In my last six blog posts, I identified two anomalies that require a paradigm shift to resolve. The first anomaly is that psychological theories are functional theories that by their very nature lack causal mechanism information. The second anomaly stems from a double denial that psychological mechanisms are entirely mental or entirely biological. This double denial reveals the absence of a psychological substrate for psychological mechanisms to operate on. This explains why psychological theories lack causal mechanism information and reveals that they can never acquire causal mechanism information. This means that psychology can only offer interpretations rather than genuine explanations. Psychology has a serious explanatory problem that only a paradigm shift can solve.
But the explanatory problems that I have identified stem from a call for causal mechanism information. In my last blog post I left off with the question of whether or not I am the only one who believes that we need causal mechanism information and therefore perhaps this crisis is of my own making and can be confidently dismissed. So let’s see who else has called for mechanism information.
I previously mentioned Teo (2012) and his distinction between interpretations and explanations. He noted that scientific explanations are based on principles whereas interpretations are not. The scientific principles that Teo (2012) referred to carry explanatory power like Archimedes’s principle or Bernoulli’s principle. Psychological science is not presently organized around such principles. Hence, psychologists presently offer interpretations rather than explanations. Some of these interpretations are better grounded in empirical research than others are but they are interpretations rather than explanations all the same. Recognition of this fact is provided by the following authors.
Gigerenzer (1998, 2009) called for mechanism information capable of explaining what mediates the causal relationships included in psychological models. Squire, Knowlton, and Musen (1993) stated: ‘Ultimately, one wants to understand cognition not just as an abstraction, or in terms that are simply plausible or internally consistent. Rather, one wants to know as specifically and concretely as possible how the job is actually done’. (p. 454). Kazdin (2007) has been especially specific in his call for mechanism information as revealed in the following passage from my book, Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory on pages 35-36:
Kazdin (2007) defined mechanism as ‘the basis for the effect, i.e., the processes or events that are responsible for the change; the reasons why change occurred or how change came about’ (p. 3). Kazdin (2008) clarified his position: ‘By mechanisms, I refer to the processes that explain why therapy works or how it produces change’ (p. 151). Kazdin (2008) further clarified his view of mechanism by showing how it requires more than demonstrating a causal link. The distinction between cause and mechanism is readily conveyed with the familiar example of cigarette smoking. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies with humans and experiments with non-human animals have established a causal relation between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. Establishing a causal relation does not explain the mechanisms, that is, the process(es) through which lung cancer develops. The mechanism was shown by describing what happens in a sequence from smoking to mutation of cells into cancer (Denissenko et al., 1996). A chemical (benzo[a] pyrene) found in cigarette smoke induces genetic mutation at specific regions of the DNA that is identical to the damage evident in lung cancer cells. This finding conveys how cigarette smoking leads to cancer.
Kazdin (2007) did not mean that all acceptable mechanism information must be biological. But in a previous blog we discovered that no psychological substrate exists. This means that psychological mechanisms cannot exist. We are therefore left with a biological substrate and neuroscience mechanisms.
Then there are the authors of the 176,383 citations returned upon my 26 September 2013 PsychInfo search for the term “mechanism” and the 2,134 citations returned upon a second PsychInfo search on the same date for the search term “psychological mechanism” that I mentioned on page 36 of my book. Since most articles are written by two or more authors, it seems that several thousand or more authors desire mechanism information to the point where they believe that they actually have it even though they don’t. I am therefore far from alone in my call for mechanism information. Instead, I am in extensive and excellent company.
In a preview of my book I provided the following definition of mechanism which I reprinted on page 36 of my book: “A mechanism therefore consists of a sequence of causal events that are either necessary or sufficient to bring about the imputed result’ (Tryon, 2012, p. 306, bold font added) This definition agrees quite well with the following definition returned by the Google “define:mechanism” command: “(1) A system of parts working together in a machine; a piece of machinery. (2) A natural or established process by which something takes place or is brought about’. This second meaning is more relevant to psychology than is the first.
I do not believe that any of the authors mentioned above or contained in the PsychInfo search citations had any idea that their call for or claim to mechanism information entailed the two anomalies that I have been discussing and consequently did not anticipated the need for a paradigm shift. That they did not anticipate these matters does not make them disappear. A paradigm shift is necessary to begin to provide the mechanism information that so many psychologists desire. In my next blog I provide a brief history of explanation as preparation for a proposed paradigm shift that can point us in the right direction that enables psychology to be practiced as a mature science.
About the Author
Warren W. Tryon received his undergraduate degree from Ohio Northern University in 1966. He was enrolled in the APA approved Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Kent State University from 1966 – 1970. Upon graduation from Kent State, Dr. Tryon joined the Psychology Department faculty at Fordham University in 1970 as an Assistant Professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1977 and to Full Professor in 1983. Licensed as a psychologist in New York State in 1973, he joined the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology in 1976, became a Diplomate in Clinical Psychology from the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) in 1984, was promoted to Fellow of Division 12 (Clinical) of the American Psychological Association in 1994 and a fellow of the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1996. Also in 1996 he became a Founder of the Assembly of Behavior Analysis and Therapy. In 2003 he joined The Academy of Clinical Psychology. He was Director of Clinical Psychology Training from 1997 to 2003, and presently is in the third and final year of phased retirement. He will become Emeritus Professor of Psychology in May 2015 after 45 years of service to Fordham University. Dr. Tryon has published 179 titles, including 3 books, 22 chapters, and 140 articles in peer reviewed journals covering statistics, neuropsychology, and clinical psychology. He has reviewed manuscripts for 45 journals and book publishers and has authored 145 papers/posters that were presented at major scientific meetings. Dr. Tryon has mentored 87 doctoral dissertations to completion. This is a record number of completed dissertations at the Fordham University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and likely elsewhere.
His academic lineage is as follows. His mentor was V. Edwin Bixenstein who studied with O. Hobart Mowrer at the University of Illinois who studied with Knight Dunlap at Johns Hopkins University who studied with Hugo Munsterberg at Harvard University who studied with Wilhelm Wundt at the University of Leipzig.
Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory is Dr. Tryon’s capstone publication. It is the product of more than a quarter of a century of scholarship. Additional material added after this book was printed is available at www.fordham.edu/psychology/tryon. This includes chapter supplements, a color version of Figure 5.6, and a thirteenth “Final Evaluation” chapter. He is on LinkedIn and Facebook. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Denissenko, M. F., Pao, A., Tang, M., & Pfeifer, G. P. (1996). Preferential formation of benzo[a] pyrene adducts at lung cancer mutational hotspots in P53. Science, 274, 430–432.
Gigerenzer, G. (1998). Surrogates for theories. Theory & Psychology, 8, 195–204.
Gigerenzer, G. (2009). Surrogates for theory. Association for Psychological Science Observer, 22, 21–23.
Kazdin, A. E. (2007). Mediators and mechanism of change in psychotherapy research. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 3, 1–27.
Kazdin, A. E. (2008). Evidence-based treatment and practice: New opportunities to bridge clinical research and practice, enhance the knowledge base, and improve patient care. American Psychologist, 63, 146–159.
Squire, L. R., Knowlton, B., & Musen, G. (1993). The structure and organization of memory. Annual Review of Psychology, 44, 453–495.
Teo, T. (2012). Psychology is still a problematic science and the public knows it. American Psychologist, 67(9), 807–808.
Tryon, W. W. (2012). A connectionist network approach to psychological science: Core and corollary principles. Review of General Psychology, 16(3), 305–317.
Tryon, W. W. (2014). Cognitive neuroscience and psychotherapy: Network Principles for a Unified Theory. New York: Academic Press. http://store.elsevier.com/9780124200715
This blog and all others by Dr. Warren Tryon can be found on his Fordham faculty webpage located at www.fordham.edu/psychology/tryon.