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Psychology is influencing your decisions — and you probably didn’t know

February 8, 2019 • read

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Psychology is influencing your decisions — and you probably didn’t know

February is psychology month, highlighting the impact of psychology in our society. Many of us don’t realize the contributions that psychologists have made, and the ways in which their research touches our daily lives. Psychologists work in just about every industry — from sports, to schools, to the criminal justice system. We might not notice them, but psychologists shape the way we relate to one another every day.

What do psychologists do?

Many think that the only time you need a psychologist is if you are having a mental health challenge. And while clinical psychology is a large discipline within the field, psychologists do much more than mental health counselling.

Psychologists use evidence-based research to study human behaviour — essentially why we do the things we do. They work in many different fields, everything from geriatrics to urban planning. Some even work in advertising, helping to design marketing campaigns based on their knowledge of how to influence human behaviour.

Psychology versus psychiatry

People often confuse psychologists with psychiatrists, and while both may work in the mental health field, there are notable differences. A psychiatrist is a doctor, which means they hold a doctor of medicine (an M.D.). This means that they are certified to prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, to their clients. A psychologist, on the other hand, has a university degree, typically a PhD in psychology, and cannot prescribe medication in Canada.

When it comes to mental health issues, a psychologist will most likely try to support their client by looking at a broad range of behaviour. They’ll also examine past history and current relationships. A psychiatrist, in contrast, typically views mental health issues as rooted in a chemical imbalance. Because of this, they focus on providing medications such as antidepressants to help. In Canada, psychologists do most of the “talk therapy,” though they often work in tandem with a psychiatrist should the patient need medication.

Provincial healthcare covers seeing a psychiatrist, but requires a referral from your doctor. While you don’t need a referral to see a psychologist, visits are not usually covered, unless through private insurance or extended benefits.

How does psychology shape our lives?

Because psychologists study human behaviour, their research is instrumental in shaping how we live. Among many examples, here are a few that stand out.

Attachment theory

It might seem crazy now, but we weren’t always aware of how important it is for a baby to be securely bonded with at least one caregiver. Psychologist Mary Ainsworth observed that babies who bond securely to a caregiver are more confident and eager to learn. We now know how important touching, hugging, and responding to the needs of our babies is because of psychologists.

Job screening

Psychology also helps us to make better decisions when it comes to interviewing prospective job candidates. Psychological research shows us that interviewers have unconscious bias in a number of ways. You might think you’re making the best choice, but someone’s weight, appearance or even name can influence you without you even knowing it! Because of psychology, we know that having structured interview questions and scoring guidelines for answers, helps employers to rank candidates more equitably. Structured interviews are also better at predicting which candidates will be most successful on the job.

Marketing

Marketing is a field that has benefited immensely from the field of psychology. Advertising is about influencing consumers to buy your product. So who better to design a marketing campaign than a student of human behaviour? Why are you shown a 12 step list of instructions when you go to erase your profile from certain sites? Because psychology tells us that you’re more likely to give up and keep your profile than if you’re shown a two-step process. There is even an entire field devoted to “colour psychology,” which studies the emotions that different colours elicit in us. Go ahead and google the logos of your favourite fast food chains. Chances are they’re using reds, oranges, and yellows — the colours psychologists say we associate with appetite, happiness and comfort— to subtly influence your meal decisions.

Psychologists want to know why we behave the way we do. Because of this, their input can be valuable in shaping our behaviour to help us in many ways. From changing the way we raise our children, to getting us to exercise more, to having happier marriages, the work of psychologists is all around us.

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