What is the “self”? Such a question has had a multitude of answers from philosophers and psychologists throughout history. Although there is an immediate understanding of what I refer to when I say “I”, upon reflection that clarity vanishes. Do I refer to my physical body? That changes over the course of my life as my cells are replaced one by one. (If I have my arm amputated, am I still the same person?) Is it my consciousness? Then I am conceivably a different person when asleep or drunk then when awake or sober. Is it my memories and experiences? Psychology has demonstrated that recalled memories are largely a reconstruction of the brain rather than a true recollection. And what happens if I get amnesia or Alzheimer’s?
All these questions make it difficult to truly pin down what the self entails. We have some sense of continuity over time, but that continuity can be easily broken. So I’d like to take some time to examine, from a psychological perspective, just what it means to have a “self” and to have a sense of self-identity. In the process, I’d like to advance a theory of the self that suggests that at least some of the continuity we experience is illusory. Instead of being a coherent structure, the self is constantly being assembled and reassembled by our minds. So with that said, hang on to your hats, and let’s begin.Continue Reading
Over the past year, psychology as a field, and in particular social psychology, has come under scrutiny after several notable cases of scientific fraud. The most notable was Diederik Stapel, who outright fabricated data for at least 30 publications. A couple other cases of data manipulation and fraud have just surfaced recently, leading to further resignations of researchers in the field. Amidst these news stories, some have asked the question, “Is psychology trustworthy? Is it even a science at all?”
Of course, these are not new questions for psychology to deal with. Making the case for psychology as a science has been a continual process over the years, and psychology to some extent still suffers from the impression that has remained from the psychoanalytic tradition of Freud. The psychoanalysts loved to sit people on couches and talk about dreams and repressed childhood memories and so on. But we’re past Freud. Honest.
However, given the recent scrutiny, I thought it appropriate to take the time to address the question again and argue that yes, psychology is indeed a science. I come from the perspective of a graduate student in social psychology—traditionally the most “suspect” of the areas in psychology—and as such, most of my experience and examples come from that area. I approach this question from the “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck” approach (see, I’m using the scientific method already!). I would like to argue that psychology operates very similarly to other fields of science that are not in dispute—the so-called “hard sciences”. So let me outline just a few of the ways in which psychology parallels these fields.Continue Reading
Reposted from Mar. 22, 2011.
During my own investigations into economic and political systems, I came across the idea of worker co-operatives. These are businesses which are collectively owned by their workers and democratically managed. When I first learned about these, I was stunned at how brilliant of an idea it seemed to be. It was something of a hybrid between a corporation and a partnership. As I investigated other issues, I kept coming back time and time again to this alluring concept that had never been taught to me in my classes on business or economics. It seemed to be an excellent idea, worthy of my support. And in the end, I based some of my own ideas on politics and economics around this concept. So in order to do what I can to support these co-ops, I want to spend a little bit of time talking about the benefits this form of business can have. I’ve divided the benefits into three main areas (though there is some overlap): economic, personal/social, and ethical. But first, let me describe in a little more detail what a worker co-op is.Continue Reading
I just recently watched an excellent TED Talk by Susan Cain about introversion. She argued for the need for solitude in society in a world that is quickly becoming more and more of an extrovert’s world. I found her message to be powerful: We need more balance in society so that the insights of both introverts and extroverts can be heard and encouraged. As cities grow larger, and schools and workplaces encourage more and more open “collaboration”, it is easy for introverts to get lost in the commotion.Continue Reading
Prejudice is still alive and well in many areas of our society. And one mechanism that keeps prejudice alive is the perception of the accuracy of negative stereotypes. For instance, before slavery was made illegal in the US, slave owners would sometimes justify slavery by stating that God made black people less intelligent and more suited for manual labour. And of course, when they looked around, this perception was justified, since slaves with no formal education and with many years of performing manual labour generally fit the stereotype. Thus, a feedback loop was formed, where the stereotype supported the system, and the system supported the stereotype.Continue Reading
Religion, in all its diversity, has a vast range of effects on people. For some, the interaction between religion and the individual is very positive. Religious beliefs bring them hope, peace, and a stable optimism that helps them to become caring and compassionate people. There are many ways to explain this, of course. It may be that these people are just kind people, and would be so with or without religion. Or, it may be that religion creates this kindness and stability within them. What is most likely, though, is that it is a combination of both: These people are naturally predisposed to being kind people, and religion both encourages this and provides ways to manifest these positive qualities. If this is the case, religion can have very positive effects for these people.Continue Reading
I recently completed my Honours thesis as a component of my BA degree in Honours Psychology. This thesis involved about a year’s worth of work from start to finish—planning out the study, doing a literature review, developing the materials, getting ethics clearance, running the study, collecting the results, analyzing the results, and writing it all up. Needless to say, it feels good to be finished it. I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little bit about the topic and about what I found. Essentially, the main purpose of the research was to look at the association between ultimate justice and revenge. I’ll start off explaining each of these in a little more detail, and then tell you what I found in my own study.Continue Reading