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Psychology as a STEM Discipline


It is common knowledge that public understanding of psychology is typically aligned with the mental health and intervention aspects of the discipline. Most people think of psychologists as clinicians and counselors. Few understand that psychology is the science of behavior, cognition and emotion. Even fewer recognize psychology as a STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) discipline. People do not generally associate psychologist with scientist.


The above quote is taken from an excellent American Psychological Association report by Steven Breckler. The aim of the report was to get an informed sense of what people understand about psychology.


Breckler notes that a fundamental deficit in public understanding of psychology is revealed, when survey respondents are presented with hypothetical job scenarios, and asked to state what the person described does for a living. He then cites his favorite example:


Kathy works at a major technology company that manufactures computers and computer software. She conducts research on how people work best with machines. She researches things like how a computer could be designed to prevent fatigue and eye strain, what arrangement of an assembly line makes production most efficient, and what a reasonable workload is for a person.


Breckler found that most respondents believed Kathy was a mechanical engineer, followed by computer technician. Less than 20 percent of respondents said that Kathy was a psychologist.


I think it would be very interesting to repeat this exercise with psychology students!