How To Think Straight About Psychology

Keith E. Stanovich  
Total pages
August 2013
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How To Think Straight About Psychology
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For introductory psychology courses at two year or four year institutions. Also for specialty classes throughout the discipline that focus on critical thinking, science vs. pseudoscience, and discrimating valid research in the field.

Keith Stanovich's widely used and highly acclaimed book helps students become more discriminating consumers of psychological information, helping them recognize pseudoscience and be able to distinguish it from true psychological research. Stanovich helps instructors teach critical thinking skills within the rich context of psychology. It is the leading text of its kind.

How to Think Straight About Psychology says about the discipline of psychology what many instructors would like to say but haven't found a way to. That is one reason adopters have called it “an instructor's dream text” and often comment “I wish I had written it. It tells my students just what I want them to hear about psychology”.


Presents psychological topics such as falsifiability, operationalism, experimental control, converging evidence, correlational vs. experimental studies, and statistics as “tools” for critical evaluation, providing students with a set of practical consumer skills to independently evaluate psychological claims.

Teach students the importance understanding the origins of data.

  • Discusses psychology in the media and gives students some “consumer rules” for dealing with it.
  • Presents information on how to differentiate between true psychological research and pseudoscience.

Teach critical thinking skills.

  • Provides instructors with the opportunity to teach critical thinking skills within the rich context of modern psychology.

New to this Edition

New to the Ninth Edition

The ninth edition of How to Think Straight About Psychology has no major structural revisions because a chapter reorganization occurred in a previous edition. The content and order of the chapters remain the same. At the request of reviewers and users, this edition remains at the same length as the eighth edition. Readers and users have not wanted the book to lengthen and, indeed, it has not. I have continued to update and revise the examples that are used in the book (while keeping those that are reader favorites). Some dated examples have been replaced with more contemporary studies and issues. I have made a major effort to use contemporary citations that are relevant to the various concepts and experimental effects that are mentioned. A large number of new citations appear in this edition (190 new citations, to be exact!), so that the reader continues to have up-to-date references on all of the examples and concepts

The goal of the book remains what it always was–to present a short introduction to the critical thinking skills that will help the student to better understand the subject matter of psychology. During the past decade and a half there has been an increased emphasis on the teaching of critical thinking in universities (Abrami et al., 2008; Sternberg, Roediger, & Halpern, 2006). Indeed, some state university systems have instituted curricular changes mandating an emphasis on critical thinking skills. At the same time, however, other educational scholars were arguing that critical thinking skills should not be isolated from specific factual content. How to Think Straight About Psychologycombines these two trends. It is designed to provide the instructor with the opportunity to teach critical thinking within the rich content of modern psychology

Readers are encouraged to send me comments by corresponding with me at the following address: Keith E. Stanovich, Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor St. W., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, M5S 1V6. Email:

Table of Contents

1. Psychology Is Alive and Well (and Doing Fine Among the Sciences)


The Freud Problem

The Diversity of Modern Psychology

 Implications of Diversity

Unity in Science

What, Then, Is Science?

Systematic Empiricism

 Publicly Verifiable Knowledge: Replication and Peer Review

 Empirically Solvable Problems: Scientists’ Search for Testable Theories

Psychology and Folk Wisdom: The Problem with “Common Sense”

Psychology as a Young Science




2. Falsifiability: How to Foil Little Green Men in the Head


Theories and the Falsifiability Criterion

 The Theory of Knocking Rhythms

 Freud and Falsifiability

 The Little Green Men

 Not All Confirmations Are Equal

 Falsifiability and Folk Wisdom

 The Freedom to Admit a Mistake

 Thoughts Are Cheap

Errors in Science: Getting Closer to the Truth



 3. Operationism and Essentialism: “But, Doctor, What Does It Really Mean?”


Why Scientists Are Not Essentialists

 Essentialists Like to Argue About the Meaning of Words

 Operationists Link Concepts to Observable Events

 Reliability and Validity

 Direct and Indirect Operational Definitions

 Scientific Concepts Evolve

Operational Definitions in Psychology

 Operationism as a Humanizing Force

 Essentialist Questions and the Misunderstanding of Psychology

 Operationism and the Phrasing of Psychological Questions




4. Testimonials and Case Study Evidence: Placebo Effects and the Amazing Randi


The Place of the Case Study

Why Testimonials Are Worthless: Placebo Effects

The “Vividness” Problem

 The Overwhelming Impact of the Single Case

 The Amazing Randi: Fighting Fire with Fire

Testimonials Open the Door to Pseudoscience




5. Correlation and Causation: Birth Control by the Toaster Method


The Third-Variable Problem: Goldberger and Pellagra

 Why Goldberger’s Evidence Was Better

The Directionality Problem

Selection Bias




6. Getting Things Under Control: The Case of Clever Hans


Snow and Cholera

Comparison, Control, and Manipulation

 Random Assignment in Conjunction with Manipulation Defines the True Experiment

 The Importance of Control Groups

 The Case of Clever Hans, the Wonder Horse

 Clever Hans in the 1990s

 Prying Variables Apart: Special Conditions

 Intuitive Physics

 Intuitive Psychology




7. “But It’s Not Real Life!”: The “Artificiality” Criticism and Psychology


Why Natural Isn’t Always Necessary

 The “Random Sample” Confusion

 The Random Assignment Versus Random Sample Distinction

 Theory-Driven Research Versus Direct Applications

Applications of Psychological Theory

 The “College Sophomore” Problem

 The Real-Life and College Sophomore Problems in Perspective




8. Avoiding the Einstein Syndrome: The Importance of Converging Evidence


The Connectivity Principle

 A Consumer’s Rule: Beware of Violations of Connectivity

 The “Great-Leap” Model Versus the Gradual-Synthesis Model

Converging Evidence: Progress Despite Flaws

 Converging Evidence in Psychology

Scientific Conse