Should psychology be written for the layman or should science be exclusively for scientists?

As both psychology and science progresses as a whole, more and more terms are coined everyday. This ever increasing classification creates the nonsensical universe of jargon that we all know and love today. Sure, these terms all have their uses within the relevant context, but without a background knowledge into that specific field, often these terms might as well be wrote in another language. I for one have read several articles with terms and jargon I have never remotely heard of before, nor can I even begin to comprehend. But to what extent should academics compensate their findings to those without a complete understanding in their field?

All psychological terms, or even words in general, have been devised and given meaning at one point or another. As the world and society have progressed however, these words and their meanings have become ever more complex. Think back to when you were a child studying English in primary school. Teachers used to assess your reading ages by giving you a large list of words and asking you to read them out. The further you got down the list, the more difficult the words became to say. Now although you were not asked what the meaning of these words were, there was still an increase in the technicality of the task at hand, and a level of expertise (in the case saying words) was needed. This is the same case with psychology. We have all come across basic concepts such as Freud’s psychoanalytical theory, and behaviourism as a whole, same is the case with debates such as nature vs nurture. These are simply the words at the start of the list, and just like the list, a certain level of understanding and expertise is needed.

A perfect example of this leap of understanding was presented to my while my brother stayed for the weekend. I shown him an article with the title “NMDA processes mediate anterograde amnesia of contextual fear conditioning induced by hippocampal damage: Immunization against amnesia by context pre-exposure.” His response? “What the hell?” He had no idea at all what the title even meant, let alone any of the implications involved with this study. But let’s be honest for a second, does he actually care? Sure, if he had some genuine interest in amnesia caused to the hippocampus then yes maybe he would, but unless he had some background knowledge in this area then the likelihood of him caring that he can’t understand the research is very low.

This is definitely a point that needs to be considered within this argument. There may be too much jargon and terms within psychology today, but it is because of this advancement and forwarding in research that the terms become more complex. If an individual can’t grasp basic concepts beforehand, then why would they need to understand something more complicated? Just like everything, when presented in the right context and the right circumstances, everything makes sense. This is why psychology is fine being presented scientifically, because the only people that will care about the majority of the implications found are scientists themselves.


12 thoughts on “Should psychology be written for the layman or should science be exclusively for scientists?

  1. Nice blog 🙂 Although your point is quite correct, some research is only carried out and read by qualified professionals such as psychologists and scientists, however, most psychological research is read by others, such as students. It is my view that psychology research when published should be made available to the general public and written in terms they will understand. Making the papers easier to understand will not only help students out, especially those who are just starting out. It may also generate interest and extra research on the research papers topic area and maybe give the field of psychology a wider appeal. Jargon is sometimes necessary in research papers however this should be limited and described thoroughly as a sort of glossary at the end of the research paper or throughout. Psychology isn’t just for scientists therefore it shouldn’t be written in such a way!

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  3. I think that research should definitely be made accessible to the general public. If research is in scientific terms that many people cannot understand, then of what use is it? Surely research is done to help people, especially in psychology so it seems to defeat the aims of the subject if no one outside the field can understand it. If jargon and scientific terms are used all the time then it is basically of use to the scientific community and that will only generally aid research and if this extra research is in jargon too then it is still of no use to the general public. I think unfortunately scientific terms will always have to be used but what can be done is for these to either be limited, or to be clearly explained in the beginning so that it is understandable. Scientists need to put their research into good use and practice and the first way to start this is to make it accessible to everyone out there.

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  5. I thought you made a very good point in your blog, but I kind of disagree. I had never learnt psychology before coming to Bangor and I have come along a lot of terms and jargon that I don’t understand and have sometimes felt disadvantaged when doing coursework and things because I’m not quite sure if it’s relevent or not. However, I am starting to understand more psychological terms and it’s all starting to make sense and I believe that other people who have had no particular training would be able to understand them to (not all jargon, but some). I think the public have the right to know and understand the research taking place, after all they are the one’s participating in it, and they are the one’s the studies have be based on, I think they have every right to know what the research is and what it means. Scientific terms have to be put in place, I agree, but it doesn’t mean that non-scientists can’t understand them too!

  6. I liked your blog and I do agree with some of the points that you made. I agree it is mainly professionals who read these papers and I think it could become quite frustrating if everything was written in a very basic way as research papers could end up being very long winded. I also agree that there are some people who really are not bothered about understanding jargon because they are not interested in learning about new research. However research is being conducted for the public so we can help others such as interventions to reduce bullying. Therefore surely this information should be made accessible for those who are interested? By writing it for the layman it might even lead to more people becoming interested in research and actually looking into topics that appear in the news that the media sometimes misrepresents. Consequently I feel that everyone has the right to understand research because it has an impact people’s lives, regardless of how many / few people are interested.

  7. I agree that psychology should be written for academics as often the complicated words are there to reduce the complexity of writing a sentence. So a complex word may be used to describe a single entity in one swoop as opposed to using several words. The tittle in your example included NMDA which may be innocuous to someone who is not familiar with the word but it is simpler than writing N-methyl-{d}-aspartate (Jafari-Sabet, 2006) which obviously informs the reader that it is a chemical when it is written out in full. However we do know that people and even young children use science and in particular psychology everyday such as children using naïve psychology to predict behavioural outcomes of peers (Ruble & Newman, 1988) and it is useful for papers to be published using plain English as it can help us to understand ourselves.
    Ruble, D.N., & Newman, L.S. (1988). Childrens “naïve psychology”: the use of behavioural and situational information for the prediction of behaviour. Cognitive Development,3(1), 89-112
    Jafari-Sabet, M. (2006). NMDA receptor blockers prevents the facilitatory effects of post-training intra-dorsal hippocampul NMDA and physostigmine on memory retention of passive avoidance learning in rats. Behavioural Brain Research, 169(1) 120-127

  8. Hey cool blog topic, very interesting argument. I really liked the way you explained your point with the example of learning increasingly difficult words at Primary school.
    However I feel that sometimes psychology jargon can be unnecessary, for example the ‘Vertical Dyad Linkage Model’ we looked at in the social psych module. This name just seems a bit confusing for no good reason. It was later name the Leader- Member Exchange theory which is a much easier term to grasp and shows sometimes, although not always, there is a more simple alternative. Bem (1995) explained that journals should be simple enough that people who are not experts in the area can also understand.
    Also I think that it would be more beneficial for the public to understand journals as people may have problems that they wish to better understand, for example teachers or parents may want to research the best way to deal with a child with some sort of mental health issue. They may just want to understand the condition better themselves. Also as there is extensive research in most areas of psychology, it’s useful to be able to skim read journals to get the general idea without having to spend hours looking up millions of terms.
    In addition, I may just be a bit needy but if I conducted some research and got some really interesting and exciting results, I would want everyone to know and I would want everyone to fully understand what was found.
    Obviously not all terms can be simplified, but I do feel it would be beneficial if research journals could be understood by a wide audience.

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  11. Your argument that people who are not psychologists are less likely to care about the meaning is something I certainly agree upon. I guess it is like this with everything in life. I drive a car, know how to take care of it, but if it needs repairing I have to seek the help of a specialist. And even so he might be trying to explain terms to me I probably feel very lost and only care enough to continue driving my fixed vehicle. Most likely, however, if there was a case of amnesia in my immediate environment, I would seek out information to understand more about it. As a laypeople I would have a lot of difficulty to understand the scientific language, but can it really be avoided?
    Assuming psychology could be understood by laypeople, it would kind of boils it down to the discussion whether psychology is a science or not.
    But nonetheless, a lot of people think, things are very obvious 🙂 So what do you base judgement upon?

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