IS PSYCHOLOGY a science? This was the big theme in the fourth year of my undergraduate psychology degree at the University of Sydney, Australia, in the late 1940s. Our professor, Bill O'Neill, devoted many lectures to this question. The subject matter of research in psychology might not fit easily into experimental designs, he argued, but that should not prevent us from holding fast to scientific principles to define our terms and refine our hypotheses. The purpose of science, he said, was not to discover facts but to ask better questions. Today, psychologists - and the public - take it for granted that psychology is a science. I base my work on the developmental psychologists who study infants, and neuropsychologists who study how we make sense of our experiences. I know developmental and neuropsychologists follow O'Neill's principles. However, many psychologists prefer to try to show that the world is what they want it to be, while others fear venturing into any area where they might have to confront the questions of how our brain creates meaning, and how, out of this meaning, comes what the neuropsychologist Chris Frith calls the "illusion" of being a person. The subjects of research in the…

Not mad or bad, just scared. (Jun 07)

Friday, 29 June 2007 02:30
Not mad or bad, just scared (June 07) Suppose you’re at home awaiting the arrival of the person on whom you feel your life depends. The person is very late and the minutes are flying by. You try to watch television but you can’t concentrate. You move from chair to window and window to door. Acting on sudden impulses, you make phone calls, check diaries and traffic news. When a friend phones you for a chat you rudely order them to hang up. The line must be kept clear. You’re exhibiting hyperactivity, impulsiveness, distractibility and emotional lability (short temper). You have been stricken with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Or it may be that you are afraid. The symptoms of ADHD are the symptoms of fear. ADHD is the mental disorder which millions of children in the developed world have succumbed to in recent years. At the same time the numbers of children diagnosed with bipolar disorder ‘have risen astronomically’ (NS 19/5/07). The symptoms of this disorder are hyperactivity, irritability (not getting your own way), psychosis (grandiosity/inflated self-esteem), elation (expansive mood), rapid speech, sleep (lack of).These symptoms are an exaggeration in a particular way of the symptoms of ADHD. The person…
5 February 2005:  Like a puppet on the couch Psychologists and psychiatrists persist in treating us as if we were helpless victims of our biochemistry. This is a disastrous mistake, says Dorothy Rowe. The Bible says you have free will and you can choose to do whatever you like, but if you make a choice God doesn’t approve, He’ll clobber you. Most scientists, on the other hand, argue that what you do is nothing but the end result of a long chain of causes over which you have no control worth talking about. Who is right? Are we agents capable of acting on the world anyway we choose or puppets dangling off biochemistry’s strings? Actually neither really fits our daily experience. In my work as a psychologist one of the big questions I ask people is: “How do you operate as a person?” I also listen to people talking to each other about how they operate. The vast majority describe themselves as engaged in making sense of a situation, deciding what to do and acting on those decisions. A few insist that they are being controlled by extraterrestrial powers or voices emanating from their television. Not surprisingly, these people don’t…