Andrew Gelman on the behavioral and cognitive angles of psychology
In the “Psychological Science” world, voters’ attitudes are determined by upper-body strength and the time of the month, their attitudes on important issues are influenced by meaningless subliminal stimuli, and their elections turn on the outcomes of late-October football games, and they flub any decisions involving uncertainty. Throw the words “Florida” and “bingo” at them and they walk slower, without even realizing why, they’re influenced by stereotype threat even without realizing it, and even their choice of clothing is not under their conscious control. Put it all together and you get a pre-cognitive conception of the citizen: not a man or woman who weighs the evidence, forms political views, and makes economic and political decisions, but a creature who is continually pushed to and fro by influences of which he or she is not even aware, an unstable product of hormones and the manipulators of political and social marketers, a sort of particle in the water being jostled by invisible Brownian forces.
Let me repeat that the evidence for many of these claims is weak, indeed I have the feeling that a lot of people want to believe in these things so they grab on to whatever “p less than .05″ comparisons they find, and take them as representative of the general population, as scientific truth. On the other hand, I perhaps am coming from the opposite direction.
What I’m getting at is that there’s a political theme here, and also a scientific theme: I see a lot (although not all!) of this “behavioral” work as being behaviorist in the sense of being faithful to a pre-cognitive, and pre-modern conception of psychology.