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Psychological Science at the Crossroads

Richard Robins, Samuel Gosling, Kenneth Craik

Connecting the Dots

Writing to the general psychological community, the eminent neuroscientist Larry Squire recently argued, "As the next century approaches, one should celebrate and encourage the increasing partnership between psychology and neuroscience." We agree, but unfortunately we have yet to find clear empirical evidence for the emergence of such a partnership. One of the lessons of our survey is that psychologists need to work harder to integrate neuroscience into their field. Neuroscience is still defining its borders, and the degree to which it will overlap with psychology remains to be seen. We believe psychological science is at a crossroads in its development as a science. Unless it continues to build on new discoveries and methods in neuroscience, it risks simply losing neuroscience to the biological sciences. In our opinion, the brain and behavior need to be studied in tandem. Psychology should not let the opportunities presented by neuroscience slip away.

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In the recent history of psychological science, schools have risen and fallen from prominence in turn. What lies down the road? The field appears to be dividing into increasingly specialized camps—attention, memory, language—that may eventually render broad classifications such as "cognitive psychology" obsolete. At the same time, psychology seems to be coagulating around more general scientific orientations that cut across traditional fields of study; cognitive science combines psychology, linguistics, computer science and philosophy. Will psychology find a way to tie together its diverse threads? Perhaps an integrative perspective such as evolutionary theory will achieve this goal and rise to prominence. Or, in the most distant future, an even broader perspective such as complexity theory may revolutionize the field. Speculation and debates about scientific trends will continue to go unfettered by empirical evidence and echo through the halls of academia. The conclusions reached in these debates have wide-ranging implications for funding, hiring and ultimately how scientists study human behavior.

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