The Problem with Psychology


A wake-up call for future psychologists.


I’ve spent the last year of my life in graduate school studying psychology. Here are a few problems I have noticed with this fledgling field.

Gender is considered a social construct and not something that may have a basis in biology.^1

Free will is implicitly rejected when convenient.^2

Race is considered a prime determinant in an individual’s psychology.^3

Subjectivism is used to undermine opposing views, giving the academe doctrine an intellectual blank check.^4

Human interactions are implicitly viewed as zero-sum.^5

Throughout the year, however, I could never put my finger on the one issue that tied all these problems together. Sure, I could refute a statement here, and explain why a theory is wrong there, but there was no fundamental, delineated problem that I could wrap my brain around. “The Problem,” in essence, was vague to me.

It’s a terrible feeling to be confronted with a problem you cannot grasp. If you don’t sense the problem at all, then you can just ignore it. But to only catch glimpses of the problem is like watching a Michael Bay movie without understanding why it’s terrible. Something about it is infuriating, and because you don’t know why it’s infuriating, it’s even more infuriating. However, after you realize the main problem—no character development—a broken scene is no longer a point of rage, but rather something that can be learned from and fixed.

In a similar way, I have come to understand The Problem with psychology over the past year. None of the aforementioned problems are fundamental, and so dealing with them, without understanding their root cause, will ultimately be futile—and as infuriating as watching Pearl Harbor.

Before I say what The Problem is, let’s first illustrate The Problem with an example.

A generally accepted theory in psychology is: the more options you have in a given situation, the higher your level of anxiety when making a choice.  Think of the toothpaste aisle at your local Duane Reade. In fact, after being exposed to a certain number of options, let’s say 25, making a decision you’re happy with is near impossible.

But for about 10 percent of people in a given situation (perhaps for more than 10 percent, recent research indicates) this is not the case. More options makes their decision more refined, and their decision is made with more conviction and satisfaction.

The difference between the 10 percent of people and everyone else is the 10 percent know what they want. They know what they’re looking for, and they know what they need. So more options can only solidify their values and so improve their decision.

Psychology, as it is today, only focuses on validating the bottom 90 percent of people. This is done in lieu of studying the top 10 percent of people. No one cares to figure out why the top 10 percent are the top 10 percent, and how we can bring the bottom 90 percent up to their level. Psychology has become a field that validates neurosis, instead of teaching people to overcome it.^6

The secondary problems with psychology only feed The Problem. As such, we cannot blame the state of psychology on feminism, for instance, because feminism is not itself a problem. Feminism is only a problem to the extent it serves The Problem. And in fact, feminism does have good things to say—their pro-biology views on female sexuality—in the same way Freud had good things to say even though he was wrong a lot, too.

If physicists did what psychologists do, they would write brilliant books and formulate brilliant theories on why you cannot use wood to build a suspension bridge. They would be correct, and through their work, they may even contribute spectacular knowledge to the field. But there would never be a suspension bridge.

For psychology to have a future, it needs to be useful—it needs to build bridges, not come up with reasons why spanning a gorge with a plank of oak is acceptable. And as long as we keep distracting ourselves with reasons for The Problem instead of firmly grasping The Problem itself, that’s never going to happen.

1. Women are more caring and less competitive because society conditions them to be that way, not because their lack of testosterone or how the female brain develops differently than the male brain.

2. Whenever a minority group under-performs, it’s because of stereotype threat.

3. A perspective from a black person matters specifically because the person is black.

4. You cannot argue with a black woman about racism because then you’re denying her reality.

5. Without zero-sum, there can be no privilege or power that threatens your privilege or power. There can be no envy for people with privilege or power.

6. Psychology even incentivizes neurosis, hence the rise of victimhood.

PsychologyMark Derian