Theory-Testing in Psychology and Physics: A Methodological Paradox

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Because physical theories typically predict numerical values, an improvement in experimental precision reduces the tolerance range and hence increases corroborability. In most psychological research, improved power of a statistical design leads to a prior probability approaching 1/2 of finding a significant difference in the theoretically predicted direction. Hence the corroboration yielded by “success” is very weak, and becomes weaker with increased precision. “Statistical significance” plays a logical role in psychology precisely the reverse of its role in physics. This problem is worsened by certain unhealthy tendencies prevalent among psychologists, such as a premium placed on experimental “cuteness” and a free reliance upon ad hoc explanations to avoid refutation.

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Type of resources: Primary Source, Reading, Paper

Education level(s): College / Upper Division (Undergraduates)

Primary user(s): Student

Subject area(s): Applied Science, Math & Statistics, Social Science

Language(s): English