How to think straight about psychology

I am convinced there isn’t any field of knowledge with more misconceptions about it than psychology (because people intuitively think they already know what it is). If someone asked me how to gain the most actual knowledge about psychology in the shortest period of time, then I would recommend:

  • „How to think straight about psychology“ by Stanovich. First understanding what psychology is and even more *what it is not* is the fundamental basis. The book also is a great tool to differentiate what is scientific psychological information in general. You will save the time you spend reading this book with the gained ability to skip and sort not useful content of „folk psychology“ quickly in the future.
  • one textbook with an overview of the most important insights, „Psychologie“ by Gerrig and Zimbardo is quite popular.


How to think straight about psychology – Keith E. Stanovich [quotes]

„There exists a body of knowledge that is unknown to most people. This information concerns human behavior and consciousness in their various forms. It can be used to explain, predict, and control human actions. Those who have access to this knowledge use it to gain an understanding of other human beings. They have a more complete and accurate conception of what determines the behavior and thoughts of other individuals than do those who do not have this knowledge. Surprisingly enough, this unknown body of knowledge is the discipline of psychology.“

„For a more detailed discussion of the general characteristics of a science, see the works of Bronowski, Haack, Medawar, Popper, and Sagan.“

„The APA database PsycINFO summarizes articles from over 2,000 different journals. Most of these journals are peer reviewed. Virtually all halfway legitimate theories and experiments can find their way into this vast array of publication outlets.“

„Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker (1997) discusses how ignorance can be divided into problems and mysteries. In the case of problems, we know that an answer is possible and what that answer might look like even though we might not actually have the answer yet. In the case of mysteries, we can’t even conceive of what an answer might look like. Using this terminology, we can see that science is a process that turns mysteries into problems. In fact, Pinker (1997) noted that he wrote his book How the Mind Works “because dozens of mysteries of the mind, from mental images to romantic love, have recently been upgraded to problems” (p. ix).“

„There is voluminous evidence that, contrary to “commonsense” folk belief, readers and academically inclined individuals are more physically robust and are more socially involved than are people who do not read.“

„Having children turns out to be a case where the two perspectives are very different. Looking back on having children from old age does indeed make people happy. However, in terms of ongoing, moment-to-moment happiness (as opposed to retrospectively looking back), children actually make people less happy.“

„When scientists refer to theories, they do not mean unverified guesses. A theory in science is an interrelated set of concepts that is used to explain a body of data and to make predictions about the results of future experiments. Hypotheses are specific predictions that are derived from theories (which are more general and comprehensive)“

„The difference between the layperson’s and the scientist’s use of the word theory has often been exploited by some religious fundamentalists who want creationism taught in the public schools (Miller, 2008; Scott, 2005). Their argument often is “After all, evolution is only a theory.” This statement is intended to suggest the layperson’s usage of the term theory to mean “only a guess.” However, the theory of evolution by natural selection is not a theory in the layperson’s sense (to the contrary, in the layperson’s sense, it would be called a fact; see Randall, 2005). Instead, it is a theory in the scientific sense. It is a conceptual structure that is supported by a large and varied set of data (Dawkins, 2010; Shermer, 2006; Wilson, 2007). It is not a mere guess, equal to any other guess. Instead, it interlocks with knowledge in a host of other disciplines, including geology, physics, chemistry, and all aspects of biology. The distinguished biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1973) made this point in a famous article titled “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.”“

„Note that implicitly, by my varied reactions, I signaled that I would be more impressed by a theory that made predictions that maximized the number of events that should not occur.“

„Progress in the treatment and understanding of Tourette syndrome began to occur only when researchers recognized that the psychoanalytic “explanations” were useless. These explanations were enticing because they seemed to explain things. In fact, they explained everything—after the fact. However, the explanations they provided created only the illusion of understanding. By attempting to explain everything after the fact, they barred the door to any advance. Progress occurs only when a theory does not predict everything but instead makes specific predictions that tell us—in advance— something specific about the world. The predictions derived from such a theory may be wrong, of course, but this is a strength, not a weakness.“

„It would be amazing if the investigation of subjects such as these failed to uncover something that did not upset somebody! Science seeks conceptual change. Scientists try to describe the world as it really is, as opposed to what our prior beliefs dictate it should be. The dangerous trend in modern thought is the idea that people must be shielded from the nature of the world—that a veil of ignorance is necessary to protect a public unequipped to deal with the truth. Psychology is like other sciences in rejecting the idea that people need to be shielded from the truth. Furthermore, we all lose when we are surrounded by others who hold incorrect views of human behavior. Our world is shaped by public attitudes toward education, crime, health, industrial productivity, child care, and many other critical issues. If these attitudes are the products of incorrect theories of behavior, then we are all harmed.“

„Many scientists have attested to the importance of understanding that making errors in the course of science is normal and that the real danger to scientific progress is our natural human tendency to avoid exposing our beliefs to situations in which they might be shown to be wrong. Scientists must avoid this tendency, and Nobel Prize winner Peter Medawar (1979) urged them to avoid it by remembering that “the intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not” (p. 39; italics in original).“

„Centuries before Darwin, Aristotle observed that “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” More humorously, the economist John Maynard Keynes illustrated the falsifying attitude when, during the Great Depression, he replied to a critic, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” (Malabre, 1994, p. 220).“

„Biologist and science writer Stephen J. Gould (1987) illustrated this point: Fifteen years of monthly columns have brought me an enormous correspondence from nonprofessionals about all aspects of science. . . . I have found that one common misconception surpasses all others. People will write, telling me that they have developed a revolutionary theory, one that will expand the boundaries of science. These theories, usually described in several pages of single-spaced typescript, are speculations about the deepest ultimate questions we can ask—what is the nature of life? the origin of the universe? the beginning of time? But thoughts are cheap. Any person of intelligence can devise his half dozen before breakfast. Scientists can also spin out ideas about ultimates. We don’t (or, rather, we confine them to our private thoughts) because we cannot devise ways to test them, to decide whether they are right or wrong. What good to science is a lovely idea that cannot, as a matter of principle, ever be affirmed or denied? (p. 18) The answer to Gould’s last question is “No good at all.” „

„there are plenty of materials about the logic of scientific thinking that have been written for children (Binga, 2009; Bower, 2009; Dawkins, 2012; Epstein, 2008; Swanson, 2001, 2004).“

„As Asimov (1989) noted, “The correction in going from spherical to oblate spheroidal is much smaller than going from flat to spherical. Therefore, although the notion of the earth as a sphere is wrong, strictly speaking, it is not as wrong as the notion of the earth as flat” (p. 41). Asimov’s example of the shape of the earth illustrates for us the context in which scientists use such terms as “mistake,” “error,” or “falsified.” Such terms do not mean that the theory being tested is wrong in every respect, only that it is incomplete.“

„Thus, concepts in science are continually evolving and can increase in abstractness as the knowledge concerning them increases. For example, at one time the electron was thought of as a tiny ball of negative charge circling the nucleus of an atom. Now it is viewed as a probability density function having wavelike properties in certain experimental situations.“

„The concepts in theories of human memory have likewise evolved. Psychologists now rarely use global concepts like remembering or forgetting; instead, they test the properties of more specifically defined memory subprocesses, such as short-term acoustic memory, iconic storage, semantic memory, and episodic memory. The older concepts of remembering and forgetting have been elaborated with more specifically operationalized concepts.“

„Thus, the usage of theoretical terms evolves from scientific activity rather than from debates about the meaning of words. This is one of the most salient differences between the operational attitude of science and the essentialist quest for absolute definition.“

„We all have intuitive theories of personality and human behavior because we have been “explaining” behavior to ourselves all our lives. All our personal psychological theories contain theoretical concepts (e.g., smart, aggressive, anxiety). Thus, it is only natural to ask why we have to accept some other definition. Although this attitude seems reasonable on the surface, it is a complete bar to any scientific progress in understanding human behavior and is the cause of much public confusion about psychology. One of the greatest sources of misunderstanding and one of the biggest impediments to the accurate presentation of psychological findings in the media is the fact that many technical concepts in psychology are designated by words used in everyday language. This everyday usage opens the door to a wide range of misconceptions. The layperson seldom realizes that when psychologists use words such as intelligence, anxiety, aggression, and attachment as theoretical constructs, they do not necessarily mean the same thing that the general public does when using these words.“

„Physicist Lisa Randall (2005) discusses how this problem obscures the understanding of physics by the public. She points out that the term relativity in Einstein’s theory has been taken by the public to imply that there are no absolutes in science because “everything is relative.” In fact, Einstein’s theory says just the opposite! Randall points out that actually Einstein’s theory is all about invariants and absolutes. He admitted, in fact, that it might have been more apt to call it by the term “invariantentheorie” instead of relativity, but the latter had too quickly become entrenched.“

„However, what seems obvious in other contexts is sometimes not so clear when we think about psychology. The necessity for operational definitions of concepts like intelligence and anxiety is often not recognized because we use these terms all the time, and, after all, don’t we all just “know” what these things mean? The answer is “No, we don’t”—not in the sense that a scientist has to know—that is, in a public sense. A scientist must “know” what intelligence means by being able to define, precisely, how another laboratory could measure it in exactly the same way and be led to the same conclusions about the concept. This is vastly different—in terms of explicitness and precision— than the vague verbal connotations that are needed in order to achieve casual understanding in general conversation.“

„Operationism as a Humanizing Force The problem with relying on what we all just “know” is the same problem that plagues all intuitive (i.e., nonempirical) systems of belief. What you “know” about something may not be quite the same as what Jim “knows” or what Jane “knows.” How do we decide who is right? You may say, “Well, 48 Chapter 3 I feel strongly about this, so strongly that I know I’m right.” But what if Jim, who thinks somewhat differently, feels even more strongly than you do? And then there’s Jane, who thinks differently from you or Jim, claiming that she must be right because she feels even more strongly than Jim does. This simple parody is meant only to illustrate a fundamental aspect of scientific knowledge, one that has been a major humanizing force in human history: In science, the truth of a knowledge claim is not determined by the strength of belief of the individual putting forth the claim. The problem with all intuitively based systems of belief is that they have no mechanism for deciding among conflicting claims. When everyone knows intuitively, but the intuitive claims conflict, how do we decide who is right? Sadly, history shows that the result of such conflicts is usually a power struggle.“

„Because psychology employs terms from common discourse, such as intelligence and anxiety, and because many people have preexisting notions about what these terms mean, the necessity of operationally defining these terms is often not recognized. Psychology is like all other sciences in requiring operational definitions of its terms. However, people often demand answers to essentialist questions (questions about the absolute, underlying nature of a concept) of psychology that they do not demand of other sciences. No science provides such answers to ultimate questions. Instead, psychology, like other sciences, seeks continually to refine its operational definitions so that the concepts in theories more accurately reflect the way the world actually is.“

„Likewise, children are much more likely to drown in a swimming pool than they are to be abducted and killed by a stranger (Kalb & White, 2010). Of course, the fears of abduction are mostly a media-created worry. Car crashes, accidents (including firearm accidents), childhood obesity, and suicide at older ages are much more of a threat to our children’s well being than are things like abduction and shark attacks but, as science writer Dan Gardner (2008) notes, “we are vulnerable to scary scenarios” (p. 84). Such “scary scenarios” have, for example, created an annual parental fear of poisoned candy on Halloween when, in fact, there has never been a documented case of even a single child who died from poison candy on Halloween—not one (Skenazy, 2010).“

„The public was now looking, concretely, at the approximately 250 individual lives that had been lost in a typical week. The result was a major outcry against the toll that the war was taking. The 250 pictures had an effect that the weekly numbers had not had. But we, as a society, must overcome this tendency not to believe numbers—to have to see everything. Most of the complex influences on our society are accurately captured only by numbers. Until the public learns to treat these numerical abstractions of reality as seriously as images, public opinion will be as fickle as the latest image to flicker across the screen.“

„Writer Francine Russo (1999) describes the dilemma of Willie Anderson, an oncologist at the University of Virginia. Anderson is an advocate of controlled experimentation and routinely enrolls his patients in controlled clinical trials, but he still struggles with his own reactions to single, salient cases that have an emotional impact on his decisions. Despite his scientific orientation, he admits that “when it’s real people looking you in the eye, you get wrapped up in their hopes and your hopes for their hopes, and it’s hard” (p. 36). But Anderson knows that sometimes the best thing for his patients is to ignore the “real person looking you in the eye” and go with what the best evidence says. And the best evidence comes from a controlled clinical trial (described in Chapter 6), not from the emotional reaction to that person looking you in the eye.“

„the FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras tried to educate the public by stating that “Testimonials from individuals are not a substitute for science, and that’s what Americans need to understand” (de la Cruz, 2007, p. A10).“

„Society is often much too soft on the practitioners of pseudoscience who harm people. This time it was not. All of her therapists received 16-year prison sentences for reckless child abuse resulting in death. Michael Shermer (2011) notes that although the autopsy said the child died of “cerebral edema and herniation caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, the ultimate cause was pseudoscientific quackery masquerading as psychological science. . . . These therapists killed Candace not because they were evil, but because they were in the grip of a pseudoscientific belief grounded in superstition and magical thinking” (p. 86).“

„Physicians are increasingly concerned about the spread of medical quackery on the Internet (Offit, 2008) and its real health costs. Dr. Max Coppes was prompted to write a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine warning of the real human costs of pseudoscience in medicine (Scott, 1999).“

„Unfortunately, many citizens and groups in New York did not see it that way. They reacted emotionally to the vivid word “experiment” and objected to this controlled study that would allow the city to spend its money better. They thought the homeless were being treated like guinea pigs or lab rats. What these critics were forgetting was that no one was being denied service by this experiment. The same number of people would receive Homebase whether they were randomly assigned or not. The only difference was that by collecting information from the control group, rather than simply ignoring those who were not in the program, the city would be able to determine whether the program works! The confusions about field experiments in the Homebase example are quite common ones. People do not seem to understand that by doing actual experiments on the effects of social aid in real environments, we can maximize the number served by finding out what works best. As one international aid expert, Esther Duflo, noted, “it doesn’t seem like a hugely innovative view of the world, but most people who are not economists don’t get it. They don’t get the idea that there are budget constraints” (Parker, 2010, p. 87).“

„It seems obvious to Duflo that, with a fixed aid budget, the number of people served from a given program is a certain number. Another program that is more efficient would serve more people for the same fixed cost. And the only way to figure out if a program is more efficient is to run a true experiment.“

„Note also the link here to the principle of parsimony discussed in Chapter 3—the principle that states that when two theories have the same explanatory power, the simpler theory (the one involving fewer concepts and conceptual relationships) is preferred.“

„As a result of the controlled studies, competent professional opinion finally began to be heard above the media din. Importantly, it is increasingly recognized that treatments that lack empirical foundation are not benignly neutral (“Oh, well, it might work, and so what if it doesn’t?”). The implementation of unproven treatments has real costs.“

„Actually, the three questions posed at the beginning of this chapter were derived from the work of Michael McCloskey, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University. McCloskey (1983) has studied what he calls “intuitive physics,” that is, people’s beliefs about the motion of objects. Interestingly, these beliefs are often at striking variance from how moving objects actually behave (Bloom & Weisberg, 2007; Riener, Proffitt, & Salthouse, 2005).“

„Finally, many people are not aware that a bullet fired from a rifle will hit the ground at the same time as a bullet dropped from the same height.“

„Despite extensive experience with moving and falling objects, people’s intuitive theories of motion are remarkably inaccurate. It is critical to understand that the layperson’s beliefs are inaccurate precisely because his or her observations are “natural,” rather than controlled in the manner of the scientist’s. Thus, if you missed a question on the little quiz at the beginning of the chapter, don’t feel ignorant or inadequate“

„The list of popular beliefs that are incorrect is long. For example, many people believe that a full moon affects human behavior. It doesn’t (Foster & Roenneberg, 2008; Lilienfeld et al., 2010). Some people believe that “opposites attract.” They don’t (Gaunt, 2006; Hitsch, Hortacsu, & Ariely, 2010; Reis, Maniaci, Caprariello, Eastwick, & Finkel, 2011). Some people believe that you shouldn’t change an answer on a multiple choice test. They’re wrong (Kruger et al., 2005). Some people believe that prayers can affect health. They can’t (Benson et al., 2006). Some people believe that “familiarity breeds contempt.” It doesn’t (Claypool, Hall, Mackie, & GarciaMarques, 2008; Zebrowitz, White, & Wieneke, 2008). And the list goes on and on and on (see Lilienfeld et al., 2010).“

„The many inadequacies in people’s intuitive theories of behavior illustrate why we need the controlled experimentation of psychology: so that we can progress beyond our flat-earth conceptions of human behavior to a more accurate scientific conceptualization.“

„The heart of the experimental method involves manipulation and control.“

„Restriction to real-life situations would prevent us from discovering many things. For example, biofeedback techniques are now used in a variety of areas such as migraine and tension headache control, hypertension treatment, and relaxation training (deCharms et al., 2005; Maizels, 2005). These techniques developed out of research indicating that humans could learn partial control of their internal physiological processes if they could monitor the ongoing processes via visual or auditory feedback. Of course, because humans are not equipped to monitor their physiological functions via external feedback, the ability to control such processes does not become apparent except under special conditions. Observations under natural conditions would never have uncovered the ability.“

„Psychological studies of judgment and decision making have had implications for medical decision making, educational decision making, and economic decision making (Adler, 2009; Gigerenzer, Gaissmaier, KurzMilcke, Schwartz, & Woloshin, 2007; Kahneman, 2011; Stanovich, 2011; Tetlock, 2005; Thaler & Sunstein, 2008; Zweig, 2008). The famous obedience to authority studies of Stanley Milgram were used in officer training schools of the military (Blass, 2004; Cohen, 2008). An exciting new development is the increasing involvement of cognitive psychologists in the legal system, in which problems of memory in information collection, evidence evaluation, and decision making present opportunities to test the applicability of cognitive theories (Spellman & Busey, 2010; Wargo, 2011; Wells, Memon, & Penrod, 2006). In recent decades, theory and practice in the teaching of reading have been affected by research in cognitive psychology (Hulme & Snowling, 2011; Pressley, 2005; Snowling & Hulme, 2005; Stanovich, 2000). In short, psychology has been applied to “real life” in a large number of ways, but little of this is known to the public.“

„The Association for Psychological Science maintains a website where you can read about many more of the practical applications of psychological knowledge. The website is called “We’re Only Human” and it is written by Wray Herbert and discusses many applications of psychological research (see The magazine Scientific American Mind also reports on many applications of psychology.“

„Researchers have even isolated the cognitive mechanism behind the weapons effect. It is a process of automatic priming in semantic memory (see Meier, Robinson, & Wilkowski, 2007; Wilkowski & Robinson, 2008).“

„Conceptual change in science obeys a principle of connectivity that is absent or, at least, severely limited in the arts (see Bronowski, 1977; Haack, 2007). That is, a new theory in science must make contact with previously established empirical facts. To be considered an advance, it must not only explain new facts but also account for old ones. The theory may explain old facts in a way quite different from that of a previous theory, but explain them it must. This requirement ensures the cumulative progress of science. Genuine progress does not occur unless the realm of our explanatory power has been widened. If a new theory accounts for some new facts but fails to account for a host of old ones, it will not be considered an advance over the old theories and, thus, will not immediately replace them.“

„Ernest Rutherford, discoverer of the atom’s nucleus, stressed that “scientists are not dependent on the ideas of a single person, but on the combined wisdom of thousands” (Holton & Roller, 1958, p. 166). Rutherford’s point emphasizes another consumer rule for separating scientific from pseudoscientific claims. Science—a cumulative endeavor that respects the principle of connectivity—is characterized by the participation of many individuals, whose contributions are judged by the extent to which they further our understanding of nature. No single individual can dominate discourse simply by virtue of his or her status. Science rejects claims of “special knowledge” available to only a few select individuals. This rejection, of course, follows from our discussion of the public nature of science in Chapter 1. By contrast, pseudosciences often claim that certain authorities or investigators have a “special” access to the truth.“

„To put things in the form of a simple rule, when evaluating empirical evidence in the field of psychology, think in terms of scientific consensus rather than breakthrough—in terms of gradual synthesis rather than great leap.“

„In fact, there was no great controversy, because the conclusion did not rest on a single study. There were over 900 global climate-change papers published between 1993 and 2003, and they overwhelmingly converged on the conclusion that human activity was involved in global warming (Oreskes, 2004; Oreskes & Conway, 2011).“

„No single study was definitive in establishing the conclusion so, obviously, undermining a single study would not change the conclusion at all. Nevertheless, the political groups wished to create doubt among the public—and in this they were successful. Surveys show that about 50 percent of the public think that scientists are still debating the conclusion when in fact a strong convergence has been achieved (Frazier, 2009).“

„Many of the principles of probabilistic decision making to be discussed in Chapter 10 originated in the laboratory but have also been tested in the field. For example, researchers have used the laboratory-derived principles to explain the way that physicians, stockbrokers, jurors, economists, and Avoiding the Einstein Syndrome: The Importance of Converging Evidence 137 gamblers reason probabilistically in their environments (Adler, 2009; Hilton, 2003; Kahneman, 2011; Stanovich, 2011; Thaler & Sunstein, 2008; Zweig, 2008).“

„An example of the evolution of research methods in health psychology is the work concerning the link between the type A behavior pattern and coronary heart disease (Chida & Hamer, 2008; Martin et al., 2011; Matthews, 2005; Suls & Bunde, 2005). The original observations that led to the development of the concept of the type A behavior pattern occurred when two cardiologists thought they noticed a pattern in the behavior of some of their coronary patients that included a sense of time urgency, free-floating hostility, and extremely competitive striving for achievement. Thus, the idea of the type A personality originated in a few case studies made by some observant physicians. These case studies suggested the concept, but they were not taken as definitive proof of the hypothesis that a particular type of behavior pattern is a partial cause of coronary heart disease. Proving the idea required more than just the existence of a few case studies. It involved decades of work by teams of cardiologists and psychologists.“

„A final example is provided by research on the link between rumination and depression. The tendency to ruminate does predict the duration of depressive symptoms, but it interacts with cognitive styles—rumination predicts lengthened periods of depressive symptoms only when conjoined with negative cognitive styles (NolenHoeksema, Wisco, & Lyubomirsky, 2008)“

„How many times do we hear people arguing about such emotionally charged issues as the causes of crime, the distribution of wealth, the causes of terrorism, the treatment of women and minorities, the causes of poverty, the effect of capital punishment, and the level of taxation in a way that implies that these issues are simple and unidimensional and that outcomes in these areas have a single cause? These examples make it clear that people will sometimes acknowledge the existence of multiple causes if asked directly about multiple causes; but seldom will they spontaneously offer many different causes as an explanation for something they care about. Most often, people adopt a “zero sum” attitude toward potential causes—that all causes compete with one another and that emphasizing one necessarily reduces the emphasis on another. This “zero sum” view of causes is incorrect.“

„The single lesson of this chapter is an easy but important one. When thinking about the causes of behavior, think in terms of multiple causes. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that a particular behavior must have a single cause. Most behaviors of any complexity are multiply determined.“

„For example, Tim Russert turned out to be one of the five. He is no less dead than he would be if we could have named him in advance. We must get over this feeling that, because of its numerical abstraction, probabilistic prediction is not real. Scientists are indeed talking about real people when they make these probabilistic predictions.“

„It is surprising and distressing how often this ploy works. Too frequently, a crowd of people will begin to nod their heads in assent when a single case is cited to invalidate a probabilistic trend. This agreement reflects a failure to understand the nature of statistical laws. If people think a single example can invalidate a law, they must feel the law should hold in every case. In short, they have failed to understand the law’s probabilistic nature. There will always be a “person who” goes against even the strongest of trends.“

„However, the work of psychologists who have studied human decision making and reasoning suggests that the tendency to use the “person who” comes not simply from its usefulness as a debating strategy. Instead, it appears that this fallacious argument is used so frequently because people experience great difficulty in dealing with probabilistic information. Much research into the nature of human thinking has indicated that probabilistic reasoning may well be the Achilles’ heel of human cognition.“

„These incorrect answers result from an inability to recognize the importance of sample size in the problem. Other things being equal, a larger sample size always more accurately estimates a population value. Thus, on any given day, the larger hospital, with its larger sample size, will tend to have a proportion of births closer to 50 percent. Conversely, a small sample size is always more likely to deviate from the population value.“

„Yet after five or six consecutive reds, many bettors switch to black, thinking that it is now more likely to come up. This is the gambler’s fallacy: acting as if previous outcomes affect the probability of the next outcome when the events are independent. „

„These, then, are just a few of the shortcomings in statistical reasoning that obscure an understanding of psychology. More complete and detailed coverage is provided in the book Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (2002), edited by Gilovich, Griffin, and Kahneman. Introductions to many of these ideas (and good places to start for those who lack extensive statistical training) are contained in Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), Hastie and Dawes’s Rational Choice in an Uncertain World (2010), Baron’s Thinking and Deciding (2008), and Nickerson’s Cognition and Chance: The Psychology of Probabilistic Reasoning (2004)“

„Although many scientists sincerely wish to make scientific knowledge accessible to the general public, it is intellectually irresponsible to suggest that a deep understanding of a particular subject can be obtained by the layperson when that understanding is crucially dependent on certain technical information that is available only through formal study. Such is the case with statistics and psychology. No one can be a competent contemporary psychologist without being fully conversant with statistics and probability (Evans, 2005). The president of the Association for Psychological Science, Morton Ann Gernsbacher (2007), derived a list of 10 things of intellectual value that she thinks psychological training specifically instills, and 4 of her 10 were in the domains of statistics and methodology.“

„That probability and statistics are so central to so many sciences is apparent in a popular book on the essential discoveries in science by writer Natalie Angier (2007). Her book covered all of the sciences. However, at the very beginning, in the second chapter in fact, Angier introduced the importance of understanding probability and statistics.“

„They continue to imply to their customers (and perhaps themselves believe) that they can “beat the market” when there is voluminous evidence that the vast majority of them can do no such thing. Throughout most of the last several decades, if you had bought all of the 500 stocks in the Standard and Poor’s Index and simply held them (what we might call a no-brain strategy—a strategy you could carry out by buying a mutual fund that tracks that index), then you would have had higher returns than over two-thirds of the money managers on Wall Street (Bogle, 2010; Malkiel, 2011; Mamudi, 2009; Regnier, 2010). You would also have beaten 80 percent of the financial newsletters that subscribers buy at rates of up to $1,000 per year.“

„Controlled studies have demonstrated that when people have a prior belief that two variables are connected, they tend to see that connection even in data in which the two variables are totally unconnected. Unfortunately, this finding generalizes to some real-world situations that adversely affect The Role of Chance in Psychology 171 people’s lives. For example, many psychological practitioners continue to believe in the efficacy of the Rorschach test.“

„The problem with all of this is that there is no evidence that the Rorschach test provides any additional diagnostic utility when used as a projective test (Lilienfeld et al., 2010; Wood, Nezworski, Lilienfeld, & Garb, 2003). Belief in the Rorschach test arises from the phenomenon of illusory correlation. Clinicians see relationships in response patterns because they believe they are there, not because they are actually present in the pattern of responses being observed.“

„The tendency to try to explain chance probably derives from a deep desire to believe that we can control such events. Psychologists have studied what has been termed the “illusion of control,” that is, the tendency to believe that personal skill can affect outcomes determined by chance (Matute, Yarritu, & Vadillo, 2011).“

„Other psychologists have studied a related phenomenon known as the just-world hypothesis, that is, the fact that people tend to believe that they live in a world in which people get what they deserve (Hafer & Begue, 2005). Researchers have found empirical support for one corollary of the belief in a just world: People tend to derogate the victims of chance misfortune.“

„The tendency to seek explanations for chance events contributes to this phenomenon. People apparently find it very hard to believe that a perfectly 172 Chapter 11 innocent or virtuous person can suffer misfortune purely because of chance. We long to believe that good things happen to good people and that bad things happen to the bad. Chance, though, is completely unbiased—it does not operate to favor “good people.”“

„Practitioners of “psychohistory” are often guilty of committing this error. Every minor twist and turn in a famous individual’s life is explained in these psychohistories, usually via psychoanalytic principles. The problem with most psychohistories is not that they explain too little but that they explain too much. Rarely do they acknowledge the many chance factors that determine the course of a person’s life.“

„In short, virtually any oddmatch you can think of is bound to occur if you wait long enough. In August 1913, in a casino in Monte Carlo (Kaplan & Kaplan, 2007), black came up on a roulette wheel 26 times in a row!“

„Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2011) has argued that our language fails us here. We have terms for past thoughts that turned out to be true (premonition, intuition), but we have no words to mark and bring to our attention past beliefs that turned out to be false. Most people would not spontaneously think to say, “I had a premonition that the marriage would not last, but I was wrong” (p. 202), because somehow that would seem strange to them. Without a word to mark the occurrence, we are not prone to mark all of our past predictions that failed to occur.“

„Acknowledging the role of chance in determining outcomes in a domain means that we must accept the fact that our predictions will never be 100 percent accurate, that we will always make some errors in our predictions. But interestingly, acknowledging that our predictions will be less than 100 percent accurate can actually help us to increase our overall predictive accuracy. It may seem paradoxical, but it is true that we must accept error in order to reduce error (Einhorn, 1986).“

„The experimenter has actually programmed the lights to flash randomly, with the provision that the red light will flash 70 percent of the time and the blue light 30 percent of the time. Subjects do quickly pick up the fact that the red light is flashing more, and they predict that it will flash on more trials than they predict that the blue light will flash. In fact, they predict that the red light will flash approximately 70 percent of the time. However, as discussed earlier in this chapter, subjects come to believe that there is a pattern in the light flashes and almost never think that the sequence is random. Instead, they switch back and forth from red to blue, predicting the red light roughly 70 percent of the time and the blue light roughly 30 percent of the time. Subjects rarely realize that—despite the fact that the blue light is coming on 30 percent of the time—if they stopped switching back and forth and predicted the red light every time, they would actually do better! How can this be?“

„This is indeed what happened. Treatment with this drug can put children at a temporary risk, but untreated depression is far worse. Most doctors thought that the warning would cost more lives than it would save (Dokoupil, 2007). That was the mathematics of the situation. Or, perhaps we should say: That’s the calculus of actuarial prediction. But it can be a hard calculus to follow when folk wisdom is saying things like “better to be safe than sorry.”“

„For clinical prediction to be useful, the clinician’s experience with the client and her or his use of information about the client would have to result in better predictions than we can get from simply coding information about the client and submitting it to statistical procedures that optimize the process of combining quantitative data in order to derive predictions. In short, the claim is that the experience of psychological practitioners allows them to go beyond the aggregate relationships that have been uncovered by research. The claim that clinical prediction is efficacious is, thus, easily testable. Unfortunately, the claim has been tested, and it has been falsified.“

„actuarial prediction has been found to be superior to clinical prediction (Kahneman, 2011; Morera & Dawes, 2006; Swets et al., 2000; Tetlock, 2005).“

„A final type of test in the clinical–actuarial prediction literature involves actually giving the clinician the predictions from the actuarial equation and asking the clinician to adjust the predictions based on his or her personal experience with the clients. When the clinician makes adjustments in the actuarial predictions, the adjustments actually decrease the accuracy of the predictions (see Dawes, 1994).“

„Wagenaar and Keren (1986) illustrated how overconfidence in personal knowledge and the discounting of statistical information can undermine safety campaigns advocating seat belt use because people think, “I am different, I drive safely.” The problem is that the vast majority of the population thinks that they are “better than the average driver” (De Craen, Twisk, Hagenzieker, Elffers, & Brookhuis, 2011)—obviously a patent absurdity. The same fallacy of believing that “statistics don’t apply to the single case” is an important factor in the thinking of individuals with chronic gambling problems. „

„Case information is highly useful in drawing attention to variables that are important and that need to be measured. What we have been saying in this section is that, once the relevant variables have been determined and we want to use them to predict behavior, measuring them and using a statistical equation to determine the predictions constitute the best procedure“

„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.“

„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 exciting. 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.“

„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.“

„Finally, the self-help literature creates confusion about the goals of psychology and about the type of knowledge that most psychological investigations seek. It 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 a lot about how to use a computer, but they know very little about how a computer actually works. This is recipe knowledge of the computer. Our knowledge of many technological products in our society is also recipe knowledge.“

„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. 192 Chapter 12 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.“

„Nevertheless, the APA and the APS are making more efforts to facilitate public communication (West, 2007). The APS has started a new journal for this purpose: Psychological Science in the Public Interest. The APS also sponsors a blog called “We’re Only Human” for this purpose (http://www. Psychology needs to make much more of an effort in this area. Otherwise, we will have only ourselves to blame for the misunderstanding of our discipline.“

„Mook is right that the student of psychology needs to understand the paradoxes that surround the discipline. As I have presented it in this book, as the science of human behavior, the discipline of psychology often gets too little respect. But the face that psychology often presents to the public—that of a clinician claiming “unique” insight into people that is not grounded in research evidence—often gets too much respect. The discipline is often represented to the public by segments of psychology that do not respect its unique defining feature—that it validates statements about human behavior by employing the methods of science.“

„These personal theories, though, often depart from scientific theories in important ways. We have already mentioned that they are often unfalsifiable. Rather than being coherently constructed, many people’s personal psychological theories are merely a mixture of platitudes and clichés, often mutually contradictory, that are used on the appropriate occasion. They reassure people that an explanation does exist and, furthermore, that the danger of a seriously contradictory event—one that would deeply shake the foundations of a person’s beliefs—is unlikely to occur. As discussed in Chapter 2, although these theories may indeed be comforting, comfort is all that theories constructed in this way provide. In explaining everything post hoc, these theories predict nothing. By making no predictions, they tell us nothing.“

„They cling tenaciously to their right to declare their own opinions about human behavior even when these opinions contradict the facts. Of course, the correct term here is really not “right,” because, obviously, in a free society, everyone has the right to voice opinions, regardless of their accuracy. It is important to understand that what many people want is much more than simply the right to declare their opinions about human behavior. What they really want is the conditions that are necessary for what they say to be believed. When they make a statement about human psychology, they want the environment to be conducive to the acceptance of their beliefs. This is the reason that there are always proponents of the “anything-goes” view of psychology, that is, the idea that psychological claims cannot be decided by empirical means and are simply a matter of opinion. But science is always a threat to the “anything-goes” view, because it has a set of strict 202 Chapter 12 requirements for determining whether a knowledge claim is to be believed. Anything does not go in science. This ability to rule out false theories and facts accounts for scientific progress.“

„In short, a lot of the resistance to scientific psychology is due to what might be termed “conflict of interest.” As discussed in earlier chapters, many pseudosciences are multimillion-dollar industries that thrive on the fact that the public is unaware that statements about behavior can be empirically tested (there are 20 times more astrologers in the United States than astronomers; Gilovich, 1991, p. 2). The public is also unaware that many of the claims that are the basis of these industries (such as astrological prediction, subliminal weight loss, biorhythms, facilitated communication, and psychic surgery) have been tested and found to be false. Medical quackery costs the public more than is spent on legitimate medical research (Eisenberg et al., 1993; Mielczarek & Engler, 2012).“

„How do we recognize pseudoscientific claims? Clinical psychologist Scott Lilienfeld (2005, p. 40) gives us a list of things to watch for that could serve as a summary of many of the things that have covered in this book. Pseudoscientific claims tend to be characterized by A tendency to invoke ad hoc hypotheses as a means of immunizing claims from falsification An emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation A tendency to place the burden of proof on skeptics, not proponents, of claims Excessive reliance on anecdotal and testimonial evidence to substantiate claims Evasion of the scrutiny afforded by peer review Failure to build on existing scientific knowledge (lack of connectivity)“

„Folk wisdom often contains a lot of wishful thinking: People want to believe that the world is the way they wish it to be rather than the way it is. Science often has the unenviable task of having to tell the public that the nature of the world is somewhat different from how they wish it to be (“No, that fast-food lunch is not good for your health”). The media, which could help in this situation (by telling people what is true rather than what they want to hear), only make it worse with their focus on what will “entertain” rather than on what will inform.“

„The Court identified four factors that judges should consider when deliberating about whether to allow expert testimony: (a) the “testability” of the theoretical basis for the opinion; (b) the error rates associated with the approach, if known; (c) whether the technique or approach on which the opinion is based has been subjected to peer review; and (d) whether the technique or approach is generally accepted in the relevant scientific community (Emery et al., 2005; Michaels, 2008). The four criteria map into major topics in this book: (a) falsifiability; (b) probabilistic prediction; (c) public 204 Chapter 12 knowledge subjected to peer review; and (d) scientific knowledge based on convergence and consensus. The courts are like science in ruling out claims of special knowledge, intuition, and testimonials as adequate evidence“

„Not everyone is a physicist, even though we all hold intuitive physical theories. But in giving up the claim that our personal physical theories must usurp scientific physics, we make way for a true science of the physical universe whose theories, because science is public, will be available to us all. Likewise, everyone is not a psychologist. But the facts and theories uncovered by the science of psychology are available to be put to practical ends and to enrich the understanding of all of us.“

„Psychology progresses by investigating solvable empirical problems. This progress is uneven because psychology is composed of many different subareas, and the problems in some areas are more difficult than in others. Psychologists propose falsifiable theories to explain the findings that they uncover. The concepts in the theories are operationally defined, and these definitions evolve as evidence accumulates. These theories are tested by means of systematic empiricism, and the data obtained are in the public domain, in the sense that they are presented in a manner that allows replication and criticism by other scientists. The data and theories of psychologists are in the public domain only after publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals. What makes empiricism systematic is that it strives for the logic of control and manipulation that characterizes a true experiment. Psychologists use many different methods to arrive at their conclusions, and the strengths and weaknesses of these methods vary. The behavioral principles that are eventually uncovered are almost always probabilistic relationships. Most often, knowledge is acquired only after a slow accumulation of data from many experiments each containing flaws but nonetheless converging on a common conclusion.“

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