CONCEPTS IN PSYCHOLOGICAL LITERACY
This page elaborates on the concept of psychological literacy, and introduces the related concepts of: adaptive cognition, positive psychology, resilience, self-determination, self-management and self-optimisation, and global literacy.
The term “psychological literacy” was coined by Alan Boneau (see Literature) when he attempted to identify 100 key concepts in each of the major psychology subfields. The current conceptualisation of psychological literacy was operationalised as the graduate attributes (knowledge, skills, attitudes) or learning outcomes of the undergraduate psychology degree program (i.e., psychology major; McGovern et al., 2010; see Literature), in the context of discussing what kind of characteristics a psychologically literate citizen would have. Cranney and Dunn (2011; see Literature) simply defined psychological literacy as the capacity to intentionally apply psychological science to achieve personal, professional and societal goals. But of course, it is not that simple. For example, how does one balance personal, professional and societal goals? Why do we need to be concerned about societal goals? What “society” are we talking about? We discuss these issues when we describe some of the Literature on psychological literacy. Cranney and Morris (2011, see Literature) discuss the notion of adaptive cognition, defined as ways of thinking (and consequently behaving) that are beneficial to one’s (and others’) survival and well-being, and how psychological literacy can be applied to three different domains: self and others, local communities (including employment settings), and global communities.
Cranney et al. (2013) suggest that, in relation to undergraduate education, psychological literacy should be understood in terms of its application, or “pragmatic taxonomy”: scientific literacy, employability, and global literacy. For example, with reference to undergraduate psychology education outcomes, employability is an issue that psychology majors and their educators need to consider, particularly as so few psychology major students become professional psychologists. Similarly, both scientific literacy and global literacy are critical components of the psychological literacy outcomes, particularly given the importance of the latter for the advancement of society.
Cranney and Morris (2011; see Literature) define adaptive cognition as ways of thinking (and consequently behaving) that are beneficial to one’s (and others’) survival and well-being. The adaptive cognition approach draws on a number of perspectives in psychology, including developmental psychology (acknowledging the influence one’s ontogenetic experiences have had on one’s current thinking), evolutionary psychology (acknowledging the capacities and limitations of the present-day brain given its evolutionary history), cultural psychology (acknowledging the way in which our current behaviour is shaped by culture given its history), and human ecology (acknowledging the complex interrelationships between homo sapiens and its biological and physical habitat). B.F. Skinner stated that current behaviour is determined by genetics, developmental history, and the current situation. The adaptive cognition perspective proposes that our current thoughts, feelings and behaviour—that is, our current psychological status-- is determined by all of those factors, as well as our knowledge of this (metacognition). Cranney and Morris argued that we are in the privileged position of being able to choose to utilise strategies that we know will improve our chances of achieving the goals of living a purposeful and fulfilling life. In doing so, we need to consider how we can also improve the chances of our fellow human beings achieving the same ends—simply because our capacity to adapt and survive as a species is very much dependent on our social nature. Psychology education is one arena in which this perspective can be shared and experienced. Adaptive cognition provides a framework for understanding the importance of psychological literacy.
Positive psychology addresses optimal human functioning, and the development of theory, research and application within this broad field has progressed at an astounding rate over the past ten years.
Relevant websites emphasising psychological science include:
- Martin Seligman’s authentic happiness website
- Sonja Lyubomirsky’s sustainable happiness website
- Barbara Fredrickson’s positivity website
How does positive psychology relate to psychological literacy? The recent conceptualisation of psychological literacy has an emphasis on positive human potential. Moreover, a psychologically literate person would be aware of the promise of positive psychology applications for improving the human condition (e.g., the findings that whole-school positive education approaches decrease depression rates in young people).
The concept of resilience is fraught with definitional controversy; thus we take the American Psychological Association’s practical “Road to Resilience” approach to this concept. APA defines resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress -- such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means "bouncing back" from difficult experiences”. APA argues that there are five primary factors in resilience: “having caring and supportive relationships within and outside the family… capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out… positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities… skills in communication and problem solving… capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses”. APA also argues that resilience skills can be learned by anyone. In particular, they state ten ways to build resilience: make connections with others; avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems; accept that change is a part of living; move toward your goals; take decisive actions (cf. avoidance in stressful situations); look for opportunities for self-discovery; nurture a positive view of yourself; keep things in perspective; maintain a hopeful outlook; take care of yourself; and, find additional ways to strengthen resilience.
How is resilience related to psychological literacy? Psychological science yields evidence-based principles that can be applied to oneself. Some examples:
By knowing ones strengths and weaknesses through valid and reliable personality, values and abilities tests, we can seek to utilise and build on our strengths and either address or adaptively acknowledge our weaknesses. Thus, we may be able to make realistic plans and potentially avoid situations what would otherwise become highly stressful.
When we have experienced a negative stressful event, our knowledge of the nature of attributional styles will allow us to place that event in perspective (see Seligman’s research).
Self-determination Theory (SDT) is a theory of motivation that has been applied successfully within educational, organisational, and clinical psychology subfields. According to this approach, well-being is achieved when the basic psychological needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness are met.
“The need for autonomy refers to a sense of choice and volition in the regulation of behaviour. The need for competence concerns the sense of efficacy one has with respect to both internal and external environments. The need for relatedness refers to feeling connected to and cared about by others” (Ryan et al., 2006, p.153)
The primary SDT website contains extensive information about SDT and its applications.
How does self-determination theory relate to psychological literacy? Essentially SDT provides a well-developed theoretical framework that fits well with the concept of psychological literacy. SDT has been applied not only to individual motivation, but also to that individual motivation within the context of society as a whole.
SELF-MANAGEMENT & SELF-OPTIMISATION
Self-management is the capacity to work effectively toward meaningful goals, and to be flexible in the face of setbacks (Cranney, J., & Nithy, V. . Academic Self-management Program Manual. Retrieved February 29, 2016 from http://unistudentsuccess.com/the-fridge/). Effective self-management strategies are those identified through psychological science, and are thus part of psychological literacy as relevant to the personal domain.
Self-optimisation is the adaptive use of self-knowledge and optimising tools to achieve meaningful ends (Morris, Cranney et al., in prep). As such, this concept is broader than that of self-management, as it goes beyond motivational concepts.
The ‘mountain top’ in the development of psychological literacy is global literacy, which has been defined as having knowledge of the inter-relatedness of global systems and the capacity to contribute positively to global communities (Cranney et al., 2012).
Oxfam states that the key elements for developing responsible Global Citizenship are:
Knowledge and understanding
- Social justice and equity
- Globalisation and interdependence
- Sustainable development
- Peace and conflict
- Critical thinking
- Ability to argue effectively
- Ability to challenge injustice and inequalities
- Respect for people and things
- Co-operation and conflict resolution
Values and attitudes
- Sense of identity and self-esteem
- Commitment to social justice and equity
- Value and respect for diversity
- Concern for the environment and commitment to sustainable development
- Belief that people can make a difference
The concept of global literacy clearly values the “common good” aspect of individual goal-directed thought and behaviour. Rhoads and Szelényi (2011) define global citizenship as a “new form of citizenship” oriented toward the collective good, which “incorporates both local/national awareness with a growing sense of the interconnectedness of all nation-states and the importance of forging ties and connections in terms of global rights and responsibilities” (p. 26)
Many universities include global citizenship as one of their graduate capabilities, for example: University of New South Wales graduates will be Global Citizens who are:
- capable of applying their discipline in local, national and international contexts
- culturally aware and capable of respecting diversity and acting in socially just/responsible ways
- capable of environmental responsibility.
University College London places a strong emphasis on the development of global citizenship in their students.
How does global citizenship relate to psychological literacy? Psychologically literate citizenship was one of the two key concepts discussed by McGovern et al. (2010): “Psychologically literate citizens intentionally build upon their own psychological literacy, integrating it with the interdisciplinary and extracurricular lessons learned during their undergraduate experiences. They try to grow more sophisticated as ethical and socially responsible problem solvers. It is an achievable outcome when faculty provide students with opportunities to use their psychological literacy outside of formal learning environments, and they begin to do so of their own initiative to accomplish goals that are important to them, their families, their colleagues, their communities, and to the larger society, state, nation, or world” (p.20)
As Cranney and Dunn (2011; see Literature section) discuss in their first chapter,
“McGovern et al. (2010) clearly see this concept as an aspirational but achievable outcome of UG education that builds upon psychological literacy, and which also “pulls in” transdiciplinary and other “real-life” experiences. They further discuss the notion of “intentional learners” as those who are “empowered by intellectual and practical skills, informed by knowledge and different ways of knowing, and ethically responsible for their personal actions and civic contributions” (p.21); the notion of integrative learning is also described as connecting skills and knowledge from multiple domains, and as applying theory to practice in various settings” (p.5). )(see also Halpern’s  concluding chapter)
Charlton and Lymburner (2011, see Literature section) develop the concept further, and coin the term “psychologically literate global citizen”.
As indicated by Cranney et al. (2012), global literacy is one of the three key concepts of a pragmatic taxonomy of psychological literacy (see Literature section).