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The Humanities Conference 2003

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An Introduction to Alien Studies: How Do We Do Human in Psychology?: A Question Of Model, Method and Analysis

Angela O'Brien-Malone.

Once upon a time there was an alien who came to Earth and got an academic job doing modern cognitive psychological research; nobody noticed anything unusual. In this paper I discuss some of the implicit models of humanness which have been used in psychology. Since the cognitive approach currently influences most of mainstream psychology, it is the focus of much of this discussion.

The cognitive approach is one where ‘doing human’ is eschewed, and a version of psychology is reported which would be comprehensible to aliens. This state of affairs raises questions about the nature of psychological knowledge and the nature of an appropriate psychological analysis.

New developments within and without the discipline have challenged this human-free version of psychology, but are not without their own shortcomings. Some discursive approaches provide a version of psychology where all participants in the research process are truly human. Contrarily, some provide a psychology which inhabits a paradoxical country where Homo sapien guinea-pigs emit human-like behaviours, but only researchers are truly human and able to decipher these behaviours.

The arts-based research approaches developing in education do ‘human’ differently. There, holistic human responses constitute the fundamental analysis. But this sort of analysis won’t, for instance, help us understand how word length affects our ability to do mental arithmetic. So one of the problems for the discipline may be to decide what sort of methodology should be applied to what level of human experience, and how to integrate across these. Nevertheless, these new developments in data representation and analysis point towards new ways of ‘doing human’ in the discipline.


Angela O'Brien-Malone  (Australia)
Lecturer in Psychology
The School of Psychology
Murdoch University

  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Discursive Analysis
  • Arts-Based Research

(30 min Conference Paper, English)