Why Is Psychology Common Sense

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This essay seeks to answer the question “Is psychology just common sense?” by underlining the differences between the two through the use of psychological concepts to explore a popular statement of common sense; “People with Mental Illness are violent.”.

Psychology’s great strength is that it uses scientific observation to systematically answer questions about behaviour (Stanovich, 2010). The word psychology itself comes from the ancient Greek roots psyche, meaning the “mind” and logos which means “knowledge or study”, thus psychology can be defined as the study of the behaviour and mental processes of humans, which is based on empirical evidence. Common sense on the other hand is defined as the basic level of sound judgement which is not
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For example, psychology defines violence as a subtype of aggression (behaviour performed by an individual with the intention of harming another, who is believed by the individual to be motivated to avoid the harm), generally used to denote extreme forms of aggression such as rape, murder and assault. (Anderson, 2000) Though common sense would often describe any form of aggressive behaviour as a form of violence. Precision is key in this study, thus each form of mental illness is recognised as being different from the others as they all present different functional difficulties and complexities, there is also an understanding that the degree of impairment of an individual often fluctuates throughout his or her life. Common sense on the other hand does not take into account any of these differences, and generalises them.

Furthermore psychological theories are questioned and tested in a variety of ways, to evaluate their validity in different circumstances. In 1998, the records of 1740 patients in high security hospitals were reviewed by Taylor and his colleagues, while Junginger, Parks-Levy, and McGuire interviewed 54 patients with delusions and a history of violence, to analyse the link between symptoms of mental illness (here, delusions) and violent acts. Whereas theories of common sense are simply not tested
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It has already been explained why the statement of common sense; “People with Mental Illness are violent.” is inaccurate from the psychological point of view, however many still believe it mainly due to the constant exposure to a misrepresentation of people with mental illness by the media. Between 1950 and 1996, a longitudinal study on the attitudes of people in America towards mental health found that, “the proportion of Americans who describe mental illness in terms consistent with violent or dangerous behaviour nearly doubled.” (Pescosolido, et al., 1996, Pescosolido et al., 1999). During this time, a content analysis performed for the National Institute of Mental Health by Gerbner, Gross, Morgan, & Signorielli in 1981found that 73% of all characters depicted as mentally ill in American television dramas were portrayed as violent, and 23% were shown to be homicidal. While one on stories from the United Press International database found that 86% of all print stories dealing with violent crime and former mental patients had a form of murder as the focus of the article (Shain & Phillips, 1991). Even till today, majority of published news articles on mental illness focus on either negative characteristics related to individuals suffering from mental disorders or medical treatments, and positive stories on the recovery
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