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The problem of coordination and the pursuit of structural constraints in psychology

David Kellen
Syracuse University

Paul Meehl’s famous critique laid out in detail many of the problematic practices and conceptual confusions that stand in the way of meaningful theoretical progress in psychological science. By integrating many of Meehl’s points, we argue that one of the reasons for the slow progress in psychology is the failure to acknowledge the problem of coordination. This problem arises whenever we attempt to measure quantities that are not directly observable, but can be inferred from observable variables. The solution to this problem is far from trivial, as demonstrated by a historical analysis of thermometry. The key challenge is the specification of a functional relationship between theoretical concepts and observations. As we demonstrate, empirical means alone will not allow us to determine this relationship. In the case of psychology, the problem of coordination has dramatic implications in the sense that it severely constrains our ability to make meaningful theoretical claims. We discuss several examples and outline some of the solutions that are currently available.


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Cite this as:

Kellen, D. (2021, November). The problem of coordination and the pursuit of structural constraints in psychology. Paper presented at MathPsych at Virtual Psychonomics 2021. Via