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Int J Psychol. 2016 Feb;51(1):64-71. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12163. Epub 2015 Apr 28.

Functional research and cognitive-process research in behavioural science: An unequal but firmly connected pair.

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Department of Psychology, Universität Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany.


Drawing on illustrative examples of the functional and cognitive psychology in contemporary research, the present article emphasizes the primacy of functional relationships, which provide the fundament for all attempts to uncover invisible cognitive processes. Cognitive research is not only inherently more difficult and much more ambitious than functional research. It also suffers from several home-made problems, such as unwarranted inferences from model fitting, the mediation-analysis cult and the failure to take environmental influences into account. However, despite the primacy of functional psychology and the problems associated with the ambitious goals of cognitive research, the two partners in this unequal pair are firmly connected and jointly responsible for the most impressive examples of progress in behavioural science.


Inductive cognition; Methodology; Social cognition

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