Making Psychology The Science Of The TwentyFirst Century: Overcoming The Critics Is It Any Wonder That Some People Think We Are All Bozos On This Psychology Bus Here Are Some Titles From A British Magazine: Psychologies 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Seize the moment: Get your project off the ground. Why do I always fall for bad men? Stop your emotions getting you into trouble. How to flirt? How to unlock your creativity. Why your brain is the sexiest part of your body. Fix your relationships with Psychologies agony aunt, Lucy Beresford 8. How much sex is enough? Skepticism Regarding Psychology: Scott Lilienfeld “Specifically, most of us will inevitably hear the assertion from laypersons that psychology—which those of us within the profession generally regard as the scientific study of behaviour, broadly construed— is in actuality not a science. Some outsiders go further, insinuating or insisting that modern psychology is pseudoscientific.” Skepticism Regarding Psychology “Nevertheless, as a field, we have been reluctant to examine the reasons for the widespread and longstanding public criticism of psychology, perhaps because we see little merit in these reasons. Nor have we invested much effort in generating potential solutions for enhancing our field’s public image.” Why Attend To Lay Perceptions Of Psychology? 1. Persons with mental health issues who could profit from our services may not seek us out. 2. Public scepticism may indirectly keep psychologists from the funding lists of some Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives. 3. Politicians, some who control purse strings, often attack the work of psychologists because they do not have the background to understand the objectives of psychological science. 4. The prestige that our profession is held affects our salaries. 5. Students interested in science may not consider psychology as a profession. 6. If the general public is unaware of the capabilities of psychological science many of the great problems of the planet will go unresolved. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense Here are some common beliefs: 1. Opposites attract. 2. We only use 10% of our brain at any one time. 3. Familiarity breeds contempt. 4. Expressing pent-up anger reduces anger (66%; Brown, 1983). 5.Strange behaviors are especially likely during full moons (65%; G. W. Russell & Dua, 1983). 6. People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities (77%; Vaughan, 1977). Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense Here are some more common beliefs: 7. Human memory operates like a tape recorder (27%; Lenz, Ek, & Mills, 2009). 8. The polygraph test is a highly accurate detector of lies (45%; Taylor & Kowalski, 2004). 9. Hypnotized people act like robots and blindly follow the suggestions of hypnotists (44%; Green, Page, Rasekhy, Johnson, & Bernhardt, 2006). 10. On a multiple-choice test, one should stick with one’s original answer, even if a different answer seems correct (75%; Kruger, Wirtz, & Miller, 2005). Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense How about a few more common beliefs: 11. About 50% believe that schizophrenia is synonymous with a split personality (H. Stuart & Arboleda-Florez, 2001; Wahl, 1987); 12. 72% believe that subliminal advertising is effective in persuading people to purchase products (Rogers & Smith, 1993) 13. 40% believe that listening to Mozart’s music enhances intelligence (Chabris & Simons, 2010). Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense How about a few more common beliefs: 11. About 50% believe that schizophrenia is synonymous with a split personality (H. Stuart & Arboleda-Florez, 2001; Wahl, 1987); 12. 72% believe that subliminal advertising is effective in persuading people to purchase products (Rogers & Smith, 1993) 13. 40% believe that listening to Mozart’s music enhances intelligence (Chabris & Simons, 2010). Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense Psychological research has shown that each of these statements is false. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Common Sense Psychological research has shown that each of these statements is false. When presented with this evidence a few people will cave and admit their error. These open minded people are to be commended. More likely they will make a stupid defensive statement such as “well I think that my opinion is just a valid as scientific research.” If you hear such nonsense, move in for the kill. Suggested Rebuttals To The Notion That Psychology Is Common Sense The Sweet Rebuttal: Remind them that psychological science like other sciences often begin with opinions. Opinions are a good starting point but a poor ending point for science. One reason we do research is to separate opinion from fact. As the surprising results of these among many other studies show, if being sensible is being in touch with reality, common sense may be an overly optimistic phrase. Suggested Rebuttals To The Notion That Psychology Is Common Sense The Nasty Rebuttal: Thrust in the dagger. Remind the fellow that misconceptions about all sciences abound. At one time many people believed that the world was square. Eventually, most people reject prescientific notions and come to accept that the Earth is more round than square. Of course, they can personally believe whatever they want. You support the right of people to believe that the Earth is square. Nevertheless, most people find it easier to live in a world of scientific facts than one governed by his own idiosyncratic fantasies. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Does Not Use Scientific Methods Hearing that makes me MAD!! Good thing that I am not the Hulk. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Does Not Use Scientific Methods Here is a more reasoned response. 1. Almost every philosopher of science recognizes that there is no single scientific method. There is diversity across sciences. 2. However, all sciences are marked by a willingness to root out error in their beliefs. 3. Also, all sciences have procedural safeguards against confirmation bias-the tendency to seek information consistent with your hypotheses. 4. A few of these many safeguards used psychologists include: control groups, double blind studies, randomized assignment to conditions, statistical controls, and longitudinal designs. 5. You Teacher’s Solution: Essentially, this is an ignorance issue. Ignorance of science and/or psychology. As always, education is the remedy for ignorance. Common Misperceptions: You Cannot Generalize: Everyone Is Unique Only a person who has never thought about this issue would make such a ridiculous comment. Here are a few polite rejoinders. 1. Obviously every person and event is unique. If, however, you did not generalize across people and time you would either be dead or jailed in two hours. You may never have seen a car that says “Raleigh Police Department” on the side before but you would be well served to recognize the special function of that automobile. Common Misperceptions: You Cannot Generalize: Everyone Is Unique 2. Because people are different in some ways does not mean that they are not alike in the ways that matter. For instance, one snake phobic be wearing a red cap and snake phobic a blue cap, but it is still useful to classify them both as snake phobics if you plan on treating them. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Cannot Make Precise Predictions A very polite response. 1. Psychology makes probabilistic predictions because many of the events that we predict are context dependent. Also, some operative variables are unknown. 2. Many if not all sciences make probabilistic predictions and this has nothing to do with their status as sciences. For instance, meteorologists estimate the likelihood of where a storm will land and astronomers estimate the likelihood of a meteor striking Earth. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Not Useful Only a person who knows nothing of psychology would say that. Consider: 1. Psychologists like Kahneman revolutionized economics. 2. Psychology has produced major changes in the legal system. Jury selection, eyewitness testimony, and false memory studies are just a few examples. Think of how often forensic testimony determines court cases. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Not Useful 3. Operant conditioning has produced extraordinary changes in education. Two that come quickly to mind are online or distance education and the training of severely mentally challenged children. 4. Psychologists determine the appropriate numbers of individual and the tasks assigned to various teams. For instance, psychologists determine how to be assign responsibilities for soldiers flying drones. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Not Useful 5. Psychologists are involved in worker selection and evaluation. 6. Psychologists conduct scientific evaluation of programs to determine which ones are working and how they may be improved. 7. Applied social psychologists design prisons to decrease riots and school environments that are more conductive to learning. 8. The lives of millions of persons have been bettered because of therapeutic psychological interventions. Common Misperceptions: Psychology Is Not Useful 9. The procedures for polling and marketing research were developed and often instituted by psychologists. 10. Psychologists in the most recent campaign. 11. Silver’s predictive model. 12. Your Teacher’s Solution: This, too, is an ignorance issue. We must simply do a better job educating the public, pointing out the many contributions of psychologists to society. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Questionable Clinical Practices 1. One-third of autistic children receive scientifically unsupported interventions such as sensory-motor integration therapy and facilitated communication. 2. Interventions without scientific credibility including acupuncture, herbal therapy, and yoga are often used to treat clinical depression. 3. About one-fourth of clinical psychologists use suggestive techniques such as cueing and hypnosis to “recover” past abuse even though these procedures often generate false memories. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Questionable Clinical Practices 4. 90% of psychologists treating PTSD do not use any of the evidence based practices recommended by the government. 5. Only 5% of the 3500 self-help books published each year are subject to scientific testing. 6. Some prominent persons have resisted the movement to establish criteria for evidence supported therapy (ESTs). a. “Psychologists do not have to apologize for their treatments. Nor is there any actual need to prove their effectiveness”-Ronald Fox former APA President. b. Ronald Levant argued that clinical experience and intuition should be accorded equal status with the best scientific evidence. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Questionable Clinical Practices 7. Your Teacher’s Solution: Although I am not a clinician, psychology will not become a well-respected science until we make clear that when clinicians employ unverified therapies they are not acting as psychologists. This is the same path medicine walked in the last half of the nineteenth century. Only when your therapeutic interventions have a scientific basis can you claim to be functioning as a psychologist, regardless of your degree. That being said, the debate of defining what is an EST is a positive aspect of the field. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: The Public Face Of Psychology Most people do not see psychology as represented by scientific researchers or scientifically oriented psychotherapists. Instead, when they think of psychology they see the discipline as exemplified by entertainers like Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura. 1. Why do they present themselves as psychologists and/or therapists? The answer is simple. They seek to enhance their credibility by cloaking themselves in the mantle of science. 2. This problem of confusing entertainers with persons of expertise is not restricted to psychology. Consider Jon Stewart and Russ Limbaugh. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: The Public Face Of Psychology 3. Both Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura routinely provide unqualified psychological advice on the basis of minimal clinical information, a very questionable practice. 4. Here are a few of Dr. Phil’s questionable contentions. a. The polygraph is a “foolproof” method for determining if an individual is a sexual predator. b. EEG biofeedback was recommended as a treatment for ADHD even though there is no evidence that this intervention is superior to a placebo. c. Nevertheless, the APA presented Dr. Phil with a citation reading, “your work has touched more Americans than any other living psychologist.” Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: The Public Face Of Psychology 5. Prior to 1930 many prominent psychologists wrote for a general audience. These included Watson, James, Thorndike, Calkins, and Munsterburg. Since that time few successful psychologists have taken up the pen to explain our discipline to the public. 6. Instead, we have left the field to unscientific popular magazines such as Psychology Today and Psychologies. There are notable exceptions such as Skinner and Kahneman have published scientifically credible books intended for the general public. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: The Public Face Of Psychology 7. Your Teacher’s Solution: Make clear that entertainers like Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura are not employing approved psychological practices and distance ourselves from them. Also, provide academics credit for publications intended for the general public. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Psychologist-Psychotherapist Confusion 1. Most people erroneous believe most psychologists are therapists. 2. Psychologists are seen as soft-minded and focused on abnormality. Scientists are seen as tough-minded and focused on normality. 3. Your Teacher’s Solution: APA and APS are trying to educate the public regarding the roles that psychologists play. This is a positive step but will it be enough? Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Hindsight Bias The hindsight bias is the tendency to perceive outcomes as foreseeable once we know them. To a large extent this occurs because we can almost always create a plausible explanation after the fact. 1. Baratz (1983) provides a cool example. To illustrate, some students read that “Single women express more concern over their unmarried state than single men” and others read that “Single men express more concern over their unmarried state than single women.” Both groups indicated that they would have predicted this finding. Reason For The Public Skepticism Towards Psychology: Hindsight Bias 2. Because of the hindsight bias most people will overestimate the likelihood that they would in advance have predicted a particular outcome be it the results of an election, the outcome of a psychological investigation, etc. 3. Your Teacher’s Solution: This is a hard one as humans are rarely aware of their own biases. My solution may not be successful but the best that I can do is to suggest that you point out the hindsight bias and make the person aware that other predictions were possible and perhaps equally likely.