ISBN-10:
0130150460
ISBN-13:
9780130150462
Pub. Date:
10/10/2001
Publisher:
Pearson
How to Think Like a Psychologist: Critical Thinking in Psychology / Edition 2

How to Think Like a Psychologist: Critical Thinking in Psychology / Edition 2

by Donald H. McBurney

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780130150462
Publisher: Pearson
Publication date: 10/10/2001
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 114
Sales rank: 305,496
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

Too often, students find the content and methods of their introductory psychology course to be very different from what they expected. Partly this is because few of them have studied psychology in high school, but the ones who have studied it seem equally alienated by the course, if not more so. After teaching introductory psychology for more than thirty years, I have come to realize that students have many misconceptions about science, and psychology in particular, that serve as impediments to understanding psychology.

As a consequence of this realization, I spend much of the class time dealing with these misconceptions. One mechanism for doing this is to have students turn in written questions at the beginning of class for me to answer. This gives me the opportunity to deal with some issues that may seem peripheral to the course but pose significant stumbling blocks to understanding what we think of as the material of the course.

This book answers some of the most common questions asked by my students. In so doing, it seeks to motivate students by dealing directly with their real concerns. The answers to their questions illuminate principles of psychology and philosophy of science that present stumbling blocks to students' understanding of psychology.

Another stimulus for this book comes from the current interest in teaching critical thinking skills. Too many books, and too many students, appear to treat science in general, and introductory science courses in particular, as a collection of facts to be mastered for an exam. To be sure, one of the essential tasks of an introductory psychology course is to introduce students to a wide variety of technical terms, researchparadigms, and empirical data. But the main goal of a psychology course should be to get students to think like psychologists; to apply the same critical skills to human behavior that scientists do.

Critical thinking is a very large umbrella for a number of skills and attitudes that educators attempt to instill in their students (e.g., Brookfield, 1987). Instructors have had these same goals from time immemorial. Recently, however, research in cognitive psychology applied to the learning process (Resnick, 1987) demonstrates two principles that are significant to teaching critical thinking in psychology: (1) Critical thinking is not learned in the abstract, but in the specific subject matters of the various disciplines; and (2) the skills needed for critical thinking vary from discipline to discipline:

One cannot reason in the abstract; one must reason about something .... Each discipline has characteristic ways of thinking and reasoning .... Reasoning and problem solving in the physical sciences, for example, are shaped by particular combinations of inductive and deductive reasoning, by appeal to mathematical tests, and by an extensive body of agreed upon fact for which new theories must account. In the social sciences, good reasoning and problem solving are much more heavily influenced by traditions of rhetorical argument, of weighing alternatives, and of "building a case" for a proposed solution .... Only if higher order skills are taught within each discipline are they likely to be learned. (p. 36)

I believe that the answers to the questions posed in this book provide a highly motivating way to help students develop the skills necessary to think like psychologists.

This book takes a different approach to critical thinking than most others do. The principles covered do not map especially well onto the list of skills generally promulgated as characterizing critical thinking, which tends to be less domain specific. Rather, the book models the process of critical thinking and encourages the student to engage in it. John McPeck (1990) says:

I think that the phrase "critical thinking" refers to a certain combination of what we might think of as a willingness, or disposition (call it an "attitude," if you like), together with the appropriate knowledge and skills, to engage in an activity or problem with reflective skepticism. (p. 42) (emphasis in the original)

The attitude of reflective skepticism is one that is insufficiently encouraged in our educational system, for reasons that I discuss in the introduction to this book.

The book takes strong positions on certain controversial issues, such as the paranormal. I believe that the principles stated and positions taken are well within the mainstream of academic, research-based psychology. Thus, the book should be compatible with the viewpoints of the typical introductory psychology text and instructors of psychology courses. Psychology, however, is a heterogeneous field, and I do not pretend to reflect all points of view, some of which are mutually contradictory.

I try to strike a balance between critical thinking and open-mindedness. Paul and Nosich (1991) list the following as part of critical thinking: "fairmindedness, intellectual humility, . . . willingness to see objections, enter sympathetically into another's point of view, and to recognize one's own egocentricity or ethnocentricity" (p. 5). Even when I inevitably fail to meet these ideals, it is my experience that students appreciate finding out where I stand on an issue. They are sophisticated enough not to swallow whole what I say.

The book attempts to represent the common philosophical tradition within which psychologists work. I have not, in general, tried to reflect the latest developments in philosophy of science. This is a book for beginners in psychology; I leave the finer points to later study.

The organization of the topics is designed to follow the most common order of chapters in an introductory psychology book. The material could be assigned along with the text and dealt with in class or in recitation sections. Exercises at the end of each section invite the reader to apply the principle just discussed. The book is intended also to be helpful for students of research methods, history and systems, and other later courses in psychology.

A number of people have contributed to the development of this book. Robert D. Jewell, University of Calgary; Jane F. Gaultney, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Tony Johnson, LaGrange College; John T. Long, Mt. San Antonio College; Drew Appleby, Marion College; Bruce Goldstein, University of Pittsburgh; Alicia Knoedler, San Jose State University; Eileen Achorn, Bowdoin College; Rick Loether, Fort Lewis College; Matthew Chin, University of Central Florida; and Dennis Kolodziejski, Western New England College made helpful comments on the manuscript. Scott Lilienfeld, Emory University, made a number of helpful comments on the first edition. I have tried to acknowledge the sources of ideas when possible. I have absorbed many of the points, and even some of the examples and phrases, from others over the years, and the sources have been forgotten. My apologies to any who should have been cited.

Donald H. McBumey

Table of Contents



Preface.


Introduction: What Is Critical Thinking?

PSYCHOLOGY AND SCIENCE.


1. Why is This Course So Hard? — It's Only Psychology!

2. Why Do Psychologists Use So Much Jargon?

3. Why Don't You Skip the Theories and Give Us More Facts?

4. But That's Just Your Theory!

5. You're So Logical!

6. But You've Taken All the Mystery Out of It!

7. But That Contradicts Something I Believe.

8. How Can Psychology Be a Science if We Have Free Will?

METHODS.


9. Have to Learn All These Methods? I Just Want to Help People!

10. Why Do I Need to Study Statistics?

11. But the Book Says … .

12. But I Read It in a Book!

13. But It Was a Psychology Book!

14. But Everybody Knows … .

15. I Thought Psychology Was about People, Not Numbers!

BIOLOGICAL BASES.


16. Why Do We Have to Learn about the Brain?

17. But Can We Really Understand Behavior until We Know Its Biological Basis?

18. How Does the Mind Control the Body?

19. But Why Don't We Talk About What the Mind Really Is?

20. But People Aren't Machines!

21. Is It True That We Use Only 10% of Our Brains?

DEVELOPMENT.


22. Why Don't Psychologists Believe in Punishment?

23. Isn't Psychology Mostly Common Sense?

24. I Knew It All Along!

25. Is Human Behavior Based on Nature or Nurture?

SENSATION/PERCEPTION.


26. Can You Prove There Is No ESP?

27. What Would It Take to Make You Believe in ESP?

28. Imagine the Possibilities if ESP Were True!

29. Why Are Psychologists So Skeptical?

CONSCIOUSNESS.


30. How Do You Explain Déjà Vu?

31. Wasn't Hypnosis Once Considered a Pseudoscience?

LEARNING AND MEMORY.


32. Why Do Psychologists Study Such Artificial Situations?

33. How Does the Rat Understand That Pressing the Bar Gets It Food?

34. How Could That Be a Coincidence? (Part 1)

35. How Could That Be a Coincidence? (Part 2)

36. How Could That Be a Coincidence? (Part 3)

THINKING AND LANGUAGE.


37. Can We Hear Satanic Messages in Music That Is Played Backward?

MOTIVATION AND EMOTION.


38. I Found This Great Self-Help Book!

PSYCHOLOGICAL TESTING AND INTELLIGENCE.


39. How Can Psychology Be a Science When Every Person Is Unique?

40. How Do Biorhythms Work?

PERSONALITY AND ABNORMAL PSYCHOLOGY.


41. What about Astrology?

42. Why Can't Psychologists Predict Who Will Commit a Violent Act?

43. My Mother Went to a Psychologist Who Was No Help at All!

44. Why Do Psychologists Avoid the Important Questions?

45. Why Are So Many Criminals Let Off on the Basis of Insanity?

SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY.


46. Why Are Psychologists So Liberal?

47. Psychological Explanations Often Contradict Common Sense!

48. I Can't Buy Evolutionary Psychology Because It Justifies Polygamy.

49. I Can't Buy Evolutionary Psychology Because Most of the Time We Aren't Trying to Pass on Our Genes.

References.

List of Principles by Key Words.

Preface

Too often, students find the content and methods of their introductory psychology course to be very different from what they expected. Partly this is because few of them have studied psychology in high school, but the ones who have studied it seem equally alienated by the course, if not more so. After teaching introductory psychology for more than thirty years, I have come to realize that students have many misconceptions about science, and psychology in particular, that serve as impediments to understanding psychology.

As a consequence of this realization, I spend much of the class time dealing with these misconceptions. One mechanism for doing this is to have students turn in written questions at the beginning of class for me to answer. This gives me the opportunity to deal with some issues that may seem peripheral to the course but pose significant stumbling blocks to understanding what we think of as the material of the course.

This book answers some of the most common questions asked by my students. In so doing, it seeks to motivate students by dealing directly with their real concerns. The answers to their questions illuminate principles of psychology and philosophy of science that present stumbling blocks to students' understanding of psychology.

Another stimulus for this book comes from the current interest in teaching critical thinking skills. Too many books, and too many students, appear to treat science in general, and introductory science courses in particular, as a collection of facts to be mastered for an exam. To be sure, one of the essential tasks of an introductory psychology course is to introduce students to a wide variety of technical terms, research paradigms, and empirical data. But the main goal of a psychology course should be to get students to think like psychologists; to apply the same critical skills to human behavior that scientists do.

Critical thinking is a very large umbrella for a number of skills and attitudes that educators attempt to instill in their students (e.g., Brookfield, 1987). Instructors have had these same goals from time immemorial. Recently, however, research in cognitive psychology applied to the learning process (Resnick, 1987) demonstrates two principles that are significant to teaching critical thinking in psychology: (1) Critical thinking is not learned in the abstract, but in the specific subject matters of the various disciplines; and (2) the skills needed for critical thinking vary from discipline to discipline:

One cannot reason in the abstract; one must reason about something .... Each discipline has characteristic ways of thinking and reasoning .... Reasoning and problem solving in the physical sciences, for example, are shaped by particular combinations of inductive and deductive reasoning, by appeal to mathematical tests, and by an extensive body of agreed upon fact for which new theories must account. In the social sciences, good reasoning and problem solving are much more heavily influenced by traditions of rhetorical argument, of weighing alternatives, and of "building a case" for a proposed solution .... Only if higher order skills are taught within each discipline are they likely to be learned. (p. 36)

I believe that the answers to the questions posed in this book provide a highly motivating way to help students develop the skills necessary to think like psychologists.

This book takes a different approach to critical thinking than most others do. The principles covered do not map especially well onto the list of skills generally promulgated as characterizing critical thinking, which tends to be less domain specific. Rather, the book models the process of critical thinking and encourages the student to engage in it. John McPeck (1990) says:

I think that the phrase "critical thinking" refers to a certain combination of what we might think of as a willingness, or disposition (call it an "attitude," if you like), together with the appropriate knowledge and skills, to engage in an activity or problem with reflective skepticism. (p. 42) (emphasis in the original)

The attitude of reflective skepticism is one that is insufficiently encouraged in our educational system, for reasons that I discuss in the introduction to this book.

The book takes strong positions on certain controversial issues, such as the paranormal. I believe that the principles stated and positions taken are well within the mainstream of academic, research-based psychology. Thus, the book should be compatible with the viewpoints of the typical introductory psychology text and instructors of psychology courses. Psychology, however, is a heterogeneous field, and I do not pretend to reflect all points of view, some of which are mutually contradictory.

I try to strike a balance between critical thinking and open-mindedness. Paul and Nosich (1991) list the following as part of critical thinking: "fairmindedness, intellectual humility, . . . willingness to see objections, enter sympathetically into another's point of view, and to recognize one's own egocentricity or ethnocentricity" (p. 5). Even when I inevitably fail to meet these ideals, it is my experience that students appreciate finding out where I stand on an issue. They are sophisticated enough not to swallow whole what I say.

The book attempts to represent the common philosophical tradition within which psychologists work. I have not, in general, tried to reflect the latest developments in philosophy of science. This is a book for beginners in psychology; I leave the finer points to later study.

The organization of the topics is designed to follow the most common order of chapters in an introductory psychology book. The material could be assigned along with the text and dealt with in class or in recitation sections. Exercises at the end of each section invite the reader to apply the principle just discussed. The book is intended also to be helpful for students of research methods, history and systems, and other later courses in psychology.

A number of people have contributed to the development of this book. Robert D. Jewell, University of Calgary; Jane F. Gaultney, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Tony Johnson, LaGrange College; John T. Long, Mt. San Antonio College; Drew Appleby, Marion College; Bruce Goldstein, University of Pittsburgh; Alicia Knoedler, San Jose State University; Eileen Achorn, Bowdoin College; Rick Loether, Fort Lewis College; Matthew Chin, University of Central Florida; and Dennis Kolodziejski, Western New England College made helpful comments on the manuscript. Scott Lilienfeld, Emory University, made a number of helpful comments on the first edition. I have tried to acknowledge the sources of ideas when possible. I have absorbed many of the points, and even some of the examples and phrases, from others over the years, and the sources have been forgotten. My apologies to any who should have been cited.

Donald H. McBumey

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