Unity: Toward a Useful Mass Movement

Mass Movement

[Photo by Hugo]
As promised the unity debate
continues (start here) with a look at the whole second issue in the Journal of
Clinical Psychology. Rather than summarising the articles – you can read the
abstracts yourself – I’ve given each one a (very) short and personal review
which will hopefully point the generalist in the right direction for further
As Henriques (2005) points out
in his introduction to the second special issue, theoretical unification of
psychology is a highly contentious issue. Nevertheless, support arrives,
firstly for the use of Behavioural Investment Theory from both Rand & Iliardi
(2005) and Geary (2005). And, secondly, for the justification hypothesis from
Shaffer (2005), Quackenbush (2005) and Shealy (2005).
Rand & Illiardi (2005)
Toward a consilient science of psychology (Abstract)
An excellent, clear exposition
of the tensions within psychology and how Henriques’ metatheoretical ideas can
be evaluated. Sees cognitive neuroscience as a “…consilient bridge between
psychology and the natural sciences”. Highly recommended for those looking for
a birds-eye view.
Geary (2005) The motivation to
control and the origin of mind: Exploring the life-mind joint point in the Tree
of Knowledge System (Abstract)
Geary finds striking
similarities between his ‘motivation-to-control’ model and Henriques’ .
Detailed support for the Behavioural Investment Theory. Technical.
Schaffer (2005) From mirror
self-recognition to the looking-glass self: Exploring the Justification
Hypothesis (Abstract)
Reviews how the ToK helps to
link sociological findings to psychology. Examines the work of George Herbert
Mead and Charles Horton Cooley in this context. Focuses on the ‘looking-glass
self‘. Open and informative reflection. Recommended.
Quackenbush (2005) Remythologizing
culture: Narrativity, justification, and the politics of personalization
Addresses a problem that
struck me as insurmountable in an earlier post on unity, namely, how will
social constructionists ever accept a unifying theory of psychology?
Alternately expressed, how can humanistic and scientific traditions be brought
together? Starts with a fabulous quote from Martin Luther King Jr (1968) which
I can’t resist reproducing:
“…you who are in the field of
psychology have given us a great word. It is the word ‘maladjusted’ […] there
are some things in our society, some things in our world, to which we should
never be adjusted.”
The article, however, turns
out to be quote-heavy which reduced the readability for me. Or, perhaps, it was
more because it was addressing issues that are not of primary importance to me.
Shealy (2005) Justifying the
Justification Hypothesis: Scientific-humanism, Equilintegration (EI) Theory,
and the Beliefs, Events, and Values Inventory (BEVI) (Abstract)
The magic word for this
article is ‘operationalise’, this is the spiritual twin of the Geary (2005)
article. A closer look, then, here at how the ‘justification hypothesis’ can be
operationalised using Shealy’s Equilintegration (EI) Theory, and the Beliefs, Events,
and Values Inventory (BEVI). Practical.
Slife (2005) Testing the
limits of Henriques’ proposal: Wittgensteinian lessons and hermeneutic dialogue
Henriques’ unification attempt
is compared to that carried out by personality researchers who aim for
subsuming theories. Unfortunately, Slife (2005) argues, it is impossible to
subsume everyone’s theories – this leads to those on the outside being
marginalised. Critical of whether qualitative researchers will accept an
all-embracing theory.
Doesn’t appear to be a direct
attack on the ToK system on its own terms but more of a rehearsal of social
constructionist viewpoints and why they are incompatible. Clearly written.
Henriques (2005) Toward a
useful mass movement (Abstract)
The final word goes to Gregg
Henriques who replies to his critics, politely but firmly. Along the way he
explains most of the ideas, arguments and criticisms for which I have been
groping as I read the two special issues, and many more that passed me by. Sets
out the course for the future. Clearly written, highly recommended.
Looking Back and Forward
To me, when looking at all the
articles both for and against the ToK system covered here it all comes down to
one thing. If you look for commonalities between different areas,
sub-disciplines or methodologies within psychology then you’ll find them. If
you look for differences, then, again, you’ll find them. That’s the nature of
psychology. It’s way too early to tell whether Henriques’ theory will work or
It’s like trying to do a 1,000
piece jigsaw with only 35 of the pieces. You can rearrange the pieces all you
like and argue about which configuration will build the complete picture.
Ultimately, though, you’ve only got 35 pieces and you have to do the best you
can with them until a few more come along. To entirely deny even the
possibility of a big picture, effectively what some are suggesting, seems the
height of arrogance.
The real question to ask is
whether the task of unifying psychology is worthwhile. If it is, then it will
be done. If not, it won’t. No amount of sniping from the trenches will change
the fact that if researchers, theoreticians or practitioners can show practical
benefit from a unified theory, many will jump on the bandwagon.
For my part, I hope a
concerted effort is made towards unity, even if a macro view of psychology
cannot ultimately ‘subsume’ all areas of psychology, that doesn’t mean the
attempt shouldn’t be made. Who wouldn’t want a clearer picture?

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD
is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from
University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about
scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book
“Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.