Jordan Peterson on Social Psychology

Albert Einstein once said “”A scientist is a mimosa when he himself has made a mistake, and a roaring lion when he discovers a mistake of other” this certainly fit Jordan Peterson’s demeanor on the Joe Rogan podcast. The appearance, covered a vast array of subjects in the more than three hour interview which can be viewed on youtube in its entirety. However, we’re interested in a very specific sliver of this conversation where Jordan and Joe had the following exchange. 

Joe Rogan: You are a social psychologist? 

Jordan Peterson: No, no, I’m not. I’m a clinical personality psychologist. 

Joe: What is the difference? 

Jordan: One of the differences is that personality and clinical psychology isn’t a corrupt enterprise whereas social psychology fundamentally is. It’s been going through an absolute internal revolution over the last two years because of it’s own discovery that many of its fundamental studies and propositions are flawed. I would say social psychology is the most  social justice/left leaning part of psychology and their methods are generally appalling. They produce a lot of methods that don’t exist. I know it might seem like a trivial distinction to people outside of the field, but these disciplines are quite separate from a historical perspective. Personality psychologists are very careful about defining what they study. 

He then goes on, quite defensibly, to attack the IAT test and the lack of conceptual clarity in social psychology. There’s a lot here to unpack but first a little history of the two subfields. Personality psychology emerged from the work of Carl Jung where he talked about “psychological types” and its role in cognition (a side note: proof that human psychology is not merely “random neurons firing” is that identification of stable personality traits).

By the time the 60s and 70s emerge, the social sciences are beginning to take off as Freud’s theories (who died in 1939) were entering the popular mainstream, even outside of academia. For a full recounting of Personality Psychology, I strongly recommend this podcast episode of Very Bad Wizards, that said the short story is that a critique came out about personality psychology at a time when experiments (such as Milgram or Stanford Prison experiment) which showed that if a situation is strong enough, the environment will overwhelm any personality traits of the person therefore differences in personality must not cash themselves out writ large. 

At the time, the critique really was seen as a death blow to the field. Many personality psychologists got board certified and became clinical psychologists (such as Dr. Peterson) or they blended into the emerging field of social psychology. Up until the 1990s, the vast majority of psychologists were clinical psychologists with about 30% (and steadily increasing) becoming social psychologists. However criticisms of the initial critique of personality psychology began to take hold. For example, and this is just one, most situations are not overwhelming to the agent. Most of the time we are simply living are lives without massive environmental pressures (like we are in a psychological experiment). Slowly, researchers start coming back to the field and seeing that some of the personality psychology does predict some findings in society . 

Fast forward to the present, a massive replication attempt at the top 100 papers (by citation count) in social psychology was undertaken to see if their effects replicable. Less than 50% were able to be replicated. 

A chance at vindication for social psychology, different subfields began replication attempts on all fields of social science. Personality research was one of a handful of fields that was vindicated, as most of their results and effect size were able to be replicated.  

This is primarily what Jordan is speaking about in the interview and we think we’ve put enough on the table here. We’ll also note that the center for open science was founded by a social psychologist but for good reason. We’ll continue to update this specific page as changes to both Jordan’s position and developments in Social (and Personality) Psychology take hold. 

Should we become aware that Jordan has changed his opinion or should new evidence be submitted that we have either misconstrued his opinion or failed to include important statements from him, we will 1) make the correction, 2) note the correction here, 3) issue a mea culpa that attempts to explain and improve on how we missed this. 

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