Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 15:00 to 16:00
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The goal of academic psychology is to understand, explain, and predict behaviour. Over the last 150 years our science has produced many theories and bodies of knowledge that are important, interesting, and applicable to public policy. However, recent controversies have shaken the discipline. Although all-encompassing explanations of human behaviour are compelling, they may be the exception. In this paper I argue for an idiographic psychology. Three lines of evidence form the basis of this thesis. First, the replication crisis in psychology (e.g., Open Science Collaboration, 2015) has generated interpretations of publication bias, and/or experimenter bias (e.g., Giner-Sorolla, 2012). Alternately, significant experimental findings may represent a causal pathway for some individuals, rather than the causal pathway for all individuals. Second, molecular genetics has not delivered on the promise of specifying the many genes responsible for complex behaviours. This “missing heritability” indicates that complex gene-gene, and gene-environment interactions – none necessary or sufficient – are the most frequent explanatory mechanisms. Finally, I end with an in-depth assessment of my own field, developmental psychology as informed by behavioural genetics. I unpack the shared environment paradox by highlighting that identical family environments can affect children, even within the same family, in very different ways. I argue that idiosyncratic pathways are the essence of meaningful human psychology. Although traditional quantitative approaches remain relevant for informing public policy, alternate methodologies may be more useful for discerning meaning.