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A decade of theory as reflected in Psychological Science (2009-2019).

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McPhetres, Jonathon  ORCID logo
Albayrak-Aydemir, Nihan  ORCID logo
Barbosa Mendes, Ana 
Chow, Elvina C 
Gonzalez-Marquez, Patricio 


The dominant belief is that science progresses by testing theories and moving towards theoretical consensus. While it's implicitly assumed that psychology operates in this manner, critical discussions claim that the field suffers from a lack of cumulative theory. To examine this paradox, we analysed research published in Psychological Science from 2009-2019 (N = 2,225). We found mention of 359 theories in-text, most were referred to only once. Only 53.66% of all manuscripts included the word theory, and only 15.33% explicitly claimed to test predictions derived from theories. We interpret this to suggest that the majority of research published in this flagship journal is not driven by theory, nor can it be contributing to cumulative theory building. These data provide insight into the kinds of research psychologists are conducting and raises questions about the role of theory in the psychological sciences.



Humans, Models, Psychological, Psychological Theory

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PLoS One

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Public Library of Science (PLoS)