ur understanding of the human mind and behavior has advanced dramatically in the last several years. Psychology has grown as a field of study in which the sciences and social sciences converge, earning a new importance in medical and research communities. One measure of the increasing scope and influence of psychology is that for the first time in 56 years, three sitting members of the National Science Board are psychological scientists, specializing in research, education, and policy. As one of these new members, Camilla Persson Benbow, said, these three areas “make a nice little triad, but the fact that we’re all psychologists, I think, says more about the breadth of the field today than it does about any specific change within the NSB.”
Psychology is the most popular undergraduate course in the nation. Media personalities like Frasier, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Laura have helped to generate even more excitement and interest in psychology. But these characters paint a simplistic picture that leads to unfortunate stereotypes. Incoming students too often have misconceptions about the field and believe that psychology is primarily “commonsense” advice. Educators and textbook authors want to honor and feed their enthusiasm, but we also want to guide students towards a true understanding and appreciation of the scientific nature of psychology and the depth and diversity of our field and the great effect it can have on their lives.
Technology is allowing us to reach the ever-growing audience of students. Students at every level, from K–12 through post-secondary schools, are increasingly using iPODS, MP3 players, blogging, personal Web sites, instant messaging, and virtual meetings in all areas of education. The newest trends—downloadable audio lectures, flashcards, quizzes, and videotaped classroom lectures—are providing valuable and instant access to study and review materials. In the coming years, Internet access and online/distance-education programs will provide even greater educational opportunities for students of all ages, ethnicities, and educational backgrounds, from anywhere around the world.
Policy-makers, educators, and psychologists still have much to discover about the dramatic impact that technological advances can have on methods of teaching and learning. Psychologists have studied learning, memory, cognition, and communication for several decades, yet surprisingly little research has been done on the effectiveness of technological advances on pedagogy and the classroom. Given the shifting demographics of the student population, we need to conduct well-controlled research on the basic learning and memory processes of college students of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of preparation. With that knowledge, we can better employ technology to meet the challenges of increased diversity through changing our delivery methods, teaching styles, and professor–student relations.
For all that has been learned about the human mind and psyche in recent years, psychology remains a great, open frontier. Looking ahead, the study of the human mind and behavior and technological advances will continue to have a direct impact on the mental health and everyday well-being of individuals. Explorations of the human frontier offer promising solutions to age-old problems, but are raising new ethical and moral challenges. For example, research showing a biological basis to mental disorders, obesity, and sexual orientation may lead to increased tolerance and understanding worldwide. On the other hand, this knowledge, combined with advances genetic engineering, may also permit controversial and ethically questionable genetic alterations, which will have serious moral and psychological implications. Balancing the benefits and costs of these advances in research and technology will be a complex challenge for psychological scientists and society.