28 Mar 2018
WONG SHU EN
Psychology is not just Common Sense
From the Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary, psychology is defined as the scientific study of the human mind and how it influences behavior (Hornby, 2005, p. 1172), but how exactly did psychology progress to this stage?
History of psychology
Psychology’s origins can be found in the time of the early Greeks, though it was in the form of philosophy. It is believed that psychology originated in Greece due to the Greeks using alphabets before any others and through inspiration gained from the numerous conflicts between the many cities. Thoughts were based on common sense at that time, all the way till the mid 1800s, where the clear start of psychology is seen. This is due to the work of Wilhelm Wundt and William James. William James opened a lab in Harvard during 1875 that studied sensation and perception, while Wilhelm Wundt started a course in 1867 he called physiological psychology, which focused on the differences between physiology and psychology. He was later bestowed with an official laboratory to study psychology at Leipzig. (Boeree, n.d., para. 2) These events marked the proper start of psychology as an independent scientific discipline. Their works paved the path for prospective experimental methods. After them, many other psychologists continued the study of psychology with other schools of thoughts and eventually, psychology became what it is today.
Common sense is defined as the ability of think about things in a practical way and make sensible decisions (Hornby, 2005, p. 291), which is nothing like the definition of psychology that was provided at the start. Additionally, as we can tell from the origins of psychology, psychology is a science that was formed through many scientific researches and empirical methods, while common sense is what majority of us develop over time. They are totally different entities. Then why do people think psychology is common sense then? Also, as Gligorov (2010) may bring up in her article, some irrational thoughts that give special status to common sense is the argument that it would be weird to claim a certain saying as common sense if it could be erroneous, thus common sense beliefs are accurate. (p. 56) Well, as quoted from Bangerter (1995), “Several radically materialistic philosophers (so-called eliminativists, see for example P. S. Churchland, 1986) hold that the history of science is not much more than the progressive correction or elimination of erroneous folk theories by their more appropriate scientific counterparts.” (p. 2) Common sense is developed after experience and observation. Thus, there might be some truth in it, but it is still not good enough to be called a psychological theory. Of course, common sense sayings might have sparked off studies to be done pertaining to a particular field of study, but for something to be a psychological theory, an extensive research has to be carried out and only after it has been proven through accurate experiments and backed up by hard evidence and empirical data, can a statement then be called psychology.
We all hear that women are more intuitive than men, and are more attuned to the feelings of others, but is that true? Studies show that women are better at facial recognition than men (Bigun, J., Choy, K.W., & Olsson, H., 2001, p. 50), probably due to the interest in reading their emotions. Women also have slightly better hearing and are able to pick up faint differences in speech. Plus, a woman’s hormone levels may be another reason why they are likely to be more intuitive. This is exceptionally true during particular times in their menstrual cycle as estrogen, a female sex hormone, may cause them to feel emotions more acutely. This capability to understand other people’s emotional pain and share their emotions is called empathy. On the other hand, a study done showed that the male sex hormone, testosterone, affected women’s ability to empathize with others after it was administrated in small amounts to the test subjects. Thus concluding that the capability to empathize is hindered by the male sex hormone. (“Male sex hormone testosterone 'interferes with empathy'”, 2011, para. 1) All this information backs up the case for women’s biological components being more favorable to intuition. However, a 2006 study conducted by Dr. Richard Wiseman asking men and women to identify “fake smiles” versus “sincere smiles” had more men guessing correctly compared to women with a result of 72% of the genuine smiles spotted versus 71% respectively. The difference in results just grows larger when the test subjects had to read faces of the opposite sex. 76% of the feigned female smiles were identified correctly by men while only 67% of the dissembled grins by males could be spotted by women. This study questions the saying that women are more intuitive than men. Previous research has shown that the saying may be true but men could be adapting to changing lifestyles and thus becoming better in the aspect of their sixth sense. (Radford, 2005, para. 3)
The reason for this might be due to everyday life experiences and interactions between people of the same sex. In a study done by Hsin (2009), women showed more intense facial expression than men when viewing pleasant and unpleasant photographs as well as films depicting happiness and fear. (para. 1) Thus, women are used to taking expressions, especially smiles, at face value as any unpleasant emotions another woman is feeling would show, at least even a little on their faces. However, for men, since their counterparts’ expression is not very likely to change obviously due to emotions, they have learnt to tell fake expressions from real expressions through daily life interactions, thus explaining the experiment results.
As we can see, many experiments are done just to ascertain a theory in psychology. From the physical components and abilities of the human body and brain to the reactions of people, all sorts of studies are performed just to prove the accuracy of one theory. From the results of the first experiment, we can see that common sense is not always true. Psychology, however, is mostly accurate due to all the experiments and studies conducted to come to a conclusion.
Common sense is not undoubtedly true just because it seems like it is supposed to be. Psychologists determines the truth and or lies in some of our common sense sayings about human behavior by taking assumptions about ourselves and carrying out studies and tests. They examine human issues justly and impartially by using scientific methods, so it is not at all surprising to find that a common sense belief you have is wrong. Though some of its theories might have originated from common sense, psychology is not just that simple. Thus, psychology is not just common sense.
Word Count: 1130
Bangerter, A. (1995). Rethinking the relation between science and common sense: A comment on the current state of sr theory. Papers on Social Representations, 4(1), 1-78.
Bigun, J., Choy, K.W., & Olsson, H. (2001). Evidence on skill differences of women and men concerning face recognition, 44-50.
Boeree, G. (n.d.). The history of psychology. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/historyofpsych.html
Gligorov, N. (2010). The revisability of commonsense psychology. Original Scientific Paper, 53, 53-61.
Hornby, A. S. (2005). Oxford advanced learner’s dictionary of current English (7th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press
Hsin, Y. H. (2009). Gender differences in facial expressions of emotions. Retrieved from https://humboldt-dspace.calstate.edu/bitstream/handle/2148/513/Hsin_Yu_Huang.pdf?sequence=1
Male sex hormone testosterone 'interferes with empathy' (2011). In BBC News health. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12401967
Radford, T. (2005). Men guessed right on women's intuition. In theguardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/apr/12/science.highereducation
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