Jamie Hale

Jamie Hale

Friday, January 22, 2010

Thinking Straight About Modern Psychology

After reading Stanovich's highly recommended book- HOW TO THINK STRAIGHT ABOUT PSYCHOLOGY- I decided I had to get an interview with the brilliant scientist.

In How To Think Straight About Psychology you dedicate an entire chapter to the ‘Freud Problem”. Can you give readers a brief explanation of “The Freud Problem”?

The notoriety of Freud has greatly affected the general public’s conceptions about the field of psychology and has contributed to many misunderstandings. Many people think Freud is central to modern psychology and are shocked to learn that he is not. One popular introductory psychology textbook (Wade & Tavris, 2008) is over 700 pages long, yet contains only 15 pages on which either Freud or psychoanalysis is mentioned—and these 15 pages often contain criticism (“most Freudian concepts were, and still are, rejected by most empirically oriented psychologists,” p. 19).

In short, modern psychology is not obsessed with the ideas of Sigmund Freud (as are the media and some humanities disciplines), nor is it largely defined by them. Freud’s work is an extremely small part of the varied set of issues, data, and theories that are the concern of modern psychologists.

It is bad enough that Freud’s importance to modern psychology is vastly exaggerated. What makes the situation worse is that Freud’s methods of investigation are completely unrepresentative of how modern psychologists conduct their research. In fact, the study of Freud’s methods gives an utterly misleading impression of psychological research. For example, Freud did not use controlled experimentation, which, is the most potent weapon in the modern psychologist’s arsenal of methods. Freud thought that case studies could establish the truth or falsity of theories. Of course, this idea is mistaken. Finally, a critical problem with Freud’s work concerns the connection between theory and behavioral data. For a theory to be considered scientific, the link between the theory and behavioral data must meet some minimal requirements. Freud’s theories do not meet these criteria. To make a long story short, Freud built an elaborate theory on a database (case studies and introspection) that was not substantial enough to support it. Freud concentrated on building complicated theoretical structures, but he did not, as modern psychologists do, ensure that they would rest on a database of reliable, replicable behavioral relationships. In short, Freud’s style of work can be a significant impediment to the understanding of modern psychology.

What is your definition of science? What branches of Psychology or rooted in science? Which ones are not?

In my book How To Think Straight About Psychology, I define science as having three essential features: (1) the use of systematic empiricism; (2) the production of public knowledge; and (3) the examination of solvable problems.

Virtually all areas of modern psychology are scientific, except for certain subsegments of clinical psychology and a good deal of clinical psychological practice.

How has the field of Psychology changed over the past 20 years?

The field has evolved steadily. It has not undergone any revolutions. Psychology is a very evolutionary, cumulative science.

What impact has Brain Imaging had in the field of psychology?

Brain imaging is one converging technique among many. It has not revolutionized anything. In one of my research fields—the psychology of reading—it has merely served to confirm what we have known about reading (for example, the importance of phonological awareness in early reading) for decades. Newspapers and magazines love the pictures of many-colored brains, but this type of publicity over-emphasizes the contribution of these techniques.

Who is your favorite writer? Favorite book?

Contemporary writers I like are David Lodge and Ian McEwan. Of classic writers in the canon, it’s George Orwell. Favorite books would be Lodge’s Thinks (a novel about cognitive science). McEwan’s Enduring Love and Saturday (both of which are flavored by science). Orwell’s essays are worth reading (“Shooting an Elephant”) in addition to the famous novels.

What are your current research interests?

Investigating the differences between rational thought and intelligence.

Do you have any current projects you are working on?

Same as the previous.

Of the books you have written which one is your favorite?

The last two: What Intelligence Tests Miss and The Robot’s Rebellion.

Click on the following links for more information on Keith Stanovich

Psyconoclasm: A scientific Approach To Psychology