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"The Future of Psychology

• Compare and contrast the respective roles of “pop” psychology with the science of psychology in contemporary society.
• Examine future of psychology in contemporary society.
Course Assignments
1. Readings
• Read Ch. 12 of How to Think Straight about Psychology.
• Review this week’s Electronic Reserve Readings.

2. Individual Assignment: The Future of Psychology
• Prepare a 700 to 1,050-word paper in which you examine the future of psychology. As a part of your examination, be sure to address the following:
a) Compare and contrast the respective roles of “pop” psychology with the science of psychology in contemporary society.
b) Examine the future of psychology in contemporary society.
c) Explain how psychology will impact your life.
d) Your paper must contain at least three references from peer-reviewed sources.
e eBook Collection chapter 12.docx

e eBook Collection

The Rodney Dangerfield
of the Sciences


Although there is a great public fascination with psychological topics, most
judgments about the field and its accomplishments are resoundingly negative.
Psychologists are aware of this image problem, but most feel that there
is little they can do about it, so they simply ignore it. This is a mistake. As
the mass media become more and more influential in determining public
perceptions (e.g., fictional TV “docudramas” become the true history for a
public that does not read), ignoring psychology’s image problem threatens
to make it worse.
Rodney Dangerfield was a popular comedian for over three decades
and whose trademark was the plaintive cry “I don’t get no respect!” In a
way, this is a fitting summary of psychology’s status in the public mind. This
chapter will touch on some of the reasons that psychology appears to be the
Rodney Dangerfield of the sciences.

Psychology’s Image Problem
Some of the reasons for psychology’s image problem have already been
discussed. For example, the Freud problem discussed in Chapter 1 undoubtedly
contributes to the low esteem in which psychology is held. To the extent
that the public knows about any reputable psychologists at all, Freud and
B. F. Skinner are those psychologists (Overskeid, 2007). The distorted
versions of their ideas that circulate among the public must contribute to the
idea that psychology is a frivolous field indeed. There would appear to
be little hope for a field when one of its most renowned scholars is said to
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

186 Chapter 12
have claimed that we have no minds and that we are just like rats. Of course,
Skinner did not deny that we think (Gaynor, 2004), and many principles of
operant conditioning that he developed from work with animals have been
shown to generalize to human behavior. However, the public is little aware
of any of these facts. Distorted ideas from Freudian doctrine also contribute
to lowering the public esteem for psychology.

Psychology and Parapsychology
The layperson’s knowledge of reputable psychological research, outside of
the work of Freud or Skinner, is virtually nonexistent. One way to confirm

this fact is to look in your local bookstore to see what material on psychology
is available to the general public. Inspection will reveal that the material
generally falls into three categories. First, there will be few classics (Freud,
Skinner, Fromm, Erickson, Jung, etc.) heavily biased toward old-style psychoanalytic
views that are totally unrepresentative of modern psychology.
Frustratingly for psychologists, works of real worth in the field are often
shelved in the science and/or biology sections of bookstores. For example,
psychologist Steven Pinker’s well-known and esteemed book How the Mind
Works (1997) is often in the science section rather than the psychology
section. Thus, the important work in cognitive science that he discusses
becomes associated with biology, neurophysiology, or computer science
rather than psychology.
The second class of material found in most stores might be called
pseudoscience masquerading as psychology—that is, the seemingly
never-ending list of so-called paranormal phenomena such as telepathy,
clairvoyance, psychokinesis, precognition, reincarnation, biorhythms,
astral projection, pyramid power, plant communication, and psychic
surgery (Lilienfeld, Lohr, & Moirer, 2001). The presence of a great body of
this material in the psychology sections of bookstores undoubtedly contributes
to the widespread misconception that psychologists are the people
who have confirmed the existence of such phenomena. There is a bitter
irony for psychology in this misconception. In fact, the relationship
between psychology and the paranormal is easily stated. These phenomena
are simply not an area of active research interest in modern psychology.
The reason, however, is a surprise to many people.
The statement that the study of ESP and other paranormal abilities is
not accepted as part of the discipline of psychology will undoubtedly provoke
the ire of many readers. Surveys have consistently shown that more
than 40 percent of the general public believes in the existence of such phenomena
and often holds these beliefs with considerable fervor (Farha &
Steward, 2006; Kida, 2006; Musella, 2005; Rice, 2003). Historical studies and
survey research have suggested why these beliefs are held so strongly
(Begley, 2008b; Humphrey, 1996; Lilienfeld, 2005; Park, 2008; Stanovich,
2004). Like most religions, many of the so-called paranormal phenomena
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Sciences 187

seem to promise things such as life after death, and for some people, they
serve the same need for transcendence. It should not be surprising, then, that
the bearer of the bad tidings that research in psychology does not validate
ESP is usually not greeted with enthusiasm. The statement that psychology
does not consider ESP a viable research area invariably upsets believers and
often provokes charges that psychologists are dogmatic in banishing certain
topics from their discipline. Psychologists do not contribute to public understanding
when they throw up their hands and fail to deal seriously with

these objections. Instead, psychologists should give a careful and clear explanation
of why such objections are ill founded. Such an explanation would
emphasize that scientists do not determine by edict which topics to investigate.
No proclamation goes out declaring what can and cannot be studied.
Areas of investigation arise and are expanded or terminated according to a
natural selection process that operates on ideas and methods. Those that
lead to fruitful theories and empirical discoveries are taken up by a large
number of scientists. Those that lead to theoretical dead ends or that do not
yield replicable or interesting observations are dropped. This natural selection
of ideas and methods is what leads science closer to the truth.
The reason that ESP, for example, is not considered a viable topic in
contemporary psychology is simply that its investigation has not proved
fruitful. Therefore, very few psychologists are interested in it. It is important
here to emphasize the word contemporary, because the topic of ESP was of
greater interest to psychologists some years ago, before the current bulk
of negative evidence had accumulated. As history shows, research areas are
not declared invalid by governing authorities; they are merely winnowed
out in the competing environment of ideas.
ESP was never declared an invalid topic in psychology. The evidence of
this fact is clear and publicly available (Alcock, 1990; Hines, 2003; Hyman,
1992, 1996; Kelly, 2005; Marks, 2001; Milton & Wiseman, 1999; Park, 2008).
Many papers investigating ESP have appeared in legitimate psychological
journals over the years. Parapsychologists who thrive on media exposure
like to give the impression that the area is somehow new, thus implying that
startling new discoveries are just around the corner. The truth is much less
The study of ESP is actually as old as psychology itself. It is not a new
area of investigation. It has been as well studied as many of the currently
viable topics in the psychological literature. The results of the many studies
that have appeared in legitimate psychological journals have been overwhelmingly
negative. After more than 90 years of study, there still does not
exist one example of an ESP phenomenon that is replicable under controlled
conditions. This simple but basic scientific criterion has not been met despite
dozens of studies conducted over many decades. Many parapsychologists
and believers themselves are even in agreement on this point. In short, there
is no demonstrated phenomenon that needs scientific explanation. For this
reason alone, the topic is now of little interest to psychology.
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

188 Chapter 12
And now the irony. Psychologists have played a prominent role in
attempts to assess claims of paranormal abilities. The importance of their
contribution is probably second only to that of the professional magicians,
who have clearly done the most to expose the fraudulent nature of most purported
demonstrations of paranormal abilities (Randi, 2005). Many of the

most important books on the state of the evidence on paranormal abilities
have been written by psychologists.
The irony, then, is obvious. Psychology, the discipline that has probably
contributed most to the accurate assessment of ESP claims, is the field that is
most closely associated with such pseudosciences in the public mind.
Psychology suffers greatly from this guilt-by-association phenomenon. As
will be discussed in greater detail later, psychology is often the victim of a
“double whammy.” Here is just one example. The assumption that anything
goes in psychology, that it is a field without scientific mechanisms for deciding
among knowledge claims, leads to its being associated with pseudosciences
such as ESP. However, if psychologists ever become successful in
getting the public to recognize these pseudosciences for what they really are,
the pseudosciences’ association with psychology will be seen as confirmation
that psychology is indeed not a science!

The Self-Help Literature
The third category in the bookstore psychology section is the so-called selfhelp
literature. There are, of course, many different genres within this
category (see Fried & Schultis, 1995; Lilienfeld et al., 2003; Meyers, 2008;
Paul, 2001; Santrock et al., 1994). Some books are spiritually uplifting tracts
written with the purpose of generally increasing feelings of self-worth and
competence. Others attempt to package familiar bromides about human
behavior in new ways. A few (but all too few) are authored by responsible
psychologists writing for the general public. Many that are not in the latter
category vie for uniqueness by presenting new “therapies” that are usually
designed not only to correct specific behavioral problems but also to help
satisfy general human wants (making more money, losing more weight, and
having better sex are the “big three”), thereby ensuring larger book sales.
These so-called new therapies are rarely based on any type of controlled
experimental investigation. They usually rest on personal experience or on
a few case histories, if the author is a clinician. This is often true of the treatments
of so-called “alternative medicine.” Humorously, R. Barker Bausell, a
biostatistician at the University of Maryland, calls the term alternative
medicine “a scientific term for ‘something you heard about from your hairdresser,
who thinks she saw it on ‘Oprah’” (Adler, 2007, p. 22).
The many behavioral and cognitive therapies that have emerged after
painstaking psychological investigation as having demonstrated effectiveness
are usually poorly represented on the bookshelves. The situation
is even worse in the electronic media. Radio and TV carry virtually no
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Sciences 189

reports of legitimate psychology and instead present purveyors of bogus
“therapies” and publicity-seeking media personalities who have no connection
to the actual field of psychology. The main reason is that the legitimate
psychological therapies do not claim to provide an instant cure or improvement,

nor do they guarantee success or claim a vast generality for their
effects (“Not only will you quit smoking, but every aspect of your life will
It is similar in the case of the Internet. The lack of peer review ensures
that the therapies and cures that one finds there are often bogus. Here is one
example. In 2008 Paul Offit published an important book titled Autism’s False
Prophets in which he detailed the many treatments for autism that have been
found to be bogus by actual scientific research but that have enjoyed popularity
among parents desperate for a treatment to help their children. One,
facilitated communication, I have discussed in Chapter 6. Offit describes
many other pseudoscientific treatments that have falsely raised parents’
hopes and have led them to spend thousands of dollars and to waste their
time and energy chasing a bogus “cure.” On January 2, 2009, I identified one
of the bogus chemical “cures” for autism discussed in Offit’s book (I will not
name it in order not to add to its publicity) and typed it and the word
“autism” into Google. Of the first ten links that appeared in the outcome of
my search, four links were to websites that were advocating this totally bogus
chemical “cure.” Scientific accuracy is not guaranteed in a Web search
because websites are not peer reviewed. They thus provide no consumer
protection for the random searcher with no further knowledge of the scientific
literature on the topic in question.
The self-help literature, which accounts for a substantial portion of the
book market in the United States, has many unfortunate effects on the general
perception of psychology. First, like the Freud problem, it creates confusion
concerning the problems that dominate the attention of psychologists.
For example, although a substantial number of psychologists are engaged in
providing therapy for problems of obesity, of relationships, and of sexuality
and also in researching these problems, the actual number is far less than
that suggested by their representation in the self-help literature. This misrepresentation
also contributes to the public’s view that most psychologists are
engaged in the treatment of and research on abnormal behavior. In fact, most
psychological research is directed at nonpathological behavior that is typical
of all humans. Ex-president of the American Psychological Association
Martin Seligman (2002) has lamented that, to the public, psychology has
become “almost synonymous with treating mental illness. Its historic mission
of making the lives of untroubled people more productive and fulfilling
takes a distant back seat to healing disorders” (p. 19).
Beyond the content confusion, the self-help literature creates an inaccurate
impression of the methods and goals of psychology. As we showed in
Chapter 4, the science of psychology does not consider a few case studies,
testimonials, and personal experiences—which are the database for most
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

190 Chapter 12
of the self-help “therapies”—adequate empirical evidence to support the

efficacy of a therapy. The self-help literature misleads the public by implying
that this is the type of database on which most psychological conclusions
rest. As illustrated in Chapter 8, the confirmation of a theory must rest on
many different types of evidence, and case studies yield the weakest type of
data. It is a fundamental mistake to view such data as definitive proof of a
particular theory or therapy.

Recipe Knowledge
Finally, the self-help literature creates confusion about the goals of psychology
and about the type of knowledge that most psychological investigations
seek. Psychologist Leigh Shaffer (1981) suggested that this literature
strongly implies that psychological researchers seek what has been termed
recipe knowledge. Recipe knowledge is the knowledge of how to use something
without knowledge of the fundamental principles that govern its
functioning. For example, most people know many things about how to use
a telephone. They know how to dial, how to get information, how to make
long-distance connections, and so on. But many are completely ignorant of
the physical principles on which the operation of the telephone is based.
They do not know how it does what it does; they only know that they can
make it work. This is recipe knowledge of the telephone. Our knowledge of
many technological products in our society is also recipe knowledge.
Of course, this is not an entirely bad thing. Indeed, most technological
products have been designed to be used without knowledge of all the principles
that make them work. In fact, the idea of recipe knowledge provides one
way of conceptualizing the difference between basic and applied research.
The basic researcher seeks to uncover the fundamental principles of nature
without necessarily worrying about whether they can be turned into recipe
knowledge. The applied researcher is more interested in translating basic
principles into a product that requires only recipe knowledge.
Most self-help literature provides only recipe knowledge about human
behavior. It usually boils down to the form “Do X and you will become more
Y,” or “Do Z and person A will react more B.” Now, there is nothing inherently
wrong here, assuming, of course, that the recipes provided are correct
(which is usually not a safe assumption). Many legitimate psychotherapies
also provide much recipe knowledge. However, a problem arises when
people mistakenly view recipe knowledge as the ultimate goal of all psychological
research. Although a number of psychological researchers do work
on turning basic behavioral principles into usable psychotherapeutic techniques,
health-maintaining behavior programs, or models of efficient industrial
organization, psychological research is largely basic research aimed at
uncovering general facts and theories about behavior. Here we have another
reason why psychological research may seem strange to the outsider.
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Sciences 191

Investigations of basic principles often look very different from studies

focused on developing applications.
We would consider it silly to walk into a molecular biology laboratory
and ask a researcher whether we should take two or three aspirins for a
headache. The reason is not that molecular biology has nothing to do with
pain relief. Future developments in pain relievers will probably involve
knowledge from this area of science. It is silly to ask this question because the
molecular biologist is simply not working at the recipe level that deals with
whether to take two aspirins or three. The researcher is concerned with fundamental
facts about the molecular level of biological substances. These facts
could lead to recipe knowledge in any number of areas, but the transformation
to recipe knowledge will probably not be accomplished by the same investigator
who uncovered the basic facts at the molecular level, nor will it be accomplished
by use of the same methods that led to the original discoveries.
Thus, because the self-help literature has led people to believe that
most psychologists work at developing recipe knowledge, much of the basic
research that psychologists conduct appears strange. What did Hecht’s data
(Chapter 7) about subjects looking at red lights in a dark room have to do
with anything in the real world? Well, on the surface, nothing. Hecht was
interested in uncovering basic laws about the way the visual system adapts
to darkness. The basic principles were eventually translated into recipe
knowledge of how to deal with some specific problems, such as night blindness
due to vitamin deficiency. However, this translation was not done by
Hecht himself, and it did not come until several years later.
Thus, the self-help literature has two unfortunate side effects on the
public perception of psychology. The range of problems addressed in this
literature does not necessarily represent the focus of contemporary psychology.
Instead, it reflects, quite naturally, what people want to read about. The
logic of television, radio, and web-based content is the same. However, the
focus of science is not determined by polling the public. In all sciences, and
in psychology in particular, there is usually a gap between the ideas that are
productive for scientists and those that can be packaged to sell to the public.
Consider the area of weight loss prescriptions. Scientists have slowly accumulated
evidence for some mild prescriptions that help with weight control
(Brody, 2008) but they are not breakthrough remedies. By contrast, consider
the report of retired physician Harriet Hall (2008), who writes a sciencebased
medicine blog. She describes one weight-loss product that “made the
usual claims: eat all you want and still lose weight. But it had the best advertising
slogan ever: ‘We couldn’t say it in print if it wasn’t true!’ I laughed
out loud. Anyone can say anything in print until they get caught. These diet
ads all say things that aren’t true, and the Federal Trade Commission can’t
begin to catch them all” (p. 47). Hall’s point is that there is a complete disconnect
between good science and what the media (from television to print
to websites) wants to publicize.
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

192 Chapter 12
Journalists Barbara Kantrowitz and Claudia Kolb (2006) described the
disconnect between science and the media in an article on the media reporting
of the health effects of various foods. The subtitle of their article was
“A new appetite for answers has put science on a collision course with the
media.” The “collision course” in the subtitle refers to the fact that the
media want quick answers to questions that are of “public interest,”
whereas science produces slow answers to questions that are scientifically
answerable—and all the questions that the public finds interesting might
not be answerable.

Psychology and Other Disciplines
Psychology, of course, does not have a monopoly on studying behavior.
Many other allied disciplines, using a variety of different techniques and
theoretical perspectives, also contribute to our knowledge. Many problems
concerning behavior call for an interdisciplinary approach. However, a frustrating
fact that most psychologists must live with is that when work on an
interdisciplinary problem is publicized, the contributions of psychologists
are often usurped by other fields.
There are many examples of scientific contributions by psychologists
that have been ignored, minimized, or partially attributed to other disciplines.
For instance, the first major survey of the evidence on television’s
effects on children’s behavior was conducted under the aegis of the
U.S. Surgeon General, so it is not surprising that the American Medical
Association (AMA) passed a resolution to reaffirm the survey’s findings of a
suggested causal link and to bring the conclusions more publicity. Again,
there is nothing wrong here, but an unintended consequence of the repeated
association of the findings on televised violence with the AMA is that it has
undoubtedly created the impression that the medical profession conducted
the scientific research that established the results. In fact, the vast majority of
the research studies on the effects of television violence on children’s behavior
were conducted by psychologists.
One of the reasons that the work of psychologists is often ascribed to
other disciplines is that the word psychologist has, over the years, become
ambiguous. Many research psychologists commonly append their research
specialty to the word psychologist when labeling themselves, calling themselves,
for example, physiological psychologists, cognitive psychologists,
industrial psychologists, evolutionary psychologists, or neuropsychologists.
Some use a label that does not contain a derivative of the word psychology at
all, for example, neuroscientist, cognitive scientist, artificial intelligence
specialist, and ethologist. Both of these practices—in conjunction with
the media’s bias that “psychology isn’t a science”—lead to the misattribution
of the accomplishments of psychologists: The work of physiological
psychologists is attributed to biology, the work of cognitive psychologists is
ISBN 0-558-58242-7
How to Think Straight About Psychology, Ninth Edition, by Keith E. Stanovich. Copyright © 2010 by Keith E. Stanovich. Published by Allyn & Bacon.

The Rodney Dangerfield of the Sciences 193

attributed to computer science and neuroscience, the work of indu...

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Running Head: The Future of Psychology

The Future of Psychology

The rise of human interest in nature and structure led to the origin of philosophy as a discipline.
As numerous...

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