Quantitative methods in psychology

Today I would like to share a paper that I found about quantitative methods in psychology:

2010 Jul 30;1:29. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00029. eCollection 2010.

Quantitative methods in psychology: inevitable and useless.

Toomela A


Science begins with the question, what do I want to know? Science becomes science, however, only when this question is justified and the appropriate methodology is chosen for answering the research question. Research question should precede the other questions; methods should be chosen according to the research question and not vice versa. Modern quantitative psychology has accepted method as primary; research questions are adjusted to the methods. For understanding thinking in modern quantitative psychology, two epistemologies should be distinguished: structural-systemic that is based on Aristotelian thinking, and associative-quantitative that is based on Cartesian-Humean thinking. The first aims at understanding the structure that underlies the studied processes; the second looks for identification of cause-effect relationships between the events with no possible access to the understanding of the structures that underlie the processes. Quantitative methodology in particular, as well as mathematical psychology in general, is useless for answering questions about structures and processes that underlie observed behaviors. Nevertheless, quantitative science is almost inevitable in a situation where the systemic-structural basis of behavior is not well understood; all sorts of applied decisions can be made on the basis of quantitative studies. In order to proceed, psychology should study structures; methodologically, constructive experiments should be added to observations and analytic experiments.

Toomela brings a very appealing debate to the table and puts a mirror in front of us to consider if we as neuroscientists are asking the correct questions with proper order.  These are four principal questions that should be asked by every scientist when conducting studies according to the author:

  1. What do I want to know, what is my research question?
  2. Why I want to have an answer to this question?
  3. With what specific research procedures (methodology in the strict sense of the term) can I answer my question?
  4. Are the answers to three first questions complementary, do they make a coherent theoretically justified whole?

First, we should ask a question about some phenomenon that needs an answer. Next, we should justify the need for the answer.

“In science, it is quite possible to ask “wrong” questions, which answers do not help to understand the studied phenomena”.

He suggests that the problem is related to the mismatch in answers to the first and third questions. Specifically, the quantitative methodology that dominates psychology of today is not appropriate for achieving an understanding of mental phenomena, the psyche.

Would you agree?


Feature image by Pexels – C0 license.

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