EP 177: Why You Hate Psychology – Media Bias and Misunderstandings about How Science Works

MichaelCritical Thinking11 Comments

In this follow-up to episode 176 I discuss two more reasons why I believe some people either don’t like or just distrust psychology: 1) the belief that it is not a science, and 2) the belief – created by the media – that psychologists make a lot of money for giving out common sense advice. I hope you’ll see that psychology is not unlike other sciences in that we study something extremely complex and yes, sometimes our findings are contradictory and they change over time. Also, the media focuses – as usual – on only the most unlikely behavior of psychologists (like having sex with patients) or portraying them as having messed up personal lives. Let’s find out the truth (well, at least from one psychologist’s perspective).


Reason 3: Why You hate Psychology: “Psychology Isn’t A Science”

If you believe that for a discipline to be a science then there must be consistent irrefutable truths, then you’re going to find psychology difficult to accept. In fact, you’ll find a lot of sciences difficult to accept because this is not what defines something as a science.

Science is a process – a careful way of investigating a topic that includes careful safeguards against our human tendencies to see meaning where there isn’t any. Psychological scientists have found many results that are replicatable. The ones mention in this episode are:

    • the causes of “bystander apathy” – the more people who are around when you are attack, the more likely it is that you will not get help
    • the evidence that romantic couples tend to be more alike than they are different (“birds of a feather flock together” has more support than “opposites attract”)
    • the phases of the moon do not cause increases in crime or admissions to mental health facilities
    • Applied Behavioral Analysis is a very effective treatment technique of children with Autism
    • Systematic desensitization is a well established and effective treatment for phobias
    • Mnemonics are a very effective way to memorize things
  • Spaced practice and frequent self testing are effective ways to learn

Reason 4: Why You hate Psychology: The Way Psychology is Portrayed in the Media

Here are some examples from film and TV of the poor way that psychology is portrayed:

    • The movie “The Natural”ย – the psychiatrist is brought in to help them team when they are on a losing streak. His advice? “Losing is a disease”
    • The TV show Frazier – Frazier often gives out common sense advice while his own life is a mess
    • The movie “Freaky Friday” – the psychologist (Jamie Lee Curtis) makes $150/hour for apparently saying little more than “How do you feel about that?”ย. Also, her patients are portrayed as helpless, nerdy and weak and that the solutions to their problems is simple
    • The TV show “Bob Newhart” – not a bad portrayal of a psychologist, but again his advice is little more than common sense
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11 Comments on “EP 177: Why You Hate Psychology – Media Bias and Misunderstandings about How Science Works”

  1. I saw the DVD set in Barnes and Noble last night – wow, looks like it’s been on for 3 years now. Too bad I’ve missed it. Some really fine actors (Diane Weist for example). I’ll look into it. Thanks Dave.

  2. I watched the series on DVD, and I recommend you watch from the start in order to track character develepment. It’s enthralling drama, but I don’t think the series has a place in higher education.

  3. I heard from someone in the Psych Files facebook group that I ought to check out In Treatment. I don’t have a subscription to HBO on my TV so I guess I’ll have to catch this show on DVD or get it on iTunes. Is there a particular episode I ought to watch?

  4. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the HBO televison series ‘In Treatment’ as part of your program on psychology in the media. I am enrolled in a Post Grad course in Counselling, and an episode was shown every week as part of the class. I am interested to hear what you think about the TV show, and also what you think about the use of the show in an educational context.

  5. I think I know a few people who might hate psychology for those reasons. They gave me the idea to write this ๐Ÿ˜‰ so it’s their contribution, not mine ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Janko: excellent point! Why didn’t I think of that one? Some people don’t like psychology because they are afraid of what they might learn about themselves if they were to start exploring their lives….So Freud might also say that the’re in denial…

    Which is possibly another reason why people hate psychology: because psychologists are always analyzing you…

  7. the podcast was great – in fact both of the last two episodes on why people hate psychology. can one of the reasons be that some of those who hate it are in essence those who cannot face their own selves? so, instead of doing the difficult thing and facing their own true personalities, it’s easier to say psychology is stupid. reasons to corroborate that are easy to find. rationalizations are universally available and applicable ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Why You Hate Psychology รขโ‚ฌโ€œ Media Bias and Misunderstandings about How Science Works Thank you, thats very interesting information. I need to share with my friends.

  9. Interesting question AJ. I don’t know much about Scientology I must admit. I remember that “modern science of mental health” quote from the front of Hubbards book, but the cover of the book is as far as got…

  10. I’m waiting for the episode which explains why Scientologists hate psychology. Is it because is challenges Dianetics as “The Modern Science of Mental Health”.

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