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Science vs. Silliness for Parents: Debunking the Myths of Child Psychology

Parents and students struggle to distinguish between pseudoscience and evidence-based ideas in child psychology. This study sampled the beliefs of 163 students and 205 parents on topics related to parenting and development.

Many ideas in child psychology have been largely discredited (Koocher et al. 2014). Unfortunately, parents and college students often have a hard time distinguishing between research-supported ideas and discredited myths. For example, in recent research, college students believed that Facilitated Communication (a pseudoscientific intervention) was more effective than Applied Behavior Analysis (a well-established intervention) as a treatment for autism (Hupp et al. 2012; Hupp et al. 2013).

While there is emerging literature on beliefs about child-focused myths, the existing research base continues to have limitations. First, many popular myths of childhood have never been examined with opinion surveys. Second, published opinion surveys are largely limited to focusing on ineffective interventions even though there are many other myths in child psychology such as those related to etiology (cause), typical development, assessment, and basic parenting approaches. Finally, previous opinion surveys primarily included college students. Although it is valuable to know the beliefs of students, it may be even more informative to gather information regarding parents’ beliefs. The purpose of this study was to assess the beliefs of both students and parents on a wide range of myths related to child psychology, and this is the first study to collect data regarding beliefs for the majority of these myths.

Method

This study includes two different samples of participants. First, 163 consenting undergraduate students were given a paper survey at the beginning of a child psychology course at a midsized midwestern university. All students in the course received a small amount of credit for this activity regardless of whether or not they consented to being in the study. The mean age of the students was 19.9 years old (SD = 2.0). Students were mostly female (83.4 percent), with 13.5 percent indicating they were male, and 3.1 percent leaving this item blank. The sample was primarily Caucasian (66.9 percent), followed by African American (17.8 percent), Hispanic/Latino (3.1 percent), and Asian (1.2 percent); 6.7 percent of participants were biracial, and 4.3 percent did not classify themselves. The sample included freshmen (32.5 percent), sophomores (25.2 percent), juniors (28.2 percent), and seniors (11.0 percent), with 3.1 percent of participants leaving this item blank.

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