Philosophy and History of Science
Psychology and public perception
*There exists much confusion as to the nature and function of psychological research
amongst the public
*Rodney Dangerfield of Sciences: “I don’t get no respect.” Why?
The ‘Freud problem’
Self-help industry: “Anything goes”
*Self help books, radio talk shows, etc. geared more toward entertainment than actual
sharing of scientific knowledge
Media logic: Entertainment rules
*Magazine articles, television programs
*Anecdotal evidence cited as ‘proof’
*Case studies and personal stories are not scientific!!
*In psychology, we want the aggregate or average.
*Science is NOT based upon case studies.
Media logic: Entertainment rules
*Example: McLean’s magazine article on ‘putting the child first’
*Adult children of divorce actually are slightly more anxious than adult children of non-
*Studies of the appropriate group of comparison (parents who stay together for the
children), show that these kids are the most ‘maladjusted’
Parapsychology and guilt-by-association
*telepathy, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, psychic healing, and precognition (from the
*about 50% of people believe in parapsychology
*Public associates this type of subject as being identified with psychology
It’s all common sense: The “heads I win, tails you lose” problem
*Positive results taken as support, negative (null) results not taken as evidence against
*Too often, aggregate data ignored in favour of results that support one’s particular
theoretical position Everyone’s an expert: Personal “theories”
*If counterintuitive findings occur, people don’t believe it.
*If people feel that they know the results of a study “that’s common sense”.
*Science is about what happens on average, not individual experiences.
*Opposites attract vs. Birds of a feather flock together
*Look before you leap vs. He who hesitates is lost
*Haste makes waste vs. Time waits for no man
*Two heads are better than one vs. Too many cooks spoil the broth
*Better to be safe than sorry vs. Nothing ventured, nothing gained
Psychology is a young, “inexact” science
*People are resistant to accepting that much of human behaviour can be predicted
*Again, violations of anecdotal examples are treated as strong evidence against
*Lay people often believe that many concepts should be common sense, or cannot be
Strongly-held life assumptions, cultural beliefs & wishful thinking
*People have a vested interest in their personal psychological theories
*E.g., love, happiness, memory, child-rearing
*Some people don’t think that an empirical understanding of human behaviour is
*Others object to studying certain topics as the results could threaten their beliefs!
Same old story
*Hypatia of Alexandria- murdered because her interest in science was associated with
*Galileo- peers refused to look into his new telescope because it would have violated
their philosophical and theological beliefs
*Charles Darwin- ‘nuff said *Less dramatic now, but similar resistance
*100 years ago refused to establish a psychophysics lab because study of such a topic
would “insult religion by putting the human soul on a pair of scales”
What is psychology?
*“empirical science of human behaviour”
*Cognitive neuroscience (physiological psychology)
What makes psychology unique?
*Two things that justify psychology as an independent discipline