The scientific attitude reflects an eagerness to skeptically scrutinize competing ideas with an
open-minded humility before nature. This attitude, coupled with scientific principles for sifting
reality from illusion, prepares us to think critically. Two reliable phenomena—hindsight bias and
judgmental overconfidence—illustrate the limits of everyday intuition and our need for scientific
inquiry and critical thinking.
Psychologists construct theories that organize observations and imply testable hypotheses.
Their research methods include case studies, surveys, and naturalistic observation to describe
behavior; correlation to assess the relationship between variables; and experimentation to
uncover cause-effect relationships. Researchers use statistics to describe their data, to assess
relationships between variables, and to determine whether differences are significant.
Questions that students commonly ask about psychology are: (1) concerns over the
laboratory’s artificiality; (2) the generalizability of research in terms of culture and gender; (3) the
purpose of animal studies; (4) the adequacy of research ethics, and (5) the potential misuse of
The Need for Psychological Science
The hindsight bias and how it may lead us to perceive psychological research as merely common sense.
The hindsight bias, also known as the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon, is the tendency to believe,
after learning an outcome, that one would have foreseen it. Finding out that something has
happened makes it seem inevitable. Thus, after learning the results of a study in psychology, it
may seem to be obvious common sense. However, experiments have found that events seem
far less obvious and predictable beforehand than in hindsight. Sometimes psychological findings
even jolt our common sense.
How overconfidence contaminates our everyday judgments.
Our everyday thinking is limited by our tendency to think we know more than we do. Asked how
sure we are of our answers to factual questions, we tend to be more confident than correct.
College students’ predictions of their future behaviors and experts’ predictions of political,
economic, and military outcomes are similarly overconfident. Despite lackluster predictions, the
overconfidence of experts is hard to dislodge.
How the scientific attitude encourages critical thinking.
The scientific attitude reflects a hard-headed curiosity to explore and understand the world
without being fooled by it. The eagerness to skeptically scrutinize competing claims requires
humility because it means we may have to reject our own ideas. This attitude, coupled with
scientific principles for sifting reality from illusion, helps us winnow sense from nonsense. It
carries into everyday life as critical thinking in which we examine assumptions, discern hidden
values, evaluate evidence, and assess conclusions.
The relationship between psychological theories and scientific research.