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Folk psychology versus…

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2010 by Steve

Folk psychology is the accumulated set of assumptions, wisdom and beliefs by which people understand the world, functioning as a heuristic for successful navigation, particularly within social contexts.

Unfortunately, such assumptions are limited and distorted by subjective experience, especially in light of personal preferences and cultural familiarity. Since more recent and complex forms of psychological investigation (e.g. neuroscience and neurobiology) tend to be less familiar, folk psychology might intuitively discount the interpretative lens of such fields, or, possibly, idolise them as all-authoritative and infallible.

As an example of two ways in which this predisposition for distorted thinking might work, the actor-observer difference (Breckler, Olson, & Wiggins, 2006) states that people attribute their own behaviour more to factors external to themselves, whereas observers tend to attribute others’ behaviour more internally. For example, rather than “The stress pushed him over the line”, or “He is a bad person”, a more scientific analysis would call for a multifaceted consideration of someone’s behaviour, drawing on assessments of traits, situation, conditioning, past experience, mood, neuropsychological functioning, etc.

Overall, scientific psychology appears to provide a more thorough and balanced approach, and is able to offer – on the basis of accumulated methodological research – generalisability, statistical reliability and cross-cultural validity. Despite these advantages, biased scientific methods and interpretations arising from researchers’ limited knowledge and personal/cultural values are still liable.


Breckler, S. J., Olson, J. M., & Wiggins, E. C. (2006) Social Psychology Alive. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.