Reclaiming the Guiding Role of Theory in Psychological Research

Gestaltung: Mario Gollwitzer

Psychologische Forschung ist in den letzten Jahren auf dem Prüfstand. Angesichts der "Replizierbarkeitskrise" überdenken viele Forscher heutzutage, wie sie ihre Studien gestalten, wie sie ihre Daten analysieren und wie sie ihre Vorgehensweisen und Befunde berichten. Die gegenwärtige "Krise" gibt uns aber auch die Möglichkeit, unsere psychologische Theoriebildung zu überdenken: Gute Daten benötigen schließlich gute Theorien. Aber was ist eine gute Theorie in der Psychologie? Brauchen wir eine neue Erkenntnistheorie der psychologischen Theoriebildung? Wenn ja, wie würde sie aussehen um zu einer besseren Qualität der psychologischen Forschung beizutragen?


Joachim Krueger

Joachim I. Krueger, Brown University, USA

Theory in the Time of Crisis

Since its early days in the late 19th Century, Psychological Science has aspired to be a theoretically grounded science, that is, a science that approaches human nature, in its objective and subjective form, from a principled point (or points) of view. Time and again, it has proven difficult to articulate such points of view beyond vague narratives or re-descriptions of empirical phenomena. As a result, the relationship between empirical observation and a theoretical superstructure has lain largely unexamined. In much psychological work, narrow empirical hypotheses are treated as theories, leading to a proliferation of mini-theories without little high-level integration – when such integration should be a hallmark of good theory. In this lecture, I approach this issue within the context of social and cognitive psychology, which is my empirical base, and I hope to stimulate crosstalk among colleagues from different subfields of our discipline. I will suggest that our discipline needs to introduce courses on theory development into the curriculum in a thread parallel to the curriculum of methods courses. In my experience, many graduate students acquire quasi (i.e., unreflected) theoretical positions by a sort of osmosis or implicit learning from their mentors. Theory, inasmuch as it exists, tends to languish in the mind’s preconscious strata perhaps even as deep as the Freudian id. Freud’s goal that there shall be ego where there used to be id, has metaphorical significance for the future of the discipline.