Simplifying and facilitating comprehension: The “as if” heuristic and Its Implications for psychological science

Gideon Keren*, Seger Breugelmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Simplicity is a fundamental tenet of cognition intended to cope with a complex and intricate world. Based on the writings of the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, this article introduces a wide-ranging simplification scheme denoted the “as if” heuristic. Following this heuristic, much of our productive and constructive thoughts about the world, specifically in science, are based on idealized fictitious assumptions. Although descriptions of the world as portrayed by psychological models and theories may contain fictitious elements (antithetical or at least indifferent to the search for truth), they afford a simplification tool that facilitates our comprehension of a complex and obscured world. Numerous examples from the psychological literature in which the “as if” heuristic is apparent are presented. Specifically, we analyze the implications of exploiting the heuristic for the development of psychological constructs, theory building, and the foundations of psychological measurement. While highlighting the gains acquired from the use of the “as if” heuristic, we also discuss its possible pitfalls if not properly used.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-411
JournalReview of General Psychology
Volume24
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Keywords

  • cognition
  • fictions
  • heuristic
  • models
  • simplification
  • validity

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