DMU research calls for change in approach to human psychology


New research by a De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) academic has shown that a fundamental change in how psychology research is conducted is required.

One of psychology’s main goals is to study human behaviour, which has traditionally been described and explained using principles and theories that can be generalised to all human beings.

Carlos Crivelli

An article published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences by Dr Carlos Crivelli, VC2020 Lecturer in Psychology at DMU, has discussed new ways to advance our understanding of human psychology by taking into account human diversity.

Dr Crivelli has argued that culture plays an important role in shaping human perception, thought and action and therefore cannot be ignored. Human behaviour is influenced by prior experiences, beliefs and cultural background and therefore approaches constrained by Western assumptions grounded in psychological theories are unsuitable.

Dr Crivelli believes that the best way to advance our understanding of human behaviour is by using data-driven methods. These methods, which are frequently used in other branches of science such as psychophysics, ethology, or artificial intelligence, can reveal new insights that Western theories might overlook.

Data-driven methods allow for more flexibility during the process of data collection. The emphasis on description and discovery does not preclude the existence of a robust mathematical and theoretical background.

Carlos Crivelli 1
Dr Crivelli gathered a lot of data by doing research in Papua New Guinea

For example, machine learning and data mining, social network analysis, psychophysics or behavioural ecology all build mathematical models to describe reality; it is the data speaking rather than the intuitions of the reader.

He explained: “In order to diversify our knowledge of human behaviour we need to restore the balance between data and theory-driven methods. Many areas in psychology have been grounded on Western assumptions that are starting to fall apart when we diversify the samples we study and the methods we use.

“My research in non-industrialised, indigenous societies in Africa and the Pacific has debunked many ‘established’ truths that most psychology students from all over the world learn as axioms.

“Luckily for my third year psychology students, these ‘established’ truths are critically discussed in light of the recent evidence that I have published in the field of emotions and facial displays.

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This research, which was published in one of the most important academic science journals, represents an important contribution to DMU’s reputation for research excellence.

Dr. Crivelli added: “I really believe that my expertise in the field of emotion and social influence should not only benefit DMU’s reputation for excellent research but also DMU psychology students’ critical thinking and provide them with a state-of-the-art approach to controversial issues that are shaping the future of our discipline.

“This is an important step forward in psychology and it sets the course for the years to come in many areas within the cognitive sciences. To describe, explain, and predict human behaviour we need to understand human diversity first. And to do so, data-driven methods are key to build a better psychological science.”

Dr Crivelli’s full article can be read here.
Posted on Tuesday 20th February 2018

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