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Pseudopsychology refers to pseudoscientific formulations of psychology. Although psychology has increasingly become associated with cognitive science in recent times, there is still no general unifying theory of psychology. This makes the demarcation problem in the field more difficult to assess. However, there are some schools of thought and erroneous claims that have been widely rejected within the field today. Psychology has also been applied to numerous fields and occupations, leading it to be rampantly used, misused, and abused by a wide variety of professionals and amateurs alike. The proliferation of pop and pseudopsychology has been a concern for psychologists and those in related fields from very early on, as is evidenced by Joseph Jastrow's debunking of psychological pseudoscience published in 1900.
 Pseudopsychological schools of thought and fields of "research"
 Assorted woo
Movements and ideas that are dead or were never taken seriously within psychology, but can be found in popular culture:
- Brainwave woo, generally involving claims about non-existent "natural" or "heightened" brain waves.
- Dualism, as made famous by Descartes. Non-materialist neuroscience is a recent attempt to resurrect this idea.
- New Age beliefs in general. Many of the pseudopsychological claims come from the Human Potential Movement and the associated Esalen Institute.
- Parapsychology, a field "studying" the non-existent force called "psi." It ties into psychic phenomena in general.
 Quack therapies and treatments
When it comes to psychology, the line between a placebo and an actual treatment can sometimes be blurry. In other words, if you think it works, it works! Thus, treatments that carry little to no risk (e.g., hypnosis, meditation) may be useful despite a lack of evidence for their efficacy beyond the placebo effect as long as their limitations are acknowledged. However, any claims made for these treatments that go beyond the placebo effect should be regarded as outright quackery. They may also be dangerous if they give a person false hope and lead them not to seek needed treatment. Some are just downright bad news altogether (e.g., Scientology).
- Binaural beats, stereo recordings alleged to be a legal high. I-Doser is a popular form of this.
- Dianetics, a pseudopsychological therapy devised by L. Ron Hubbard that became a core element of Scientology.
- Dream interpretation, often found in the form of bogus dream dictionaries.
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), tapping "pressure points" for any number of psychological problems.
- Facilitated communication, a quack therapy for autism.
- Hypnosis, may help a patient relax or feel more comfortable, but definitely cannot be used for mind control purposes. It also does not involve making someone watch a swirly spiral thing, or toads. And just entirely forget about it making your naughty bits bigger.
- Meditation, the jury is still out on the full range of its effects, but the research demonstrating efficacy beyond the placebo effect is not very solid due to shabby methodology. In addition, the mystical guff surrounding it should not be taken seriously at all.
- Recovered memory therapy, a new spin on the idea of repressed memories. Notably led to waves of false accusations of sexual harassment and child abuse as well as playing into the Satanic Panic.
- Reparative therapy, trying to pray away the gay (and failing).
- Social Therapy, a sectarian psychotherapy movement derived from Marxism.
 Pseudoscientific personality tests
Tests that have been discarded by the field or were never considered scientific to begin with:
- Astrology, based on star signs.
- Enneagram, based on a nine-pointed figure from a mystical self-help system.
- Graphology, use of handwriting analysis to attempt to divine personality traits.
- Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), only one of its four axes has been shown to have validity.
- Phrenology, the use of skull size measurements and bumps on the head to determine personality traits and intelligence.
- Rorschach or inkblot tests, attempts to characterize a person's personality or state of mind by having them describe big blobs on a piece of paper.
- Transactional Analysis, a categorization of human social interactions into strokes, games, and life positions. In vogue during the late 20th century, influenced pop psychology and other movements like reparenting.
 The ash heap of history: Outdated schools of thought
Some schools of psychology have been rejected or superseded by newer research. Modern psychology has incorporated the ideas of these schools to varying degrees, depending on how much has held up over the years. Some practitioners and researchers working in areas of psychology heavily influenced by these schools may still use the label as a sort of badge denoting their theoretical or intellectual influences, but do not strictly follow the tenets of the schools as originally laid out. Some fringe figures within the field of psychology attempting to resurrect these schools sensu strictu may also use the labels.
- Behaviorism, its research methodology has been incorporated into modern psychology, but its theory of mind was challenged by the cognitive revolution and, most famously, Noam Chomsky.
- Freudian psychoanalysis, much of Freud's work has been rejected as pseudoscientific, though some of his ideas have held up. It also gave us the pseudohistorical field of psychohistory.
- Humanistic psychology, intentionally eschewed scientific methodology. It also helped to spawn the Human Potential Movement and counseling programs such as Re-evaluation Counseling. It is being superseded to some extent in current times by the field of positive psychology, although said field is not without its own critics.
 Straddling the line: Fields under severe criticism
Some fields within or related to psychology have been heavily criticized by both insiders to psychology and those outside the field for being pseudoscientific. This may include criticisms of the field's assumptions, research methodology, or lack of empirical rigor. Debate over the value of these fields is ongoing within academia.
- Emotional intelligence, rife with poorly defined terms and constructs and an over-reliance on self-reports. The popularized form often lacks any empirical backing and has been dismissed as pseudoscience. However, there is still debate over whether the more academic form may have some small degree of validity or is entirely worthless.
- Evolutionary psychology, a number of its research findings and theoretical assumptions have been contested by some psychologists, anthropologists, and biologists. The basic concept that the brain, and thus psychological phenomena, are a product of evolution is not questioned, but certain methodological approaches to addressing this question have been criticized.
- Memetics, a research program that is an outgrowth of Richard Dawkins' idea of the "meme." It has failed to gain traction beyond the fringes of academia, its only academic journal shut down in 2005, and it has come under fire from critics in a wide array of fields. It is on track to be remembered as a short-lived quasi-academic fad unless it suddenly begins to produce results out of nowhere.
- Political neuroscience, not inherently pseudoscientific, but a cadre of shysters and self-promoters has hijacked the name in order to make some quick cash from media and consulting firms.
- Positive psychology, an attempt at a more scientifically rigorous approach to psychology with a humanistic bent. While it is acknowledged that the field has produced valid research, it has drawn heated criticism for its measures' simplicity and lack of reliability (it's difficult to measure happiness!), recycling discredited feel-good tropes, and for its popularizations' tendency to be watered down to the point of being no better than the average hokey self-help book.
 Psychobabble and you: Pop psychology
Pop psychology, often derided as "psychobabble," is an umbrella term for scientific (or unscientific) psychological theories mass marketed to the public. It often consists of material based on sound psychological research, but is oversimplified or misinterpreted to the point of being misleading or even largely false. Sometimes outmoded schools of thought or research are presented as fully valid without any recognition of criticisms or more current research that has modified said ideas. Some pop psychology, though, is just outright pseudoscience with no empirical backing. Indeed, many pop psychologists simply appeal to "common sense" or "the wisdom of" some arbitrary but "inspirational" mentor figure (a father, teacher, clergyman, sports coach, zany old guy who lives under a bridge and is fond of dispensing folk wisdom, etc.).
Pop psychology is usually oriented toward certain themes such as self-help, dating and career advice, and personality profiling. Pop psychologists often value entertainment over factual information. They also tend to lack credentials or claim not to be practicing actual psychotherapy, but merely offering "advice." These types can be easily spotted as they tend to go by their first names, such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura, unlike licensed practitioners.
 Religion, mysticism, and pop psychology
Religious hucksters have had a great deal of success jumping on the pop psychology bandwagon. Works fusing together pop psychology and religion tend to be in the self-help genre and typically come in one of two flavors.
 Name it and claim it, my brothers and sisters!
The first variety is produced by megachurch pastors and televangelist types looking to make a quick buck. Many have been characterized as preaching the "Prosperity Gospel," or the theology of "name it and claim it." Popular figures producing tripe in this genre include Joel Osteen and Creflo Dollar.
 Expand your consciousness, om!
The second flavor of religious pop psychology books generally consists of a hodgepodge of New Age fluff and watered-down Eastern mysticism. These works may be openly religious, ripping off gods or spiritual concepts from Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism, or they may promote a secularized form of pseudo-spiritualism with vaguely religious overtones. In addition to Eastern religious traditions, this form of pop psychology may also incorporate various (often cartoonish) forms of mysticism associated with non-Western cultures, such as the faux native nonsense peddled by the so-called "plastic shamans." Expect meaningless phrases such as "all-natural," "holistic," "quantum," "expand your consciousness," "other ways of knowing," "your true self," and "wellness" or "well-being" to be thrown around with abandon. Popular figures churning out claptrap in this genre include Deepak Chopra and a whole host of other characters often featured on Oprah.
 Alternative medicine: Wellness for the wallets of quacks
The New Age flavor of pop psychology tends to be associated with alternative medicine. (Once again, see Deepak Chopra.) A number of quack therapies are based on concepts recycled from alt med. EFT is one such example, as it's based on tapping the same "pressure points" or "meridians" used in acupuncture. However, the Christian variety sometimes wades into the waters of alt med by incorporating the practice of faith healing.
 Hungry for brains: Pop neuroscience
With the advent of more advanced brain imaging technology, interdisciplinary fields combining psychology with neuroscience and neurology have arisen, such as cognitive neuroscience and social neuroscience. The pop science press has become enamored with said fields, often drawing wild and unsubstantiated conclusions from pilot studies and misinterpreted concepts in neuroscience, leading psychobabble to be mixed in with neurobabble. Perhaps the most commonly abused concept in pop neuroscience is hemispheric dominance, in which the two hemispheres of the brain are portrayed as housing opposing (or complementary) personality traits and skills. The concept of neuroplasticity is also commonly abused, with whatever the author's pet peeve is being accused of "re-wiring" the brain and dumbing down the next generation (e.g., video games, social media, the internet in general, etc.).
Pop science media also loves pretty pictures of brain scans generated from fMRI. Said pictures have been pejoratively termed "neo-phrenology." Spurious extrapolations from preliminary neuroscience research have become rather commonplace in the media. There is a tendency to reduce all human behavior to the workings of the brain, despite the fact that the direction of causality cannot be determined from a one-off brain scan.
 Cocktail party psychology: Some infamous pop psych factoids
Much pop psychology is dispensed in the form of misleading or false little nuggets of information, making it difficult to keep track of these bits of pseudo-knowledge. Commonly repeated factoids include:
- B.F. Skinner raised his daughter in a box, leading her to sue her father and commit suicide.
- Lunar effect, the full moon makes people into, well, lunatics. Or werewolves, if you're trapped in a horror flick.
- Men, being the immature horn-dogs from Mars that they are, think about sex every seven seconds. (Other common variants include figures ranging from between seven seconds and one minute.)
- Mozart effect, the purported increase in intelligence from listening to Mozart's music. It has, however, definitely led to an increase in the cash flow to the bank accounts of those hawking "Baby Mozart" CDs.
- Opposites attract in relationships.
- People with mental illnesses are prone to violence.
- Subliminal messages in general, but common tropes include the use of said messages in advertising and backward masking that encodes secret Satanic messages in whatever music the kids are listening to these days. (The particularly ironic thing about this is that the way people think can easily be shaped by non-subliminal messages, which rather defeats the purpose of subliminal messages.)
- Taking out your anger on an object like a pillow or punching bag provides cathartic relief.
- Ten percent myth, the idea that we only use 10% (or thereabouts) of our brain. A favorite of New Age hucksters who promise to "unlock" your unused potential...for a hefty fee, of course.
- Women, being the chatty Cathys from Venus that they are, talk more than men. (With varying figures for words per day given.)
 The psychologist's fallacy and folk psychology
 Everyone thinks the way I do!
The roots of much pseudopsychology seem to be in what are termed "the psychologist's fallacy" and "folk psychology." The psychologist's fallacy refers to the tendency for people, when judging another's state of mind, to assume that the other person must have similar knowledge or experience. It was first defined by William James thusly:
“”The great snare of the psychologist is the confusion of his own standpoint with that of the mental fact about which he is making his report. I shall hereafter call this the ‘psychologist's fallacy’ par excellence.
A major aspect of folk psychology is mental simulation, in which we attempt to understand the mental states and processes of others by imagining ourselves in their place. This can easily combine with the psychologist's fallacy to produce a faulty interpretation of another person's behavior. Surely, everyone knows the things you do, thinks the way you do, and so would act the way you do in any given situation!
 Confusion of psychometric constructs with folk concepts
A second issue with folk psychology that may lead to popular misinterpretation is the semantic confusion of a folk conception of a term with its psychometric construct. For example, the concept of intelligence is often conflated with its psychometric construct, IQ. However, intelligence is not equivalent to IQ, and there is no consensus definition of the concept of intelligence -- as a report by the American Psychological Association noted: "Indeed, when two dozen prominent theorists were recently asked to define intelligence, they gave two dozen somewhat different definitions." This conceptual confusion has led many to question the usefulness of folk psychological concepts in the use of research psychology and theory of mind, with the most extreme critics being "eliminative materialists" who reject any use of folk psychology.
 The Man wants to know what you're thinking: Practical applications of pseudopsychology
 Military, police, and security woo
Questionable applications of psychological and related quasi-scientific techniques have found their way into the armed forces as well. Various attempts at employing parapsychology, mind control, and other psychic nonsense have been made by the military. Two of the most famous of these were the US army's experiments in which people attempted to kill goats using alleged psychic powers and MKULTRA, the CIA's experimentation with mind control using LSD and other psychedelic drugs.
Lie detection devices and techniques are also popular with the police and security administrations. The most infamous of these is the easily cheated polygraph test, which is alleged to be able to tell lies by reading a person's pulse, breathing rate, and skin temperature. Another bogus device, the penile plethysmograph (PPG), popularly known as the "peter meter," is used to detect sexual arousal. This has seen use in psychological tests of sex offenders. (There are also vaginal plethysmographs for the ladies.) The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has employed screeners trained to read micro-expressions on the faces of alleged terrorists, but they perform no better than chance. In the past few years, there has been an unsuccessful push for fMRI scans to replace polygraph tests. These and other pseudopsychological techniques may be used to produce false confessions during interrogation.
 Job woo
Pseudopsychology can be found in the workplace as well. Commonly found variants include some of the personality tests listed above and often the latest pop psychology fad. In the late 19th to early 20th centuries, Taylorism, or "Scientific Management," became popular.
 (Pseudo-)Psychology in service of oppression
There is a long history of the use and abuse of psychology, psychiatry, and medicine to reinforce state power and existing social norms, especially in authoritarian states. However, unlike many other forms of pseudopsychology that arose outside of academia or were fringe fads, these ideas were (and still are, in some cases) often considered "establishment" science in their times.
 Pseudopsychology and phrenology in eugenics (and other assorted bigotry)
The fields of phrenology and craniology, i.e., the measurement of skull size and shape, became the psychological component of scientific racism and eugenics during the 19th century. Skull measurements were used to scientifically "prove" the inferiority of just about everyone who wasn't a white male. Other "disorders" were invented to justify slavery and racism, such as Samuel Cartright's coinage of "drapetomania", a supposed "illness" that caused slaves to run away. During the 20th century, IQ testing replaced phrenology in biological determinist theories as a means of "proving" the innate intellectual inferiority of minorities. A recent example of this is Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve.
 Those wacky Nazis (and Commies)
The Nazis inherited a fascination with certain occult and paranormal topics from their forerunners in the lebensraum and volkisch movements. A number of Nazi psychologists became fans of parapsychology, mind reading, and other psychic "research." (However, claims about the influence of the occult on the Nazi Party is sometimes overblown.) Nazi psychiatrists and medical doctors were complicit in exterminating what they deemed to be "racially and cognitively compromised" individuals prior to and during the Holocaust such as in the Action T4 program.
Communist governments have a long, sordid history of using psychiatry in order to jail political dissidents. This originated in the Soviet Union, with what became known as "Soviet political psychiatry" or "Soviet punitive psychiatry." One of the Soviets' favorite "diagnoses" for this purpose was "sluggish schizophrenia." The abuse of psychiatry spread to other communist regimes, including China under Mao Zedong and Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu.
 Sex (and gender) the way god, er, psychiatry intended
A persistent phenomenon in psychology and psychiatric practice has been the pathologizing of female and "deviant" sexualities and gender identities. Women were often diagnosed with female hysteria, a diagnosis loose enough to fit just about any symptoms. "Frigidity" (i.e., failing to put out) was another common diagnosis, which was problematic, as putting out too much meant you were a nymphomaniac. In addition, pop therapy and psychology has continued to peddle myths of Mars and Venus, reinforcing sexist stereotypes.
Sexual "deviants" included those with homosexual or bisexual orientations and practitioners of BDSM. Homosexuality was removed as a mental illness from the DSM in 1973, although many paraphilias still remain listed. Some psychiatrists advocate for the removal of paraphilias from the handbook entirely. Gender dysphoria, although no longer considered a disorder by a number of medical authorities, is still used to pathologize transgenderism.
 Sick and wrong?
The general fields of clinical psychology and psychiatry have been criticized from a number of angles. On the crank end of the spectrum, one can find another form of pseudopsychology opposed to clinical psychology, which is mental illness denial. Those that deny the existence of mental illness are generally associated with the anti-psychiatry movement or Scientology, such as Thomas Szasz.
More measured and level-headed criticisms of these fields have been made, however. As above, the "psy practices" have been used in service of oppression. Early mental institutions and asylums that were founded in the 18th and 19th centuries were often used for the purpose of keeping the "undesirables" locked away, with the poor, criminals, and those with mental disorders being given similar treatment. The issue of the boundary between normal and abnormal behavior, and physical and mental disorders continues to be controversial within the fields.
Another problem with clinical practice is the gap between research and clinical psychology. Often, practitioners may not keep up with the latest research or may endorse some of the quack therapies listed above. These may include iatrogenic disorders manufactured by the practitioner, as in the cases of recovered memory therapy and some therapies for dissociative identity disorder.
The "biomedical model" has also been severely criticized for its use by pharmaceutical companies and for ignoring cultural contexts. In Japan, for example, pharmaceutical companies and advertisers engineered a campaign to alter the Japanese cultural conception of depression in order to market anti-depressants.
 Skeptical sites, blogs, and resources on psychology
- American Psychological Association (APA)
- American Psychiatric Association (the other APA)
- Association for Psychological Science (APS)
- International Union of Psychological Science (IUPS)
- Pseudoscience and Quackery in Psychology resource page, Encyclopedia of Psychology
- Critical Neuroscience
- Neurologica blog, Steven Novella
- Neurophilosophy, Mo Costandi
- PsycCRITIQUES (APA affiliated)
- Psychology tag, Skeptic magazine
- Pseudopsychology category, Skeptic News
- Richard Wiseman
- Pseudoscience and Psychology
- Tips for Spotting Psychological Pseudoscience: A Student-Friendly Guide, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Psi Chi
- Top Ten Myths of Popular Psychology, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein, eSkeptic
- 6 Bullshit Facts About Psychology That Everyone Believes, Cracked
- Luis A. Cordon. Popular Psychology: An Encyclopedia. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2005.
- Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry Beyerstein. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2010.
- Keith E. Stanovich. How to Think Straight About Psychology. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Ltd., 2009.
- ↑ Fact and Fable in Psychology by Joseph Jastrow
- ↑ The "Just Do It!" Trap: Why Radio "Docs" Help Few, Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld, Scientific American
- ↑ Neurobabble, Rationally Speaking ep. #50
- ↑ Beware the Neo-Phrenologists, USC Trojan Family Magazine
- ↑ Paul Rodriguez. [http://www.brown.uk.com/brownlibrary/rodriguez.pdf Talking Brains: A Cognitive Semantic Analysis of an Emerging Folk Neuropsychology.] Public Understand. Sci. 15 (2006) 301–330
- ↑ Cliodhna O'Connor, Geraint Rees, and Helene Joffe. Neuroscience in the Public Sphere. Neuron, Volume 74, Issue 2, 220-226, 26 April 2012
- ↑ See also Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Popular Media by Davi Johnson Thornton
- ↑ One Man and a Baby Box, Snopes
- ↑ Daydream Deceiver, Snopes
- ↑ Do Opposites Attract? WebMD
- ↑ Violence and Mental Illness: The Facts, Understanding Mental Illness Factsheet, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration/US Department of Health and Human Services
- ↑ Brad J. Bushman, Angela Stack, and Roy F. Baumeister. Catharsis and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1999, vol. 76, no. 3, 367-376.
- ↑ Sex-Linked Lexical Budgets, Mark Liberman, Language Log
- ↑ In James' Principles of Psychology Vol. 1, p. 196
- ↑ Ulric Neisser et al. Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist, Feb. 1996
- ↑ See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's entries for Folk Psychology as a Theory and Folk Psychology as Mental Simulation for further detail.
- ↑ See The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson
- ↑ Penile Plethysmograph (PPG), The Skeptic's Dictionary
- ↑ Airport Security: Intent to Deceive? Sharon Weinberger, Scientific American
- ↑ Brain Scan Lie Detection Deemed Far from Ready for Courtroom, Alexis Madrigal, Wired
- ↑ Brian R. Gallini. Police "Science" in the Interrogation Room: Seventy Years of Pseudo-Psychological Interrogation Methods to Obtain Inadmissible Confessions. 61 Hastings L.J. 529, Feb. 2010
- ↑ The Occult and Nazism Re-Examined, Steve Mizrach, Florida International University
- ↑ Rael D. Strous. Psychiatry During the Nazi Era: Ethical Lessons for the Modern Professional. Annals of General Psychiatry 2007, 6:8
- ↑ Greg Wilkinson. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1341504/pdf/bmjcred00251-0003.pdf Political Dissent and "Sluggish" Schizophrenia in the Soviet Union.] British Medical Journal, vol. 293, no. 6548, 1986, pp. 641-642
- ↑ Robert van Voren. Comparing Soviet and Chinese Political Psychiatry. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 30:131–5, 2002
- ↑ Robert van Voren. Political Abuse of Psychiatry—An Historical Overview. Schizophr Bull (2010) 36 (1): 33-35.
- ↑ 'Female Sexual Dysfunction' as a Mental Disorder in the 20th Century: Psychoanalysis and Marital Advice, Medscape Today
- ↑ Review - Nymphomania, Metapsychology
- ↑ See Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
- ↑ Charles Moser and Peggy J. Kleinplatz. DSM-IV-TR and the Paraphilias: An Argument for Removal. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, 17(3/4), 91-109.
- ↑ Megan R. Yost and Tara E. Smith. The Medicalization of Gender and Sexual Deviance: Social Values and Psychiatric Diagnosis. In J. Hoefler, D. Sarcone, & D. Schubert (Eds.), Health Studies: A Reader. Carlisle: Dickinson College.
- ↑ See Michel Foucault's Madness and Civilization, often quoted and misrepresented by the anti-psychiatry movement
- ↑ TA Widiger and LM Sankis. Adult Psychopathology: Issues and Controversies. Annu Rev Psychol. 2000;51:377-404.
- ↑ See Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, eds. Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, and Jeffrey M. Lohr
- ↑ See Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters
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