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Psychology's Ghosts

Psychology's Ghosts: The Crisis in the Profession and the Way Back

Jerome Kagan
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Psychology's Ghosts
    Book Description:

    This book is the product of years of thought and a profound concern for the state of contemporary psychology. Jerome Kagan, a theorist and leading researcher, examines popular practices and assumptions held by many psychologists. He uncovers a variety of problems that, troublingly, are largely ignored by investigators and clinicians. Yet solutions are available, Kagan maintains, and his reasoned suggestions point the way to a better understanding of the mind and mental illness.

    Kagan identifies four problems in contemporary psychology: the indifference to the setting in which observations are gathered, including the age, class, and cultural background of participants and the procedure that provides the evidence (he questions, for example, the assumption that similar verbal reports of well-being reflect similar psychological states); the habit of basing inferences on single measures rather than patterns of measures (even though every action, reply, or biological response can result from more than one set of conditions); the defining of mental illnesses by symptoms independent of their origin; and the treatment of mental disorders with drugs and forms of psychotherapy that are nonspecific to the diagnosed illness. The author's candid discussion will inspire the debate that is needed in a discipline seeking to fulfill its promises.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18491-4
    Subjects: Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xxiv)
  4. ONE Missing Contexts
    (pp. 1-74)

    Although the public’s understanding of science is dominated by images of elegant machines and useful products, the two most basic rituals are making observations and inventing concepts that might explain the evidence. In 1910, Peyton Rous injected cells taken from a rare tumor of the skin found in one chicken into healthy chickens and discovered that the animals receiving the cells developed the same cancerous tumor. After proving that the toxic agent in the tumor cells had to be extremely small, he suggested that a virus was the likely cause of the cancer. In time, many investigators and physicians extended...

  5. TWO Happiness Ascendant
    (pp. 75-132)

    Scientific concepts come in three major varieties. Most are invented to name a new or unexpected observation. The conceptprionnames a class of irregularly shaped proteins capable of damaging healthy proteins in the body. A smaller number of concepts name events that have not yet been observed but, if they existed, would explain a large body of known facts. The concept ofgene, posited to explain why offspring resemble but are not identical to their biological parents, was invented fifty years before Crick and Watson discovered the structure of the DNA molecule that is the constituent of all genes....

  6. THREE Who Is Mentally Ill?
    (pp. 133-204)

    The number of adults diagnosed with a mental illness has been growing steadily over the past fifty years and absorbing a larger share of the health budgets of many nations. The physicians in some countries have invented what seem like new illness categories. Swedish psychiatrists decided that “burnout” was a mental disorder.¹ Actually, this category is not novel but the return of a popular nineteenth-century belief that the increased pace of modern life, which required long hours of work, excessive pressures for meeting deadlines, and mastering unfamiliar technologies, was causing a serious loss of bodily energy. This loss led to...

  7. FOUR Helping the Mentally Ill
    (pp. 205-248)

    Psychiatrists and psychologists have a choice when they select words to classify a patient’s illness category. The noun selected can affect their decision about the best way to help the patient. Many nouns that name categories have preferentially strong associations with particular verbs naming an action. The noundogis preferentially linked to the verbbark, but the nounpetis more closely linked to the verbrequires. The three possible noun-verb pairs for cows provide a more apt example. If a cow is classified as a food, the appropriate verb iseat. If the cow is treated as a...

  8. FIVE Promising Reforms
    (pp. 249-340)

    It is far easier to list the problems obstructing progress in psychology than to provide the constructive suggestions that might catalyze change. This last chapter satisfies my feeling of obligation to describe a few practices that should hasten the time when some of the victories for which so many talented psychologists have labored will be achieved.

    The most important reform urges a search for patterns in a body of evidence, preferably from different sources, rather than reliance on the average of a single measure as the basis for inferring or affirming a psychological concept.¹ This suggestion honors the biologists’ understanding...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 341-381)
  10. Index
    (pp. 382-392)