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Chapter 1

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PSY 102
Kosha Bramesfeld

Chapter 1: Psychology and Scientific Thinking WHAT IS PSYCHOLOGY? SCIENCE VERSUS INTUITION Psychology and Levels of Analysis  Psychology is the scientific study of the mind, the brain, and behaviour  It spans multiple levels of analysis (rungs on a ladder of analysis, with lower levels tied mostly closely to biological influences and higher levels tied most closely to social influences) 1. Social Culture Influences: Social or Behavioral Level (involves relating to others and personal relationships) 2. Psychological: Mental or Neurological Level (involves thoughts, feelings, and emotions) 3. Biological: Molecular or Neurochemical (involves molecules and brain structure)  We can’t understand psychology by focusing on only one level of analysis, as each level tells us something different and gives us knowledge from different vantage points What Makes Psychology Challenging –and Fascinating  5 main challenges that make psychology complicated and fascinating: 1. All actions are multiply determined (caused by many factors) 2. Psychological influences are rarely independent of each other, which makes it difficult to pin down which cause or causes are operating (e.g. anorexia nervosa: anxiety-proneness, compulsive exercise, perfectionism, excessive concern with body image, exposure to television programs with very thin models) 3. Individual differences are variations among people in thinking, emotion, personality, and behaviour. This means that we each respond in different ways to the same objective situation (insult from a boss). It is difficult to come up with explanations of behaviour that apply to everyone 4. People often influence each other, making it difficult to isolate influences. For example, an outgoing person makes less outgoing people around him more outgoing, which in turn makes him even more outgoing. Called reciprocal determinism, the fact that we mutually influence each other’s behaviour, making it difficult to know what’s causing what 5. Out behaviour is often shaped by our culture. Culture differences, like individual differences, place limits on the generalizations that psychologists can draw about human nature Emic: investigators study the behaviour of a culture from the perspective of an insider; would probably rely on personality terms used by the members of that culture; may better understand the unique characteristics of a culture, but overlook characteristics that the culture shares with others Etic: investigators study the behaviour of a culture from the perspective of an outsider; would probably adapt and translate personality terms used by Western culture to that culture; may be better able to view this culture within the broader perspective of other cultures, but they may unintentionally impose perspectives from their own culture onto other Why We Can’t Always Trust Our Common Sense  Common sense is our gut intuition about how the social world works  Sometimes out commonsensical understanding of psychology is entirely backwards  Naïve realism is the belief that we see the world precisely as it is, “seeing is believing”, which serves us well in daily life  In many cases, “believing is seeing”; our beliefs shape our perceptions of the world and make us biased  Common sense is a useful tool for generating hypotheses that can later be tested in rigorous investigations Psychology as a Science  Science is not a body of knowledge, but is instead an approach to evidence; it consists of a set of attitudes and skills designed to prevent us from fooling ourselves; refines our initial observations, subjecting them to stringent tests to determine whether they are accurate  Begins with empiricism, the premise that knowledge should initially be acquired through observation; only a rough starting point for obtaining psychological knowledge  Psychology is more than a matter of opinion, it is about finding out which explanations best fit the data about how our minds work  A scientific theory is an explanation for a large number of findings in the natural world; offers an account that ties multiple findings together into one package and generates predictions regarding new data not yet observed, but which can be tested  A testable prediction is a hypothesis, it is derived from a scientific theory  Theories are general explanations, whereas hypotheses are specific predictions derived from these explanations  A theory explains more than one specific event and is more than just an educated guess (all general scientific explanations about the natural world are theories) Scientists themselves can fall into two traps that make them biased: 1. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out evidence that supports our hypotheses and deny, dismiss, or distort evidence that contradicts them; fools us into seeing what we want to see 2. Belief perseverance is the tendency to stick to our initial beliefs even when evidence contradicts them. Beliefs endure; even when informed that were wrong, we don’t completely wipe our mental slates clean and start from scratch  Metaphysical claims are assertions about the world that we can’t test; existence of God, the soul, the afterlife. They need to be treated carefully; untestable claims don’t fall within the province of science Recognizing That We Might Be Wrong  Scientific knowledge is always tentative and open to revision; constantly revising the updating findings lends it strength as a method of inquiry  Good scientists never claim to “prove”, but “suggest”, “appear”, “raise the possibility that” PSYCHOLOGICAL PSEUDOSCIENCE: IMPOSTERS OF SCIENCE The Amazing Growth of Popular Psychology  Misinformation explosion; although the public has more access to psychological knowledge than ever before, they are being misinformed in many areas  Media outlets with high quality information are good places to look for products that will help  What Is Pseudoscience  Pseudoscience is a set of claims that seems scientific but isn’t; pseudoscience lacks the safeguards against confirmation bias and belief perseverance that characterize science  Many poorly supported beliefs are actually more popular  Warning signs: 1. Overuse of ad hoc immunizing hypotheses: an escape hatch or loophole that defenders of a theory use to protect this theory from being disproven (skeptical “vibes” interfere with psychic powers) 2. Lack of self-correction: cling to beliefs stubbornly despite contrary evidence (belief perseverance). Rarely updated in light of new data 3. Overreliance on anecdotes: claims are based on dramatic reports of 1 or 2 individuals. Anecdotes don’t tell us anything about cause and effect (maybe along with the new diet program, the individual also exercised heavily). We don’t hear from the others undergoing the same treatment. Anecdotes are difficult to verify 4. Exaggerated claims: “three simple steps will change your love life forever!” 5. Absence of connectivity to other research: “Amazing new innovations in research have shown that eye massage results in reading speed ten times faster than average!” 6. Lack of peer review or replication by independent labs: “50 studies conducted by the company all show overwhelming results!” 7. Meaningless “psychobabble” that uses fancy scientific-sounding terms that don’t make sense “Sine-wave filtered auditory stimulation is carefully designed to encourage maximal orbitofrontal dendritic development” 8. Talk of “proof” instead of “evidence”: “Our new program is proven to reduce social anxiety by at least 50 percent!”  Our brains are predisposed to make order out of disorder and find sense in nonsense; which can lead us astray as it can cause us to perceive meaningful patterns when there are none  Apophenia is the tendency to perceive meaningful connections among unrelated phenomena (thinking of someone and having them call you that night)  Paraidolia is the tendency to perceive meaningful images in meaningless visual stimuli (looking at a cloud and seeing a distinct shape  Pseudoscientific claims seem to give us control in an unpredictable world (horoscopes)  Terror management theory proposes that our awareness of our death leaves us with an underlying sense of terror with which we cope by adopting reassuring cultural world views to ensure us that our lives possess greater meaning beyond our existence on Earth  Logical fallacies are traps in thinking that can lead to mistaken conclusions: 1. Emotional Reasoning Fallacy: the error of using our emotions as guides for evaluating the validity of a claim 2. Bandwagon Fallacy: the error of assuming that a claim is correct just because many people believe it 3. Not Me Fallacy: the effort of believing that we’re immune from errors in thinking that afflict other people (bias blind spot: we are unaware of our own biases but keenly aware of them in others, almost like having an accent you don’t notice) Dangers of Pseudoscience: Why Should We Care?  Undergoing treatment that hasn’t been scientifically tested is a waste of time and money that could be spent on treatment that is not pseudoscientific  Sometimes pseudoscientific treatments actually cause harm; physical, psychological problems, even death  We need scientific thinking skills to make educated decisions and form opinions SCIENTIFIC THINKING: DISTINGUISHING FACT FROM FICTION Scientific Skepticism  Scientific skepticism is the approach of evaluating all claims with an open mind but insisting on persuasive evidence before accepting them. Must adopt a willingness to keep an open mind to all claims, and a willingness to accept claims only after researchers have subjected them to careful s
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