In wider society, observers often look to psychology to inform debates on contentious issues. However, it is often overlooked that psychologists themselves will have views on such issues, and/or personality characteristics and ethical dispositions that affect their production and interpretation of psychological knowledge. Further, there are considerable limits on the extent to which empirical scholarship in psychology can or should be considered to be of definitive relevance in debates on public interest issues. Finally, many of the issues relevant to public debate or social policy that psychologists study are also studied by scholars in other academic disciplines.
This blog is linked to an undergrad class on “Psychology, Society, & Human Values” at the National University of Ireland, Galway (Instructor: Brian M. Hughes, PhD). Our class is intended to provide an analysis of: (a) the role of personal values in the production of psychological scholarship; (b) how ethical values might be applied by psychologists; (c) whether psychologists should be seen as ‘honest brokers’, ‘issue advocates’, ‘science arbiters’, or ‘pure scientists’; (d) the strengths and limitations of empirical research in public debate; and (e) the relationship between psychology and disciplines cognate to it. Throughout the class, students will be guided in considering specific areas of controversy where psychological expertise is often seen as pertinent (for example, right-to-life politics, religion, libertarianism, child-rearing, gay marriage and adoption, multiculturalism, etc.).