Ep 219: Mental Health Professionals: Why So Liberal?

Surveys find that psychologists tend to align themselves with a liberal political orientation. Why is that? Are liberal-minded people drawn to human service professions or is there something about working in human services that causes people to become more liberal in their political views? In this episode I propose a few ideas that I think explains why mental health professionals tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum. I invite your constructive feedback on these suggestions.


Resources on Psychology and Politics

Polarized Psychology: Is Science Devalued in a Divided Society?

90.6 percent of social and personality psychologists describe themselves as liberal on social issues (compared with 3.9 percent who describe themselves as conservative), and 63.2 percent describe themselves as liberal on economic issues (compared with 10.3 percent who describe themselves as conservative). Overall, they found a liberal-to-conservative ratio of 14:1. – Polarized Psycholgy


Suggestions as to Why Mental Health Workers Tend to Have a Liberal Political Orientation

  • Mental health workers spend their days in direct contact with people who, because of their mental/emotional/situational challenges, are simply not able to “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. They need assistance, often in the form of social programs, to be able to do this.
  • Social programs often require government assistance, which often means increased taxes. Conservatives are typically in favor of lowering taxes and less government intervention.
  • The branch of psychology called Social Psychology focuses on external causes of behavior. Studies such as those by Stanley Milgram, Solomon Asch, Henri Tajfel, and Philip Zimbardo demonstrate that our behavior, thoughts and feelings are often strongly influenced by our surroundings. Conservatives tend to focus on the individual.
  • Another large branch of psychology – Behaviorism – also focuses on the influence of reinforcers in our environment and how they can make us behave, think and feel. Thus, to change people (from this perspective) requires changes in the environment (e.g., social programs).


I mentioned the “Filter Bubble” in this episode – the fact that the information we are exposed to from TV and from the web is often tailored only toward what organizations (particularly those that want to sell you something) think you would agree with. Thus, it is very hard to get an accurate picture of what is really happening in the world.

The Filter Bubble


Ep 217: Let’s Be Honest: Is Your Dog Really Intelligent?

Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?It’s easy to find videos on the web of animals showing what appears to be some pretty smart behavior. But is it really “smarts”? How can you tell? In this episode I’ll point out examples that look like intelligence but probably aren’t – as well as an example of animal behavior that is really hard to dismiss as anything but “smarts”. In doing so we’ll talk about the behavioral principle of “chaining” – the method by which you can get animals – and humans – to display some pretty sophisticated and complex behavior as the result of reinforcement, prompts and cues.


Ep 192: An Example of How Psychoanalysts Really Interpret Dreams

Dream AnalysisWhat do psychologists really think about your dreamsdo they have meaning? In this episode I talk about what psychologists think today about dreams. You probably know that Freud thought that dreams had a manifest content (the people and things that happened in the dream that you remember) and a latent content (the unconscious meaning of the dream). Do we still think this? Also: can you look up in a book or online to find out what your dreams meant? If you dream about a cat for example – what does this mean? In this episode I explore these questions with author and psychoanalyst Kerry Malawista. She and her colleagues discuss this topic in their book, Wearing My Tutu To Analysis. I’ll talk to her and include my own thoughts about whether or not dreams have meaning and whether you should be taking the time to analyze them.


In earlier episodes of The Psych Files I asked you not to dismiss Freud’s ideas. Too often we only hear about his (100 year old) ideas on sex. There is A LOT more to Freud and this episode will convince you of that.

Resources on Psychoanalysis and Dreams


Ep 187: I’d Like to Have an Argument Please (critical thinking part 3)

How would you like to have an argument? Turns out that learning how to have a good argument might just be the best way to learn to think critically. In this episode I discuss a neat piece of research in which 7 and 8 year olds are taught how to effectively argue. And they do a darn good job of it as it turns out. Perhaps this is the way to teach our young people critical thinking: give them some great books to read – like The Giving Tree – and have them discuss what they think about it. The key ingredient: making sure that they fully understand the point of view of the other person. This’ll be fun. I promise. Especially since I’ve got a couple funny clips from Monty Python’s Argument Clinic sketch to help move things along. … Read more

Ep 184: Critical Thinking (Part 2) – Important? Yes. But Can We Teach It? Well….

The importance of critical thinking for childrenIn episode 183 I talked about what critical thinking is and why it’s important. Now we talk about why it’s so darn hard to teach and to use critical thinking in our everyday lives. In this episode I’ll discuss Dr. Daniel Willingham‘s advice to teachers on what they can do to effectively teach critical thinking – something that couldn’t be more important in today’s world where misinformation is all around us. Make sure to take a look at the concept map below.


Resources on Critical Thinking


Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority. – 2012 Platform of the Republican Party of Texas


School Health Care – We urge legislators to prohibit reproductive health care services, including counseling, referrals, and distribution of condoms and contraception through public schools. We support the parents’ right to choose, without penalty, which medications are administered to their minor children. We oppose medical clinics on school property except higher education and health care for students without parental consent. — 2012 Platform of the Republican Party of Texas

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Resources on Critical Thinking