When I took psychology electives in college back in the mid-1970’s, the experience left a pretty bad taste in my mouth. The textbook used in Canada at the time was Psychology Today, and it was chock-full of pseudoscientific b.s. that at the time was the established canon. Auras, ESP, Kirlian photography, parapsychology- get your hands on an edition of Psychology Today from, say, 1974. It’s all in there. In fact, at the time you could make a career of studying this pseudoscience.
Seeing the charlatans exposed, one after another, over the following decades, left an even worse taste in my mouth. I was often ridiculed and put down by my fellow students and our profs for not buying into what today is well-known to be pseudoscientific hokum.
But not all of this type of nonsense has gone away. We still have charlatans like behavioural psychologists.
Let me lead you through a scenario to illustrate my point:
Dr Phil, whom I love to hate, is a behavioural psychologist. Many people who appear on his programme are in fact mentally ill. The clunker is when he says to one of these people, “Let me try to provide some insight as to why you behave the way you do.” What follows is the usual hokum, going over the person’s background, getting the person to talk so that the charlatan can go on a fishing expedition for “clues” or “markers”, in pretty much the same manner a psychic does.
Enter brain science as opposed to pseudoscientific baloney. The person suffers from an inability either to produce or absorb serotonin- a physical problem. Depressed serotonin levels can cause a person to suffer from mood swings, to be irritable, often with control issues. One spectrum of sufferers are considered manic depressives.
What insight is such a person going to gain from the couch treatment? Many or most people think they’re gaining some insight into why they are the way they are, but in truth they’re not learning anything useful. Worse- they’re losing time on an idiotic fishing-expedition while their illness goes untreated.
The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Put the patient on a medication to boost or stabilise or help metabolise or to replace serotonin levels and the “problem(s)” go away. Poof.
Many patients waste years, often decades and in many instances entire lifetimes being sucked in by behavioural psychologist’s pseudoscience.
But behavioural psychology does work, many experts will say. Well, in the same way that religious conversion works. Human beings are easily brainwashed. “Brainwash” is probably not the right term, but the process is pretty much identical. The underlying reality is that human beings can believe almost anything, and if the desire to believe is there, the belief tends to follow. Watch an old episode of The Amazing Randi (of debunker fame) and you’ll see this demonstrated time and time again. He’d have a charlatan on his show who’d do his thing, the audience would clap in amazement, Randi would demonstrate how the charlatan accomplishes his fakery, and the audience would clap again, switching from credulous amazement to credulous amazement. Technically, Randi could have faked his debunkery and the audience would have been none the wiser, which illustrates the plasticity of human belief and credulity.
It is built into us that when a belief settles in that it gains what might be termed “inertia”. Once established, beliefs become resistant to attack. This is how and why people are able to hold on to religious nuttery. To some extent the manner in which the brain works makes them resistant to the notion that the thing they believe is false. Many in the world of psychology will try to tell you that there is a process or pattern of thinking which leads to this condition, and a cursory search on the Interweeb will show this type of hokum in abundance. The fact of the matter is that people don’t need to think or rationalise themselves into anything, although through repetition they can achieve the same end. The human brain is built to assimilate beliefs and then hold to them because indoctrination is a large part of our social past. Further, indoctrination isn’t a thing people talk themselves into. It’s a social phenomenon we’re hard-wired to accommodate.
I think my copy of Psychology Today is still in a box somewhere. It was used in an intro course at Washington State University, so as in the Great North Country, so in the southerly northwest. I’m a little embarrassed when I think back about how I liked it. Of course, one of my favorite, or favourite, professors was Grover Krantz. I had his class in physical anthropology, and of course there was the one week of his casts of Bigfoot prints, one of which he thought was so anatomically revealing of a particular injury that it could not have be faked. Amazing. It took me awhile to get over my “open-mindedness” about Sasquatch. (funny how spell check just had me capitalized both bigfoot and sasquatch!)
Your concluding thoughts about what I’ll just come out and call gullibility, are at the very least, a reminder to employ a filter of skepticism that needs to be kept in place on our perceptual, or interpretive, lenses.
Spell check did that because they’re proper nouns, and technically speaking proper nouns are supposed to be capitalised, although it’s hit or miss these days. Words like Saturday and February are proper nouns, and may or may not be capitalised in books and print.
Faisifiability is the test, as made clear by that brilliant thinker Karl Popper.There are huge gray areas claimed to be scientifically proven for the word science brings respectability to our opinionss. This is widely used in discussions about healthy diet.Much of the speculation about life on other planets is another area of wishful thinking.
I think one needs to be careful of sitting on a pedistal and scoffing at the supposedly ignorant herds.
We may all carry beliefs that could be mocked as ‘brain-washing’ or ‘indoctrination’ by critics.
I’m sceptcal of the so-called power-of-indoctrination. People don’t grow up believing everything their parents teach them. The idea of having an omnipotent father-figure, and the promise of a paradisical after-life. I think, play a big role in religious belief.
People don’t seem to be zombie-like drones with plasticine brains (if they are, then you and I are too) but rather, are complex individuals that formulate beliefs for complex, possibly unfathomable, reasons…
(I have doubts about hypnosis and subliminal messaging too)
Yes those pedistals are inviting and ego inflating, but then forums are sort of soap boxes where we air our conclusions.
The curious thing about indoctrination is it can so easily afflict the inteligent.
Yes, it is curious.
I think the boundary where influence or suggestion becomes indoctrination is fuzzy.
My concern is that we tend to label the same process as ‘learning’ in ourselves - that we label ‘brain-washing’ in others…
Intelligence is no safe refuge against indoctrination, but you are right indoctrination is difficult to define.
Perhaps we don’t need to try to define it but to simply gauge how dangerous it is to society and peoples well- being. So for example being a catholic maybe acceptable but being a Nazi unacceptable.
That’s right. I agree.
One can’t forbid or condemn states of mind or belief systems. That’s impossible - these are abstractions which can slip around any salient challenge. Religions have done this throughout history.
(So, I’m suggesting that someone could theoretically be a Nazi, but re-interpret the idea in such a way that all the nasty stuff is removed. A harmless Nazi! Who just loves Germany and likes marching around in a crisp uniform.)
One can only confront actions and events - tangible things…
Very nicely put. We must remember holding views is one thing but being in power and in a position to implement them quite another. That is why we need a mixed bag of views in parliament or indeed in educational establishments. I think what we call western democracies are about the best we have so far.
This post really sort of baffles me, I’m somewhat confused at the context. So, you don’t really find the field of behavioral psychology to be logical but you also stated that you haven’t taken such psychology courses since the 1970’s…
I’m an extremely secular neuropsychology ph.d student, and I just want to let you know that the field of “behavioral psychology” is not really a thing at this point in modern behavioral sciences. The term psychology is at this point in time a reference to the state of the conscious mind, and the implications that certain biological factors such as epigenetics and neuroendocrinology have a strong influence on how we attempt to understand human behavior, in the future I don’t even think the term “psyche” will even exist in relation to a clinical understanding of behavior. Behavior is not purely biological by any means, there is a field of progressive neuroscience geared solely on neural plasticity and how environmental influences implicate the way in which our prefrontal and limbic areas integrate executive functioning associated with cognitive control and impulse control.
So yes, behavior psychology in the way in which you described it is substantially vague, but I assure you in 2014 the way someone becomes “brainwashed” has been empirically proven to be to a strong extent biologically based on real science.
Can you post a link to an article or study showing empirical proof of brainwashing…