Contributions to Misunderstanding Psychology Essay
Contributions to Misunderstanding Psychology
Rose (1992) has accused psychology of “Engineering the Human Soul” (p. 351). This is a very odd statement for a sociologist to make because science, whether hard or social, by definition, requires conclusions to be based on use of the scientific method. Alas, the hypothesis that there is a human soul is one that that the scientific method cannot address because there is no way to provide empirical evidence that either confirms or disconfirms it.
Indeed, even the phrenologists Gall and Spurzheim (discussed below), who mapped the brain into areas controlling all sorts of human attributes, found an area for “spirituality” (Myers, 2004), but not for the soul. Rose is, however, in the company of a medical internist with a Ph. D. from Yale in physical chemistry, i. e. , Collins (2007, as cited in Snyder, 2007), who has claimed there is evidence that “moral law is implanted in our brains by God” (p. 6).
Nonetheless, despite psychology being unable to engineer an entity for which there is no scientific evidence, one purpose of this paper is to argue that Rose (1992), along with other critics of psychological research, has failed to recognize that the continued influence of the studies of individual differences beyond the early part of the last century, mainly the development of tests to measure intelligence, i. e. , IQ testing, has not been on psychology, but on education.
Indeed, later psychological research on intelligence and cognitive development has been largely ignored in education (Perlmutter & Burrell, 1999). There is no disagreement that IQ testing had and continues to have a negative influence on education, but this paper addresses the waning of the influences of IQ testing within psychology itself not long after the development of these tests. What is psychology? Rose (1992) defined psychology as the study of individual differences, based on a “paradigmatic technique of . . . the psychological ‘test’ .
. . (pp. 358-359). The goal of psychology, according to Rose, is “the isolation, intensification, and inscription of human difference” (p. 359). This definition is not the same as the one used in most textbooks on introductory psychology, where the discipline is defined as “the science of behavior and mental processes” (Myers, 2004). While psychological questions have been of interest from the time of the ancient Greek philosophers, psychology as a science did not develop until the latter part of the 19th century (Myers, 2004).
Psychologists eventually conducted research in areas that began in other disciplines – and also came to be blamed for the wretched excesses of still other disciplines, notably education. In the early 19th century, phrenologists Gall and Spurzheim mapped out brain areas supposedly controlling attributes from acquisitiveness to sublimity and measured people on these attributes by feeling bumps on their heads (Myers, 2004).
Despite the embarrassment phrenology caused scientists, late in the 19th century French and German neurologists, notably Brocca and Wertheimer, provided evidence of left-hemisphere dominance in tasks involving language (Deutsch & Springer, 1997). They used autopsy findings of those who suffered language deficits following strokes to areas in the left cerebral hemisphere (the dominant hemisphere for more than 90% and 70% of right- and left-handed people respectively).
These findings were followed by further research on deficits in spatial abilities following strokes in the right cerebral (usually non-dominant) hemisphere (Deutsch & Springer, 1997). In the next century, researchers studied the performance of those who underwent a surgical procedure where the connecting fibers (the corpus colossus) between the two hemispheres were severed to control the spread of severe seizures (Deutsch & Springer, 1999). Later research, using equipment such as evoked potentials, was conducted using samples from the general population.
The research provided evidence not that only one hemisphere was activated during performance of most tasks but evidence that one hemisphere was more activated than the other, for example, in language comprehension, the left hemisphere is more activated, but the right hemisphere also is activated in comprehending the emotional, metaphoric, and humorous content of language (Deutsch & Springer, 1997). Individual differences also were rare, for example, listening to music results in greater activation in the right than left hemisphere, except there is the reverse pattern for trained musicians (Deutsch & Springer, 1999).
However, the history of research related to the cerebral hemispheres is an example of psychologists falsely being blamed for the nonsense propagated by those in education that there were left- and right-brained people – and teachers somehow were supposed to adjust their teaching for their right-brained students (Connell, 1990). In outlining the history of psychology, introductory textbooks place its beginnings in Wundt’s establishment of a laboratory in Vienna in 1879 for the purpose of applying the scientific method to the study of human mental processes: “On a December day in 1879 .
. . Wundt was seeking to measure . . . the fastest and simplest mental processes. Thus began what many consider psychology’s first experiment” (Myers, 2004, p. 4). However, those in other disciplines, such as Rose (1992), seem to believe not only that psychology began – and ended – with the early work of those studying individual differences, but also that research in psychology actually is used in education. Individual Differences
One important difference between the early work of neurologists on the human cerebral hemispheres described above and early work on individual differences is that the former research was based on beginning with basic or shared mental processes. Put another way, the law of parsimony is that main effects are studied prior to interactions (Kirk, 1995). The early work on individual differences in intelligence began prior to research on basic cognitive processing.
Galton’s definition of intelligence (White, 2006) was based on an assumption drawn from Darwin’s evolutionary theory of the survival of the fittest, both between- and within-species (1859, as cited in Myers, 2004). Between-species, humans clearly are advantaged with superior intellect. However, if human intelligence had been defined as those characteristics that increase the probability of an individual’s survival, predominant attributes would be those related to the attainment of economic and political power.
From the beginnings of civilization, world history has been a struggle for power, with members of prevailing powerful groups inhumanely dominating members of less powerful groups (Braudel & Mayne, 2003), a concept perhaps best expressed by John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever as “everybody always has to have somebody to dump on” (Wexler, 1977). Being powerful certainly does enhance one’s chances of survival, but how did anyone reach the conclusion that power was related to what we usually think of as intellect?