Time for psychology to start getting real

Psychology is stuck between World War I and Woodstock, with a sprinkling of Dr. Phil.

For anyone who has toured campus, a favorite comic question is “What is the most popular major?” The answer? Why, “undecided,” of course.

The runner-up seems to be psychology, which anyone who takes the 700-student-plus intro class will likely agree with. This, quite frankly, is startling. Not because we already have enough “experts” telling us precisely how messed up society is. What concerns me is much of psychology is stuck somewhere between World War I and Woodstock, with a sprinkling of Dr. Phil.

While most modern psychologists claim to reject much of Sigmund Freud and behaviorism, the distressing reality is little has changed since then. Indeed, the core of modern psychology embraced by many is the so-called “standard social science model.” This theory contends humans have little, if any, innate mental structures: a biological blank slate. Hence, it is believed an increasingly vague notion of “culture” makes us much of who we are. Consequently, young men are “cultured” by societal “gender roles” to be aggressive, promiscuous and incapable of relinquishing the remote control. By the same token, women are programmed to strive to be dainty, beautiful, emotional and sensitive.

Regrettably, many students and professors are deceived. Perhaps new-age mysticism focusing on feelings, positive energies and soul mates has diluted Blank Slate theory into a more credible form. Maybe the apparent 10-to-1 ratio of women to men studying psychology brings out more traditional feminists unwilling to make any concession that there is something innately and genetically different between the sexes.

The blows dealt by the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, Robert Trivers and Richard Dawkins seem to have done little to damage the new-age Blank Slate camp. Many psychology professors are perfectly comfortable to run through myriad statistics on studies of human behaviors, but suddenly halt at vague, socio-voodoo speculations as to why they exist. Therefore, boys are clearly socialized by a shallow media to demand young, self-starved, attractive women. Mothers perhaps teach their daughters that it is important to find a husband of good respect, stability and resources (read: wealth).

Thankfully, evolutionary psychology offers much simpler answers to why such supposed cultural diffusion occurs in the first place. Men have an innate tendency to prefer attractive women because attractiveness is a wonderful tacit indicator of fertility. In the past, it was often genetically successful for men to seek a number of younger mates simultaneously. Women, conversely, gain little from mating with many partners at once, because they produce one offspring at a time. Instead, it is better to invest in a faithful, resourceful mate. Similarly, the Madonna/whore dichotomy’s roots and emotions such as rage, jealousy and lust also lend themselves to natural selection.

To be clear, theories of evolutionary psychology are much more complex than this, and society is not by any means wholly negligible. Still, modern psychology is missing some very important considerations. It can be disturbing to think we are slaves to the innate structures our brains, machines blindly designed by what was successful in our ancestral environment. Nonetheless, until psychologists recognize this truth, we only harm ourselves.

Sean Corcoran welcomes comments at [email protected]