Out of interest, I've been reading some psychology topics online recently (I have zero background in psychology). For example, Maslow theory in depth. On and off, I come across terms that sound like having same meaning. So I need to search their explanation, in order to learn their differences, if any. More and more often, I run into situation where different psychology related websites giving slightly different explanation, or sometimes, even conflicting explanation. So, I'm often confused and unable to determine which explanation is the right one.

Is there a de-facto reliable source to learn psychology (except attending school), where knowledge and explanation given are considered as truth? Or... is the field of Psychology itself still full of ambiguity nowadays?

--- update 4/19 (summary)

My study approach is by keep searching and reading from multiple websites until I reach a point where I feel somewhat confident to take a guess. All along I've been uncomfortable with this approach because I find it not as productive as I wish, and the outcome may not reflect the truth.

My understanding from input of @AliceD and @Chris Rogers is that, it seems that to learn psychology in informal way for non-pro purpose (in my case, for personal growth, to understand myself better), this is the logical and viable way, even though it is not as intuitive as I've been hoping. And for those who suspect they have mental health problem, the best is to reach out to registered mental health professional for help.


Reading is a great way of studying Psychology. Many just accept what they are told by friends etc. without looking into the subject a bit deeper, which can be a problem.

There are even debates within our meta site concerning the reliability of some online psychology articles. One example is Is Psychology Today a credible source?

I fully encourage you to challenge narrative put across in newspapers, social media, popular psychology articles etc. by reading the source of the studies where possible. Google Scholar is a friend for that.

As discussed in the comments, the only possible problem with just reading to learn — as with many areas of scientific study — is that it is best (where you can) to get some practical knowledge along with the theoretical knowledge in order to fully understand all the concepts involved.

This is best through structured learning in psychology courses, but if you are reading a subject you have first hand knowledge of, you could do some self-reflection to learn some of the practical side, either alone, or through the help of a fully trained and registered therapist.

As @AliceD points out in his answer, there are times in the study of psychology where you will find slightly different concepts (interpretations of the studies).

To search for the book of truth, as you seem to do, is in vain. It hasn't existed, does not exist, and will not exist. In fact, the best sources are meta-studies that compare the available data critically and come to a consensus, rather then stating them as facts.

There is no one book of truth on the subject of psychology. And, while some concepts are completely out of wack with the facts found in the studies, there can legitimately be different concepts born out of some psychological studies. This is purely because they simply cannot be fully proved through scientific measurements through brain scans and the like. See my meta post answer regarding pseudoscience within psychology for more on that.

The problem is that some concepts are complete quackery and some (especially in social media and newspapers) are complete lies or slight twists in the truth. All of which can be weeded out by going to the studies and reading what they actually found and how.

When finding conflicts in ideas which you cannot resolve through Google Scholar searches etc. you could bring the conflicts here for resolving.

Ask lots of questions where needed. That's what this site is for. I must point out however, that there is one caveat I will give regarding use of Psychology.SE.

If the psychological concepts you are talking about relates to psychological problems you or someone you know may be facing, for a number of reasons outlined in this meta post we can not, and will not, give advice or potential diagnoses for any specific individual. If you have a question regarding your mental health, you should see a doctor or fully trained and registered therapist.


Psychology can be said to be an empirical science which is built up out of the elements of experience (Avelin, 1933).

Assuming Psychology in general is empirical, its principles can be investigated by experiments, e.g., through the gold standard of clinical research, namely randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs). Such studies are generally considered to be reliable, yet they are not always accurate, as they are still prone to all sorts of troubles, to name a few see Fig. 1.

All these potential sources of error can lead to false conclusions and hence different studies may yield conflicting evidence. As such, the 'truth' may be out there, but often it is represented in the scientific community by consensus, rather than fact. Different people may adhere to different beliefs, and rely their views on a select number of results, rather than the consensus. As such, even reputable textbooks may convey a biased message.

To search for the book of truth, as you seem to do, is in vain. It hasn't existed, does not exist, and will not exist. In fact, the best sources are meta-studies that compare the available data critically and come to a consensus, rather then stating them as facts.

Fig. 1. source: Sessley & Imrey (2015)

- Avelin, Nature (1933); 132: 841–3
- Sessley & Imrey, Anesthesia-analgesia (2015); 121(4): 134-42

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    $\begingroup$ To add to this great answer regarding different interpretations of various phenomena etc. Psychology cannot be studied primarily through textbooks. Practical lessons within structured lessons would be needed to thoroughly understand the concepts put forward within the subject. $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Apr 16 '20 at 7:30
  • $\begingroup$ @ChrisRogers thanks for these words and the additional explanation. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 16 '20 at 7:31
  • $\begingroup$ Does it mean... it is not practical to learn and understand psychology for casual interest, it's only for those who're committed to spend significant time and effort on it? $\endgroup$ – shiouming Apr 17 '20 at 10:06
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    $\begingroup$ @shiouming - depends on what you want - you've posted this question on a scientific stack, so you can expect a somewhat academically oriented answer I guess. Of course there are different levels to study something. perhaps you should look into popular scientific sources. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 17 '20 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ I derive summary from both responses of AliceD and Chris Rogers. Somehow I'm not able to mark both as accepted. $\endgroup$ – shiouming Apr 19 '20 at 3:33

If you are curious about psychology you can find articles about almost anything in "PsychologyToday". I'm a second year psychology student with high GPA and i find it really helpful for my assignments and also i read articles almost everyday.


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