Two Questions to Foster Critical Thinking in the Field of Psychology

Are There Any Reasons to Expect a Different Outcome, and What Are the Consequences If We Don’t Find What We Were Looking For?

  • Peter Holtz Leibniz Insitut für Wissensmedien Tübingen
Keywords: epistemology, philosophy of science, critical rationalism, John Platt, crisis of confidence, reproducibility crisis, strong inference

Abstract

There are many factors that contribute to the present crisis of confidence in psychology, among them epistemological causes: Under pressure to ‘publish or perish’ and to ‘get visible or vanish’ in order to survive in an increasingly globalized academic job market, psychologists may often be too eager to find their hypotheses confirmed by empirical data. They may also not pay enough attention to alternative theories and consequently often miss opportunities to learn from their failures to obtain the expected results in their studies. In this paper, I propose to start asking two questions physicist John Platt had proposed in 1964 on a regular basis in the field of psychology as a means of fostering critical thinking or to encourage a critical approach to the growth of scientific knowledge: Are there reasons to expect a different outcome, and what consequence is it going to have if the study does not yield the expected results? I explore what potential these two questions have for ensuring epistemological progress by asking them with respect to social-priming research, which is one of the research programmes that have recently been criticized in the course of the ‘reproducibility debate’.

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Published
2020-07-30
Section
Original articles