A new discipline emerges: The psychology of science

October 19, 2011, Association for Psychological Science

You've heard of the history of science, the philosophy of science, maybe even the sociology of science. But how about the psychology of science? In a new article in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, San Jose State University psychologist Gregory J. Feist argues that a field has been quietly taking shape over the past decade, and it holds great promise for both psychology and science.

" is a cognitive act by definition: It involves personality, creativity, ," says Feist—everything about individual . So what is the psychology of science? "Simply put," he writes, it is "the scientific study of scientific thought and behavior." The psychology of science isn't just about scientists, though. It's about how children make organized sense of the world, what comprises scientific talent and interest—or growing disinterest—and even people's embrace of pseudoscience.

Reviewing about two dozen articles, Feist mentions work in many psychological subspecialties. Neuroscientists have observed the brain correlations of scientific reasoning, discovering, for instance, that people pay more attention to data that concur with their own personal theories. Developmental psychologists have found that infants can craft theories of the way the world works. They've also looked at the ages at which small children begin to distinguish theories from evidence.

In its focus on such processes as problem-solving, memory, and creativity, cognitive psychology may be the most mature of the specialties in its relationship to the doing of science. Feist's own work in this area offers some intriguing findings. In meta-analyses of studies of scientific interest and creativity, he has teased out a contradiction: People who are highly interested in science are higher than others in "conscientiousness" (that is, such traits as caution and fastidiousness) and lower in "openness" to experience. Meanwhile, scientific is associated with low conscientiousness and high openness.

Feist believes that a new psychology of science is good for science, which has become more and more important to society, culture, and the economy. Educators need to understand the ways children and adolescents acquire the requisites of scientific inquiry, he says, "and we want to encourage kids who have that talent to go that way."

But the new sub-discipline is also good for psychology. "Like other disciplines, psychology is fracturing into smaller and smaller areas that are isolated from each other," he says. "The psychology of science is one of the few recent disciplines that bucks that trend. We're saying: 'Let's look at the whole person in all the basic psychological areas—cognition, development, neuroscience—and integrate it in one phenomenon.' That's an approach which is unusual these days."

Explore further: Will psych majors make the big bucks?

Related Stories

Will psych majors make the big bucks?

June 8, 2011
A new crop of college graduates have just landed on the job market. Right now they're probably just hoping to get any job, if at all. However, for psychology majors, the salary outlook in both the short and long term is particularly ...

Recommended for you

Study shows how bias can influence people estimating the ages of other people

October 17, 2018
A trio of researchers from the University of New South Wales and Western Sydney University has discovered some of the factors involved when people make errors in estimating the ages of other people. In their paper published ...

Infants are more likely to learn when with a peer

October 16, 2018
Infants are more likely to learn from on-screen instruction when paired with another infant as opposed to viewing the lesson alone, according to a new study.

Researchers use brain cells in a dish to study genetic origins of schizophrenia

October 16, 2018
A study in Biological Psychiatry has established a new analytical method for investigating the complex genetic origins of mental illnesses using brain cells that are grown in a dish from human embryonic stem cells. Researchers ...

Income and wealth affect the mental health of Australians, study shows

October 16, 2018
Australians who have higher incomes and greater wealth are more likely to experience better mental health throughout their lives, new research led by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre has found.

Linguistic red flags from Facebook posts can predict future depression diagnoses

October 15, 2018
In any given year, depression affects more than 6 percent of the adult population in the United States—some 16 million people—but fewer than half receive the treatment they need. What if an algorithm could scan social ...

Early changes to synapse gene regulation may cause Alzheimer's disease

October 15, 2018
Alzheimer's disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia, involving memory loss and a reduction in cognitive abilities. Patients with AD develop multiple abnormal protein structures in their brains that are thought to ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ArtflDgr
1 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2011
and who wants to guess that it will help guide them to make the right choices?
Isaacsname
not rated yet Oct 19, 2011
I think you can have balance between caution and creativity.

Somebody who's deeply interested in science, like a layman, and somebody who actually practices science by doing research, experimentation and undergoing peer review, are two entirely different people. Innovators in any scientific field take great risk, in a variety of ways, so doesn't throwing caution to the wind usually result in advances ? I would think that the more knowledge you have of a subject, the less risk you see in trying new things ( creativity )
Callippo
not rated yet Oct 19, 2011
The science is supposed to be a objective cognitive process, independent to the subjective opinion of people involved. If some psychologists want to study the psychology of science, they just want to study the subjective traits of human behavior, which are interfering the objective cognitive process, like the religion. In another words, for understanding of the psychology of science, you can start the study of psychology of religion.

During my activities at many public forums, I usually met with reactions, which weren't based on any objective arguments, i.e. they were all based on religion in any form. The concept of religion is much wider, then the people are probably willing to believe. The religion is simply irrational, belief based attitude: it doesn't matter if you believe in something or in the negation of it. For example, when you're refusing the cold fusion or aether concept without arguments, then your attitude is not skeptical - but a religious one.
Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Oct 20, 2011
Reductionism is about reducing uncertainty,.. simply,. I think most people are afraid to constantly re-examine their beliefs because they think it would mean they were wrong, nobody likes to admit to that, especially somebody with sacrosanct belief in a deity. Personally, I love to know when I'm wrong about something, It's just another way to learn.

The truth of the matter is that ANY belief is based on an incomplete frame of knowledge, it is a comfortably-held position that realistically should be discarded in lieu of new material. I consider myself agnostic about a topic until I really start to dig into the meat and potatoes of it. Skepticism gets in the way of exploration, most people won't examine alternate views because of it.

The more we dissect a topic for discussion, the more divergent views we get, religion, cosmology, philosophy, science, all the same in that respect.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.