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How computational modeling can force theory building in psychological science

Dr. Olivia Guest
Andrea Martin
Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics

Psychology endeavors to develop theories of human capacities and behaviors based on a variety of methodologies and dependent measures. We argue that one of the most divisive factors in our field is whether researchers choose to employ computational modeling of theories (over and above data) during the scientific inference process. Modeling is undervalued, yet holds promise for advancing psychological science. The inherent demands of computational modeling guide us towards better science by forcing us to conceptually analyze, specify, and formalise intuitions which otherwise remain unexamined — what we dub “open theory”. Constraining our inference process through modeling enables us to build explanatory and predictive theories. Herein, we present scientific inference in psychology as a path function, where each step shapes the next. Computational modeling can constrain these steps, thus advancing scientific inference over and above stewardship of experimental practice (e.g., preregistration). If psychology continues to eschew computational modeling, we predict more replicability “crises” and persistent failure at coherent theory-building. This is because without formal modelling we lack open and transparent theorising. We also explain how to formalise, specify, and implement a computational model, emphasizing that the advantages of modeling can be achieved by anyone with benefit to all.





Theory development
are simulations really not believed? Last updated 2 years ago

Very nice talk! As I read the newspapers in the last months, it actually struck me that many modelling studies of COVID-19 were taken by many as empirical data instead of just models. This seems at odds with your assertion that simulations tend to not be believed. Do you have any thoughts about this?

Dr. Marieke Van Vugt 1 comment

Thanks for the interesting talk! I was wondering if you thought of comparing and contrasting this approach to an "interactive" version of Marr's (1982) theory. Classically, that theory has a "Computational Level" (what is being computed and why where the why part could describe a specification such as minimizing a function or a framework for thinki...

Prof. Richard Golden 0 comments
From model to framework Last updated 2 years ago

Hi Olivia & Andrea, thank you for the great talk! I was wondering if you see a hierarchy in your path diagram or if you conceptualize it as one single level? It seems the upper parts (framework, etc) in the diagram have some sort of hierarchical relation. The lower parts seem to, however, be at the same level. I am asking because I the talk ...

Dr. Jana Jarecki 0 comments
Assumptions and Constraints Last updated 2 years ago

Thanks for an interesting talk. Just wondering, where does ones philosophy of science comes in, and where would you address the assumptions and limitations of a theory / specification / implementation / data etc ??? I see at each "step" assumptions and they may increase. For example believing in the Earth is flat (Framework) I build a theory of the...

Prof. Gerit Pfuhl 0 comments
A Thought Experiment Last updated 2 years ago

Olivia & Andrea: First, thank you for a great talk, it's really got my brain running around thinking about the struggles you illustrate. I think the points are spot-on. But it also made me think of something like a thought experiment that, in my opinion, illustrates some of the issues that would come from trying to integrate these two magistrate...

Dr. Ricky Romeu 3 comments
Cite this as:

Guest, O., & Martin, A. (2020, July). How computational modeling can force theory building in psychological science. Paper presented at Virtual MathPsych/ICCM 2020. Via