The Heart of Psychological Science: A TEDx story

If you had just a few minutes to summarize why your discipline is important, what would you say? Let’s say you taught a broad survey course such as Introduction to Psychology and I charge you to filter down the key elements of the entire 15 week course down to the time it takes you to hard boil an egg (a little more than 12 minutes for those of you who have not boiled one recently). Know what you would say?

I challenged myself to figure out what I would say. And then I gave a TEDx talk with my answer. Why? Here’s the story in brief.

A year ago some of my good friends/fellow educators and I talked about public perceptions of psychology. We tried to identify issues and the key things that the field needs right now. There are replication crises- many classic studies that fail to replicate. There are the ethical hiccups – psychologists called out on fabricating data, falsifying data, or participating in unethical practices. And of course there is Chik Fil a – once presidential candidate Jeb Bush decrying the uselessness of the psychology major relegating it to nothing more than a qualification for work at a fast food store.

If you are a psychological scientist who teaches you will also get students unsure of what to do with the psychology major. Often the issue is parents who baulk at the prospect of their children using valuable resources (i.e., tuition and time) on a major they believe has low job prospects (“What you going to do with that major?”). Yes, we may have competition from the parents of students thinking of philosophy, English or history as a major, but the fact remains that majoring in psychology often evokes existential career crises. It should not. In most jobs you can name, Psychology is in IN THERE!!

And then there are the misperceptions of the field and the lay public’s knee jerk reactions to hearing one is a psychologist: “Are you analyzing me?”.

Want to play a fun game? Generate witty comebacks to something most people say on finding out you are a psychologist. Some of my submissions range from the “I’m not that kind of psychologist” or “Give human behavior it is hard not to” –mostly serious educational notes, to the bordering-on-caustic-but-delivered-with-good-cheer, “I don’t think you or I could handle the truth”, “I am not trained enough for the challenge”, or the “You are above my pay grade.”

Misperceptions. Controversy. Ethical Issues. The corresponding threat of losing funding, or the imposition of state sanctions, oversight of restrictions in higher education for psychology. And this is not even getting to some other big issues.: Assessment, insufficient training to teach, not using psychological science to teach psychological science.

One solution? We need to do a better job of getting psychological science out to the public. Someone should do a TED talk my friends and I decided. I figured it was worth a shot.

Earlier this year a former student alerted me to a call for TEDx speakers in a city nearby. I applied. I interviewed. I got selected. Then I had to walk the walk to talk the talk.  What followed was months of mulling over ideas and my take on why psychology is important. Here it is.  In many ways, it IS my nutshell on Intro Psych (take the whole course for all the juicy details just teased at here).

If you had just a few minutes to fly the flag for your discipline what would YOU say?

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