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date: 08 May 2021

Reflexivity and the History of Psychologylocked

  • Jill MorawskiJill MorawskiWesleyan University

Summary

Reflexivity, a recursive process of turning back, occurs throughout science. Back-and-forth reflexive processes transpire when the scientist executes self-regard and whenever human science theory incorporates the researcher’s actions. Reflexive processes occur too in the myriad, unavoidable ways that observations of the world depend on scientists’ prior understandings of the world. The multiple forms and complexities of reflexivity pose challenges for all science, yet the challenges are especially pronounced in a science, like psychology, that generates knowledge about human nature. Confronting reflexivity is further impeded by psychology’s markedly scientific (not human scientific) goals to achieve objectivity and value neutrality, and to maintain naturalist assumptions about reality. Yet over the lifespan of scientific psychology some psychologists have faced these challenges and recommended means to acknowledge reflexivity. Their investigations have located, named, and analyzed a set of fallacies associated with disregarding reflexivity. The fallacies include assuming that the psychologist’s conception of cognitive processes are the same as their subject’s; that the psychologist can fully bracket their presuppositions from their observations; that psychological theories need not be relevant to their own scientific thoughts and behaviors; that psychology’s prescribed language for reporting findings accurately describes the phenomenon under investigation; and that psychological knowledge has no consequential effects on the world it predicts and explains. Addressing such fallacies and taking steps to remove them through sustained reflexive awareness is essential to attaining an empirically robust, veridical, and dynamic science. Taken together, the efforts of psychologists who have faced reflexivity and the fallacies related to its denial comprise a productive working template for developing a science that benefits from engaging with reflexive processes instead of disregarding them.

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