Popular psychology

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The term popular psychology (frequently called pop psychology or pop psych), refers to concepts and theories about human mental life and behaviour that are purportedly based on psychology and that attain popularity amongst the general population.

The term is often derogatory, used to describe psychological concepts that are oversimplified, out of date, unproven, misunderstood or misinterpreted; however, the term may also be used to describe professionally-produced psychological knowledge, regarded by most experts as valid and effective, that is intended for use by the general public.[1]

Types of Popular psychology

Popular psychology commonly takes the form of:

Popular psychology and Self-help

Popular psychology is an essential ingredient of the gigantic self help industry. [5]

According to Fried and Schultis, criteria for a good self-help book include "claims made by the author as to the book's efficacy, the presentation of problem-solving strategies based on scientific evidence and professional experience, the clarity of the writing, the author's credentials and professional experience, and the inclusion of a bibliography." [6]

Three potential dangers of self-help books are: [7]

  • people may falsely label themselves as psychologically disturbed;
  • people may misdiagnose themselves and use material that deals with the wrong problem;
  • people may not be able to evaluate a program and may select an ineffective one;

Pop psychologists

Some figures/movements characterized at varying times as exponents of pop psychology include:

See also

Further reading

  • Mark Jarzombek, The Psychologizing of Modernity. Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Justman, Stewart. Fool's paradise : the unreal world of pop psychology. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2005. ISBN 1566636280.
Stewart argues that influential self-help gurus misuse the rhetoric of civil rights and 1960s dissent in preaching liberation from guilt, "artificial distinctions," and virtually everything else in the pursuit of self-realization.
  • Cordón, Luis A. Popular psychology : an encyclopedia. Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 2005. ISBN 0313324573.
The goal is "to try to counteract the tide of misleading information about the field of psychology with a concise guide to some things that the well-informed student of psychology and the interested general public ought to know." [11]


  1. APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1st ed., Gary R. VandenBos, ed., Washington: American Psychological Association, 2007.
  2. Standing, Lionel G., and Huber, Herman. (2003) "Do Psychology Courses Reduce Belief in Psychological Myths?" Social Behaviour and Personality, 31(6), 585-592
  3. Grant J. Devilly (2005) Power Therapies and possible threats to the science of psychology and psychiatry Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry Vol.39 p.437
  4. "One Man and a Baby Box", snopes.com, retrieved 2006-03-13.
  5. Cushman, P. (1990) "Why the self is empty: Toward a historically situated psychology. American Psychologist, 45, 599-611. Cited in Fried, Stephen. (1998) "An Undergraduate Course in American Popular Psychology." Teaching of Psychology Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 38-39.
  6. Fried, S.B., and Shultis, G.A. (1995) "The best self-help and self-awareness books: A topic-by-topic guide to quality information." Chicago: American Library Association Editions. Cited in Fried, Stephen. (1998) "An Undergraduate Course in American Popular Psychology." Teaching of Psychology Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 38-39.
  7. Craighead, L., McNamara, K., and Horan, J. (1984) "Perspectives on self-help and bibliotherapy: You are what you read." In S. Brown and R. Lent (eds.), Handbook of counselling psychology. New York: Wiley. Pp 878 – 929. Cited in Fried, Stephen. (1998) "An Undergraduate Course in American Popular Psychology." Teaching of Psychology Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 38-39.
  8. Robitscher, Jonas B.: The powers of psychiatry. Boston: Houghton Mifflen. 1980, page 455.
  9. Linn, Virginia. "L. Ron Hubbard, founder" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 24 July 2005. Retrieved on 2006-08-26
  10. Dembling, Sophia and Lisa Gutierrez: The Making of Dr. Phil. John Wiley, 2003. ISBN 0-471-46726-X
  11. American Library Association cited at Amazon.com.

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