Psychology's Second Most Misunderstood Concept?

0 0 1,768

Originally posted on March 6, 2015.

My nominee for psychology’s most misunderstood concept is negative reinforcement (which is not punishment, but actually a rewarding event—withdrawing or reducing something aversive, as when taking aspirin is followed by the alleviation of a headache).

In second place on my list of oft-misunderstood concepts is heritability.

My publishers’ twitter feed today offered this:


Sure enough, the news source says it’s so.  But it isn’t.  Tracking back to the actual study, and its own press release, we see that, as we might have expected, the conclusion was drawn from a twin study that estimated the genetic contribution to variation among individuals in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) scores.

Heritability refers to the extent to which differences among people are due to genes. If the heritability of ASD is 80 percent, this does not mean that 80 percent of autism cases are attributable to genes and 20 percent of cases to environment. And it does not mean that any particular case is 80 percent attributable to genes and 20 percent to environment.  Rather it means that, in the context studied, 80 percent of the differences among people was attributable to genetic influence.

About the Author
David Myers has spent his entire teaching career at Hope College, Michigan, where he has been voted “outstanding professor” and has been selected by students to deliver the commencement address. His award-winning research and writings have appeared in over three dozen scientific periodicals and numerous publications for the general public. He also has authored five general audience books, including The Pursuit of Happiness and Intuition: Its Powers and Perils. David Myers has chaired his city's Human Relations Commission, helped found a thriving assistance center for families in poverty, and spoken to hundreds of college and community groups. Drawing on his experience, he also has written articles and a book (A Quiet World) about hearing loss, and he is advocating a transformation in American assistive listening technology (see