- If you want to study the most complex system in the world, do not rely on the simplest tools/methodology or mathematics a fifth grader could apply.
- If you want to study an individual, you need to study an individual.
- If you claim to study behavior, you need to predict behavior (> 40% of the uncertainty).
- If you want to know if you’re right about someone, you could ask them.
In my last Blog, I made four basic points. Psychology:
- Uses crude tools and inappropriate methodology to understand behavior/thoughts.
- Rather than focus on people, it focuses on groups.
- The utility (squared effect size) of their studies, although it is not zero, it is near zero (≤ 10%). Their studies are practically useless.
- Many theories are more descriptive of their author, than for people in general.
I realized as a neophyte graduate student, that in order to study individuals one needed an advanced methodology. One cannot make advances in any field until the methodology is available. For example, surgery couldn’t advance if the only tools available were flint-napped rocks. Nor could you have any hope for success until you understood sterilization and anesthesia. In Psychology, comparing two means (or a two way ANOVA) does NOT allow any adequate models of individuals, but, at best, groups.
If you want a real science of individuals, you need to study an N-of-One, or expand it to many N-of-One studies. Is this heretical? Nah. Binet, the author of the first IQ test, based it on his observations of his daughter, an N-of-One. The original studies in Psychophysics used ‘observers’, often N-of-One. Of course, the original clinical theories of psychopathology, like those of Freud, devised their theories based on N-of-One observations. B. F. Skinner used N-of-One. The list can go on.
Mathematical Methodological Tools:
Analyses across individuals might tell you something common across all of them, but ignore any and all individual differences. Means and correlations using groups of people will not work. Empirically, predictions based on studying groups have had little prediction for individuals. More to the point, p-values (inferential statistics) only applies to groups, but not N-of-One studies. This is because the basic assumption of independence can never be met, as a person knows all of their prior behaviors. Independence of observations is the cornerstone of inferential statistics (p-values). One cannot use p-values in an analysis of a single individual.
For N-of-One research, one can still use means, medians, modes, and categorical descriptive analyses. One can still correlate one parameter with another, and use all the correlational tools (e.g., factor analysis, cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling, regression, discriminant analysis). One could still do time-series analyses.
Before I get too esoteric let me describe my one and only human study done at the University of Illinois about 40 years ago, an N-of-One study – Asking My Wife What She Thinks. This used some of the methodology of Seymour Rosenberg of Rutgers. I will not talk about the details too much. I first asked my ‘subject’ (my wife) to name all the people she knew well enough to describe. This included different aspects of herself, friends, relatives, classmates, fictional people, me, etc. There were 110 ‘individuals’ she thought about. I asked her to list adjectives for a random subset of 25 ‘individuals’. Next she identified the polar opposite of each adjective (e.g., Imaginative vs. Dull, angry vs. happy). We also expanded the list of adjectives pairs. Finally she reduced the set of adjective/opposites to get rid of duplicates/synonyms and adjectives unique to a specific individual. There were 73 adjective/opposite pairs. Finally she rated each ‘individual’ on each adjective/opposite. That was the hard part, as there were over 8,000 ratings. She spent about 60 hours making the ratings. (*What can I say, she loved me.*) I then did a (correlated or oblique rotation) factor analysis on the data.
It needs to be stressed that what I learned is (potentially) completely unique to her and perhaps unique to her at the age of 27 – an intelligent, Educational Psychology graduate student, focusing on counseling from the Bronx. She is beyond WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). She is my wife. Her ‘theory of psychology’ may only be unique to her and may be even more unique to her at that stage of her development, 38 years ago. Furthermore, in the last 38 years, she has thrice grown past her ‘professional career’, her parents and those of that generation are gone, our two children were born and have successfully ‘left the nest’, she has mellowed, and grown wiser. In other words, the way she views people now is very likely different from then.
What did I learn and how does it relate to Theories of Psychology?
- She tended to use the extreme end of her descriptors (and not the central part of her own ‘scales’). This was more noted for the original adjective rather than the bipolar opposite. To speak ‘psychologese’, this is partial confirmation of Kelly’s Dichotomy Corollary, and rejection of the normal distribution assumption endemic in much of psychological testing.
- Her ‘Theory’ was much more complex than Eysenck’s. Eysenck proposed two uncorrelated factors: Introversion v Extraversion and Neuroticism v Adjusted. Her five factors include these factors, but they are both slightly different (e.g., her I-E factor had a clear pushy-loud component) and those two factors were correlated (0.32).
- Osgood’s three factors are also too few to describe my wife. Osgood’s theory wasn’t adequate to describe the complexity of my wife’s own theory of people and wasn’t clearly represented among my wife’s factors.
- Of the four independent factors of Guilford’s theory, only one was seen to relate to my wife’s.
- She generated, what I deduced to be five moderately correlated factors. The (correlated) factors (named by my wife) were:
- Distant v Caring
- Nervous, tense v Calm and related
- Immature v Mature
- Unique, assertive v Passive and calm
- Intelligent, good looking v Dull and plain – Note: she did not agree that this fifth factor was a true representation of the way she view people.
- The range of correlations among the factors went from 0.21 to 0.84, and all positive. The second order factor she identified as whether the person has ‘gotten it all together’ or not. The highest loading factor was the second Nervous v Calm factor (loading was 0.98) and the lowest loading was the fourth Unique v Passive factor (loading was .33).
- Given that the factors were all positively correlated, many might dismiss the results as a mere ‘halo’ effect. However the unique factor loading correlations ranged from 0.20 to 0.94 with a median of 0.78. Yes, my wife tended to view people as ‘gotten it all together’ or not, but she was much more complex than that.
- These five factors explained 59% of the variance of her ratings. Not too shabby and SIX FOLD BETTER than psychology’s typical 10%.
Let me again stress, that the ‘individuals’, the adjectives, the factor ‘descriptions’ and the entire framework, were all unique to her and constructed by her, although I did the analyses and was guided by Ledyard Tucker – the world’s leading authority on factor analysis at the time.
- Any individual’s theory of psychology is likely to have a HUGE unique component.
- Any theory is likely to be quite malleable over time.
- It will take a very large investment in time to elicit the data for even a single person.
- Such analyses require very advanced mathematical training to execute.
- Any general theory of psychology MUST include a large number of such N-of-One studies.
Can alternative data generation be done? Unforeseen in 1976, Google Glass and similar continuous data collection methods are currently available. In essence we can now record everything we see throughout the day. Continuous recordings (e.g., Google Glass) can also hear everything we hear. Computers are learning how to convert pictures into digital descriptions. Computers can transcribe spoken words into digital data. Our smart phones automatically know our locations, so it is possible to continuously monitor our location. Perhaps the 2015 version might be called ‘Watching and Listening to my Wife to Determine What She Thinks‘.
Factor analysis may not have been the best statistical approach. Perhaps another integrative approach might be better, especially approaches dealing with more ‘granular’ data and unipolar scales. Perhaps completely novel statistical approaches are needed. Repeated measurements on the same subject would be fascinating (and hell to analyze – although Tucker & Messick Three Mode Factor Analysis might be an initial start, if it were integrated with time series analyses).
The data I had my wife collect was ideally suited for factor analysis. In 2015 other data collection techniques (e.g., Google Glass) would imply other or new statistical techniques.
It is my strongly held belief that “Psychology is a Crock”, until 1) every psych graduate student is completely proficient in time series analysis, three-mode factor analysis, cluster analysis and newer statistical multivariate methodologies; 2) every psych PhD student has done at least one ‘N of 1’ research project; and 3) full professors would be expected to have integrated many ‘N of 1’ studies to demonstrate a theory. On the other hand, like the proliferation of individual DNA genome databases, the posting of individual theories of personality would make such integrations easier.
Any psychologist who confirms a theory by comparing two averages (across many people) or computes a correlation (across many people) at a single or a couple of time points should be laughed at, or pitied! Given that maturation takes decades, I can forgive ignoring time/situations, but never ignoring people – individuals. You cannot study people (Psychology) by computing averages. Those pseudo-psychologists who are unable to make the transition, should be moved over to Sociology or Biology, where group amalgams are appropriate.
Am I being harsh? Would you trust an airplane built by an engineer who didn’t understand algebra or use computers/calculators? Would you trust a cardiologist who didn’t understand how to read an EKG or measure blood pressure? Would you trust a psychologist who never formally understood a single individual and ONLY used ‘intuition’ to make their insights? Yes, there may be an occasional old-school psychologist who made a cunning insight. But certainly not many insights and certainly not most psychologists.