PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

Speaker: Suilin Lavelle (University of Edinburgh)

Title: Less theory, more observation: a response to psychology’s ‘theory crisis’

Abstract: The past decade has seen the discipline of psychology facing down a replication crisis. The crisis, it is claimed, is that many published findings from the field fail to replicate, and that this is problematic because having replicable findings is a hallmark of good science (Baker 2015). More recently authors have diagnosed the crisis as one based in the theories psychological experiments aim to test. Their argument is that psychological theories are not well-developed enough to yield theories that can ground replicable experimental results (Irvine 2021). The solution, it is claimed, is to spend more time developing rigorous formal theories or models which will constrain the number of plausible hypotheses to be tested (Muthukrishna and Henrich 2019).

In this talk I acknowledge that there is a problem with how many psychological theories are currently specified, but I reject the solution that more theory is the best remedy. Instead, I argue that in order to reduce underdetermination in our psychological theories, we need to gather more observational data. I describe two sets of observational data in the field of infant psychology — infant headcams and the method of ‘infant observation’ — and show how I think they could help with theory formation in that field.

Further information

We are a group of researchers from diverse backgrounds in the above-mentioned groups (and beyond) who aim to gain an interdisciplinary yet deep understanding of the threads that bind the human mind and the world. In particular, this seminar series focuses on the nature of cognition, metacognition and social cognition. We’ll be tackling questions such as, what does it mean to think? What does it mean to think about thinking? And, what does it mean to think about one’s own thinking versus thinking about the thinking of other people? Please come along!

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Contact details

Tillmann Vierkant

Nov 22 2023 -

PPIG: Philosophy, Psychology, and Informatics Group

2023-11-22: Less theory, more observation: a response to psychology’s ‘theory crisis’

Room 2.12, Appleton Tower, 11 Crichton Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9LE