other questions you'd be interested in please leave them in the comments and I'll add them to the new article. Thanks!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        2 days ago from Houston, Texas

        Dreams, ESP, nurture versus nature, and other topics you addressed in this post are very interesting. I was smiling at the questions being answered with another question at the top of your post. We have a good friend who is a psychologist. I seriously doubt that she has treated her patients in such a manner when she had her practice. She would probably smile at this as well.

      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        2 days ago from Chicago, IL

        You are welcome, Dora. There are a lot of interesting questions in psychology. I'm glad you enjoyed the presentation. Thanks for stopping by.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        2 days ago from The Caribbean

        You gave interesting information on all the questions, but those on dreams, motivation and nature versus nurture always interest me. Thanks for this presentation. I learned from it.

      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        3 days ago from Chicago, IL

        I'm glad you liked the article Liz, and found it thought provoking. Thanks for stopping by.

      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        3 days ago from Chicago, IL

        What a great comment! Thanks for stopping by.

      • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Natalie Frank 

        3 days ago from Chicago, IL

        We're all examples of nature and nurture, Bill. Exactly how much of each though is a question that won't ever be able to be answered because so much of it goes on behind the scenes. Thanks for the comment.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 days ago from UK

        This is a fascinating article and gives much food for thought.

      • Lauren Flauding profile image

        Lauren Flauding 

        4 days ago from Sahuarita, AZ

        Hm... nice buffet for thought...

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 days ago from Olympia, WA

        I'm a classic example of nature vs nurture. I'm just not sure what the answer is to the question. lol

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