Mention the word “psychology” and chances are the average person visualizes an individual lying horizontally on a not-too-comfy couch, tearfully describing feelings and experiences in an attempt to receive help managing a mental health condition. The therapist, of course, sits poker-faced a few feet away, scribbling furiously in a spiral-bound notepad.
While the above scene is certainly a bit overused, perhaps even to the point of becoming cliché, it is still a far cry from the more macabre ideas of brain-scrambling lobotomies in the mid-20th century. General knowledge of mental health conditions has come a long way since then, and the field of psychology is now deeply embedded in our everyday lives—in more industries than just ones related to mental health. In fact, some of the most promising advancements in science, technology, health, education, and business are firmly grounded in psychological principles.
Here are some common uses of psychology today.
1. Eating Less and Losing Weight
With obesity becoming an epidemic in the United States, there is growing interest in finding effective ways to prevent overeating. Brian Wansink, PhD, professor and director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, has conducted extensive research in food psychology and has published some groundbreaking findings. Some of his revelations include:
- Watching action movies increases food consumption, especially among males.
- Using smaller dinnerware and smaller serving bowls reduces the amount of food served and consumed, without negatively impacting satisfaction.
- Significantly smaller snack portions are just as effective as larger snack portions in satisfying hunger and craving.
Research into the psychological factors that contribute to obesity can be beneficial to the effort to get the obesity epidemic under control. Most psychologists understand the link between mind and body in health issues, and learning how to address the emotional aspects of overeating can help people better understand what might be interfering with weight loss.
2. Getting Better Grades and Making the Most of School
Some students may have difficulty performing well in school despite investing similar time and effort in their studies as students who excel. One possible reason for this discrepancy in academic performance is the varying effectiveness of traditional study tools and strategies.
Cognitive and educational psychologists from Kent State University, Duke University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Virginia have determined popular techniques such as re-reading texts, memorizing mnemonic devices, and highlighting or underlining key points tend to produce inconsistent results and were of less utility to students. The most effective learning strategies involved regular study sessions distributed over the available time and taking practice tests.
Other education experts such as Dr. Ken Robinson have argued the current rigid setup of the educational system may actually hinder the development of naturally talented children. With so much emphasis placed on mathematics, English, the sciences, and business, children who are gifted in the expressive arts may be repeatedly discouraged from cultivating their talents due to fears they will struggle to turn an artistic passion into a lucrative career. Such students, he argues, may benefit from specialized educational programs—drawn from educational psychology—that will nurture their thinking ability and creativity.
3. Finding a Relationship and Love
Some single people may say they are patiently looking for “that special someone.” The challenge is in the amount of fish in the sea—more than 7.4 billion. Many online dating companies today are attempting to take the time and hassle out of finding romance by utilizing complex algorithms based on the psychology of love.
Couples may be matched by a love test based on personal interests, religion, ethnicity, age, or sexual preferences. Personality tests can help the dating site to pair you with others who share some of your qualities or interests, and being matched with dozens of people instantly can take the time and guesswork out of traditional dating.
4. Building a Better Soldier
In recent years, psychology has become intrinsically linked with issues of national security. The United States Armed Forces have come to recognize the high-stress situations soldiers may encounter, and the effects these situations may have on veterans both during and after their service.
To this end, the military has established resilience and readiness centers with the aim of keeping soldiers physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and mentally healthy for duty. Regular psychological evaluations and training ensure soldiers are able to increase mindfulness, effectively handle adversity, and adjust to changing circumstances, enabling them to better cope, recover, and learn from potential setbacks. Programs are also in place to help veterans deal with reintegration after they return home, and effectively manage any possible lingering issues such as posttraumatic stress.
5. Increasing Performance and Productivity in the Workplace
Would you describe yourself as friendly, careful, or responsible?
In most industries, a knowledge of psychology can help to better understand the human mind, behavior, and motivation behind people’s thoughts and actions.While all of the above options may seem like desirable character traits, they may or may not be qualities a potential employer is looking for. Many people who are searching for a job today realize the majority of U.S. companies (some experts estimate 60-70%) are currently using personality tests as part of the hiring process. Though resumes, recommendations, and references are all useful, a growing number of employers are using psychological tools to sneak a peek into the personality of job applicants to help evaluate whether they are truly suited for a particular job.
Employers may also use personality tests to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of current employees. Equipped with this information, they may target specific individuals for specific training programs. These programs may seek to foster qualities such as motivation, leadership, effective communication, and decision-making—all useful qualities for running a profitable business. The results of personality tests may even be used to evaluate whether a particular employee would be more productive in the workplace if given a different role within the company.
6. Boosting Sales to Consumers
People only buy what they need to buy—or so marketers would have you think. Successful advertisers and marketers have been using a wide variety of psychological tactics and techniques to understand consumer behavior and to boost sales for their respective companies for centuries.
Popular strategies include:
- Harnessing the power of human emotions – Companies such as Red Bull may associate their products with high levels of excitement. Other companies may appeal to your sexuality, cultural pride, or even your humanity in an attempt to move you to buy their products.
- Using fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) – Marketers use this legal tactic to publicly promote negative perceptions of the competition.
- Promoting exclusivity – People will spend more in order to be seen as privileged, special, or better than everyone else.
- The contextually and culturally appropriate use of color – Studies show consumers may be moved to buy something if a particular color fits the “personality” of the brand. Other studies report color alone may account for up to 90% of a decision to buy a product on a whim.
- Building trust and credibility by highlighting product flaws – By pointing out their mistakes and publicly addressing them, companies promote the idea that no one is perfect, but at least they are honest enough to admit their mistakes and thorough enough to fix them.
- Repositioning the brand – This tactic involves changing the thinking of target consumers so a certain product occupies the top spot in their minds. Consider this example: “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” With this slogan, Allstate captures the ideal position within the minds of potential customers and prompts them to think about the quality of the “hands” they are in should they choose to go with the competition.
In most industries, a knowledge of psychology can help to better understand the human mind, behavior, and motivation behind people’s thoughts and actions. This greater understanding may help you navigate modern society and recognize how deeply entrenched psychology is in the world around you.
- Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. (n.d.). Beating mindless eating. Retrieved from http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/content/beating-mindless-eating
- Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J. & Willngham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educaional psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14(1), 4-58. doi: 10.1177/1529100612453266.
- Hallock, J. (n.d.). Colour Assignment. Preferences. Retrieved from http://www.joehallock.com/edu/COM498/preferences.html
- Rosenthal, R. (n.d.). 5 psychological tactics marketers use to influence consumer behavior. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/3032675/hit-the-ground-running/5-psychological-tactics-marketers-use-to-influence-consumer-behavior
- Trout, J. (2006, March 16). Repositioning the competition. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/2006/03/16/jack-trout-marketing-cx_jt_0320tylenol.html
- United States Army. (n.d.). Ready and resilient. Retrieved from http://www.army.mil/readyandresilient
- Weber, L. (2015, April 4). Today’s personality tests raise the bar for job seekers. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-personality-test-could-stand-in-the-way-of-your-next-job-1429065001
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