"Everybody knows psychology is not a real science": Public perceptions of psychology and how we can improve our relationship with policymakers, the scientific community, and the general public

Am Psychol. 2015 Sep;70(6):527-42. doi: 10.1037/a0039405.

Abstract

In a recent seminal article, Lilienfeld (2012) argued that psychological science is experiencing a public perception problem that has been caused by both public misconceptions about psychology, as well as the psychological science community's failure to distinguish itself from pop psychology and questionable therapeutic practices. Lilienfeld's analysis is an important and cogent synopsis of external problems that have limited psychological science's penetration into public knowledge. The current article expands upon this by examining internal problems, or problems within psychological science that have potentially limited its impact with policymakers, other scientists, and the public. These problems range from the replication crisis and defensive reactions to it, overuse of politicized policy statements by professional advocacy groups such as the American Psychological Association (APA), and continued overreliance on mechanistic models of human behavior. It is concluded that considerable problems arise from psychological science's tendency to overcommunicate mechanistic concepts based on weak and often unreplicated (or unreplicable) data that do not resonate with the everyday experiences of the general public or the rigor of other scholarly fields. It is argued that a way forward can be seen by, on one hand, improving the rigor and transparency of psychological science, and making theoretical innovations that better acknowledge the complexities of the human experience. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Psychology*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Public Policy*
  • Science*