1.1 Psychology in everyday life
Psychological ideas are popular in everyday life because the subject matter of psychology is people and, hence, ourselves. Even if you have never studied any psychology before, it is likely that you will have encountered psychological ideas in the media or in discussions with other people. Psychological research findings and their practical and professional application are regularly in the newspapers, on television, radio, and on the Internet. For example, the possible evolutionary origins of behaviour, emotions, consciousness and the brain, and the impact of various therapies, are all recurrent debates in the media in many countries. These public debates help to make psychology a very visible part of everyday life and culture.
Yet, all this media coverage can confuse anyone wanting to find out what psychology is about because psychological knowledge is presented in a variety of ways. For example, ‘common-sense’ psychological ideas have long been presented in the media. A good illustration of this kind of common sense might be the topic of ‘leadership’, something that is commonly talked about in everyday language. Television, radio and newspapers often raise questions or offer un-researched opinions on leadership qualities, failures of leadership, why a historical figure was a charismatic leader or why some people seem to have the power to influence cults to engage in dramatic and often self-destructive behaviours. The media also can present rather dubious interpretations of psychology drawn upon largely to support the arguments journalists wanted to make in the first place, as when reporters contact psychologists hoping to get a ready quote about why holidays are stressful or why men hate shopping. More recently, however, and for our purposes more usefully, in many countries there are now books, articles, radio programmes and quite substantial television series dealing in a serious manner with psychological research and debate.
Try to think of examples of psychological topics you have encountered recently in the media. Write these down. Note your reactions to the way they were presented. Do you think they were handled in a serious, balanced way, giving relevant evidence, or were they treated in a superficial and perhaps journalistic manner? Have another look at these notes when you reach the end of this introductory section and see if you have changed your views.
As you work through this course you may find support for some of your ideas about psychology, but find that others are challenged because, not surprisingly, psychology is not entirely as it is portrayed in the media. We would like to welcome you to the study of psychology, and hope that by the time you have read this course you will be able to evaluate commonly presented psychological issues in an informed way.
Those of us who have written this course are excited by our subject matter. You will see as you go through the sections that we have different areas of expertise and interest within psychology. One of the major aims of the course is to introduce you to that diversity and to invite you to share our enthusiasm. A discipline that encompasses such diversity and continues to be dynamic in producing new knowledge and new ways of looking at the world and human beings has much to offer.