2 Giving Psychology Away: Reaching & Teaching the Public

It was 52 years ago when George Miller, one of the founders of cognitive psychology as a subfield, ambitiously wrote about the need to “give psychology away” (Miller, 1969). In other words, Miller’s vision was to pop the bubble that keeps knowledge and understanding of psychology away from larger society. Miller spotted and addressed a highly important issue in the field of psychology: the gap between science and the public’s access to, as well as acceptance of, scientific information. While the importance of mental health (and the field of psychology in general) have had a huge boost in recognition and understanding within recent years, this gap he wrote about unfortunately still persists even 52 years later.

Miller argued that psychology should not be so elite, only available to and understood by those who have the privilege to study it intensely. Rather than being reserved only for psychologists, he said that psychological knowledge should be available to and used by all who need it and can be helped by it. He wanted psych science to be useful to everyone, and he emphasized that education was crucial to reaching the general public. He argued that educators and supervisors should be taught about social science, because they hold such important positions of responsibility in society. While this may seem obvious and logical now, it was a profound suggestion at the time.

However wonderful his ideas may seem, it is five decades later and Miller’s vision of integrating psych science into social structures has largely not materialized. Social scientists have continued to play more of an informational role than an advocacy role, and the overall structures of schools and the workplace remain relatively unchanged. Schools are still not integrating cognitive science and knowledge about learning into the classroom, and employers are overextending their workers even more than before. While mental health has gotten a lot more awareness and recognition than it has in the past, it still is not well understood by most. In general, social science experts have much more work to do on getting information to the whole public—especially in a way that the public can really embrace it and benefit from it. In the current age of tech which allows for blogs, YouTube channels, ebooks and audiobooks, podcasts, free website creating programs, etc., social scientists have so many ways to reach the public now. Now more than ever, with so many avenues of how to reach people and with public stress at an all-time high, psychologists have a social and moral responsibility to step in and offer evidence-based solutions.