What is psychological literacy?

Put simply, it is the intentional application of psychological science to meet personal, professional, and societal goals. For example, what we know about psychology can be used to: better understand (and improve) our relationships with our loved ones and with our colleagues; study and work more effectively; successfully pursue health and fitness goals; utilise research and communication skills to design, evaluate, improve and promote programs of behaviour change. 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.  That is, we strongly believe that psychological literacy is THE most important literacy for the Twenty-first Century, and that psychological literacy should be the primary outcome of undergraduate psychology education. See the Concepts section for further information.



You will find on this site some of the contributors to the development of the concept (People & Projects), and useful learning and teaching Resources. Examples of applications beyond the ivory tower are contained in the Resources section. Concepts related to psychological literacy, such as global literacy, resilience and self-management, are introduced in the Concepts section.  ICOPE Inc is the organisational home of the International Council of Psychology Educators Incorporated, which also promotes psychological literacy. The News Feed provides a catalogue of media reporting, publication releases and events relevant to the concept.

For current research on the measurement of psychological literacy, contact Natalie Gaston and Lynn Roberts (Curtin University), Eric Amsel (Wayne State University), Shirley Morrissey (Griffith University), Gery Karantzas (Deakin University), Sue Morris and Jacquelyn Cranney (UNSW Australia), and Andrea Chester (RMIT University).

Here we provide links to video examples of psychological science being applied in real-world situations. If you intentionally utilise this information in your life, you would be displaying psychological literacy. We especially invite your contributions to this catalogue, as 'seeing is believing'.



The Prediction

The ‘prediction’ video, if followed correctly, results in the ‘magician’ predicting which grid you will end up on. The secret behind this prediction is that by the magician telling you how many moves you can make, he knows which squares you will not end up on (based on odd-even mathematical calculations), and omits one after each move. In doing so, he guides you to end up on the final square, which due to your sense of control (by picking your moves), will appear as though he has read your mind. In any similar situation (e.g., where “magic” or “mind-reading” capacity is being claimed), remember this example and challenge the claims! Click here to see how The Prediction actually works.


Social Conformity

Social conformity refers to individuals matching their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours to what would be considered the norm of a particular social group or society. Showing how people conform can be fun, as in this video, and conformity is also positive in many ways as it is necessary for society to function effectively (e.g., following road rules). Failure to conform can result in negative consequences for an individual, such as being socially rejected. Awareness of when you are conforming, at least on critical issues, is important as you may otherwise find yourself agreeing on things or behaving in ways that you would not like. Deciding on whether and how to act is something that also needs to be considered for each situation. For example, imagine you and five others witness a crime; however, the five other witnesses select the wrong offender from a line-up. Would you go with your hunch or theirs?


Bystander Effect

The bystander effect refers to the phenomenon whereby individuals do not offer help to a victim in an emergency situation when other people are present. Counter-intuitively it would be thought that the more individuals present would increase the amount of help offered. Instead individuals are more likely to ignore, which is explained by various factors such as (a) diffusion of responsibility – as the number of people increase, the responsibility to help is divided between them, (b) pluralistic ignorance – whereby most individuals privately reject the norm of not helping, but assume (incorrectly) that everyone else accepts it, (c) conformity – individuals don’t want to break the social norm of not helping. Understanding how most people behave in an emergency can empower you to behave in ways that have a significant positive outcome in an emergency. One suggestion is to assign particular individuals to roles (responsibilities), for example, “you call an ambulance”, rather than saying “someone call an ambulance”, otherwise the responsibility is still diffused amongst many. 



The card trick video shows how, although there is a variety of information in our visual field, unless we are attending to the various parts, we may not notice changes that are occurring. The effect is due to selective attention, whereby we can think of attention as a spotlight or a zoom-lens whereby what we focus on is what is consciously recalled (the cards), however, the periphery of our attention does not readily enter into conscious experience. Knowing that not everything that we perceive is an accurate depiction of the environment can help us understand where and how our perception fails, and when it may be important for us to ensure that certain events have the focus of our attention (e.g., young children swimming).