Why Psychology Needs to Stop Striving for Novelty and How to Move Towards Theory-Driven Research

Juliane Burghardt, Alexander Neil Bodansky

Research output: Journal article (peer-reviewed)Journal article

8 Citations (Scopus)


Psychological science is maturing and therefore transitioning from explorative to theory-driven research. While explorative research seeks to find something "new," theory-driven research seeks to elaborate on already known and hence predictable effects. A consequence of these differences is that the quality of explorative and theory-driven research needs to be judged by distinct criterions that optimally support their respective development. Especially, theory-driven research needs to be judged by its methodological rigor. A focus on innovativeness, which is typical for explorative research, will instead incentivize bad research practices (e.g., imprecise theorizing, ignoring previous research, parallel theories). To support the advancement of psychology, we must drop the innovation requirement for theory-driven research and instead require the strongest methods, which are marked by high internal and external validity. Precise theorizing needs to substitute novelty. Theories are advanced by requiring explicit, testable assumptions, and an explicit preference for one theory over another. These explicit and potentially wrong assumptions should not be silenced within the peer-review process, but instead be scrutinized in new publications. Importantly, these changes in scientific conduct need to be supported by senior researchers, especially, in their roles as editors, reviewers, and in the hiring process. An important obstacle to further theory-driven research is to measure scientific merit using researchers' number of publications, which favors theoretically shallow and imprecise writing. Additionally, it makes publications the central target of scientific misconduct even though they are the main source of information for the scientific community and the public. To advance the field, researchers should be judged by their contribution to the scientific community (e.g., exchange with and support of colleagues, and mentoring). Another step to advance psychology is to clearly differentiate between measurement model and theory, and not to overgeneralize based on few stimuli, incidences, or studies. We will use ideas from the theory of science to underline the changes necessary within the field of psychology to overcome this existential replication crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number609802
Pages (from-to)609802
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jan 2021


  • explorative research
  • innovation
  • replication crisis
  • theory of science
  • theory-driven research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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