When it comes to human sciences like psychology, most of us assume that we have worthy insights to share even if we do not have the education or experience to support it. You don’t find people claiming the same thing about other sciences like the study of space, or chemistry or genetics or physics.
But if you are even remotely connected to the field of human psychology, you would understand why this is so. Because when it comes to the study of human nature and what makes them tick, having a doctorate may not make you an expert. And it is also possible that people who are not connected to this field directly may have some very insightful inputs to contribute. You only have to look back at history to know what we mean – William Shakespeare, Frida Kahlo, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, etc.
Sometimes all it takes is a train of thought like what would happen if you were the last person on earth to bring forth profound insights. However, this article is going to focus on misconceptions about psychology that have come about over the years and some insight into them. Here, we list out some of the ones that come up in a lot of discussions.
Personality—types versus dimensions: You have to understand that when a mental health professional is talking about concepts like narcissism, they are talking about one dimension of a personality. Which means that though a person scores high on a particular dimension, they may not be classified in that category.
Nature and nurture: This is an interesting discussion and not unlike the most rare phenomena on earth in the sense that it is subject to a lot of speculation and thought. The thing is that when we look at the persona of an individual, we tend to attribute the person’s qualities to either nature (biological factors) or nurture (the atmosphere in which they have raised). But it is not as cut and dry as that; people and the way they behave is a combination of both these factors. It is not quite right to hold one factor responsible more than the other.
Therapist and psychologist: We often use the words psychologist and therapist interchangeably, but they are not. A psychologist has a broader meaning in the sense that the term denotes someone who takes ideas and concepts from research in behavior related sciences and applies them to issues that are related to the mental health of patients. However, a therapist is a specific term, which applies to those who help people deal with psychology related issues by using psychological knowledge and insights.
Psychiatrist and psychologist: Once again, these are two terms that confuse people a lot. Psychiatrists are doctors of medicine who combine their knowledge and training of behavioral science to take care of patients with problems. A psychologist, on the other hand, need not be a medical doctor and would study behavioral sciences and apply what they learn to help people with problems in the area. They would not, however, be qualified to prescribe medicines, unlike the psychiatrist who can provide therapy and medicine.
Error; type 1: Most of the research in psychology is based on statistics. Which means that a researcher can show a finding that comes up as significant. But they would be wrong as it is not a representation of how the trend is no matter what the research has found. If a researcher finds something he or she deems as important but is not true, then it is called a ‘Type-1 Error’.
Error; type2: This is the reverse of Type1-Error in the sense that if a researcher finds in a study that something shows as not so significant, then he or she could be in error. This is what signifies a Type-2 Error.
A quasi-experiment versus an experiment: A proper experiment enables you to make inferences between the variables and their relationships. This would mean randomly assigning different conditions. Like for instance to see the effect on the behavior of those who are teetotallers and those who are not, you will need to assign people to one group or the other. But a study that would look for differences in a result between groups that occur naturally would be considered a quasi-experiment and may not be able to establish whether a change in one factor makes for changes in the other factor.
Statistical interface: A variable will affect one group of people in a certain way and others in a completely different way. This is because the outcome of the effect of the variable depends on other variables too. For instance, if you are studying teenagers are more likely to seek the company of others than other age groups, then you would need to look at other factors. For instance, check if they have had a bath in the past day and what sort of company they are seeking, like friends or family. There is a chance that those who have had a bath in the past 24 hours may prefer the company of friends rather than family and so on. The thing is the way one variable behaves could be dependent on some other factor to determine the result. Which is why you need to grasp statistical interactions to comprehend the nuances of behavior.
Differentiating between what is natural and what is right: When you hear that a certain behavior is natural, you may misunderstand that this behavior is also right. But that is not the case. For instance, murder may be the natural inclination for humans under stress when faced with a situation that kindles rage, but it is not right at all. Thereby, you need to be able to distinguish between what ‘is’ and what ‘ought to be.’ Trained psychologists are taught to make this vital distinction.
Multiple causes or multifactorial causation: Many of us are prone to think that there is a single reason for a particular behavior. But this can be attributed to the fact that they are not fully trained in psychology, and this could lead to such conclusions. A person trained and qualified in psychology would be aware that there many reasons that go into a particular behavior occurring. For instance, people always attribute mass violence to mental health issues while others blame it on lenient laws. However, the fact is that both can be attributed as the cause, but there are other factors too that result in such behavior.
Conclusion: The thing to remember is that even a doctorate in psychology may not make us experts in human behavior, complex as it is. No doubt, there are experts in many aspects of human behavior even if they are not from this field. However, we have to acknowledge that the study of scientific psychology has thrown some light on human behavior. The study of this subject can prepare you to be cognizant of the complexities even as you delve deeper into the subject.