The Life and Work of Scott Lilienfeld

Topics: Pseudoscience

Scott Lilienfeld is a prominent professor of psychology at Emory University.

Having received his B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University and his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota, he is well-versed on the subject, even teaching three different courses within the field at his school. An advocate for evidence-based treatments and methodologies, Dr. Lilienfeld is at the forefront of research into the subfield of psychopathology, the study of psychopathy as a personality type in select individuals, even offered as a class taught by himself at Emory University. Though this is just the tip of the iceberg, as Lilienfeld considers himself a “generalist” with a broad interest in different personality disorders, psychiatric classifications, and the prevalence of pseudoscience in psychology

The latter has led to the release of his latest book, a collaboration between himself and his colleague Sally Satel, called Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience, which he hopes will further a better understanding of psychology and its connection to neuroscience, without all the nonsensical pop-science surrounding neuroimaging and its oversimplifications.

Lilienfeld envisions himself as a defender of scientific fact, safeguarding psychology from the encroachment of fake science and myths that always seem to make their way in. Proven still through his co-authored paper, “Psychological Misconceptions: Scientific Advances and Unresolved Issues”, Lilienfeld makes it his mission to leave the fiction at the door when engaging in his practice, and to encourage well-rounded critical thinking skills able to tackle the various follies thrown at science. To promote a better understanding of the foundations for psychology, Lilienfeld does an excellent job doing it in an uncomplicated manner.

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Also, Lilienfeld is an accredited scholar in his intensive study of psychopathy as a personality disorder. He has also covered the legal ramifications of his work in his collaboration study with Julia Marshall, “The Role of Neurological and Psychological Explanations in Legal Judgments of Psychopathic Wrongdoers,” where he discusses the bearing that neurological and psychological lines of discussion have on legal cases, and the precedents they may set for future arguments either in favor or against certain defenses. For example, what constitutes “insanity” when that particular defense is being used, and how psychopathy plays out in a courtroom setting. They set up two mock trials with a hypothetical psychopathic defendant, presented neurological explanations in only one, and found that mock jurors were more likely to give out harsher sentences in the case where no explanations were given. Lilienfeld establishes that information, and whether or not it is disseminated, can sway people in either way. To him, psychopathy is a serious condition that warrants early intervention and counseling before it leads to criminal activity, but arguably, jurors can be influenced by scientific explanations given in expert testimonies.

In “The Pleasures and Lessons of Academic Mythbusting: An Interview with Scott Lilienfeld”, Dr. Lilienfeld discusses his transition from psychotherapy and diagnostics to the world of intellectualism, theories, and research, reasoning that he’d be able to help others through the dissemination of knowledge to his students, faculty, and the public, instead of on a person-to-person basis through his previous line of work. He also talks about his intellectual maturity as an undergrad and then graduate student who came to realize that emotion had no place in the workplace of science and that one’s feelings about facts, ddon’tmake them any less true. one of his methods includes exposing his students to various visual illusions, that may seem entertaining, but the underlying meaning is to show that things may not always be as they seem and that people can be fooled easily, which is why evidence is everything.

Scott Lilienfeld has also played an important role in developing and updating better psychological classification categories. According to Lilienfeld, the DSM-ICD model uses an Aristotelian methodology in transcribing and categorizing psychiatric illnesses, in which psychiatric disorders are assumed to be entirely independent, with qualitative differences in respect to their diagnostic requirements. Lilienfeld wholeheartedly disagrees with this classification system, and instead opts for a more fluid description of these disorders that can be diagnosed using one specific symptom at first, and then go from there, what he deems to be a medical model of psychiatric diagnostics. He makes note of two major problems that accompany the DSM-ICD’s current model; firstly, a patient may not know the difference between the diagnosis, and the classification, thereby putting more emphasis on the classification than they should and risking behavior to fit the classification, instead of behaving as they would in the real-world before their diagnosis; secondly, he states that since the DSM is a categorical system with an “either you have it or you don’t” system, it leaves no room for patients that suffer from shared symptoms, genetic and environmental factors, and excludes them from seeking treatment for their mental illness. Lilienfeld makes the case that revisions need to be made to the DSM-ICD for the benefit of the patients that either read too much into their classification, or fall through the cracks and don’t get classified at all, and miss out on essential treatment.

Lilienfeld is a scholar dedicated to his work and to upholding the standards of science that rely on reason and evidence, instead of superstition and quack science. An advocate of reform in many respects of psychology, he wants to implement changing the field, such as psychiatric classifications, to provide better care and results for patients that seek medical help and treatment for their conditions. A man of principle, Lilienfeld hopes to play his part in making these changes by continuing to speak out in public forums, and through his publications, to the scientific community, as well as the laypeople.


  1. Bensley, D. Alan and Scott O. Lilienfeld. “Psychological Misconceptions: Recent Scientific Advances and Unresolved Issues.” Current Directions in Psychological Science, vol. 26, no. 4, Aug. 2017, pp. 377-382. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1177/0963721417699026.
  2. Marshall, Julia, et al. “The Role of Neurological and Psychological Explanations in Legal Judgments of Psychopathic Wrongdoers.” Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, vol. 28, no. 3, June 2017, pp. 412-436. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/14789949.2017.1291706.
  3. Zinn, Tracy E. “The Pleasures and Lessons of Academic Mythbusting: An Interview with Scott Lilienfeld.” The teaching of Psychology, vol. 37, no. 4, Oct-Dec2010, pp. 287-293. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00986283.2010.511053.

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The Life and Work of Scott Lilienfeld. (2022, Jun 17). Retrieved from

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