Positivism in Psychology: Historical & Contemporary Problems // Review

By Tolman, Charles W. | Canadian Psychology, October 1993 | Go to article overview

Positivism in Psychology: Historical & Contemporary Problems // Review


Tolman, Charles W., Canadian Psychology


This series of articles, edited by Tolman in Recent Research in Psychology, had its origins in earlier discussions by the Western Canadian Theoretical Psychology Group of CPA. The 12 articles together address the general problem of the continual impact of positivism and its permutations on the way we psychologists think about our discipline and conduct research. Individually, the chapters of this volume reflect diverse and specific themes, which are framed within their own historical scope.

Although the title might initially dissuade those not theoretically inclined to venture a reading, there are two outstanding reasons why this collection of articles is valuable to the psychology community at large. The general reader here has the opportunity to examine the historical background which has shaped psychology as a discipline, and to be educated in the basic vocabulary which characterizes the positivist approach in psychology. This tutelage were taken seriously, researchers would find cause to reflect on the methodologies which drive their own research, as well as that of psychology in general. On the other hand, there is enough specificity in the chapters to engage theoretical psychologists who are well versed in psychology's legacy from scientific empiricism, and who are already in a position to comment on the past and future impact of this legacy.

The articles seem to comprise three sections. In the first section, core problems with psychology's embrace of positivism are discussed. Baker lays the groundwork in the first chapter by describing the primary postulate of positivism as the idea of an objective reality driven by a mechanistic model. For psychology, the result has been to strip the person from psychology. The human subject here becomes a set of variables in an experimental situation controlled by an omniscient investigator.

The impact of this scenario is expanded in two following chapters. Stam speaks of the "unspoken grammar" of positivism which comprises psychology's hypotheticodeductive focus, experimental methods, and statistical analyses. Evidence of this implicit grammar is garnered in Stam's review of several articles in one issue of Psychological Review, all of which depend on this grammar to meet the basic publishing criteria. It is a sobering thought that widespread acceptance of this grammar has insulated researchers from the theoretical aspects of their own work. Kuiken, Wild, and Schopflocher suggest that the empiricist and positivist positions have actively discounted studies which seek to describe, or classify, naturally occurring phenomena. The rhetoric of causal induction and operational definitions permeates psychological research, and has discouraged psychologists from engaging in classificatory research strategies. Any researcher who has grappled personally with inductive methods will appreciate the significance of the insights of this chapter.

Several articles evaluate specific applications of positivism or its variants. Tolman, for example, examines the implications of neopositivism for perception theory. Mills traces the historical development of operational definitions, and by doing so, he also elaborates the principle of "arithromorphizing of data" which has become part of the grammar of measurement in psychology. The legacy of operationalism is reviewed by Rogers in his discussion of testing. When the chapters by Mills and Rogers are viewed together, the reader is forced to evaluate why pre - determination of measures, although problematic from a theoretical stance, continues to cloud psychology's view of alternative methodologies. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Positivism in Psychology: Historical & Contemporary Problems // Review
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.