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Key takeaways

  • Robinaugh2019 - Advancing the Network Theory of Mental Disorders, A Computational Model of Panic Diorder describes the panic disorder model
  • Two functions of theories:
  • In order to explain, predict and control psychological phenomena, our scientific theories need to be good representations of the thing we want to study!
    • But we have verbal theories rather than formal theories
    • Formal theories: mathematical models, models expressed in a programming language, formal logic
  • Verbal theories are too imprecise, see the example of panic attacks below.
  • One common type of models is the agent-based model
  • Formal Theory can help:
    • A tool for thinking (“theories that are imprecise give an illusion of understanding”)
    • A tool for evaluating explanation (“we believe the primary way a theory should be evaluated is by its ability to explain phenomena”). Show, don’t tell compared to a verbal theory. Two things that increase our confidence:
      • Explanatory breadth = how many different things can the theory predict?
      • Explanatory precision = how close to observed values is the theory?
    • A tool for measurement (“Formalization requires that we specify precisely and transparently not only what variables are being assessed but also our assumptions about how those variables relate to components of the real world”)
    • A tool for informing theory development.
    • A tool for collaboration and integration. (Not only within-field but also between-fields since you use the same language)

Theories thus equip us to achieve our most fundamental aims in psychological science: the explanation, prediction, and control of psychological phenomena.

We can express the verbal theory of panic disorder in multiple ways, and this affects how the system will behave under different conditions.

Formal theories support clear and demonstrable explanations, supply precise predictions about the behavior expected from the theory, and provide more precise information about how to control the psychological phenomenon of interest. Yet while commonly used in some areas of psychology (e.g., mathematical psychology, cognitive psychology, and computational psychiatry), formal theories are much less common in soft psychology.