4 // CHAPTER 1 // The Science of Psychology
less chocolate when it was presented as broken. The researchers’ explanation is that when
we do not have time or energy to think things through, a minor blemish can enhance
evaluations of a product.
Last, practicing science also means being objective . Being objective involves trying
to see things as they really are, not just as the observer would like them to be. Scienti c
knowledge ultimately is based on objective evidence.
T o g a t h e r o b j e c t i v e e v i d e n c e , s c i e n t i s t s r e l y o n e m p i r i c a l m e t h o d s . A n empirical method
involves gaining knowledge through the observation of events, the collection of data, and
logical reasoning. For scientists, objectivity means waiting to see what the evidence tells
them rather than going with their hunches. Does the latest herbal dietary supplement really
help relieve depression? A scientist would say, “That’s an empirical question,” meaning that
hard evidence is required to answer it. An objective thinker insists on sound evidence
before drawing conclusions. Like critical thinking, relying on evidence to provide
the foundation for conclusions means being open to uncertainty. Empirical
evidence provides the best answers to questions at any given moment.
Once you start to think like a psychologist, you might notice that the world
starts to look like a different place. Easy answers and simple assumptions will not
do. As you can probably imagine, psychologists, as a group, are people with many
different opinions about many different things. If a number of these critical thinkers
were to gather around a table, it is a safe bet that they would have a lively conversation.
I n d e e d , a s y o u w i l l s e e t h r o u g h o u t t h i s b o o k , t h e r e a r e m a n y t h i n g s a b o u t w h i c h p s y -
chologists disagree, and psychology (like any science) is lled with debate and controversy.
For example, one controversy in psychology concerns the emergence of so-called Generation
Me (Twenge, 2006). Jean Twenge and her colleagues (Twenge, 2006; Twenge & Campbell,
2010) argue that Americans born since the 1980s are different from previous generations in
that they are unusually self-con dent, self-assertive, and self-centered. Based on her research
examining scores on questionnaires concerning narcissism (a condition of intense, unhealthy
self-love) over many years, Twenge (2006) refers to these individuals as Generation Me.
She suggests that we are in the midst of an epidemic of narcissism. Other psychologists,
however, sharply challenge this claim. In doing so, they present data showing no changes
in narcissism over the last three decades (Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010).
So, debate and controversy are a natural part of thinking like a psychologist. Psychol-
ogy has advanced as a eld because psychologists do not always agree with one another
about why mind and behavior work the way they do. Psychologists have reached a more
accurate understanding of human behavior because psychology fosters controversies and
because psychologists think deeply and re ectively and examine the evidence on all
sides. A good place to try out your critical thinking skills is by revisiting
the de nition of psychology.
Psychology as the Science
of All Human Behavior
As you consider the general de nition of psychology as the science of
human behavior, you might be thinking, okay, where’s the couch?
Where’s the mental illness? Psychology certainly includes the study of
therapy and psychological disorders. Clinical psychologists in particular
are psychologists who specialize in studying and treating psychological
disorders. By de nition, though, psychology is a much more general
science (Shiraev, 2011), practiced in several environments in addition to
clinical settings (Figure 1.1). How did we end up with the idea that
psychology is only about mental illness? Surely, psychological disorders
are very interesting, and the media often portray psychologists as thera-
pists. Yet the view of psychology as the science of what is wrong with
people started long before TV was even invented.
Gaining knowledge through
the observation of events,
the collection of data, and
Thi s i s why r esear cher s
of t e n say t hat a s t udy “ s uppor t s ”
a par t i cul ar pr edi ct i on, but r ar el y
if ever say t hat it “proves”
anyt hi ng.
Privat e p ract ice
Sch o o l s
FIGURE 1.1 Settings in Which
Psychologists Work More psychologists
work in academic settings (34 percent), such
as colleges and universities, than any other
setting. However, clinical (24 percent) and
private practice (22 percent) settings—both of
which are contexts in which many psychologists
in the mental health professions work—together
make up almost half of the total settings.
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