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Terms to retire from psychological science

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From MinnPost:

Many common psychology terms are ‘inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous or logically confused,’ experts claim

Many terms commonly used in psychology, psychiatry and related fields — such as chemical imbalance, love molecule, and autism epidemic — “should be avoided, or at most used sparingly and with explicit caveats,” according to a recent paper in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Although the article is aimed at health-care professionals, it’s a fascinating and helpful read for the rest of us as well. For it provides detailed explanations of why each of the 50 listed words and phrases is either “inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, [or] logically confused.”

And those explanations will probably surprise many readers.

Example are offered, including:

Love molecule. Over 6,000 websites have dubbed the hormone oxytocin the “love molecule” (e.g., Morse, 2011). Others have named it the “trust molecule” (Dvorsky, 2012), “cuddle hormone” (Griffiths, 2014), or “moral molecule” (Zak, 2013). Nevertheless, data derived from controlled studies imply that all of these appellations are woefully simplistic (Wong, 2012; Jarrett, 2015; Shen, 2015). Most evidence suggests that oxytocin renders individuals more sensitive to social information (Stix, 2014), both positive and negative. For example, although intranasal oxytocin seems to increase within-group trust, it may also increase out-group mistrust (Bethlehem et al., 2014). In addition, among individuals with high levels of trait aggressiveness, oxytocin boosts propensities toward intimate partner violence following provocation (DeWall et al., 2014). Comparable phrases applied to other neural messengers, such as the term “pleasure molecule” as a moniker for dopamine, are equally misleading (see Landau et al., 2008; Kringelbach and Berridge, 2010, for discussions). More.

It’s true, folks. The lab coat doesn’t make the scientist. Here’s the open access journal article: Fifty psychological and psychiatric terms to avoid: a list of inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous, and logically confused words and phrases.

Let’s read that before listening to jargonosis (pop science diagnosis of human psychological malfunctions, based on trendy phrases and facile assumptions).

Hat tip: Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose

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5 Replies to “Terms to retire from psychological science

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    semi-related notes:

    The Healing Power of Positive Words By Linda Wasmer Andrews – Jun 08, 2012
    Excerpt: When researchers analyzed the autobiographies of famous deceased psychologists, they found that those who used lots of active positive words (such as lively, enthusiastic, happy) tended to outlive their other colleagues.
    Within this category of words, the biggest boost came from humor-related terms (such as laugh, funny, giggle), which were associated with living six years longer, on average. In contrast, passive positive words (such as peaceful, calm, relaxed) and negative words (such as worried, angry, lonely) didn’t affect longevity.

    The health benefits of happiness – Mark Easton – 2006
    Excerpt: “It’s not just that if you’re physically well you’re likely to be happy but actually the opposite way round,” said Dr Cox.
    (Extensive studies show that) “If you are happy you are (more) likely in the future to have less in the way of physical illness than those who are unhappy”.

    Proverbs 17:22
    A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

  2. 2
    EvilSnack says:

    Even if these terms are used “sparingly and with explicit caveats,” the field of science journalism has proven that this will do no good. A catchy term seen once will be used a thousand times, even when hysterically inappropriate, and that the explicit caveats can be written on stone, accompanied by angels with trumpets, and be utterly ignored.

  3. 3
    Robert Byers says:

    AMEN. The lab coat doesn’t make the scientist!!
    I’m glad to see the autism epidemic come to an end. I think autism is just in a spectrum of memory interference for mankind. So it couldn’t be in a epidemic. Unless some sociobiological factor is happening alsi but unlikely to any extent if it did.
    it shows incompetence in these fields and reporting in them. A lack of quality control that might include the people getting into these subjects these days.

  4. 4
    Seversky says:

    It’s a very informative article and well worth reading.

    Some of those terms were probably created by journalists looking for catchy names. They don’t look for accuracy so much as something that will snag their readership’s attention.

    Some, however, were apparently created by scientists, possibly influenced by the journalist’s approach but who should know better.

  5. 5
    bornagain77 says:


    Why Is Christianity Growing So Quickly in Communist China? – Aug. 18, 2015
    Christianity is spreading rapidly in China, and it could be because of how well the faith fits in with modern scientific technology.,,,
    Stark and Wang estimate that in 1980 there were 10 million Christians in the People’s Republic of China, and that in 2007 the figure was 60 million. These numbers yield an annual growth rate of 7% — which means that last year, there were nearly 100 million Christians in China.
    They hold that this large increase in the number of Christians in China is driven by the conversion of the better educated, who are experiencing “cultural incongruity” between traditional Asian culture and industrial-technological modernity, which results in a spiritual deprivation, which Christianity is able to answer.
    China’s intellectuals, Stark told CNA Aug. 14, “are very convinced they’ve got to turn West to understand the world they live in … and they’re convinced,, that Eastern religions don’t fit the modern world they’re engaged in, and that they need to look to the West to find philosophies and religions. It’s quite amazing.”,,,
    Eastern religions like Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism, Stark maintained, “are all anti-progress; they all proclaim the world is going downhill from a glorious past, and that we should look backwards, not forwards. None of them admit that we’re able to understand anything about the universe — it’s something we have to meditate on, not something to try and theorize about, as the physicists and chemists do. And that doesn’t fit with the world that modern Chinese are experiencing having happened around them.”
    “Industrial society, and all the science it’s based on, doesn’t fit well with those kind of religious views,” Stark reflected.,,,
    “But the fact is, the Communist Party is fairly deeply involved in Christian growth, in ways that are not talked about — but out in the villages, many of the local communist leaders are very openly Christian, to the point of having crosses on their doors, their living room walls, which is hardly being discreet about it.”
    “In the cities it’s more discreet, but still, in all there are enormous numbers of sons and daughters of communist officials who are now Christians, and you go to their elite university campuses, and it’s shocking, the Christian feel of the place, in a way that you don’t get in American, Christian colleges. You don’t get this feeling at Notre Dame, or at Texas Christian, that you get walking around the University of Peking.”
    He contended that there are many Christian professors, and that Christianity is strongest at the universities — where the future members of the country’s Communist Party are studying.
    “This may be part of what’s going on behind the scenes,” Stark supposed: “that it’s becoming uncomfortable to push Christianity around.”

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