Who, What, How, and Where the Typical Psychologist Is ... the Profession of Psychology Scale

Article excerpt

This study reports on the development of a scale to assess public perceptions of the profession of psychology. Administration of a preliminary form of the scale to introductory psychology students suggests that several misperceptions about the profession are common. Respondents significantly overestimated minority representation in the field as well as the percentage of psychologists who were health care providers. Further, the vast majority of respondents did not recognize that the doctorate was the standard level of training for psychologists. Results indicate a need to provide the public with a more faithful representation of the profession of psychology.

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The longer one teaches, the more likely one is to encounter student misconception concerning psychology. In 1960, McKeachie reported that commonly held beliefs about psychology were in direct conflict with research results (the science of psychology). These "scientific misconceptions" are untruths or half-truths about research findings accepted by students as facts.

Gallucci (1997) noted a different type of misconceptions when he evaluated why students chose psychology as a major. Gallucci noted several misconceptions among psychology students concerning their future career. For example, they overestimated salaries and job opportunities. He advised professors to correct psychology majors' misunderstandings about: "forms of professional practice that are largely unattainable at this time" (p.879). Nauta (2000) also reported "professional" misconceptions about salaries among psychology majors, as well as misunderstandings concerning graduate admissions and training.

In teaching and advising, we frequently encounter misconceptions about what psychologists do, or who they are ("the profession of psychology"). These misconceptions concern psychologists' demographics, their training, or occupations. Accurate information concerning the profession is fairly esoteric, even psychology majors are prone to erroneous beliefs (Nauta, 2000). These beliefs can result in inappropriate career choices for our majors (Nauta, 2000), as well as confusion about the nature of the profession in the lay public and fallacious attacks on the value of psychology by the uninformed (Wood, Jones & Benjamin, 1986). Based upon the potential for such misunderstandings, the current study explores undergraduates' "profession misconceptions" concerning psychology.

Few studies directly examine student's misperceptions of the profession, those that do (Friedrick, 1996; or Nauta, 2000), do so piecemeal. The bulk of the literature focuses on misperceptions concerning scientific information (e.g. DeBell & Harless, 1992; Gardner & Hund, 1983; Gutman, 1979; Lamal, 1979; Vaughn, 1977), providing a few oblique references to what psychologists do and their training.

Wood, Jones and Benjamin, (1986) went so far as to suggest a starting point for remedying what the current study labels "profession misconceptions." They suggest that authors systematically explore "psychology's public image." The current study is such an effort, it reports on the development of a scale to assess peoples' perceptions concerning the profession. The Profession of Psychology Scale explores the public's perception of "who psychologists are", "what they do", "how they are trained", and "where they work."

Method

Participants

Sixty-three undergraduate students at a small rural southern university completed the scale. All participants were volunteers and registered for a general (introductory) psychology class. The mean age of the sample was 20.3 (SD = 4.8), the mean G.P.A. was 2.64 (SD = .59). Thirty-three students (52%) were second semester freshmen. The most common major, Nursing, had nine students, (14% of respondents). Only one respondent (2%) was a psychology major.

The mean age of the 25 males was 20.4 (SD = 4.1), their mean G. …