Posted by: wolf | January 2, 2008

Subjective explanations and (academic) psychological explanations

Let me extend somewhat my last post: “for moviegoers, the probability of watching a movie alone is 7%” sounds strange from my point of view as a moviegoer, but if I view it from my perspective as an academic psychologist, it sounds oddly familiar. In fact, it reads like a phrase taken from a random paper in a peer-reviewed psychological journal. Academic psychologists are usually striving for nomothetic and simple explanations: they (and I count myself among them, don’t worry) are looking for simple laws that are valid with as little additional information as possible, such as that “the probability for watching a movie alone is such and such” is more valuable than “the probability for watching a movie alone is such and such for adult males in California between 25 and 35 is such and such, but lower for older adult males in CA”.

This kind of de-subjectivizing behavioral explanations is not always problematic – a lot of psychology is actually about looking for interesting effects of non-conscious or automatic processes (a small example, if you don’t mind my self-promotion). However, when applied to something that for almost all people except academic psychologists obviously involves intentions (“I really wanted to watch that movie, but my wife does not like science fiction, and Harry had to take care of his kids, so I went alone to the movies for the first time in my life”), it might make people get a strange idea of what psychology is all about.

P.S. Happy New Year!

Just after finishing the post, I read this about intentions in academic psychology. Things are changing for good!


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