A blog about problems in the field of psychology and attempts to fix them.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

New Unified Theory of Psychology

I blogged a bit ago about Gregg Henriques's "New Unified Theory of Psychology", which had seen several in-press discussions, and a book. Gregg also blogs over at Psychology Today.

I mention this because my practice of reviewing one book a year for PsychCritiques provided me with a copy of Gregg's recent book, and the review has just released. As in the past, I don't want to provide too much of the review, for fear of violating copyright, but, as I liked the book, something should be said here.

Excerpts from the review:

The title of Gregg Henriques’s new book, A New Unified Theory of Psychology, is a bit misleading. One might expect from that title a volume dedicated to bringing together different approaches to psychology. Although much of the book is dedicated to that purpose...those efforts are embedded in a far larger proposal to link together all of modern science.... Clearly, Henriques should be applauded for his ambition. Too often, however, one reads a book for which the only thing worth applauding is the author’s ambition. This is not the case here: A New Unified Theory has much worth thinking about, and readers will not be sad for working through it.


Henriques’s claims about mind and behavior [his "mentalistic behaviorism"] must be taken as both descriptive and prescriptive. Descriptively, he is claiming that a full explanation of behavior will be a full explanation of many things that contemporary psychologists and laypeople are interested in when they inquire about mind. Prescriptively, he is claiming that those are the only types of things one should use the term mind to refer to—that the domain, the science of “mind,” should be thus limited. However, unlike several historic and contemporary authors who might make similar claims, he is definitely not limiting psychology to the study of such issues. He simply believes that the other things psychologists study can be coherently thought of as a separate domain, the domain of culture.


Henriques does not offer a unified theory in the sense of a single principle that underlies all of psychological science (as the theory of evolution did for biology and as is wished from the elusive unifying theory of physics). Rather, he offers a set of nested frameworks that puts different parts of psychological research and practice into a coherent relationship with each other (as Tinbergen’s questions did for animal behavior and as the periodic table did for chemistry). The approach is not as hard-nosed as I would like: I want winners and losers. Instead, no single approach is privileged.


Aside from the value in the framework offered, it provides successful overviews of an almost-encyclopedic range of current and past work. If I could teach a graduate-level Introduction to Psychology, this would be the book. If I could recommend one book to colleagues distraught at the fragmented nature of the field, this would be the book. It is not perfect, but it is an admirable step forward.

 End excepts.


  1. A graduate level Intro To Psychology class! Eric, I love the idea!

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