Psychological research and practice

There is an extremely intricate relationship between psychological research and practice. Psychology borrowed scientific methodology to study non-animate objects like rocks for the exploration of the human mind, akin to natural sciences (Giorgi, 1970; Valle & Halling, 1989). However, this mainstream tradition encountered many difficulties because, unlike other disciplines such as physics, psychologists encounter “very messy” data sets due to substantial individual differences in their research. Furthermore, psychology is currently experiencing what is known as a “replication crisis” (Amrhein et al., 2019; Earp & Trafimow, 2015; Maxwell et al., 2015; Shrout & Rodgers, 2018; Stroebe & Strack, 2014), where the replicability of famous experiments that underpinned the theories taught in psychology textbooks is being questioned.

This crisis prompts us, as science-practitioners, to reconsider the trade-off between experimental control and real-world application, also known as ecological validity (Matthews, 2000). Often, the more relatable a psychological phenomenon is to everyday life, the less replicable it becomes in a laboratory setting because our daily lives are filled with numerous latent variables that potentially create different relationships among them (e.g., additive, interactive, correlating, etc.). Thus, the replicability of the investigated phenomena significantly improves when we focus on “dry” topics, such as the millisecond bottleneck of visual selective attention (Raymond et al., 1992).

Despite the current state of affairs, I am cautiously optimistic that the deliberate shift towards experimental control will reveal more about the causality of pressing mental health issues than ecological validity theory suggests. For instance, we are beginning to reexamine how we analyze data even for highly replicated phenomena, such as attentional capture (Turatto, 2023). This trend might help us better understand the origins of critical individual differences in how we interpret the world, as seen in cases like autism (Sinha et al., 2014).

Please stay tuned for the latest developments in research on this front. I believe that a careful return to basic science will help unravel some of the puzzling phenomena we encounter in everyday life.

References

Amrhein, V., Trafimow, D., & Greenland, S. (2019). Inferential Statistics as Descriptive Statistics: There Is No Replication Crisis if We Don’t Expect Replication. The American Statistician, 73(sup1), 262–270. https://doi.org/10.1080/00031305.2018.1543137

Earp, B. D., & Trafimow, D. (2015). Replication, falsification, and the crisis of confidence in social psychology. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00621

Giorgi, A. (1970). Psychology as a human science; a phenomenologically based approach (1735391). Harper & Row.

Matthews, G. (2000). Human performance: Cognition, stress, and individual differences (11867987). Psychology Press ; Taylor& Francis Group. http://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0648/99087641-d.html

Maxwell, S. E., Lau, M. Y., & Howard, G. S. (2015). Is psychology suffering from a replication crisis? What does “failure to replicate” really mean? American Psychologist, 70(6), 487–498. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0039400

Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: An attentional blink? Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, 18(3), 849–860.

Shrout, P. E., & Rodgers, J. L. (2018). Psychology, Science, and Knowledge Construction: Broadening Perspectives from the Replication Crisis. Annual Review of Psychology, 69(1), 487–510. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011845

Sinha, P., Kjelgaard, M. M., Gandhi, T. K., Tsourides, K., Cardinaux, A. L., Pantazis, D., Diamond, S. P., & Held, R. M. (2014). Autism as a disorder of prediction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(42), 15220–15225. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1416797111

Stroebe, W., & Strack, F. (2014). The Alleged Crisis and the Illusion of Exact Replication. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(1), 59–71. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691613514450

Turatto, M. (2023). Habituation (of attentional capture) is not what you think it is. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance. https://doi.org/10.1037/xhp0001139

Valle, R. S., & Halling, S. (1989). Existential-phenomenological perspectives in psychology: Exploring the breadth of human experience: With a special section on transpersonal psychology (3384781). Plenum Press.

Written by:
Takashi Obana, PhD
Clinical Psychologist
SACAC Counselling

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