The Problem of Coordination and the Pursuit of Structural Constraints in Psychology

David Kellen, Clintin P. Davis-Stober, John C. Dunn, Michael L. Kalish

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Paul Meehl’s famous critique detailed many of the problematic practices and conceptual confusions that stand in the way of meaningful theoretical progress in psychological science. By integrating many of Meehl’s points, we argue that one of the reasons for the slow progress in psychology is the failure to acknowledge the problem of coordination. This problem arises whenever we attempt to measure quantities that are not directly observable but can be inferred from observable variables. The solution to this problem is far from trivial, as demonstrated by a historical analysis of thermometry. The key challenge is the specification of a functional relationship between theoretical concepts and observations. As we demonstrate, empirical means alone cannot determine this relationship. In the case of psychology, the problem of coordination has dramatic implications in the sense that it severely constrains our ability to make meaningful theoretical claims. We discuss several examples and outline some of the solutions that are currently available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-778
Number of pages12
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • measurement
  • order-constrained inference
  • quantitative modeling
  • scaling
  • theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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