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RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

Stanovich Book Review


Daniel Abell
Azrieli Graduate School of Education and Administration

In his book How To Think Straight About Psychology, Keith E. Stanovich provides an in
depth understanding of what psychology is and is not. He attempts to show how psychology is a

RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

true science defending claims disputing this point. He demonstrates this through clear examples,
provoking studies and a humorous display of parables. Stanovich gives a concise run through on
this controversial subject providing a thorough background that a novice would be able to
understand.

He also shows why the study of psychology is so important and why it should be

taken seriously. In short, as described by the title, Stanovich describes: how to think straight
about psychology.
Throughout the book, Stanovich defends the challenges posed against psychology.
Numerous times in the book he says that all the questions raised against psychology dont
disprove it as a science, but rather strengthen this notion. Stanovich believes if we come to
realize what psychology truly is then all the questions raised opposing it will quickly disappear.
He begins the book in chapter one, pointing out a major misconception people have about
psychology. He claims that most people view psychology based on pop psychologists and the
theories of Freud. The notoriety of Freud has greatly affected the general publics conceptions
about the field of psychology and has contributed to many misunderstandings (Stanovich, 2010,
p. 1). Stanovich explains this perception of psychology is wrong and detrimental to the
reputation of the field as a whole. Such views of the field often lead people to discredit
psychology, not allowing them to see the field for what it really has to offer. According to
Stanovich there are two things that make psychology unique and distinguishable from the other
helping professions. Firstly, psychology studies human and nonhuman behavior using
techniques of science and secondly, all the applications taken from this knowledge are
scientifically based. He proposes that science is the way of thinking about and observing the
universe that leads to deep understanding of its working. The objective of the book is to prove
why psychology is scientifically based, thus explaining its existence as an independent field.

RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

In chapter three, Stanovich (2010) explains another problem psychology frequently


encounters. People often demand that psychology answer essentialist questions. For example
one might ask what is the real meaning of intelligence? Similar to a scientist when questioned
about the meaning of gravity, a psychologist would have to respond that, Intelligence is a
complex concept that derives meaning from the operations used to measure it and from its
theoretical relationships to other constructs (Stanovich, 2010, p. 47). This answer seems to be
avoiding the real issue at hand. Stanovich explains that because psychologists, like other
scientists, must answer in this way it creates a difficulty for the public in understanding what
psychology is really about.
Stanovich explains that just as science does not seek to answer essentialist questions
neither does psychology. Both fields develop operational definitions for concepts and terms.
Operational definitions ensure that a scientific theory is reliable and valid by providing
definitions that are observable and can be measured. An operational definition for any term
makes the concept testable by anyone in the public. This leaves no room for what Stanovich
refers to as intuitive or nonempirical definitions. Due to the fact that psychologists use words
that are also used in everyday language when referring to technical concepts, it has become a
source of misunderstanding. When psychologists use words such as intelligence, anxiety,
aggression, and attachment as theoretical constructs, they do not necessarily mean the same
thing that the general public does when using these words (Stanovich, 2010, p. 43). To
someone who is not familiar with psychology, it may seem that psychology does not have the
need to operationally define these commonly used terms. However, like all other sciences,
psychology does require operational definitions. If people realize that psychology requires
operational definitions they might also understand that not having the ability to answer

RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

essentialist questions is also understandable and further links psychology to other scientific
fields.
In chapters four, five, and six Stanovich continues to show how the public discredits
psychology as a science. He sheds light onto what makes a study scientific and shows that true
psychology must follow the same criteria. He claims that psychology gets a bad reputation
because people connect case studies and testimonials to the field of psychology. Many people
come to believe in pseudoscience and are tricked into thinking this is psychology. However,
these approaches are not scientific and therefore are not true psychology. Psychology, like
science, must be proven through proper studies. Studies must be accurate, valid, and reliable.
Stanovich points out that its not enough to make conclusions that two things correlate,
correlation does not imply causation (Stanovich, 2010, p. 74). One must understand whether a
correlation is significant and in which direction. In order to determine this, Stanovich explains
one must observe and conduct controlled experiments. By controlling experiments one can
explore all the variables and more likely determine which variables are causing what.
Throughout the book, Stanovich emphasizes that the public has strong misconceptions
about psychology. He addressed many of the issues causing this confusion and shed light on
what is really happening in the world of psychology. Reading the book and exploring these
issues helps an individual come to a better understanding of the field of psychology and why it
has a right to be an independent field.
Personally I enjoyed reading this book. I found that it was easy to read and very
straightforward, guided me through a complex subject in a clear and concise way. Stanovich
accomplishes his goal, proving psychology is a complex science, by providing a number of

RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

different valid and clear proofs. He fights back against critics from every angle and allows the
reader the opportunity to consider new ideas about the field of psychology and its various
components. Stanovich also proves psychology is more than simply diagnosing personality
disorders and helping kids at risk. He shows the scientific research side of psychology and the
importance it has in so many fields. Although the book might be geared toward a psychology
class, it could be assigned in a science class as well as other subjects.
Stanovich raises awareness in this book that is crucial for all educators. Teachers are
generally interested in ideas regarding classroom management and assessment. They look for
studies in this area to help navigate the class successfully. However, without understanding what
makes information reliable and verifiable it is difficult to know what technically works. The
book encourages teachers to consider the importance of case studies and research in the school
system. Unfortunately, in many Jewish day schools, there is not enough emphasis on this kind of
true psychology and scientific research. A major reason for this is because of the
misconceptions that are brought up in Stanovichs book. If a teacher is familiar with this
information, they have the ability to clarify these misconceptions and perhaps show other
teachers how this area of study is beneficial for teaching.
As an educator I will benefit from such sources and hope to be able to stress the
importance of it and bring it to whatever school I end up working at. In specific I feel that I will
be interested to see what psychology and research have discovered in the area of cognitive
development. I think it will be helpful to know how my students think so that I will be able to
teach them properly. I am curious to know what scientific research has to say about properly
disciplining as well as properly engaging students to keep them actively participating. I believe I
will be able to accomplish this by reading psychology and educational journals as well as

RUNNING HEAD: Stanovich Book Review

discussing these ideas with other professionals. Being a good teacher is a complex job and one
way to stay on top is by keeping up on new research and constantly learning new techniques. I
hope that as I go further into my teaching career I will remember these ideas I learned from
Stanovichs book and use them to help me become a better teacher.

Reference
Stanovich, K.E. (2010). How to think straight about psychology (9th ed.). Boston: Allyn
& Bacon.