There is a select number of psychological phenomena and terminology that have become universally known. This may be due to their appearance in pop culture or a general awareness to their existence. However, I am here to burst your bubble and reveal the three psychology things that are actually bull%!*t to psychologists.
- The Rorschach test
We are all familiar with the ink-blot test. A therapist shows a patient a number of abstract inkblots and the patient’s interpretation gives the therapist an insight into the patient. While a great cinematic device and a staple of pop psychology, modern psychologists very rarely administer the Rorschach test. This is because the test has laughably low inter-rater reliability, meaning that two therapists administering the test to the same patient are more likely to have scored and interpreted the test results differently. Furthermore, the test has essentially no face validity as it doesn’t predict anything. The inkblots are not standardized to measure the same thing. In addition to this, advocates of the test can’t actually agree on what the test looks for. Then there is the matter that the context can affect the results of the test. You can give the same person the test ten times and get ten different sets of answers. So while a number of practitioners still use the test, a majority of the field use more nuanced testing methods or tests that specifically look at individual elements of personality.
- Right and left brain
This is less of a psychological bull%!*t and more ‘pop psychologists have reduced this beyond repair’. You may have been taught that one side of the brain is calculating and the other side is fun-loving and creative. As the actor James Garner explained in an ad for a steakhouse, “the left brain is supposed to understand that in a balanced, varied diet, a lean trim 3oz portion can easily fit within the leading dietary guidelines. That’s logical. The right brain just knows it’s good”. While elements of this are true, the brain is a lot more complex than one side does this and the other side does that. Take language for example, most aspects of language processing and production are found in the dominant hemisphere of the brain. While this is usually the left, it can be the right hemisphere. The brain’s functions are lateralized but there is much cross-over and individual differences. Furthermore, there is no empirical evidence to support the pop psychology right brain-left brain argument.
The popular theory of interconnected personality types, the enneagram of personality came about in the early 1960s, and states that there are nine base personalities. Each of the nine personalities is ‘stressed’ and ‘secured’ by another one of the nine. For example, the ‘helper’, who fears being unloved and will fall to pride or manipulation, is stressed by the ‘challenger’ and secured by the ‘individualist’. Essentially, the enneagram is a self-help pseudoscience, designed to sell books on enlightenment and spiritualism. The more accepted theories of personality usually revolve around a collection of traits and included the A/B/Hardy approach, OCEAN and the 16-point personality model. These explain personality via a series of traits, rather than a label with a number of adjectives attached to it. For example, OCEAN (one of the most accepted models) measures your personality based on scores in measures of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, with an individual falling somewhere along a scale between the two extremes of that trait.
Pop psychology, in theory, is a beneficial thing to psychology- a way of explaining complex and obscure ideas in a manner that a majority of people can understand. However, somewhere along the way it became a field that just told people the wrong thing or something that was overly simply. I believe it is one of the reasons that people tend to view psychology with disdain- psychologists are forced to restructure people’s worlds because they believe stuff that is just wrong. What are some of the pop psychology concepts you don’t quite buy?