Table 1.2 Five Standards for Evaluating Personality Theories




Explains most or all known facts.

Heuristic value

Guides researchers to important new discoveries.


Makes precise predictions that can be empirically tested.


Contains few premises or assumptions.

Compatibility and integration

Consistent with what is known in other domains; can be coordinated with other branches of scientific knowledge.

Although parsimony is important, bear in mind that this does not mean that simple theories are always better than complex theories. Indeed, simple theories often crash and burn because they fail to meet one or more of the other five standards describe here; for example, they may fail to be comprehensive because they explain so little. It is our belief that human personality is genuinely complex, and so a complex theory—one containing many premises—may ultimately be necessary .

A fifth standard is compatibility and integration acr oss domains and levels. A theory of cosmology in astronomy that violated known laws of physics, for example, would be incompatible across levels and hence judged to be fundamentally flawed A theory of biology that violated known principles of chemistry similarly would be judged to be fatally flawed. In the same wa , a personality theory in one domain that violated well-established principles in another domain would be judged highly problematic. For example, a theory of the development of personality dispositions that was inconsistent with well-established knowledge in physiology and genetics would be judged to be problematic. Similarly , a theory of evolutionary influences on personal ity that contradicted what is known about cultural influences, or vice versa, would b similarly problematic. Although the criterion of compatibility and integration acr oss domains and levels is a well-established principle in most sciences (T ooby & Cosmides, 1992), it has rarely been used to evaluate the adequacy of personality theories. We believe that the "domains" approach taken in this book highlights the importance of the evaluative criterion of compatibility across levels of personality analysis.

In sum, as you progress through the six domains of personality functioning, keep in mind the five standards by which theories within each domain can b evaluated—comprehensiveness, heuristic value, testability , parsimony, and cross-domain compatibility (see T able 1.2).

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