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One Hundred Years of Laws in Psychology

Karl Halvor Teigen
The American Journal of Psychology
Vol. 115, No. 1 (Spring, 2002), pp. 103-118
DOI: 10.2307/1423676
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1423676
Page Count: 16
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One Hundred Years of Laws in Psychology
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Abstract

Mainstream psychology in the 20th century has been conceived as a nomothetic science, but few psychological "laws" have been proposed. A PsycLit search of journal abstracts from 1900 to 1999 yielded a total of 3,093 "law" citations, or 22 per 10,000 entries, with two psychophysical laws (Weber's law and Stevens's power law) and two learning laws (Herrnstein's matching law and Thorndike's law of effect) as the most frequently cited. The number of law citations has been decreasing throughout the century, to 10 per 10,000 entries in the last decade, with few references to laws of recent origin. This could be the result of increasing doubts about the lawfulness of psychological processes coupled with a general preference for less ambitious terms (such as effects, principles, models, or functions).

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