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Are psychological models used in therapy & coaching anecdotal or scientific?
“Anecdotal stories can undermine our ability to make scientifically driven judgements in real-world contexts,”
Examining the influence of anecdotal stories and the interplay of individual differences on reasoning. Fernando Rodriguez (http://www.tandfonline.com/author/Rodriguez%2C+Fernando), Rebecca E. Rhodes (http://www.tandfonline.com/author/Rhodes%2C+Rebecca+E), Kevin F. Miller (http://www.tandfonline.com/author/Miller%2C+Kevin+F) &
In two experiments, we explored whether anecdotal stories influenced how individuals reasoned when evaluating scientific news articles. We additionally considered the role of education level and thinking dispositions on reasoning. Participants evaluated eight scientific news articles that drew questionable interpretations from the evidence. Overall, anecdotal stories decreased the ability to reason scientifically even when controlling for education level and thinking dispositions. Additionally, we found that article length was related to participants' ratings of the news articles. Our study demonstrates that anecdotes can discourage scientific reasoning while also pointing to the potential influence of article length on judgements of quality.
KEYWORDS: Anecdotal stories (http://www.tandfonline.com/keyword/Anecdotal+Stories), thinking dispositions (http://www.tandfonline.com/keyword/Thinking+Dispositions), scientific communication (http://www.tandfonline.com/keyword/Scientific+Communication), evidence evaluation skills (http://www.tandfonline.com/keyword/Evidence+Evaluation+Skills), scientific reasoning (http://www.tandfonline.com/keyword/Scientific+Reasoning)
We’re biased by our prior beliefs
This obstacle to scientific objectivity was demonstrated by a now-classic study (http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1981-05421-001) from the 1970s in which participants were asked to evaluate scientific research that either supported or conflicted with their prior beliefs. For instance, one of the to-be-evaluated studies supposedly showed that murder rates tended to be lower in US states with the death penalty. Participants demonstrated an obvious bias in their evaluations. For example, if they supported capital punishment, they tended to evaluate the death penalty study favourably, whereas if they were against capital punishment, they were more likely to see the studies’ flaws. Scientific skills offer little protection against this bias, in fact they can compound it. A 2013 study (https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2319992) asked participants to evaluate a piece of research on gun control. Participants with greater numeracy skills were especially biased: if the findings supported their existing beliefs, they were generous in their evaluation, but if the findings went against their beliefs, they used their skills to (in the words of Shah et al) “slam” the findings – a phenomenon dubbed “identity-protective cognition”.
At first glance the question posed, echoing the famous scene in Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, may have provoked a similar sentiment to that of the character Reg, who cannot acknowledge that the Romans have delivered any civic improvements at all. Although modern neuroscience research has, as yet, had minimal impact on mental health practice, it may be that we are on the brink of an exciting period.
In the short term the most important effect will be to encourage us to change the way we think about symptoms, focusing on proximal causes at the level of the brain and how these relate to psychological processes. Longer term, the hope may be that by recognising mechanistic heterogeneity we will develop better classification systems, new approaches to intervention, and further tools to enable practitioners to choose the right treatment for the right individual.
We may even better understand how changes in thoughts and behaviours may be made more effectively.