Wednesday, February 7, 2018

On the Thought Experiment Method in Psychology

*This blog post was originally published in 2013.

Thought experiments are a standard practice in physics, as they are in philosophy, but are curiously absent in academic psychology. Albert Einstein relied on thought experiments in developing the theories of specific and general relativity. In fact, most of the "hard" sciences are comfortable with entertaining thought experiments. However, academic psychology has a tradition of undervaluing the method in favor of quantifiable research. One would be hard-pressed to find a contemporary research paper in academic psychology that utilizes the method of thought experiment.

One criticism of research psychology that has gained considerable support recently is: there has been a lot of data collecting in psychology, but not a great deal of thinking about that data.  We tend to spend more time training our psychology students to use statistical packages for analyzing data, rather than to engage in penetrating and inspired thinking.