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Common Sense Psychology

Psychology is just common sense.

Or, at least some prominent figures think so.  Popular radio talk show host Dennis Prager says, “Use your common sense.  Whenever you hear the words ‘studies show’ — outside of the natural sciences — and you find that these studies show the opposite of what common sense suggests, be very skeptical.  I do not recall ever coming across a valid study that contravened common sense” (Lilienfeld et al., 2010, p.5).

It appears that Prager has not read many scientific studies.

For centuries scientists, science writers and philosophers have encouraged us to trust our common sense (Lilienfeld et al., 2010; Furnham, 1996).  Common sense is a phrase that generally implies something everyone knows. One of the definitions of common sense given by Wikipedia is, “good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.”

6 Comments to
Common Sense Psychology

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  1. I’m a William James-esque pragmatist, so I do think commonsense and practicality DOES play a role in psychology. However, as you rightfully mention, a lot of studies show us that our commonsense can be deceiving. I think we need a healthy mixture of both, and scientific studies too can be misleading.

  2. I never said that practicality doesn’t play a role in psychology.

    What is your definition of common sense? When does one have common sense?

    Of course, science is tentative, and ready and willing to make amends when need be. The scientifc approach to knowledge is the best we have for acquiring knowledge about the real world. It is not perfect but it is the best we have.

    Thanks Steven for the comment.

  3. I need to update. Scott Lilienfeld informed me that “Brent Donnelan’s recent work suggests that low self-esteem may indeed be associated with risk for aggressiioin.” Thanks Scott.

  4. Your argument rests on those claims of “common sense psychology”, which people believe are common sense but aren’t true. * Working while in high school will help students build character and value money.
    * Children who read a lot are not very social or physically fit.
    * People with low self esteem are more aggressive.
    * The best way to treat juvenile delinquents is to get tough with them.
    * Most psychopaths are delusional.
    * We know what will make us happy.

    However, common sense already tells us that they are false. Weak argument.

  5. I have to say, I don’t find your list of yesterday’s common sense to actually be common sense, but more common rhetoric specifically designed to keep minorities (anyone not a white male) from succeeding at life in any way. I would imagine that common sense would be something that everyone agreed upon and I cannot imagine that those affected by your list considered them to be common sense but a form of oppression that they could not fight.

  6. Well said. “Common sense” is really often just “common prejudice”.

    Knowledge these days is so specialized that it can be disorienting – given how much the average person does not know about the world, can we fault people for wanting to believe that they can find all the answers by applying their “common sense”? Without this idea, the world can look awfully big and strange.

    The problem, of course, with this, is that often stigma and this belief in “common sense” go hand in hand.



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