Semantic Apparatus – Illusory Essences: A Bias Holding Back Theorizing in Psychological Science

Cited by Lee Sonogan

Cameron Brick on Twitter: "📣📣 A very fun and rewarding project is coming  out. It's being cited already and Perspectives has a backlog, so here's the  skinny. Our theory paper is about

Abstract by C. Brick, B. Hood, V. Ekroll, L. de-Wit

The reliance in psychology on verbal definitions means that psychological research is unusually moored to how humans think and communicate about categories. Psychological concepts (e.g., intelligence, attention) are easily assumed to represent objective, definable categories with an underlying essence. Like the “vital forces” previously thought to animate life, these assumed essences can create an illusion of understanding. By synthesizing a wide range of research lines from cognitive, clinical, and biological psychology and neuroscience, we describe a pervasive tendency across psychological science to assume that essences explain phenomena. Labeling a complex phenomenon can appear as theoretical progress before there is sufficient evidence that the described category has a definable essence or known boundary conditions. Category labels can further undermine progress by masking contingent and contextual relationships and obscuring the need to specify mechanisms. Finally, we highlight examples of promising methods that circumvent the lure of essences and suggest four concrete strategies for identifying and avoiding essentialist intuitions in theory development.

Much of the confusion in experimental psychology comes from terminology. . . . “Intelligence” is simply a word from everyday language. . . . We have every reason to suspect that it will have no “real essence” at all.

Publication: (Peer-Reviewed Journal)

Pub Date: July 20 Doi:

Keywords: essentialism, natural kinds, categories, labels, validity, metascience (Plenty more sections and references in this research article)

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