How Taking Psychology Makes You a Better Person

How Taking Psychology Makes You a Better Person

Monica Wheeler, Arts and Culture Section Editor

Is it any surprise that the science of human behavior and the mind can help you become a better person?  I don’t pretend to be a great person, but I can say that taking psychology has improved a few of the worst parts of me so far.  

Psychology is not just a class about biological, social-cultural, and psychological influences on our behavior, interaction, and development, but it also provides a wealth of opportunities for examining your own biases.  For example, in the “Social Psychology” unit of AP Psychology, we learned about the cognitive processes that fuel prejudice and lead to discrimination. 

Learning about conformity, a number of social influences, and a plethora of other concepts such as the other-race effect (which is the tendency to recognize faces of one’s own race better than those of another), leads to a deeper understanding of the processes that facilitate discrimination.  The just-world phenomenon (which is the tendency to believe that people deserve what they get, and get what they deserve), for example, is also eye-opening to how frequently we display apathy for other’s sufferings and how privileged people may account the less privileged situations of people with lower socioeconomic status as a result of a “lack of hard work” when, in reality, it was never an equal playing-field, and they did not have the same opportunities.  

Discussing one’s own racial biases and prejudices is critical in learning to avoid them.  Learn to be uncomfortable with it and you can learn to fix it.  Psychology also teaches you about the bystander effect (the more people are present in a situation, the less likely one is to help you) and how not to electrocute someone when a scientist tells you to.  (In a famous experiment by Stanley Milgram, two-thirds of people obeyed a presumed authority up to the point when they believed the shock they were giving the other person would kill them).  So take psychology: become a less awful person.