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Grand Challenges for Psychological Science in the 21st Century

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Psychological Science, unlike many other fields of study, is characterized by substantial diversity. This diversity, expressed over both contents and methods, is in fact bewildering to the point that it can rightfully be said that psychology lacks a clear identity. It has one foot in the philosophy of mind, ...

Psychological Science, unlike many other fields of study, is characterized by substantial diversity. This diversity, expressed over both contents and methods, is in fact bewildering to the point that it can rightfully be said that psychology lacks a clear identity. It has one foot in the philosophy of mind, another in biology, and perhaps an arm in the humanities and the other in medicine. It encompasses fundamental issues that have interested philosophers from antiquity onwards, but also has great societal relevance, seeking to develop its own approaches to the treatment of mental disease and the diagnosis and remedies of neuropsychological disorders. It also leverages a strikingly wide array of methods — from the traditional behavioural measures used in cognitive psychology to the sophisticated brain imaging or genetic methods used in cognitive neuroscience; from qualitative, individual approaches all the way to the large-scale statistical methods typically involved in clinical trials or in longitudinal studies. This comes as no surprise, given the complexity of exploring not only the intricacies of our mental life, but, more to the point, how the mind relates to the body, and in particular to the brain. The brain is itself so complex that a neuroscientist can spend his entire career working on a single type of neuron. But this is not all, for neither body nor mind ever stand still. The brain changes when we grow up, and as we age. Further, as agents, we are in continuous interaction with the world and with other agents, and to such an extent that one may reasonably claim that it is meaningless to study psychological mechanisms without considering how they are modulated by the environment and by social factors. Psychology is thus, by nature, a “hub” discipline, for its object of study is quite literally spread over several levels of description that span the entire spectrum of reality – from molecules to ecstasy. This is reflected by the large number of sections, over 20, that Frontiers in Psychology now integrates.

With this in mind, this research topic is dedicated to collecting forward-looking articles composed by the specialty chief editors of the sections of the journal. These contributions are meant to identify and reflect upon what could be dubbed the “grand challenges” for psychological research. What are the main issues that need to be addressed? Which is the way forward as we keep integrating different facets of psychological function and experience together? What are the main methodological challenges that need to be addressed to move beyond the state-of-the-art? How do we develop truly integrative theories of psychological phenomena? Such challenges have particular importance today, as psychology, as a field, is now engaged in an unprecedented effort to address the “replicability crisis” that has made so many headlines over the past few years. This specific challenge concerns all subfields of psychology, and offers a unique opportunity for the field as a whole to reinvent its methods and integrate its approaches as we move forward towards open science practices and open access publishing.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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