Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 245–265 | Cite as

Variables in Psychology: A Critique of Quantitative Psychology

  • Aaro ToomelaEmail author
Target Article


Mind is hidden from direct observation; it can be studied only by observing behavior. Variables encode information about behaviors. There is no one-to-one correspondence between behaviors and mental events underlying the behaviors, however. In order to understand mind it would be necessary to understand exactly what information is represented in variables. This aim cannot be reached after variables are already encoded. Therefore, statistical data analysis can be very misleading in studies aimed at understanding mind that underlies behavior. In this article different kinds of information that can be represented in variables are described. It is shown how informational ambiguity of variables leads to problems of theoretically meaningful interpretation of the results of statistical data analysis procedures in terms of hidden mental processes. Reasons are provided why presence of dependence between variables does not imply causal relationship between events represented by variables and absence of dependence between variables cannot rule out the causal dependence of events represented by variables. It is concluded that variable-psychology has a very limited range of application for the development of a theory of mind—psychology.


Variable Statistical data analysis Causality Psychology Research methods 



This study was supported by the Estonian Science Foundation Grant No. 7490.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyTallinn UniversityTallinnEstonia

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