Psychology is booming, at universities and in schools, and graduates are putting their knowledge to work in a number of worthwhile jobs. The British Psychological Society is reaching new heights too; in fact being its president is like sitting on an escalator for a year. Society membership has doubled over the past 10 years, and is now nearly 40,000. More than 60,000 young people now study psychology at A- and AS-level, and more than 30,000 study it at undergraduate level.
In my student days, the Fifties, there were relatively few courses in psychology in the UK, and access to them was carefully monitored. We were interviewed to make sure that we were not only motivated by a wish to understand our parents or ourselves, and that we were not overly neurotic. Some of the academics in my college believed that psychology was improper, and that watching people through one-way mirrors was unethical to the point of criminality. Psychology and psychoanalysis were constantly being confused, and there was a common misconception that psychologists could read your mind.
Some of this nonsense is still around, and in lowbrow bookshops you may still find psychology books grouped with all sorts of less scientific disciplines, such as occult quackery and dubious self- improvement. But the mainstream view has changed and become much more accurate. If you study psychology, you will learn the rudiments of what is known about the brain and human behaviour, the importance of arguing from evidence, statistically tested evidence if possible, and, in a humbling but important way, recognise the huge amount that we do not yet know. In fact, the scientific basis of psychology should be the best possible inoculation against our natural human gullibility for the occult and other quackery. Show us your evidence, please, or go away and find some other victim.
So the focus of early psychologists on science and basic sound knowledge has at last borne fruit. Perhaps the most exciting sign of this is the way psychology has been applied, with psychological jobs now out there in the big world. The best-known psychologists are probably those working in clinical psychology. Many have expanded from the broad base of psychology and gone on to specialise in areas where we are in desperate need as a society. …