A guide to everyday psychology

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Why have pets if we can’t imagine what they might be thinking!?

So what’s all this about?

The Aim

This aim of this completely free-to-use website is to explain:

why we feel things

why we think things

why we do things

The website draws together a wide range of established ‘facts’ about human psychology, facts that have been demonstrated in countless experiments. And it makes practical sense of them.

The aim is that anyone can understand how their own and other people’s psychology works – and use that knowledge in their lives.

I especially hope the website will be useful for young people and their parents or carers. In my view, one of the most serious social problems today is that so many people (especially children) are being told that there is something wrong with them.

Structure

Most of the posts here set out an everyday question, an event or a concern – and then use a hundred years’ worth of psychology to try to answer or explain it.

The subjects covered here range widely – exploring everything from why we all have prejudices to the effects of pornography on young minds and adult relationships.

Some articles focus on social or political issues – like BLM, Meghan’s truth and what happens to soldiers when we send them to war. Other articles are just for fun or fancy. Why do our cats and dogs do the things they do? Why do we have bad dreams? Will we see driverless cars in our lifetimes? Will there soon be killer robots with AGI?

I hope to add a new article or post every few days – so keep looking in! The website is interactive – comments and questions are welcome.

So how is this website different from others?

Wherever possible, it uses (and combines) explanations that have been tested and proved over many years.

It focuses on the inbuilt psychological processes that are present in all of us. These are the ‘pillars’ of psychology. And, happily, they are all easy to understand.

These universal processes include, for tiny example, the ways by which we learn new things (how we learn our habits; how we learn the things we should be afraid of, for example). They include the process of ‘stereotyping’, by which we simplify our world and make it more manageable. Another inbuilt process is called ‘cognitive dissonance’, through which we justify the things we do, feel, think to ourselves. And there are many others.

And why are these processes so important to know about? Because it is impossible to fully understand feelings and behaviour without knowing how these fixed processes work and interact. No ifs, no buts.

Helping to explain why life sometimes feels so crappy and complicated.

Life is crappy and complicated because it is full of conflicts. In my view, our best chance of happiness comes from understanding how these conflicts come about. But to do this we have to look outwards rather than inwards.

It is a common theme in self-help books that the path to happiness is simple: “just do this one thing and you’ll feel great”. It could be tapping therapy or mindfulness or drinking green tea. But human psychology is far too messy and complicated for that. Life brings us internal conflicts, every single day. And it is these conflicts that cause nearly all our guilt, hang-ups and anxiety.

So – briefly – what are these conflicts that make everyday psychological life so messy?

  1. We have inbuilt psychological processes that conflict with one another. For example, we have inbuilt needs that often compel us to compete and fight with others for food, drink or mates. But at the same time we have a need to avoid injury and pain, that presses us to run away from a fight. Life is full of such ‘approach-avoid’ conflicts.
  2. The different things that we learn often conflict with one another. We might learn from our parents, for example, that being cautious is a ‘good’ thing But we might learn the exact opposite from our friends: being cautious is a ‘bad’ thing that only boring and dull people do. Which teaching should we follow?
  3. And, third, the things we learn often conflict with our fixed psychological processes. For example, our inbuilt sexual desires urge us to touch or stare at ‘stimulating’ people (or images). But our human culture teaches people that they must resist those urges – and, especially, they must not touch. For another example, we learn that we must not take things that belong to other people – even when our survival might depend on having those things.

Life is a never ending series of mental conflicts. Mental conflicts do not come about because there is something wrong with us. And it important to realise that conflict is an unavoidable part of normal life.

So psychology is not all about mental disorders?

It might surprise readers that this website is not about how to ‘spot’ mental disorders and overcome them.

There are three main and specific reasons why this is so.

Keeping it simple

  1. The vast majority of human behaviour, misery and happiness is not caused by mental disorders… This is true even in extreme cases. For example, millions of ordinary people have participated in history’s many genocides. Millions more people participated in the slave trade – or were happy to benefit from it. Even in 2021, modern day slavery continues; millions of people in the world are working for a dollar a day – so that, in the west, we can buy £2 t-shirts, and fret about our Experian scores. Millions of people in the UK learn to be afraid of spiders! All these ‘bad’ events and feelings occur because of the way our normal minds work.
  2. Unless we learn about how ‘normal’ psychology works, we cannot understand how most disordered psychology works. For example, without understanding the completely normal and universal psychological process of ‘avoidance learning’, it is impossible to understand why phobias are difficult to shake off.
  3. And third, the mechanisms of our ‘normal’ psychology can nearly always explain people’s actions, feelings and anxieties much more simply than mental disorder.

Most of the time (nearly all of the time, in fact) we don’t need ADHD, ASD, OCD, bi-polar, phobia, BPD or even a PhD to understand why we do, think and feel ‘bad’ things. Our normal mental mechanisms are nearly always able to provide a usable explanation.

So this website outlines our universal psychological processes. They shape all our everyday lives. And they are even essential understanding for those who hope to explain the lives of that small number of people who do – genuinely – suffer from mental illnesses and disorders.

These processes are responsible for our racism, morality, kindness, self-doubt, insincerity, criminality – pretty much everything, in fact.

What about self-help psychology?

The big problem with advice from ‘self-help’ books is that it is often narrow and it is always inward looking. Even if Paul McKenna and Ruby Wax really could make us into slim, rich, mindful and happy non-smokers in a week, they would still answer none of life’s less navel-gazing questions.

Why did my son carry a knife to school? Why did my daughter run off to join ISIS? Am I the only person who feels the way I do? Why do people racially abuse football players? Why are my children always so rude? What makes the Taliban so unquestioning in their beliefs? These are often the questions that people want answers to.

Usable answers to these types of real-life questions are vanishingly rare in popular psychology. So this website is intended to show people where the answers might lie.

Preventative Psychology

In my view, an understanding of how everyday psychology works can make people happier, wiser and more tolerant.

And it offers the chance for what I like to call ‘preventative psychology’. If we know how our psychology works we might be able to anticipate problems in our psychological lives before they happen – in a context where ‘preventative psychiatry’ is almost meaningless.