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Rooij, Iris van

Rooij, Iris van

Distinguished Lorentz Fellow

Tools for Theory: Improving the Theoretical Foundations of Psychological Science

Research Question

Psychology has been reforming its own practices over the last decade. Most of that reform has focused on experiments and statistics while neglecting theory building. How can we build better theories? In this project I address this question by integrating ideas from computer science, philosophy, and psychology.

Project Description

The history of cognitive science and mathematical psychology demonstrates the power of formal theory building.  Adoption of a formal approach in areas such as cognitive, social, developmental and evolutionary psychology seem to have been hindered by unfamiliarity. Much of psychology is still primarily in the business of discovering and confirming “effects”. This leaves contemporary psychology without strong formal and computational foundations, a scarcity of theoretical rigor, and a proliferation of just-so stories. This NIAS project aims to address this problem. Building on the mathematical theory of computability and philosophy of science, I will develop tools for theory development and make them widely accessible.

Selected Publications

  • van Rooij, I., Blokpoel, M., Kwisthout, J., & Wareham, T. (2019). Cognition and Intractability: A Guide to Classical and Parameterized Complexity Analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • van Rooij, I. & Wareham, T. (2012). Intractability and approximation of optimization theories of cognition. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 56, 232-247.
  • van Rooij, I. (2019) Psychological science needs theory development before preregistration, Psychonomic Society.


Homepage of Iris van Rooij and her book page.