Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science

, Volume 48, Issue 4, pp 365–383 | Cite as

Research-Based Knowledge in Psychology: What, if Anything, is Its Incremental Value to the Practitioner?

  • Jan Smedslund
  • Lee Ross
Regular Article


This essay reflects an ongoing dialogue between a clinician versed in mainstream psychological research and theory, and a social psychologist with experience both as a researcher and contributor to applied undertakings in various domains about the “incremental value” of research-based knowledge—that is, its value beyond that provided by the other sources of knowledge available to the practitioner. These sources include knowledge about the needs and coping strategies of all human beings, as well as knowledge both about the specific life circumstances of those one is seeking to help, and knowledge about language and culture. Examples from the clinical practice of the first author are offered, coupled with in-principle arguments about the underspecified and contingent nature of research-based generalizations. By way of rebuttal, examples of arguably useful findings are provided by the second author—especially findings that serve as correctives to biases in lay psychology (notably unwarranted “dispositionism”) and to widespread shortcomings in judgment and decision-making (particularly, Kahneman and Tversky’s work on “prospect theory” ). Both authors agree on the value of a “bricoleur” treatment strategy that relies on careful attention to the specifics of the case at hand and avoids one-size-fits-all applications of theory and prior research, and both agree that research-based findings are more useful in predicting behavior and designing intervention strategies that apply to groups and large samples of individuals rather than single actors. A concluding discussion focuses on necessary criteria and strategies for increasing the usefulness of laboratory and field research for the practitioner.


Evidence-based practice Application of social psychology Bricoleur model for practice Usefulness of different types of knowledge 


  1. Aronson, J., Fried, C. B., & Good, C. (2002). Reducing the effect of stereotype threat on African American college students by shaping theories of intelligence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 113–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: a longitudinal study and an intervention. Child Development, 78, 246–263.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bryan, C. J., Walton, G. M., Rogers, T., & Dweck, C. S. (2011). Motivating voter turnout by invoking the self. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108, 12653–12656.PubMedCrossRefPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  4. Chapman, L. J., & Chapman, J. P. (1969). Illusory correlation as an obstacle to the use of valid psychodiagnostic signs. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 74, 271–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cohen, G. L., Garcia, J., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Apfel, N., & Brzustoski, P. (2009). Recursive processes in self-affirmation: Intervening to close the minority achievement.Google Scholar
  6. Dawes, R. M., Faust, D., & Meehl, P. E. (1989). Clinical versus actuarial judgment. Science, 243, 1668–1674.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dunning, D., Griffin, D. W., Milojkovic, J. D., & Ross, L. (1990). The overconfidence effect in social prediction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 568–581.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dweck, C. S. (1999). Self-theories: their role in motivation, personality and development. Philadelphia: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  9. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  10. Fischhoff, B. (1975). Hindsight is not equal to foresight: the effect of outcome knowledge on judgment under uncertainty. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 1(3), 288–299.Google Scholar
  11. Freud, S. (1912). Recommendations to physicians practicing psychoanalysis (12th ed.). London: Hogarth Press.Google Scholar
  12. Johnson, E. J., & Goldstein, D. G. (2003). Do defaults save lives? Science, 302, 1338–1339.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Jones, E. E., & Davis, K. E. (1965). From acts to dispositions: the attribution process in social psychology. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 219–266). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  14. Hastie, R., & Dawes, R. (2010). Rational choice in an uncertain world: the psychology of judgment and decision making. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  15. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.Google Scholar
  16. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1973). On the psychology of prediction. Psychological Review, 80, 237–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979). Prospect theory: an analysis of decisions under risk. Econometrica, 47, 313–327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1984). Choices, values, and frames. American Psychologist, 39, 341–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kelley, H. H. (1973). The process of causal attribution. American Psychologist, 28, 107–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kelly G. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. Vol. I, II. Norton, New York. (2nd printing: 1991, Routledge, London, New York.Google Scholar
  21. Levi-Strauss, C. (1966). The savage mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lord, C., Ross, L., & Lepper, M. (1979). Biased assimilation and attitude polarization: the effects of prior theories on subsequently considered evidence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 2098–2109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mac Coun, R. J. (1998). Biases in the interpretation and use of research results. Annual Review of Psychology, 49, 259–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. McNeil, B. J., Pauker, S. G., Sox, H. C., & Tversky, A. (1982). On the elicitation of preferences for alternative therapies. New England Journal of Medicine, 306, 1259–1262.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Meehl, P.E. (1954) Clinical versus statistical prediction minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  27. Meehl, P. E. (1973). Why I do not attend case conferences. In P. E. Meehl (Ed.), Psychodiagnosis: selected papers (pp. 225–302). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  28. Merton, R. K. (1968). Social theory and social structure. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  29. Nisbett, R. E., & Ross, L. (1980). Human inference: strategies and shortcomings of social judgment. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  30. Pronin, E., Gilovich, T. D., & Ross, (2004). Objectivity in the eye of the beholder: divergent perceptions of bias in self versus others. Psychology Review, 111, 781–799.Google Scholar
  31. Redelmeier, D. A., Molin, J.-P., & Tibshirani, R. J. (1995). A randomised trial of compassionate care for the homeless in an emergency department. The Lancet, 345, 1131–1134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ross, L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist and his shortcomings: distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 10, pp. 173–240). New York: Academic.Google Scholar
  33. Ross, L., & Fetherstonehaugh, D. (1999). Framing effects and income flow preferences in decisions about social security. In H. J. Aaron (Ed.), Behavioral dimensions of retirement economics. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  34. Ross, L., & Nisbett, R. E. (1991). The person and the situation: perspectives of social psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  35. Ross, L., Lepper, M. R., & Ward, A. (2010). A history of social psychology: insights, contributions, and challenges. In S. Fiske & D. Gilbert (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., Vol. 1). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  36. Skjervheim, H. (1959). Objectivism and the study of man. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.Google Scholar
  37. Smedslund, J. (2012a). The bricoleur-model of psychological practice. Theory and Psychology, 22, 643–657.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smedslund, J. (2012b). What follows from what we all know about human beings. Theory and Psychology, 22, 658–668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Snyder, M., & Swann, W. B. (1978). Hypothesis-testing processes in social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(11), 1202–1212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Thaler, R. H. & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2007). A question of belonging: race, social fit, and achievement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 82–96.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Walton, G. M., & Cohen, G. L. (2011). A brief social-belonging intervention improves academic and health outcomes of minority students. Science, 332, 1447–1451.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Wampold, B. E. (2001). The great psychotherapy-debate: models, methods, and findings. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  44. Yeager, D. S., & Walton, G. M. (2011). Social-psychological interventions in education: they’re not magic. Review of Educational Research, 81, 267–301.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA

Personalised recommendations