Joan Rullan: "In outreach, YouTube and Twitch are an opportunity".
Psychologist Joan Rullan talks to us about his YouTube outreach project "Taming the Troll".
Science is a fundamental activity for the development of societies and the possibilities of human welfare in general; thanks to it, a good part of the discoveries that allow us to live as we do and increase our life expectancy have arisen.
However, it is one thing to generate knowledge through scientific means, and another thing for that knowledge to be integrated and assimilated into popular culture. Science is responsible for the former, but not necessarily for the latter.
That is why science popularization is so relevant; it helps us to get the most out of scientific advances and prevents us from falling into myths and misconceptions that can be very problematic. In this case, we interviewed a psychologist who dedicates part of his work to this informative task focusing on behavioral science: Joan Rullan, from Activital Psicólogos, who is behind the series of videos "Taming the Troll"available on YouTube.
Interview with Joan Rullan: how is psychology for adolescents currently being disseminated?
Joan Rullan Pou is a psychologist, member of the Activital Psicólogos team and co-creator of Domando al Troll, a scientific dissemination project through YouTube and based on Contextual Psychology, in collaboration with Vicent Ortega, streamer and content creator at El Código del Vinci. In this interview he talks to us about the ideas on which this communication proposal is based, aimed mainly at young people and adolescents.
Is there a tendency to underestimate the importance of spreading the word on topics related to psychology, going beyond academic contexts?
I believe that the dissemination of psychology is something that affects us all, that there is more and more of it, and we should certainly spare no effort and resources in this direction.
Psychological problems in general have a lot to do with how we have learned to behave and relate to ourselves, especially with our thoughts and emotions. If today we have the rates we have of these types of problems in society, it is because something is being taught badly, or not being taught at all: the messages that reach the vast majority of the population are not being the most useful.
In consultation we see daily how people have a conception of what happiness is, of how their behavior works, of trying to control their thoughts and emotions? that clearly harms them.
And they have learned this in a specific social context; this is largely why we have created Taming the Troll: A Youtuber that aims to provide young people with a vision of psychology that can be more useful to them, based on Contextual Psychology.
Do you think that, compared to members of previous generations, young people of generation Z and millennials are more predisposed to give value to knowledge generated through science as opposed to beliefs arising from pseudosciences and para-sciences?
I am not sure... On the one hand, I think we are in this post-truth era in which scientific rigor is not what has the greatest impact on the population, not only in psychology, but also in many other fields.
On the other hand, it is true that evidence-based therapies are becoming more and more present and relevant. We are seeing it in the rise of Contextual Therapies. I think this is happening among professionals when it comes to training, and in the population when looking for where to be treated.
I also understand that someone who enters the Internet and wants to get information about psychology, has neither the context nor perhaps the time to be able to contrast which information is more valid than others.
What should be done to reinforce, through popularization, the idea that "scientific psychology" is a redundancy?
I remember a debate in first grade about whether psychology was and/or should be a science or not. From my point of view the answer is emphatically yes, no matter how complex the object of study is, that is the way to develop reliable knowledge.
Evidently there are people who think otherwise, but the more people believe that it is, and the better we communicate it, the more useful we are.... The more people will listen to us.
I also believe that science allows us to provide more concrete and effective solutions, and in the end people can check which sources and which orientations work best for them. That's why our motto at the end of each video is, "Don't do it because I say so, try it and see the results".
In your opinion, what factors should be taken into account when disseminating psychology to younger audiences?
This is something we are exploring. First of all, I would say to be flexible and adapt to our interlocutor. I think that, in general, when we have been teenagers, nobody has liked to be told either too serious or too long "chapas".
We are in the age of immediacy, and it is something we also have to deal with. Perhaps small pills of clear and brief content are a good option, but in doing so, we can get the feeling that the content is too superficial, or that many nuances are lost...
We must also try to be original in order to see how to give an explanation that can be attractive to them and that fulfills the same function as an explanation in more theoretical terms.
Finally, we have to be where they speak, in the language they speak, and on the subjects they speak about. If we want an adolescent to learn to play an instrument, we can play a song by his favorite band, or a song he doesn't know, and the implication will probably be very different.
What are the ideological frameworks with the greatest capacity to infiltrate psychology outreach and spread myths and harmful beliefs among society?
Generally speaking, I see that the way psychology is understood by the non-specialized population is a legacy of psychoanalysis and cognitive psychology. It's what comes out in movies and in our everyday way of speaking: we talk about the unconscious or give mentalistic explanations of our behavior, for example.
I would like to see what impact it would have if the contextual view were the most ingrained in our way of speaking, I think it could be good, and that's why we have created Taming the Troll, trying to do our bit and change the social discourse of the psychological. Obviously many more steps are needed.
On the other hand, about myths and harmful beliefs, I would say that people find it reassuring to think that we are in control. As much as the evidence shows that we are people in context, messages that say that you just have to think positive, that it is a matter of attitude, easy recipes.... They can generate a short-term hope that is very attractive, even if they don't work.
I also see people who are attracted by the alternative, more mystical or romantic explanations... And many unhelpful messages can slip through.
To what extent is there a struggle of legitimacy between scientists and communicators when it comes to dissemination? It is not uncommon for certain communicators to be "looked down upon" for not having university or Master's degree training in the scientific field they are disseminating, but on the other hand, experts specialized in the subject may not have the skills to reach many people.
It is a reality that the vast majority choose this type of communicators to hear about psychology, and that is because of something they do very well. If the message they give is useful and evidence-based, there should be no problem.
In the end they are two different professions, some generate knowledge, others disseminate it. The problem is the disconnect that may exist between one and the other, and I believe that criticism does not come from the training that someone has or does not have, but from messages that may be transmitted that do not conform to what the evidence shows.
In the field of outreach through "influencers", what sources of positive potential and risks do you see in platforms such as YouTube or Twitch?
As in all other media, the rigor of the information given. But I don't think it's unique to these platforms. The main shelves of bookstores are full of self-help books, and if the information given is not useful, the problem is the same.
What is true is that on Youtube or Twitch anyone can say theirs, in the end we all have an idea of how we function psychologically speaking. There is no possible filter to separate quality content from quackery, and the audience may not have a basis for differentiating one from the other.
On the other side of the coin, within the outreach arena, YouTube and Twitch are where much of the youth and teens are, and they are an opportunity to get science-based messages out there that can be useful to a lot of people. Along with Instagram, they are probably the only avenues we have when it comes to doing outreach on the subject to a good part of the population.
With Taming the Troll we are creating content for young people, trying to provide them with rigorous information and at the same time talk through their channels, in their language... With a package that is familiar to them.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)