Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

Spreading the word on the science of psychology

Edited by Jill Wright,

I have just returned from a busy week in Hobart, where I joined my fellow national directors of the Australian Psychological Society at a number of board meetings, followed by the annual conference.

I attended several interesting sessions and presented a research paper detailing the improved treatment outcomes that Psychology Melbourne is obtaining from our personal matching sessions.

Our paper just happened to be an example of the sort of practitioner-led research that the president of the American Psychological Association, Dr Nadine Kaslow, told the conference the profession needed to see much more of, rather than being almost totally restricted to a diet of academic-led research.

I don't know if Dr Kaslow agrees with me, but in my opinion, the value of research from real-world practice isn't just that it deals with the issues that practitioners are confronting every day, but also that its subjects tend to be normal people, rather than psychology students or clinical (i.e. mentally ill) populations. 

Unfortunately, the average small practice isn't well-placed to conduct this research, but in our practice we have a much more significant sample size of both clients and practitioners, and we have a number of projects in mind that we believe can contribute to psychologists' knowledge.

One of the most inspiring things about Dr Kaslow is that she is energetically promoting not just the need for constant improvements in professional knowledge, but also the necessity of letting the public know just what the science of psychology can do to improve lifestyles and society as a whole, in so many areas.

Under her leadership, the APA is already engaged in a number of projects designed to enhance the knowledge of the general public, and in particular younger people, about what our science has to offer.

She believes very strongly that there isn't anywhere near enough awareness of the contributions we can make towards improved relationships, better workplaces, and more effective education, among many other things.

Her message is that there is hardly any area that the science of the mind hasn't developed great insight into, but we're not communicating its existence anywhere near adequately. 

Dr Kaslow believes that in the same way as the mass media have medical correspondents, they ought to have psychology correspondents.

I couldn't have found a better illustration of these matters than an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald by its economics editor, Ross Gittins.

Headed "Science runs ahead of economics model" his article makes the point that one of the reasons economists perform so poorly with their forecasts and advice is that their so-called "neo-classical model" was formulated before the breakthroughs that psychological science has made in understanding human behaviour.

"Unfortunately," he writes, "the past century of progress in psychology has revealed just how far astray are many of the economic model's assumptions about how humans tick. Although a minority of economists - 'behavioural economists' - have sought to incorporate these findings into their thinking, the majority have ploughed on regardless. It keeps the maths simpler."

One of the factors behavioural economists now study at places like the London School of Economics is herd behaviour. At Ohio State University, for instance, they see it as a crucial contributor to capital markets.

One can only speculate on how many similar disciplines could be revolutionised if their leaders and thinkers were prepared to take the point Gittins makes. Sadly, that sort of courage is all too rare these days.

But psychologists should be prepared to act on Dr Kaslow's advice, and take personal action to get this knowledge out into the world.

Footnote: Scarcely had I posted this than an article popped into my Inbox on a Finnish university deciding to introduce the study of evolutionary psychology as a minor subject. The article cites its potential to influence other fields of science. 

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.