Psychological literacy: proceed with caution, construction ahead
Douglas D Murdoch
Department of Psychology, Mount Royal University, Calgary, AB, Canada
Abstract: Psychological literacy is the ethical application of psychological skills and knowledge. This could benefit individuals in their personal, occupational, and civic lives and subsequently benefit society as a whole. We know that psychology has a wide-ranging impact on society. The potential benefits of a psychologically literate citizenry in improved parenting, better business practices, enlightened legislation, and many other areas make this a desirable goal. It has been proposed that this should become the primary goal of an undergraduate psychology education to benefit the majority who do not go on to graduate school and even those who only take a few psychology courses. This idea has significant merit and warrants further investigation and development. However, there are major concerns that need to be addressed. First, what are uniquely psychological skills and knowledge? Many of the skills psychology undergraduates acquire are generic to university and not specific to psychology. Second, psychology can be as harmful when misapplied as it can be beneficial when ethically applied. Third, psychology departments will need to address pragmatic as well as ethical issues, including issues of competency, boundaries, accountability, and confidentiality. Fourth, the available empirical evidence to direct such efforts is primarily at the anecdotal, case example, and pilot study stages. Significant improvements are needed in measuring psychological literacy, choice of outcome measures, and research methodologies before these advantages can be realized in an empirically supported manner. Currently, best practices in the undergraduate curriculum are the mindful and purposeful design of courses and experiential opportunities. It is proposed that psychological literacy is best conceptualized as a meta-literacy and that it should become a goal of psychology undergraduate education but not necessarily the goal.
Keywords: teaching of psychology, best practices, undergraduate psychology, ethics, psychology’s uniqueness, curriculum, student learning outcomes
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