32 MONITOR ON PSYCHOLOGY • SEPTEMBER 2013
BY DR. STEVEN J. BRECKLER • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE
As president of the Association for Psychological Science in 2007,
John Cacioppo, PhD, made a now well-known case for understanding
psychology as a hub science. Writing in the APS Observer, Cacioppo
concluded that “the evidence is clear: The mapping of science shows
psychology to be a hub discipline with a great deal to offer (and learn
from) other scientific disciplines.”
We expect nothing less of full-fledged STEM (science,
technology, engineering and math) disciplines. The tools,
methods and theories of psychological science contribute
essentially to biology, ethology, neuroscience, medicine,
engineering, statistics and other related fields. Indeed, much of
contemporary science owes its progress to the contributions of
psychology and behavioral science.
Similarly, psychology has benefited from advances in
chemistry, math, physics, computer science, statistics and many
other STEM disciplines with which we share common pursuits.
The interconnections and cross-fertilizations propel science
forward, and psychology figures prominently in that mix.
One contribution for which psychology is very highly
regarded and appreciated among all STEM disciplines is the
basic knowledge we have accumulated on how people learn.
Decades of research in cognitive, developmental and social
psychology have profoundly influenced teaching and education,
especially in the sciences. Pedagogy and developmentally
appropriate learning sequences have vastly improved learning
outcomes in math, physics and other STEM subjects considered
so vital in K– 12 education.
Just as physics and mathematics are foundational to progress
across all the STEM disciplines, so, too, is psychology. Indeed,
such contributions were clearly recognized by the National
Academy of Sciences when it developed its recent framework
for K– 12 science education. Most of the framework’s guiding
assumptions and organization rest on the insight produced
by psychological science. As Cacioppo declared, the evidence
is clear: Psychology has a great deal to offer other scientific
disciplines, and all of them are stronger as a result.
Yet, just as the Next Generation Science Standards arrive in
K– 12 classrooms across the nation, a peculiar irony emerges.
The science of psychology was good enough to provide the
foundation on which those standards are based, yet the science
of psychology is not well represented among the standards
themselves. Psychology will surely play a role in implementing
those standards, but the subject matter of psychology will be
largely excluded from the K– 12 science curriculum.
Psychology thus finds itself in the role of scientific
handmaiden: The discipline plays a useful but subordinate role
in the advancement of science. It seems that the essential role
for psychology is to assist other STEM disciplines, even if not
fully admitted to their ranks as a scientific discipline itself.
Nevertheless, psychology should take great pride in this role.
The discipline makes contributions that are widely respected
and deeply appreciated. Even a subordinate role can be an
important one, and all of STEM is stronger as a result.
The hazard is that psychology is too frequently cast in this
role. Other disciplines thrive and blossom on the vine because
of psychological science, yet our science itself is starved and
deprived of essential resources. All of science will be stronger
when psychology is cultivated as the hub science it truly is. n
Other disciplines thrive and blossom
on the vine because of psychological
science, yet our science itself is starved
and deprived of essential resources.
All of science will be stronger when
psychology is cultivated as the hub
science it truly is.