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February 2015

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Has Psychology Lost Its Humanity?


In his intriguing review of the multilayered film Interstellar, Chris Ferguson applauds the film for attempting to bring in some science (despite being a science fiction film) and for unveiling deeper meaning in its exploration of humanity. He contrasts this with the field of psychology that, in some ways, has taken steps backward rather than advanced itself as a science. Ferguson explains:

I worry that psychology has lost its humanity. Psychological science seems to have ceased asking the big questions, or trying to understand the human condition. Instead we squabble over small-scale theories, or attempt to defend the societal importance of correlational effect sizes of r = .20 or less. Our theories have become unfalsifiable, surviving in some undead like state even as they are rocked by replication crises. The conduct of our research has become so cynical that leading researchers openly acknowledge not reporting theory unfavorable results (see Schimmack, 2014). I argue that psychology has fundamentally lost sight of itself and what it was meant to study. (para. 10)

What do you think? Has psychology lost its humanity? 

Or, would you argue for the exact opposite, that some fields within psychological science have significantly advanced and deepened from a scientific perspective? 

In either case, what are the best next steps to advance our field?

Read the Review
ReviewInterstellar Dreams Big
By Christopher J. Ferguson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Will Psychology Ever Have a Grand, Unifying Theory?


In a critical review of Warren W. Tryon’s book Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory, James Schmidt argues that “Global theories, like the end of the rainbow, are mirages: Although they appear very real and inviting at a distance, as you draw closer they pixelate into nothing” (last paragraph).  

When I was a graduate student, I spent considerable time studying the work of Yale psychologist Clark Hull who attempted to develop an overarching theory that would explain learning, motivation, and all of human behavior.  Hull expressed his ideas in complicated mathematical formulas like this one:

sEr = V x D x K x J x sHr - sIr - Ir - sOr - sLr

Graduate students today may learn about Hull in a History and Systems class, but his work is not taken seriously as an overarching theory of human behavior.

Many of my professors at the University of Hawaii went on to develop elaborate theories that attempted to unify psychology; these luminaries include Raymond Cattell (Dreger, 1982), Art Staats (Spiegler, 1998), Roland Tharp (Salzinger, 2012), and Ian Evans (Arnkoff, 2014).  However, we still don’t have a generally accepted unifying theory of human behavior or even of psychotherapy. Will we ever?



Arnkoff, D. B. (2014). A great foundation that needs a castle. [Review of the book How and why people change: Foundations of psychological therapy, by I. M. Evans]. PsycCRITIQUES, 59(1).

Dreger, R. M. (1982). Another magnum opus. [Review of the book Personality and learning theory, Vol. 2: A systems theory of maturation and structured learning, by R. B. Cattell]. PsycCRITIQUES, 27(1), 9-11.

Salzinger, K. (2012). Nietzsche, Sequoia, the Reichstag, contingency management, and tango therapy. [Review of the book Delta theory and psychosocial systems: The practice of influence and change, by R. G. Tharp]. PsycCRITIQUES, 57(22).

Spiegler, M. D. (1998). Another behaviorism, or a new psychology? [Review of the book Behavior and personality: Psychological behaviorism, by A. W. Staats]. PsycCRITIQUES, 43(5), 358-359.

Read the Review
ReviewDeveloping a Unified Theory of Psychotherapy: Mission Accomplished or a Bridge Too Far?
      By Warren W. Tryon
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(52)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Does Forensic Science Lack a Scientific Basis?


In her review of Acquittal: An Insider Reveals the Stories and Strategies Behind Today’s Most Infamous Verdicts by Richard Gabriel, Susan Goldberg states,  "In fact, Gabriel criticizes the work of forensic psychologists, viewing forensic psychological treatment and assessment as lacking any 'basis in scientific fact' (p. 43)"  (section "Summary," para. 1).  Do you agree that the the field is not based on scientific findings?

Read the Review
ReviewGetting Away With Murder: Acquittals in High-Profile Cases
By Susan G. Goldberg
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(49)

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Psychology Among the Liberal Arts and Sciences


In textbooks and classrooms psychologists proclaim our discipline’s standing as a science. In his review of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters, Tom McGovern asks whether psychology could “become a ‘hub discipline’ in undergraduate education in the [liberal] arts and sciences” (para. 7). I understand the liberal arts to be the humanities disciplines including literature, history, and philosophy. As a “hub discipline” then, Michael Roth (book author) “affirms the scientific paradigms of critical inquiry in tandem with the wider narratives of human interdependence created by arts and humanities scholars” (para. 8). McGovern’s (2007) own work in multicultural life narratives is an exemplar of this paradigm.

Except for the History of Psychology course and sporadically offered special topics courses, it is unusual to find the humanities explicitly represented in psychology curricula. There is no shortage of material in the psychology literature from which to draw to present psychology as a humanity (Korn, 1985). Perhaps a stronger link to the humanities would be seen as weakening psychology’s status as a science, which would in turn lead to lower academic standing.

If we can put status seeking aside, how could we make this stronger humanities link? Two possibilities come to mind: one, recognition in textbooks of psychology’s “hub discipline” position; two, acceptance of thesis topics based in literature and philosophy. What are some others, or should we discourage this sort of thing?


Korn, J. H. (1985). Psychology as a humanity. Teaching of Psychology, 12, 188-193.

McGovern, T. V. (2007). Memory’s stories: Multidisciplinary readings of multicultural life narratives. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Read the Review
ReviewWhat Can I Do With a Degree in . . .?
By Thomas V. McGovern
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2015 Vol 60(4)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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