Dr. Scott Lilienfeld is Professor of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta. Scott is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a Consulting Editor for Skeptical Inquirer and the Founder and Editor of the CSI journal Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. He’s a regular contributor to Scientific American Mind, and is Psychology Today’s Skeptical Psychologist, where he investigates questionable, controversial, and novel claims in psychology. His principal areas of research include evidence-based practices in psychology and the challenges posed by pseudoscience to clinical psychology.
In this conversation with Karen Stollznow, Scott discusses his latest book, 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions About Human Behavior, co-written with Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio and the late Barry Beyerstein. The book treats a staggering 300 urban legends, myths and misconceptions; this is the “Mythbusters” of psychology.
Scott explains the difference between psychology and “pop psychology”, which is fraught with what he calls “psychomythology”. He discusses how myths develop and disseminate, and he reports that even the experts can be deceived by these commonly-held beliefs. These myths are unpredictable blends of fact and (mostly) fiction, but as we find out, fact is sometimes even stranger than fiction.
Scott busts some surprising myths, and argues for the importance of myth busting. When we believe in these myths there are often real-world consequences, but debunking itself carries risks. He discusses how to counter these myths and the “unsinkable ducks”, and how to critically evaluate future claims as we’re presented with them.
Aiming to “demystify psychology”, Scott is an advocate for the effective communication of psychology to the public, and also for science-based psychology. He considers the unreliability of our intuition, gut-feelings and our (not-so) common sense, and how science is “uncommon sense”.
Scott admits that human experience makes us all armchair psychologists, and we are all susceptible to Dr. Phil-psychology and self-help books. But self-help is more often hindrance than help. Backed up by science, this book is the real self-help.