Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Psychology & Math: Psychology IS a Science!

Psychology & Mathematics

I have made a few appearances in grade 8 classrooms collecting data for research.  Being a university student in a grade 8 classrooms invites a lot of questions from these apprehensive students.  One of the most popular questions I get upon the students discovering I am a psychology major is, “do I have to be good at math to go into psychology?”  It seems a large misconception among younger students is that social sciences involve no mathematical knowledge, and if someone is bad at math, they should go into psychology.  As it turns out, you DO need math in psychology. 

An unfortunate element of most university programs is that you will have required courses that you must complete for your major.  The unfortunate part is that they may be faculties that are opposite to your program, or worse, they may be faculties that you attempted to avoid by enrolling in the program you are in.  Although this can happen in any program, it is a very common problem in psychology. 

The problem with required courses in faculties outside of the program (e.g. statistical science courses required for psychology majors) is that they cause a great deal of stress for the students in the program.  The transition to university already comes with so many additional stressors such as deadlines, higher workloads, and the responsibility to now keep yourself on track in school.  University students are already so vulnerable to many mental health issues because of these stressors, and it’s devastating to see students stressing out more over challenging courses that are contaminating their passion for their actual program. 

In addition to extra stress on the student, a course such as statistics in a psychology program can hurt a student’s ability to stay in their program.  Competitive programs typically have very strict requirements for maintaining status in a faculty.  If a person is bad at math but is in psychology, getting below a 60% could mean they are kicked out of their program, or put on academic probation at the very least.  Not only does this harm their academic standing, but also contributes to the additional stresses. 

What does the research say?

Unfortunately, many of us are quick to blame the students for their poor performance in these courses.  We might think they should have studied more, or if they can’t handle the course load or content they shouldn’t be in the program.  

Recent research has shed light on this issue.  A study investigated what predicts performance in a psychological statistics course.  They considered the role of math anxiety and previous math marks (on an algebra exam).  The study found that previous math scores significantly predicted success in the statistics course.  Other variables such as test/class anxiety, or fear or asking for help did not significant predict how well a student would do in the course.  Another interesting finding was that women were more likely to succeed in the course than men, which is great for the “women are bad at math” argument.

The findings of the study are important because it supports that it isn’t the students fault if they do not succeed in the psychology statistics course. The most important part in predicting success in statistics was previous success in math.  However, we know this can be an issue because many psychology students are in psychology because they have avoided math throughout high school.  As suggested in the article, one viable solution to this issue would be offering multiple levels of psychological statistics in the psychology program.  This way, students would be able to select a course tailored to their ability, in order to each them what is necessary, but also encourage their success. 

Overall, it is important to remember that psychology is a scientific study.  The scientific aspect of psychology is what makes it feasible and applicable.  As a psychology student, I would still recommend anyone who is interesting in psychology to try it out.  You will be amazed at how valuable psychology is in so many areas of your own life, but also its usefulness in society.  Just remember that psychology does include the scientific process, which means it is based on mathematical analyses.  However, according to the study, even if you are apprehensive about psychological statistics, you are just as likely to succeed as if you aren't.  So, give it a try! 

Lester, D. (2016). Predicting success in psychological statistics courses. Psychological Reports, 118(3), 772-777. doi:10.1177/0033294116647687

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