The Theory Crisis in Psychology: How to Move Forward

Markus I. Eronen*, Laura F. Bringmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


Meehl argued in 1978 that theories in psychology come and go, with little cumulative progress. We believe that this assessment still holds, as also evidenced by increasingly common claims that psychology is facing a "theory crisis" and that psychologists should invest more in theory building. In this article, we argue that the root cause of the theory crisis is that developing good psychological theories is extremely difficult and that understanding the reasons why it is so difficult is crucial for moving forward in the theory crisis. We discuss three key reasons based on philosophy of science for why developing good psychological theories is so hard: the relative lack of robust phenomena that impose constraints on possible theories, problems of validity of psychological constructs, and obstacles to discovering causal relationships between psychological variables. We conclude with recommendations on how to move past the theory crisis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 779-788
Number of pages10
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number4
Early online date29-Jan-2021
Publication statusPublished - Jul-2021

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