Chapter One: Introduction to Psychologizing
Chapter Two: Methods
Chapter Three: Thinking, Knowledge, and Intelligence
Chapter Four: Learning
Chapter Five: Biological Psychology
Chapter Six: Sensation and Perception
Chapter Seven: Retrospection and Prospection
Chapter Eight: Development
Chapter Nine: Personality
Chapter Ten: Motivation
Chapter Eleven: Emotion
Chapter Twelve: Normal and Psychopathological
Chapter Thirteen: Health Psychology
Chapter Fourteen: Dreams and Dream-analysis
Chapter Fifteen: Consciousness
Introduction to Psychologizing
This book is a work-in-progress. By this I mean that the content, insights, definitions, and descriptions found inside are still under a process of transformation. This is fitting for a psychology textbook because the discipline of psychology is itself a work-in-progress. Psychology shows great diversity with the types of questions that it asks, the methods of research that it employs, and even the type of relationship it asks psychologists to take with the world. Consider this last one: the type of relationship it asks you to take with the world.
Imagine that you are a psychologist interested in understanding another person. How will you relate to this person? Will you get to know them the way you might get to know a friend, allowing them to tell you about themselves? Or will you stand at a safe distance—draped in a white lab-coat and armed with experimental instruments? In this book, we will examine both ways of relating to and understanding people as psychologists. As the title suggests, we are looking for the style that is personal and meaningful.
The American Psychological Association (APA) currently has about 50 loosely related divisions based on their differences regarding psychological subject matter. Indeed, to suggest that this textbook is anything other than a work-in-progress would be to misrepresent the discipline of psychology. So if a completed overview of the state-of-psychology is out of the question, what is the purpose of a course in general psychology? More specifically, what is the purpose of this book?
The purpose of this textbook is to guide you, the student/reader/scholar, in the process of psychologizing. This is to say that rather than learning the capital-P discipline of psychology, where you are given a compilation of all of the actual thinking conducted by every psychologist from 1887 until today, this course aims at getting you to participate in the process of psychology. Do you see the difference?
In a typical approach, “Psychology” stands opposed to you as a mountain to be conquered. “Just four months of this and, if I get better than a C-, I never have to take it again.” It is believed that conquering this mountain will bring with it certain rewards: “now I will be able to figure out the behavior of my friends and loved ones.” “Now I will have the skill to control those around me.” “Now I will know everything there is to know about the mind.” This handbook does not aim at dispensing this kind of knowledge. Sorry. Instead, it aims at getting you, the student/reader/scholar, to start looking closely at your own experience and the experiences of those around you. In this way, you begin to see and understand the meaning lived by your friends and loved ones; understand the ways in which your choices and actions influences those around you; and begin to see how much there still is to learn about people. To repeat, this textbook aims at getting you to begin thinking like psychologists by understanding actual persons. Of course, this begins with the assumption that psychology is interested in actual persons.
Two Aims of Psychologizing
This approach is motivated by two convictions that have come from the psychologists and educators whom I have studied. I call them convictions because “findings” seems too arrogant. “Convictions” acknowledges that my experiences have played a role in their formation. I suspect that you do not have the patience for me to go into each scholar who has played a part in forming this approach, but you are directed to the bibliographical references if you are interested in understanding or challenging what follows. These convictions defend why I prefer to call this course “Introduction to Psychologizing” rather than “Introduction to Psychology.” The purpose of this first part is in defending the approach taken in this textbook. This will be followed by a more thorough description of the goals I have for this class—namely, what it means to participate in psychology (that is, psychologizing).
Aim One: De-emphasizing the Collection of Psychological Facts
The first conviction I have that supports my approach has many parts, but they each depend on the following recognition: there is no generic, uni-sex, uni-gender, uni-class, uni-race, one-size-fits-all introduction to psychology. There is no such thing as a “basic psychology course.” This means that any introduction to psychology will always emphasize some areas and de-emphasize others. What I’m getting at is that there is no defined curriculum for a general introduction to psychology that all instructors must cover at the risk of forever handicapping their psychology students.
Griggs and Mitchell (2002) were psychology instructors who set out to discover the “core curriculum of psychology.” They learned that no such core exists today nor was there one fifty years ago! Findings like these need not be met with defeat, but may instead be taken with relief. Let out a sigh of relief! Since there is no core that must be memorized, we may now embrace the unique perspectives, insights, and interests that each of us brings. This means that ours is a unique classroom, and each of our perspectives will be important to consider. Maybe we can even transform the discipline! By the way: 21st century psychology has a big change coming.
This century has already witnessed the passage from the human to the posthuman (Braidotti 2013; Wolfe 2011; or nonhuman, Grusin, 2015). Psychology has largely been devoted to what it means to be a person in the 20th century! But many of you already understand that being a person with a smart-phone in the 21st century is much different than one without any mobile devices. What it means to be a person is changing! You can be the one to develop a psychology for that.
Rather than handicapping students by limiting thought to 20th century superstitions about what it means to be human, students that are encouraged to psychologize will have the freedom to challenge these. An example of this might be a challenge to the superstition that a face-to-face relationship is always preferable to a technologically-mediated-one. That is: a date that includes hand-holding and dinner at a restaurant is better than one that takes place 500 miles apart and through video-chat.
Finally, presenting psychology as a complete and unerring discipline has the disadvantage of turning students into fact-gathering automatons. You will not be expected to swallow and regurgitate facts. We will see in chapter 3 that this is the opposite of learning. Instead, you will be encouraged to be curious, intuitive, spontaneous, and enthusiastic psychologizers.
Consider what it would mean if there were such thing as a complete and perfect collection of psychological facts. Now imagine that there was some procedure for getting future psychologists to memorize each of these. Would this not result in a perfect psychology program? Hell no! This sounds dreadful. Such knowledge, Alfred North Whitehead (1962) claims, “is the most useless bore on God’s earth” (5). Consider the following degree-program that Whitehead has observed, modified to more closely resemble the psychology major:
The solution which I am urging, is to eradicate the fatal disconnection of subjects which kills the vitality of our modern curriculum. There is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children—[Introduction to Psychology], from which nothing follows; [Research Methods], from which nothing follows; [Personality Theories], from which nothing follows; History [and Systems], from which nothing follows; a Couple of [Therapeutic Techniques], never mastered… Can such a list be said to represent Life? As it is known in the midst of living it? The best that can be said of it is, that it is a rapid table of contents which a deity might run over in his mind while he was thinking of creating a world, and has not yet determined how to put it together. (6-7)
In the absence of personal and meaningful application, even the most thorough curriculum remains separate from the lives of students. Whitehead anticipates the failure of content-directed teaching by emphasizing the overuse of “detail:”
Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after-life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice, men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your text-books, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learnt by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. (26)
Whitehead’s final point is the goal of psychologizing: learn the principles of psychology through its practice. Doing so recognizes that the psychological facts change as people change. Familiarizing yourself with the principles of how to look more closely as a psychologist will ensure that the discipline of psychology continues to follow its subject-matter—namely, people!
The second conviction that supports my approach is that learning which emphasizes trust is superior to one which emphasizes un-trust. This includes trust in oneself and trust in the process of learning. Integral to this is the relationship between learner and learned. This is where I introduce Whitehead’s curious disciplinary gerund: it is where we learn how “psychologizing” comes to replace “psychology.” Trust has unfortunately become an obstacle in the contemporary classroom. Students who do not trust their own ability or, more likely, students who do not trust that the school will recognize their abilities as important, are forced to cheat or fail. The system has already failed them. Similarly, instructors find themselves going to great lengths to separate original thought from plagiarized thought. This culture of un-trust mars the classroom. The only way to replace un-trust with trust is to replace “fact-giving” with “knowledge production.” The teacher-as-knowledge-dispenser and student-as-knowledge-receptacle classroom is exchanged for a more egalitarian classroom that values and esteems the imagination and creativity of instructor and students. In addition to respecting, valuing, and challenging students, Whitehead’s approach avoids the problematic consequences that stem from “banking” pedagogies as outlined by radical educator Paolo Freire (2012b).
Aim Two: Trusting Yourself and the Learning Process
It has been argued above that teaching and learning do not have to occur at the expense of the unique strengths, talents, and gifts of the students and the instructor. In psychologizing, psychology instructors and students come together and create something new in the world of psychology by closely examining their own experience and the experiences of others. We acknowledge that a greater investment can always be made in better understanding a person. Students can take advantage of the expertise and resources that the instructor provides, and the instructor takes advantage of the eager and imaginative minds of students. Indeed, the instructors are old students and the students, young instructors. Whitehead encourages college instructors to treat their students like adults; indeed, he finds it imperative to do so. This is the first important detail in establishing a classroom that features trust. Whitehead writes,
During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. (26)
An introductory classroom is full of expert learners, untrained psychologists, and unique, imaginative, and profoundly curious people. Students are not hopelessly indolent, though much of their formal schooling may suggest that this is the case. These are the classrooms that operate under what Freire has called “Banking Methodology.” See if this sounds familiar:
The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to “fill” the students with the contents of his narration—contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienated verbosity. (71)
Students have spent the past twelve years working their way through formal schooling, and now they have been deposited into the land of psychology where their instructors stand at the fore. “The students are alive, and the purpose of education is to stimulate and guide their self-development” (Whitehead 1957, v).
Upon entering primary school, it could easily be argued that the most difficult phases of learning have already been completed. Upon entering pre-school, children already have a basic grasp of language—a task of which any adult, struggling to learn a foreign language, will explain the difficulty. Toddlers also exhibit gross and fine motor control—abilities that stroke patients will explain take a great deal of effort to rehabilitate when lost. Moreover, these children even have a developing awareness of personal interests, sociality, musicality, art, and so on. Indeed, by venturing into a pre-school classroom you are sure to be met with expert learners. What is more, they will be having fun doing so!
When the emphasis shifts from content to a process that trusts the participation of the student, a transformative classroom takes shape. Clark Moustakas (1972) explains:
[The teacher] must allow the learner’s point of view to emerge, be treated with respect, and valued. During the initial meetings an atmosphere of mutual acceptance, trust, and love must develop which helps free the individual participants, including the teacher. The teacher, with his whole being, actively encourages each individual to be and become more fully himself. He recognizes the individual perceptions of each person as worthy. (26)
It is only after the lay psychologists’ points of view are allowed to emerge that knowledge is created and the process of psychologizing begins. Freire describes a process very similar to what is intended by psychologizing: “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other” (72).
I call this collective production of knowledge or process of learning psychology “psychologizing.” I have borrowed the unusual gerund from the description that Whitehead gave to his philosophy courses. Knowles (1989), one of Whitehead’s first doctoral students, explains that Whitehead was not teaching a course on “Philosophy” as if it were set in stone. Instead he encouraged his students to “philosophize.” By this I understand that students were given the freedom and trust to participate in the dialogue as young, inexperienced philosophers. Inspired by this, I have found it important to allow students to “psychologize” in order to understand psychology. This means making mistakes, criticizing the readings, privileging their personal biases, and above all, wondering deeply about the topic of people. This also has the advantage of transforming psychology as a thing into a process. Reared in classrooms of Freire’s “Banking” sort, students meet this new demand with considerable caution. However, as soon as they realize that they, too, can be insightful, they will blow you away. I maintain that this is what contemporary psychology demands.
The twentieth century task of psychology is wearing thin. The dissatisfaction had with mainstream psychological methods—methods which emphasize psychological fact over the understanding of persons—will be explored at the beginning of Chapter 2. Psychology is in danger of being dissolved as a 21st century academic discipline. If it cannot transform to meet the demands of a rapidly transforming world, it will cease to exist as an autonomous discipline and will instead by absorbed into the disciplines of education, cognitive science, philosophy, and biology. Just last decade the humanities were facing this crisis. The president of the Dutch Consortium of European Sciences concluded that the humanities disciplines had repeatedly failed to evolve beyond a 20th century anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism. These perspectives understand that the world can only be known insofar as it matters to humans. Since the humanities include creative writing, rhetoric, literature, cultural studies, foreign languages, and philosophy, it is easy to see how the human perspective is integral to each. However, it has been argued that these disciplines have failed at investigating the role the environment plays in shaping culture, or even in attempting to understand the role the environment plays in non-cultural ways—that is, in understanding the world before or after humans. The humanities have responded in impressive fashion, including an entire book-series devoted to the posthuman (Posthumanities: University of Minnesota Press). Psychology is next on the list to lose its credential as a still-relevant discipline.
In exploring an introductory course from the vantage point of Alfred North Whitehead, we have begun the process of outlining how this approach will be different from more traditional approaches. I have called this approach psychologizing. Thus far, I have hoped to encourage students and instructors to trust their intuition and to teach and learn from their unique creativity and conviction. The stale, boring, and tedious “Introduction to Psychology” course might even become as alive as the students and instructors that occupy it. In this classroom, psychologizing is allowed and even encouraged. Life and Introduction to Psychology are no longer kept separate but begin to intertwine. This is the goal of this course. I have found phenomenology to be an insightful way of intertwining everyday experience with beginning to think like a psychologist. The following section will explain what is meant by psychologizing as well as the significance of phenomenology for this project.
What is Meant by “Psychologizing”
Or, How to Psychologize
In the above discussion, you are probably developing some ideas about how this approach to introductory psychology is different from the more traditional and mainstream approaches from high school and maybe even college. A more comprehensive description of these differences will follow in the subsequent chapter. For now, our task will be in outlining the project of psychologizing. This is, after all, what you will be asked to do throughout the duration of this course. Psychologizing is the practice of thinking like a psychologist, and it comprises three key elements. Each of these elements plays a part in understanding the experience of persons. Experience is the raw data of all empirical, scientific knowledge, and it is our task as psychologists to understand experiences from the vantage point of people who live them. Since this is precisely the task of phenomenology, I can merge the two descriptions together. Thus, the reader may understand that by “thinking like a psychologist,” I intend “thinking like a phenomenological psychologist.” We will find in the next chapter that not all psychologists are interested in understanding experience, and this is the reason for the distinction. The three key elements to psychologizing include 1) the adoption of a different attitude in relation to psychological phenomena, 2) an emphasis on first-personal and subjective knowledge, and 3) scrupulous attention to the meaning that subjects express in their experience. These three elements overlap a great deal, so each description will also include the significance of the other two. Since understanding experience has been the project of phenomenology, we will use this tradition to help understand how a psychologizing program might be achieved.
Adopting a Different Attitude Toward Psychological Phenomena.
Before getting into the differences in attitude that are promoted when one practices how to think like a psychologist, one of these terms needs to be defined: phenomena. “Phenomena” is the plural form of phenomenon, so we will begin with the latter. When I first heard this word, even in the context of psychology, I immediately thought of the John Travolta movie of the same name. In the movie, “phenomenon” had the connotation of something inexplicable, magical, or mystical. While any of these terms could accurately describe what happens when you begin to look more deeply into experience, this is not what is intended here. For psychology, the term “phenomenon” gets its significance from modern philosophy of science, specifically that of logical positivism. A detour into the history of this term will help set up the project of psychologizing.
Logical positivists understand that the world can be understood entirely, leaving nothing out. The term “positivism” indicates a single positive universe, and it is the task of scientists to slowly uncover all of the parts that make it up. Positivism can be used to describe some of the projects in psychology. For example, the assumption that there could be an introductory psychology class that covers all of psychology’s bases is a positivist assumption. This is because it maintains that there are a definite number of bases, and that these bases are fundamental to psychology. The term “logical” in logical positivism means what you think it means: it is the assumption that the positive universe can be put-together based on the rules of rationalism and logic. Here’s why this is important for psychology: in the 19thcentury, which is the century in which psychology got its start, logical positivists agreed that there were two ways of understanding the world. The world could be understood in physical terms and in phenomenal terms. An example will help illustrate the differences here.
Consider the example of a rock. A rock can be explored physically or phenomenologically. The rock’s hardness, mass, volume, composition, density, and boiling point can all be tested and measured based on the rules of physics and geology. This is how the physical rock can be understood. But when we encounter a rock, we do not encounter it in terms of its physical qualities: we are in touch with its phenomenal qualities. Place a rock in your hand and you will recognize a familiar texture, coldness, and heft; you may even have a particular memory of a similar rock from the past that either sweetens or sours the experience. Whatever the case, quantities of mass and hardness, while important constituents in the experience of holding a rock, do not define this experience. There is an incongruity or difference between physical quantities and phenomenal qualities. This incongruity is where we will begin looking as psychologists. To be fair, psychology has had a long history of privileging the physical aspects of logical positivism. This is because of a meeting held in Vienna in 1922 during which a group of philosophers decided that trying to understand phenomenal qualities was a waste of time. They instead decided to focus solely on the physical quantities because these could be measured and verified. The disappointment psychologists have experienced with this approach will begin the following chapter. Indeed, measuring a person is not a very interesting way of getting to know them.
With this brief overview of the differences between physical quantities and phenomenal qualities, the reader may begin to see what the psychologist’s task might be. Psychologists recognize that physical quantities are easy to measure and are important for understanding experience, but that this does not mean that psychologists should look here and nowhere else. Psychologists also recognize that phenomenal qualities are difficult to articulate and understand, but that they are important for understanding experience. In experience, physical quantities and phenomenal qualities are interconnected: you cannot have one without also having the other. How must one begin navigating this complicated relationship between physical and phenomenal? This brings up the first part of adopting a different attitude: avoiding the tendency to settle for any immediate conclusions regarding experience.
Avoiding the tendency to jump to conclusions
When faced with a psychological conundrum, it is quite easy to settle on the first reasonable explanation. This tendency must be avoided. Remember that it is experience that we are interested in understanding, and it is not useful if these are immediately explained away. For example, you might be interested in the psychology of road-rage. Without giving it much thought, you could probably come up with an explanation as to why this occurs. However,psychologists are not content to settle on any reasonable explanation. If you have had this experience, then you understand that it would be difficult to sum up with any single causal factor. Indeed, the experience of road-rage occurs within the context of other life events, and any attempt to do justice to the psychology of road-rage must consider these additional factors. By avoiding the tendency to select the first explanation that comes along, psychologists may look more deeply into the experience and learn much more about it.
We already find that thinking like a psychologist is quite a bit different than normal ways of understanding our world of experience. Psychologizing is not just “common sense.” This is because it is typical to feel like we know what is occurring in the world around us. But as soon as we are asked to think like a psychologist, we find that we are largely out of touch with experience. A person might recognize that it is difficult to send a text to her or his romantic interest, but can a deeper meaning be found in this? Do we see the depth of meaning had in such an experience? A person might customarily send several hundred text-messages per week, but for some reason this instance is more difficult. As psychologists, we want to begin to peel back the layers from the surface of this experience. In doing so we find that sending this text bears all sorts of pressures from the present, past, and future. We learn about the person as well as the phenomenon of sending a text to a romantic interest, and as a result we develop a greater appreciation for both.
Consider what is meant by understanding this experience of sending a text message. Such an investigation would likely uncover uncertainties from the present: personal identity, lifestyle choices, priorities, character, and superstitions and beliefs about the connection between happiness and relationship-status; unresolved conflicts from the past: failed relationships, successful relationships; and even anxiety about the future: that this casual conversation could change life forever, or fail to change life at all! It is easy to imagine a host of more insightful examples of the meaning such a possible text-message might have, but we cannot know for certain until we ask a person about their experience of this. This is the purpose behind the second element—the emphasis on personal, subjective knowledge. Since it is the person in which the physical and phenomenal worlds collide, it is to them that we must turn. Before the importance of personal, subjective knowledge is discussed, one more aspect of the psychological attitude must be addressed. Like the familiar tendency of coming up with an explanation that covers up a unique experience, psychologists must also avoid assuming that an experience can be understood by a simple fact.
Avoiding the tendency to explain phenomena with the insistence on “fact”
By avoiding the tendency to explain away psychological phenomena with the first idea that comes to mind, one is forced to look more carefully. As a result, experience is found as being much deeper and more nuanced than how it is typically seen. This is an important first step in thinking like a psychologist, but this does not conclude the ways in which your attitude must change. The next tendency to avoid is the assumption that there is a single best explanation for the phenomenon in question.
The ability to understand every effect in terms of its cause is a gem of modernity bestowed upon us by the likes of Galileo and Newton. This kind of thinking begins by asking the question: why? Asking the question of “why” is a demand made upon the universe to explain itself. It also reduces the events of the world to billiard balls on a pool table. To be sure, asking this question has yielded a powerful system of controlling environments and people, but it is not itself a complete explanation. Newton, after all, relies on the assumption that objects begin in motion. Even the discipline of mechanical physics, caricatured by the pool table, has had to suspend the question of why for over 100 years now and has instead been forced to understand the interaction of physical bodies in terms of quantum probability, alinear causality, and entanglement. Thanks Einstein. This means that over the last 100 years it has been a position of arrogance to assume that a single explanation could be used to understand a physical event. This is rapidly becoming the theme of science into the 21st century, and fortunately psychologists are beginning to catch on.
As practicing psychologists, we recognize that experience has many layers of meaning as well as many contexts in which it can be understood. Consider the road-rage phenomenon once again, only this time as an example of the many contexts within which it might be understood. Is the temporal context important in understanding this experience? Here the instrument of a timeline might be useful. In the very center of the timeline we make a point indicating the experience of road-rage. Is what occurred before this dot important? How about those things that are expected to happen afterwards? This timeline can also be very narrow: the events of a single day. Or it can be very broad: the life of a person. In the broader case we might ask: is it necessary for a driver to have had many experiences driving in order for this phenomenon to occur? Or is it possible for road-rage to occur in someone’s first time behind the wheel?
By zooming out on the road-rage experience, it is quite easy to see the importance of temporal context. The same can be said of spatial contexts (e.g. on which streets this occurs), social contexts (e.g. who is present, who one is leaving behind, and toward whom one is traveling; even how one views oneself as a skilled or unskilled driver), and physiological contexts (what occurs in one’s body as this event unfolds: heart-rate, breathing, stomach tightness, tension in the neck, clenching of fists, maybe even shouting). Moreover, these contexts are interrelated in certain ways. As psychologists, we know that in order to understand experience, we must consider the greater contexts in which they occur. This is to say that each context is helpful in understanding the road-rage experience.
Here’s a test; see how you do: Sheila is driving her car. She experiences road rage. Why has this happened?
The first tendency is to come up with a familiar explanation as to why this occurs. As practicing psychologists, we avoid this. The next tendency to avoid is the assumption that something explains why it has occurred, even if we don’t know what this is yet. This requires that the experimenter decide which context is important, and more specifically, what it is within that context that explains the road-rage phenomenon. To solve this riddle, the experimenter controls all contexts except one. If you just thought to yourself: “Oops! That is an impossible task,” then you’re starting to get it. Indeed, the assumption that context can be controlled by brilliant methodological design is an extension of the assumption that an experience can be understood by a single, causal factor. If these two tendencies are out, then how do we begin to understand the psychology of road rage? Let’s figure this out by returning to Sheila: Sheila is driving her car. She experiences road rage. Why has this happened?
There’s a problematic suggestion in this question that forces the reader into the assumption that there is a simple answer. Resist this suggestion. In fact, cross out the question that starts with “Why…?” This question assumes that the experience can be understood without asking Sheila about it. These answers assume that experiences occur independently of the people who live them. This is the 19th century belief that the world can be divided into physical and phenomenal categories. As practicing psychologists, we begin with the assumption that in human experience, the physical and the phenomenal are always together. Therefore in order to learn about this, we must ask people. For Sheila’s case, we will ask her: “What was this experience like?” and see what she has to teach us about road rage.
Emphasizing Personal, Subjective Knowledge
If you have succeeded in following the first element of beginning to think like a psychologist, then your attitude regarding psychological phenomena will be much different than it was before you began reading. By avoiding the tendency to come up with and settle on the first “common sense” explanation, you acknowledge that you might be able to learn something new. Indeed, through this study you might develop a deeper sense of understanding about yourself and others. By avoiding the assumption that there is a single cause behind a phenomenon, or that the phenomenon could ever in principle be understood in its entirety, you acknowledge that there are many different ways of making sense of an experience—none of which should be immediately discarded. So how might one begin such a colossal task?
Many methods have been developed throughout the history of psychology, and with our newly developed attitude we recognize that each of these has unique insights to offer. Indeed, I maintain that any of these methods, if conducted with the attitude described above, is a valuable tool to a practicing psychologist. Many of these will be explored in the pages that follow. However, since we have established early on that we are interested in understanding the experiences had by others and by ourselves, we will depend on methods that emphasize the meaning of our experiences. We have already seen that an experience has many layers. How do we determine which one to start with? The answer to this question is actually quite simple, but it goes against many decades of scientific practice: we begin by trusting the subject.
Suppose that we were to decide that we are interested in the psychology of road-rage, and that we have also had the good fortune of meeting Sheila, a person who has reported having had this experience. How do we know which of the many layers of experience are most important for understanding her road-rage incident? We allow her to indicate what seems important and what does not seem important by explaining her experience. But as she begins to show you the way, it is important to maintain the attitude discussed in point 1 above.
Trusting the subject begins with the assumption that subjective knowledge is important. Subjective knowledgeis the knowledge that can only be verified through first-personal experience. First-personal knowledge is the knowledge that you gain by experiencing something first-hand. A first-personal account of a musical concert means that you have attended said concert: it was loud; “my ears were ringing.” It is often compared with objectiveknowledge whose verification is thought to occur through third-personal means. Third-personal knowledge is the knowledge that comes to you from an external source. A third-personal account of a musical concert is one that discusses the concert in general: it was loud enough for the majority of ears to begin ringing. A more thorough discussion of the differences between subjective and objective forms of knowledge will be the task of the following chapter, but for now a simple detail is worth mentioning. As psychologists, whose business it is to understand experience, we know only too well that it is impossible to arrive at a piece of objective knowledge without going through subjective channels. This is to say that even an experimental psychologist (a person) who is vacuum-sealed inside a hazmat suit and shielded from her subjects behind a one-way mirror is still the one collecting data, data which can only be understood through her own senses. No matter how far she tries to distance herself from the experiment, it is still she who has come up with the questions and design, and she who must make meaningful sense in interpreting the data (or throw it out). This is to say that there can be no observation that has been collected with perfect objectivity.
With a promissory note to discuss the importance of trusting the subject in the subsequent chapter, we may turn to our final element of thinking like psychologists. Let us first review what we have accomplished so far. In order to practice thinking like psychologists, we have begun with a shift in attitude: this includes the tendency to come up with the first explanation and thereby ignore the experience, as well as the assumption that any single explanation will be sufficient for understanding the experience in question. While this shift in attitude certainly makes the task seem enormous, the second element to thinking like a psychologist provides us with a basic starting place: trusting the subject. After the requirements involved in our shift in attitude, the condition of trusting the subject is accepted with considerable relief. It is understood that subjects who describe their experience will indicate what is important about it. By pairing these first two elements together, it is understood that psychologists must listen to descriptions of experience without giving explanations or assuming that any one explanation will be sufficient. This process leads to the final element of thinking like a psychologist: scrupulous attention to detail.
Paying Scrupulous Attention to the Meaning Subjects Express in their Descriptions
I began by telling you what not to do when thinking like a psychologist. Then I told you where to look for data that will inform our understanding of experience. This final section tells you what to look for more specifically. The assumption we begin with regarding experience is that it is always structured, and this structure always indicates the meaning they have for the persons who live through them. This assumption actually stems from the psychology laboratory—specifically the tradition of perception theory known as Gestalt. Gestalt will be examined more closely in the chapter on perception, so for now we will only concern ourselves with the fact that experiences are always structured, and that these structures demonstrate the meanings a particular experience has for the person living through it. The following description of this comes from Ernest Keen (1982) who has been instrumental in the development of this work:
One way to clarify experience is to seek what events mean to us. In asking this question, we discover that conscious experiences has a certain structure. Indeed, we might say that the “structuredness” of experience is the meaningfulness of experience. Structureless experience would be meaningless experience. (19)
And he continues, describing more specifically the task we have before us in trying to understand the structure of experience:
The structure of experience is more or less implicit, but it is absolutely critical for the meanings that events have for us. Or, stated more accurately, because meaning is structure, we should say that meaningis more or less implicit in experience. Phenomenological psychology seeks to articulate explicitly the implicit structure and meaning of human experience. (19)
We will begin with the statement that experiences are always meaningful, for it is upon this assumption that we find the structure of experience. “But what about a meaningless experience? certainly this must be devoid of meaning.” There are meaningless gestures, meaningless clichés, meaningless gifts, meaningless platitudes, and meaningless expressions. Still, each of these examples indicates a meaningful experience. The experience that someone’s gesture was a meaningless one is not to say that it failed to register any impression. If this were the case, then a more appropriate response might be: “I don’t understand what was intended by such and such a gesture.” To say that it is a meaningless gesture is to indicate that it failed to express a particular type of meaning, and this tells you much about their experience. Consider: a card sent to the widowed woman is only experienced as a meaningless gesture when what was hoped for was a visitor. Here the meaningless gesture is only perceived as such on the backdrop of receiving a visitor. Even in the experience of meaninglessness we come to understand psychological phenomena and the people who live them more deeply.
Once it becomes comfortable to suspend any initial judgments regarding the reason for an experience, and you no longer expect that any experience will be easily reducible to a single causal factor, then discerning the structure of experience will become much easier. Consider the above examples of meaninglessness. If you were content with the first simple explanation, then your investigation would be over! It may be concluded that road-rage or writing a poem or failing a college class are all meaningless experiences. We resist tendency of establishing the truth of these experiences by lingering in their descriptions a little while longer. Indeed, you might even think out loud: “that you should describe your experience as meaningless is very peculiar.” This will encourage a subject to return to the experience that they called meaningless and re-articulate what was meant by this. Since psychologists are keen on the multi-layeredness of experience, you are especially interested in what this subject indicates about the context in which her experience of meaninglessness was had.
Before concluding the introduction, I would like to provide an example of what is meant by the shift in attitude required for psychologizing. This example comes from Eugene Gendlin.
An Example of Psychologizing: How to Listen like a Psychologist
During a successful career as a psychotherapist and professor at University of Chicago, Eugene Gendlin wrote a book with a very bold objective: to teach lay persons how to understand and solve psychological problems like famous psychotherapists. Does his objective sound familiar? Gendlin calls his method Focusing, and he has directed his manual to the non-professional. In a section called the “listening manual,” Gendlin explains the importance of being a good listener. We will use this example of listening to demonstrate how we might begin to think like psychologists.
Gendlin’s “listening manual” is but a part of his larger program of Focusing, and we are only going to look at a small part of what he describes as listening. So what follows is just a narrow sliver of what Gendlin has provided. To begin, he acknowledges that we generally do a poor job of listening to one another. This is a problem if we have already established that we are interested in the experience of others. Gendlin argues that if we learn how to listen, “People can tell you much more…than can ever happen in ordinary interchanges” (135). Okay, so he thinks that we learn more by listening, but how is this different from what we normally do in a conversation? Gendlin explains:
In ordinary social interchange we nearly always stop each other from getting very far inside. Our advice, reactions, encouragements, reassurances, and well-intentioned comments actually prevent people from feeling understood. Try following someone carefully without putting anything of your own in. (135-136)
When you listen to someone describe an experience, do your comments encourage them to go more deeply into their experience or to stop short? Sometimes we say something like “oh yeah, I know what you’re talking about” as if to suggest: “you can stop now because I already understand what you’re saying.” This would be an example of allowing the first possible explanation to cover over the possibility of learning something new. Since we’re interested in thinking like psychologists, we try to avoid this tendency. On this point, Gendlin explains that with listening, you must “Never introduce topics that the other person didn’t express. Never push your own interpretations. Never mix in your own ideas” (136). If your goal is to better understand the experience of another, then you would do well to follow these three rules that Gendlin provides. We might also use them as reminders to our task of trying to think like psychologists.
In this introductory chapter, two objectives were accomplished. In the first, I defended the nontraditional orientation of this approach. This was done by comparing the more typical version of Introduction to Psychology with this version: Introduction to Psychologizing. In the latter version, the version this book will follow, students will be asked to practice thinking like psychologists. Doing so recognizes that psychology is a diverse and changing discipline, so it is more important to teach students how to think like psychologists than teaching them the facts of psychology. This also has the advantage of preparing students to revolutionize psychology because they are not limited by the litany of superstitions in the history of psychological thought. Another element of a course that emphasizes psychologizing is that it is built on trust: in yourself as a student and in the learning process. This supplies the confidence that is required for becoming a revolutionary thinker in psychology.
The second objective was an overview of what is intended by “psychologizing.” I have used phenomenology to help us understand how this might be done. Phenomenology has been chosen because it has been developed as a way of investigating and coming to a better understanding of experience. Three elements comprise thinking like a psychologist: they are 1.Adopting a different attitude in relation to psychological phenomena, 2.Emphasizing personal and subjective knowledge, and 3.Paying scrupulous attention to the meaning that subjects express in their descriptions. This was followed with an example of psychologizing which was supplied by Gendlin’s “listening manual.”
In the following chapter, the disciplinary objective of psychology will be explored. This is where you will have to ask yourself: what am I interested in and motivated by as a psychologist? The answer to this question will shape the types of experiments you design, the questions you find important to ask, and the relationship you take to your work as a practicing psychologist.
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