Sci.Psychology FAQAn FAQ is a list of answers to those questions which appear very often. The purpose of an FAQ is twofold as a general service to the readers: to avoid needless cluttering of the group, and to provide answers to questions that seem to be of importance to a lot of people.

Academic psychology being what it is, the study of human development, thought and behavior, closely linked to epistemology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology and in general all things arguable, this FAQ will be a target for flames and discussion. Which is, I suppose, how it should be. Corrections, additions, questions and meta-questions can be directed to me or to the group as considered appropriate.

This FAQ will be posted monthly.

In addition to questions asked on sci.psychology, I have included questions that I receive personally from time to time.

Is psychology a science?

There seems to be a confusion of levels regarding this problem.

Academic psychology is a scientific project, initiated by Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig ca. 1885. His project was the study of the average adult human mind, and the scientific method used was introspection. His approach has been long since abandoned, and so have many of his ideals, but not the basic ideal of understanding or describing human functioning within a scientific context.

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is no more a science than is civil engineering: ideally, scientifically investigated therapeutic techniques are used together with ethical and philosophical principles in order to achieve some desired outcome. Psychotherapy, then, is a mixture of a craft and an art.


Collins, Harry. M. & Pinch, Trevor
(1993) The golem: what everyone should know about science Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Gould, Stephen Jay
(1981) The mismeasure of man New York: Norton
Kuhn, Thomas S.
(1973) The Structure of scientific revolutions 2.edition, enlarged. Chicago: University of Chicago press
Radner, Daisie & Radner, Michael
(1982) Science and Unreason Belmont: Wadsworth
Wolpert, Lewis
(1993) The unnatural nature of science Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press

How can I do a literature search through the Internet?

Currently, there are two ways to search for literature: either, manually search through the Social Science Citation Index, or search PsychLit, which is a CD-ROM based collection of searchable abstracts and references. Both are commercial products and cost $$$. That’s why they are not publicly available through the Internet.

Most university libraries carry the SSCI and/or PsychLit.

CompuServe, apparently, provides access to PsychLit and other similar resources. This service is not free.

After you have done your literature search and if you still haven’t found exactly what you’re looking for, try to post a question to sci.psychology.research.

Is the MBTI, MMPI, WAIS, NEO-PI, Rorschach, etc. available by anonymous FTP?

No. Because there’s money in them, and also because:

The purpose of any test is to differentiate the test takers from those who have already taken the test. Therefore, the conditions under which the test is administered should always remain the same.

Also, the publisher of a test normally wants to keep some level of control over test administration. This is because the value of a test decreases if the test items becomes generally known, or if it is known that the test has previously been administered under less than serious circumstances.

Therefore, psychological tests are usually not only copyrighted, several tests can only be administered by licensed psychologists who have completed courses in administering the test.

Sometimes the manuals are publicly available.

What is sometimes available are quick-and-dirty variants of the MBTI.

Which psychological resources are available through the Internet?

The currently more interesting ones are

  • For gopher, the gopher server at Hanover University:
  • For Mosaic or lynx, at the University of Oslo, more due to its collection of links and this FAQ than of its native articles University of Oslo.
  • or the excellent APS home page at Hanover University. Hanover College, Indiana

If you haven’t got access to an X terminal, or a Mac or a PC that supports Mosaic or other graphical World Wide Web browsers, lynx can be used by all computer systems that I know of. TCP/IP is required, on the other hand, if you haven’t got TCP/IP then you’re not on the Internet.

My friend has [or I have] this problem, where can I find help?

The newsgroup more appropriate for this type of question is

In general, I can’t answer this question because this varies from country to country. I would always, though, recommend professional therapy. For many normal problems, group therapy is a relevant and underused alternative. See also 7.

Isn’t it terrible [… or worse] that in our society, we have to pay people to listen to our problems? Isn’t, in many cases, just a friend what is needed?

There are two dangers in choosing a friend for support rather than a psychologist. I call them the container effect and the birds of a feather effect.

The container

The container patiently listens to your problems and identifies or has empathy with you. They’re good to have because they provide basic support, and are often an individual in distress’s sole need: when the immediate problem is solved, the problem ceases to be.

However, in order to actually solve a difficult problem, the container can help to maintain a problem because the container is a friend and does not confront, or, confronts but inappropriately. This can jeopardize a friendship which is of course valuable in its own right, without solving anything.

A trained psychologist does not contain, and confronts appropriately.

Birds of a feather flock together

People who suffer from the same problems tend to seek together, either unconsciously or for support. Once to many, I’ve seen people who have the same problem refuse to confront it, and as a result actually accelerate each other’s psychopathology.

This occurs relatively fast and is one of the reasons why group therapy may be very effective. In group therapy, the interaction between people and their symptoms are supervised by the therapist, who (hopefully) will confront the clients when appropriate.

What does the following diagnosis imply: […]

I am of the impression that the most commonly found diagnoses these days are manic-depressive and borderline personality disorders (figures are welcome).

In general, discussions of people’s diagnoses are not particularly pertinent to this newsgroup – academic psychologists, to whom this newsgroup is dedicated, are supposed to know this.

Discussion of theories of personality disorders and/or their treatment, on the other hand, would be appropriate.

Rather, consider why you want to know what implications a disorder has. If it is of intellectual curiosity, the best thing would be to read about the disorder in question. Excellent sources are

Sarason, Irwin G. & Sarason, Barbara R
(1989) Abnormal psychology: The problem of maladaptive behavior 6th Edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall
Martin, Barclay
(1981) Abnormal psychology: Clinical and scientific perspectives 2nd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Unfortunately, textbooks often present clear-cut examples, and even if they tend to warn the reader that real life is different, it’s difficult to understand just how different—and in which ways different without actual clinical experience with the disorders in question.

If your interest is due to an acquaintance, friend, or family member’s diagnosis, I advice against digging deeply into textbooks without actually consulting a psychologist—at least if you plan to apply the knowledge in any way. It’s not necessary to know a lot about a disorder in order to help somebody suffering from a problem. Knowledge can help to steer away from pitfalls, on the other hand, it can turn a friend into a stereotype.

Diagnoses are troublesome to begin with, and many psychologists are wary of using diagnoses at all. It seems that the medical model of finding the cause of a problem and then curing the problem by treating the cause does not work with many psychological conditions.

What are some good general introductions to psychology?


Atkinson Rita L. et al.
(1993) Introduction to psychology 11th ed. Fort Worth, Tex.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
Carlson, Neil R.
(1993) Psychology: the science of behavior 4th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon
Gleitman, Henry
Psychology 3rd ed. New York: Norton

Personality psychology

Pervin, Lawrence A.
(1993) Personality: theory and research 6th ed. New York: Wiley

Social psychology

Gergen, Kenneth J. & Gergen, Mary M.
(1986) Social psychology 2nd ed. New York: Springer


Schultz, Duane P. & Schultz, Sydney Ellen
(1992) A history of modern psychology 5th ed. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Distinctions between degrees & titles in psychology/psychiatry

This section is courtesy John Grohol

Nature vs. nurture

[I’d very much like contributions and sources for this, since most of what I have read about this is in Norwegian.]

Once we’re born, we start changing the world, a fact that is not always appreciated by our parents, but still one of the aspects of being human.

As we grow, the way we change the world, and the world itself, shapes us. We learn and grow by receiving information from the environment, and also by modifying the information we receive and send it back.

Nature (our genetic heritage and our prenatal environment) provided us with a basis for our explorations, nurture (the environment) gives nature something to act in and upon. It’s impossible, in general, to know in a singe individual which of nature or nurture is responsible for a given trait: that’s like trying to unbake a cake. Everything is 100 percent nature and 100 percent nurture.

Psychologists can only measure that which varies, hence, only variance can be detected. Since e.g. social temperament varies among individuals, it is possible to find out how much of a trait is determined by genetic variance and how much is determined by environmental variance.

A common misunderstanding is that it is possible to alter the environment but not the genetic contribution, therefore, heredity is a measure of how much it is possible to alter a trait. Not so.

The variance of a trait is an arithmetic sum of the variance of the environmental and genetic variance where it is measured. An example:

If the environment is constant, then the heritability will be 1.0, since the cause of all variance will be due to genetic variance. Introduce any change at all that affects the outcome of the trait, and the heritability will change.

If one changes the environment, then one will change the heritability if the nature of the changes have the capability to affect the result. Whether this is the case is always an empirical question, because we don’t know what will affect a genetically imparted feature until we’ve tried.

Genetic does not mean immutable.

We know that personality traits are relatively stable, and we also know that personality traits have a high degree of heritability. But the high heritability need only imply that the environment – so far as personality traits are concerned – is relatively heterogeneous.

for those who are into math, these are the relevant formulas.

h = heritability

V = variance

p = trait

g = genetic contribution

e = environmental contribution

V_g h^2 = — V_p

V_p = V_g + V_e + g x e + g,e

About this FAQ

The Author

I’m a resident and citizen of Norway, a small European country not particularly noted for their psychologists, tho some of you may have heard of Helga Eng (child psychology) or Ragnar Rommetveit (psychology of language). I’m a student majoring in clinical psychology. This takes 6 1/2 years in Norway. English is not my first language, but more than half of the texts we read are American.

Request for contributions

Even though the need for a FAQ has been discussed and apparent for a long time, no one has actually taken the time and made the effort to write one. So I did it. Here it is. Hope you like it. If not, please tell me.

I’d very much like to pull this FAQ out of its current beta stage. I’m not sure when that will be, but I need answers at least to what it takes to become a psychologist in the USA, which is where, oddly enough, most of the questions come from. Also, intro text book recommendations – and recommendations of literature on psychotherapy. I’m mostly familiar with Tim Anderson, Harold Goolishian, Steve de Shazer, Paul Watzlawick and Gregory Bateson. What do psychodynamically oriented therapists read? What do the ca. 50 percent who do not do therapy recommend? Also, there should be a short piece on NLP. Preferably something that most regular contributors to the arguments (you know who I mean!) can agree about.

Coming in the next version of the FAQ

Perhaps a brief on borderline personality disorder. Please don’t mail me about topics you want to see covered, I’ll let the majority rule (That’s all I’ve got time for). Please do mail me information to include in the FAQ.