Preface

When the famous German-born American social psychologist Kurt Lewln suggested that nothing is as important as a good theory, he most likely was emphasizing the word "theory" and the significant role of theory in scientific psychology. However, another important word (along with "theory") in Lewin's epigram - in my opinion - is the word "good." That is, there are both "good" and "not-so-good" theories, especially in the discipline of psychology.

How does one distinguish, precisely, between a "good" and a "not-so-good" theory? Psychologists have provided various standards for examining this issue, including use of the criteria of parsimony (all other things being equal, the most "economical" theory - the one with the fewest statements - is the "best" theory), testability (theories that permit their propositions to be tested empirically, or are open to experimental manipulation, are the "better" theories), and generalizability (the theory that extends its boundaries beyond a small group or number of cases to a larger group or number of cases is a "better" theory), among other factors.

This dictionary of psychological theories includes in its contents both types of theories -the "good" and the "not-so-good." The astute reader - whether he or she is a layperson or a professional - is invited to discern the "good" from the "not-so-good" theories and, along the way, is encouraged to maintain a healthy sense of humor when examining psychologists' many attempts to identify, define, describe, and understand phenomena in their field. For example, it is suggested that the reader look up the Dodo hypothesis and Maier 's law, and then decide for oneself the formal scientific status of these pronouncements. As one may see immediately, some theoretical propositions in psychology are just downright humorous. However, on the other hand, readers will find in this dictionary some of psychology's most important, celebrated, and critical theoretical notions - the very stuff and substance which contributes to psychology's stature as a science. For instance, consider reinforcement theory and the law of effect for two of the most substantive and enduring ideas in the history of scientific psychology.

In response to the question "Where do you get the entries for your dictionary?" my answer is simple: If any of the various descriptors - such as theory, law, principle, effect, doctrine, model, paradigm, or hypothesis - have been applied explicitly to a phenomenon reported in the psychological and social/behavioral sciences literature, then that phenomenon, consequently, is an acceptable candidate for inclusion in this dictionary. Accordingly, by virtue of this standard, entries contained in this dictionary are considered to have achieved a somewhat "formal" level of acceptance as theoretical concepts as judged by the psychological community and as reflected by the frequent usage of those concepts, as such, in scientific journals and publications.

I hope the reader will find the material in this book to be both entertaining and academically sound, and will discover a happy balance between the humorous and the serious in this dictionary of psychological theories.

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