[Viewpoint] Psychology should apply to policy

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[Viewpoint] Psychology should apply to policy

One of the most noteworthy phenomena in recent years is a craze for psychology.

I remember the old days, when people still misunderstood psychology. For example, when I said that I was a psychology major, some people responded in an guarded manner or asked me to foretell their future or guess what they were thinking. Psychology’s recent surge in popularity thus truly delights me.

In fact, psychology is one of the top fields that middle and high school students want to major in during college.

The level of competition for admission to the psychology department last year was 96 to one in the university where this writer works, which was ranked second in competitiveness only to the medical department. The phenomenon has lasted several years, and a similar trend is said to be happening at other universities.

A thirst for psychology is especially evident at bookstores. One of the nation’s largest online bookstores reported psychology books on various themes have been in fervent demand by readers over the past year. Psychology books have been beneficial to people’s lives in various fields.

For example, psychology has developed guidelines to help people understand their emotions, have good interpersonal skills and lead better social lives.

Of course, I am worried whether some books might give a false sense of knowledge to others based on unproven scientific theories. However, my heart is filled with pride to see that psychology is playing a big role in our lives.

Psychology is an attractive field to people simply because its focus is on humans. Most of us have wondered at some point why a person takes one action versus another, and one of the greatest challenges facing psychology is to provide a better understanding of human nature.

In addition, psychology tries to answer “Why” questions. It guides people to an awareness of the hidden motives for engaging in behaviors.

This makes psychology interesting but complex, as it requires an in-depth scientific exploration into the reasons behind behaviors.

It gives me the sense of satisfaction, as it indicates that our intellectual level has increased by leaps and bounds.

As higher animals, humans like to analyze the reason behind events in their lives and look for scientific explanations.

People can predict what’s coming next, prepare for the future and change the future, thanks to their intrinsic characteristics.

For example, there is always someone who is not popular with his peers in any organization. What would you do, if you were him? Would you remain depressed or try your hardest to make up for what you lack based on a detailed analysis of the reasons behind your unpopularity?

Interest in human psychology will lead to enhancing the happiness and development of individuals and building a more mature society. In addition, I believe that it will serve as the impetus for the evolution of the human species.

Though I am inwardly pleased with the popularity of psychology, I know there is still room for improvement.

It seems as if psychology has been ignored in terms of the implementation of public policies involving politics, the economy, society, education, culture and the military defense of the Republic of Korea.

In general, policies have a profound effect on national prestige and citizens’ happiness. Policy directions for university entrance make 600,000 examinees and their parents laugh or cry. And the hearts of 17 million household heads sink at the news that any changes have been made to real estate policies. New policies aimed at encouraging people to have more children may affect the decisions of newlywed couples.

Policy makers who are aware of the huge ripple effect policies are having will certainly pay due attention to how people feel about an issue of interest, whenever drawing up new policies.

However, sometimes, I am at a loss for words when I hear about new government policies. Although they may be right from a theoretical perspective and may be popular policies implemented by other advanced countries, I often feel that officials have shamefully neglected their duty to understand how people feel.

I want to ask policy makers the following questions:

Have policy makers on real estate explored the psychological meanings of “homes” to Koreans?

Have policy makers sought the advice of psychological experts on the psychology of highly-educated women who give up having more children for the sake of social success, before drawing up policies to tackle disturbingly low birthrates?

Do policy makers on culture and tourism know why young people go backpacking overseas every summer, rather than visiting the beautiful sites of Korea?

No matter how good the policies may seem, they cannot become good policies unless people psychologically have sympathy for and agree with them. The public should have the leading role in accepting and shaping policy.

I expect that a craze for psychology will sweep the country in the government and public sectors in 2010, just like individuals read more psychology books to have a better future, and companies conduct scientific explorations into the psychology behind customer experiences in order to expand their market scope.

*The writer is a professor of psychology at Korea University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Sung Young-sin

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