Psychology as a Historical Science

Posted: 5 Feb 2021

See all articles by Michael Muthukrishna

Michael Muthukrishna

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Joseph Henrich

Harvard University; Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

Edward Slingerland

University of British Columbia (UBC)

Date Written: January 2021

Abstract

Psychology has traditionally seen itself as the science of universal human cognition, but it has only recently begun seriously grappling with cross-cultural variation. Here we argue that the roots of cross-cultural variation often lie in the past. Therefore, to understand not only how but also why psychology varies, we need to grapple with cross-temporal variation. The traces of past human cognition accessible through historical texts and artifacts can serve as a valuable, and almost completely unutilized, source of psychological data. These data from dead minds open up an untapped and highly diverse subject pool. We review examples of research that may be classified as historical psychology, introduce sources of historical data and methods for analyzing them, explain the critical role of theory, and discuss how psychologists can add historical depth and nuance to their work. Psychology needs to become a historical science if it wants to be a genuinely universal science of human cognition and behavior.

Suggested Citation

Muthukrishna, Michael and Henrich, Joseph and Slingerland, Edward, Psychology as a Historical Science (January 2021). Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 72, pp. 717-749, 2021, Vol. 72, pp. 717-749, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3779771 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-082820-111436

Michael Muthukrishna (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Joseph Henrich

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR)

180 Dundas Street West, Suite 1400
Toronto, Ontario
Canada

Edward Slingerland

University of British Columbia (UBC) ( email )

2329 West Mall
Vancouver, British Columbia BC V6T 1Z4
Canada

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