Tuesday, October 26, 2010


According to Dr. Phil's personality test, others see me as fresh, lively, charming, amusing, practical, and always interesting; someone who's constantly in the center of attention, but is sufficiently well-balanced not to let it go to their head. They also see me as kind, considerate, and understanding; someone who'll always cheer them up and help them out. These results are based on a test that consists of ten questions, most of which have to do with unrelated habits and reactions. The answer choices are all fundametally different from each other, disallowing any ambiguities and grey areas. Yet Dr. Phil's Personality test is probably the most widely acclaimed test on the Internet, with millions of fans on Facebook and Twitter, despite the obvious fact that one can hardly tell a person's character from his or her sleeping position. In addition, drawing the conclusion that I automatically always enjoy being in the center of attention if I answer that when going to a party, I like to make a conspicuous entrance, is extremely rash and unsubstantiated. Dr. Phil's personality test is therefore a fairly common example of what is nowadays known as pseudopsychology – erroneous information dispersed as if it was proven by specialists.

Pseudopsychology has existed ever since people began speculating about consciousness thousands of years ago. For example, Artstotle thought that consciousness resides in the heart. Rene Descartes separated conscious thought from the physical flesh of the brain. But the two best known theories which are nowadays dismissed as pseudopsychology are the ancient Greek theory of humoralism (that a person's character depends on the amount of a certain bodily fluid which that person's body contains) and the ''science'' of phrenology (which is based on the concept that the brain is the organ of the mind, and that certain brain areas have localized, specific functions or modules).

There are several reasons why I think that pseudopsychology was, and has remained, so popular. In the past, psychology was very interconnected with philosophy, and some of the earliest theories (such as Aristotle's theory that consciousness resides in the heart) might have been an outcome more of philosophical discussions rather than psychological research. As centuries went by, people became more and more fascinated with the study of human behavior, and proportionally with real psychology, pseudopsychology developed. Bottom line, psychology is a science that studies human behavior, and human behavior can be easily manipulated. As a consequence, psychology as a science can be easily manipulated as well. The main reason why it is still present, even though by now the difference between the two is widely recognized, is that there are still many aspects of human behavior that are unexplainable. It is therefore very easy to construct a theory with no support because many people would believe in almost anything if it can explain something they don't understand. With the increasing popularization of mass culture, basically anyone can invent a ''theory'' about human behavior, and people would probably be so fascinated by it that they wouldn't care to verify it. Most often, pseudopsychologists intentionally target people who are in need of help, which is the reason why most pseudo-theories have to do with the subject of self-help. Also, due to the unpredictability and diversity of human behavior, it is easy to manipulate an aspect of behavior manifested in only a couple of people and pass it out as if it applies to all of humanity. Bottom line, as long as the stress of modern life is in its ascent, pseudopsychology will continue to have its loyal adherents. It is important to note that even the most educated people can fall prey to pseudopsychology; first of all because it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish real from fake evidence, and second of all because most people's instincts will lead them to believe anything that can even remotely convincingly explain something they have been wondering about or been unable to explain it themselves.

Ultimately, the thing that distinguishes pseudo from real psychology is the fact that when real psychologists are daring enough to construct a theory, they make sure to test the theory and provide tangible evidence for it. In short, the theory has to undergo the scientific method. It is oftentimes difficult, however, to collect data about human behavior in general because it is so unpredictable, diverse, and shaped by many social and cultural factors. That is why most psychologists are left with only speculations. The important thing is that real psychologists acknowledge the failures of psychology and do not try to disperse these speculations as theories, while pseudopsychologists do. Thus, a lot of times real psychological research is dismissed by the public because it pertains to something less ''fascinating'' than the findings of pseudopsychology.
It is obvious that psychology and pseudopsychology in the modern world are both proliferating with the same speed. Even though in some cases, such as horoscopes and personality tests, it is easy to distinguish one from the other, in some cases it is a lot more difficult to discern what is real and what is not. It is up to each individual to decide what to believe in while taking into consideration all the options.


  1. Congrats on another fine edition!

  2. Very nice.

    Question: does psuedo-psy always pertain to a negative conotation? Are there not legitement sub catagories of psuedo-psy?