DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY
Title of study. The cognitive basis of laypeople’s unscientific view of psychology
What are we trying to learn in this research? Although psychology can unambiguously be shown to be scientific, research suggests that the general public regards its status with considerable skepticism (Lilienfeld, 2012). The goal of this research is to determine why. More specifically, we want to know if this skepticism towards psychology may be rooted in the way people learn words and associate them with other words, images and impressions. We believe that the natural sciences like physics and chemistry may evoke images and ideas that are very different from those evoked by psychology. Hence, these associations may make psychology look unscientific by comparison.
What are our hypotheses and predictions?
The first task that you just completed is known as a free listing task (Brewer, Garrett & Rinaldi, 2002). It allows researchers to find pre-existing associative structures and it allows mapping the relationship among words learned as a result of experience (Nelson, McEvoy & Schreiber, 1998). It also reveals the measures of typicality among members of the category science. The more typical members (or “good” members) of any category are named more frequently and earlier that the atypical ones (Rosch, 1975). Hence, we expect that psychology will be mentioned less frequently, be mentioned later that other more typical sciences. Thus, we believe that many people may fail to consider psychology to be a science because is an atypical science. The second task that you just completed is a rating task. It allows researchers to assess people’s opinions (Bowling, 1997). Research shows that significant differences in the perceived “degree of difficulty” of the disciplines seems to influence people’s judgements of what is scientific (Keil, Lockhart & Schlegel, 2010). Thus, we hypothesize that the people will perceive psychology as an “easier” discipline than the hard sciences. Hence, if the feature perceived difficulty of a scientific discipline is positively correlated with measures of typicality among members of the category science, it will show that the feature “degree of difficulty” of attributed to academic disciplines is playing an important role influencing judgements of scientific reasoning. Additionally, the task you completed that asked you to answer some questions about science was called a scientific literacy test. The purpose of this test was to provide us with some information about your knowledge, understanding, and attitudes of science and the scientific method.
Why is this important to scientists or the general public? The fact that psychology is perceived by many people as unscientific is of great concern. Every year, experimental psychologists conduct a wide variety of studies on topics such as learning, well-being, interpersonal relationships, and criminal behavior. This research helps us better understand how humans think and behave. Moreover, it generates information that can be applied to real world problems as well as improves people’s lives. Consequently, if psychological research is dismissed as unscientific, it may not be given an opportunity to fulfill that role that it can play in society (Krull & Silvera, 2013).
Where can I learn more? The best place to start to learn more about free listing is Brewer, Garrett & Rinaldi, (2002). To better understand the emerging intuitions concerning the relative difﬁculty of the sciences, read Keil, Lockhart & Schelegel (2010). Also, to know more about the issue pertaining to the public’s perception of psychology, read Lilienfeld (2012). Finally, for an excellent book describing psychology status as a science, read Stanovich (2012).
Brewer, D., Garrett, S. B., & Rinaldi, G. (2002). Free listed items are effective cues for eliciting additional items in semantic domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 343-358.
Keil, F., Lockhart, K. & Schlegel, E. (2010). A bump on a bump? Emerging intuitions concerning the relative difﬁculty of the sciences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139, 1–15.
Lilienfeld, S. (2012). Public skepticism of psychology: Why many people perceive the study of human behavior as unscientific. American Psychologist, 67, 111-129.
Stanovich, K. (2012). How to think straight about psychology (10th ed). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
What if I have questions later? For questions concerning this research and, more generally, questions about experimental cognitive psychology, please contact Dr. Guy Lacroix (email@example.com; Tel.: 613-520-2600 ext. 1541). For questions concerning the ethical aspects of this research, please contact Dr. Shelley Brown, Chair, Carleton University Research Ethics Board -B (firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel.: 613- 520-2600 ext. 1515). Finally, for any other general questions or concerns, please contact Dr. Andy Adler, Vice-Chair, Carleton University Research Ethics Board (email@example.com; Tel: 613-520-2517).
Thank you for your participation in this research. Your time and effort are greatly appreciated!