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Humanistic and Positive

Psychology: The
Methodological and
Epistemological Divide
Harris Friedman

School of Psychology, Walden University

Department of Psychology, University of Florida
Published online: 14 Jun 2008.

To cite this article: Harris Friedman (2008) Humanistic and Positive Psychology:
The Methodological and Epistemological Divide, The Humanistic Psychologist, 36:2,
113-126, DOI: 10.1080/08873260802111036
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The Humanistic Psychologist, 36:113126, 2008

Copyright # Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0887-3267 print/1547-3333 online
DOI: 10.1080/08873260802111036

Humanistic and Positive Psychology:

The Methodological and Epistemological Divide

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Harris Friedman
School of Psychology, Walden University
Department of Psychology, University of Florida

Humanistic and positive psychology both focus on similar concerns, but have
differences regarding methodology and epistemology. In terms of methodology, humanistic psychologists tend to prefer qualitative over quantitative
approaches, whereas positive psychologists tend to hold the opposite preference. Likewise, in terms of epistemology, humanistic psychologists tend to
prefer postpositivism, whereas positive psychologists tend to prefer logical
positivism. However, much of the perceived differences between humanistic
and positive psychology have been based on generalizations that do not hold
in every case, notably that humanistic psychology has rich quantitative research
traditions, and positive psychology does contain some qualitative approaches.
Methodological and epistemological pluralism is presented as a way to bring
together these closely related, but now largely separate, areas of psychology.

Humanistic and positive psychology both focus on similar concerns, such as

the frequently neglected view from psychology of what is healthy and
growth-oriented within and between people. Linley and Joseph (2004), in
comparing humanistic and positive psychology, concluded that their differences are far outweighed by their similarities (p. xvi). However, others have
been less sanguine about these differences. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi
(2000) wrote the following in their introduction to a special issue of the
American Psychologist on positive psychology:
Unfortunately, humanistic psychology did not attract much of a cumulative
empirical base, and it spawned myriad therapeutic self-help movements. In

Correspondence should be addressed to Harris Friedman, 1270 Tom Coker Road, La Belle,
FL, 33935. E-mail:



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some of its incarnations, it emphasized the self and encouraged a self-centeredness that played down concerns for collective well-being. Further debate will
determine whether this came about because Maslow and Rogers were ahead
of the times, because these flaws were inherent in their original vision, or
because of overly enthusiastic followers. However, one legacy of the humanism
of the 1960s is prominently displayed in any large bookstore: The psychology section contains at least 10 shelves on crystal healing, aromatherapy,
and reaching the inner child for every shelf of books that tries to uphold some
scholarly standard. (n.p.)

They also pondered, in this same introduction, whether humanistic

psychologys so-called flaws were inherent in Maslow and Rogers original
vision, or were merely the result of allegedly overzealous followers who
failed to adhere to what they deemed a proper scholarly standard. These
statements by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) were received (whether
written with that intention or not) by some as denigrating humanistic
psychology by claiming that it had squandered its promise by failing on
scientific grounds (e.g., to develop an adequate scientific tradition) and
contributing to social problems (e.g., Bohart & Greening, 2001; Held,
2004; Shapiro, 2001; Sugarman, 2007; Sundararajan, 2005; Taylor, 2001).
Last, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi referred twice in this short article to
humanistic psychology as being dated to the 1960s, as if it were only a dead
fossil rather that a vibrant movement.
Accordingly, counterattacks were launched to what were seen as the
unfair accusations from positive psychology. It is interesting to note that
other areas of psychology have frequently paid scant attention to their predecessors, and humanistic psychology is no exception (e.g., little reference is
made in the humanistic psychology literature to such giants as Allport, 1961,
who presaged much of the humanistic psychology agenda), exemplifying
how often old wine is put into in new bottles in psychology. But few areas
of psychology have been birthed in such a scathingly negative way as was
positive psychology through leveling such severe criticism toward its predecessorand the irony of the negative tenor of the birth of positive
psychology begs noting.
In this article, I focus on Seligman and Csikszentmihalyis (2000) main critique of humanistic psychology, which I think revolves around methodology
and, implicitly, also epistemology. Involved in this is the implication that
humanistic psychology is unscientificor at least scientifically barren for
allegedly having failed to generate a meaningful research tradition. Before
proceeding, however, I want to briefly dismiss the accusation that humanistic
psychology suffers from narcissism, which is how Taylor (2001) characterized
the claim that humanistic psychology is self-centered in its allegedly spawning

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excesses of the human potentials movement, with a few retorts. First, that
accusation seems to apply more widely to the entire field of psychology in
terms of its predominant focus on the individual, rather than on the collective;
for example, Foddy and Kashima (2002) aptly claimed that most psychological work assumes an individualistic bias that is taken for granted in the
current literature (p. 4), congruent with Western cultures prevailing individualism, a point I have discussed at greater length elsewhere (e.g., Pappas
& Friedman, 2004). Second, Bohart and Greening (2001) have aptly pointed
out how humanistic psychologists have written on many social issues, including on facilitating peace and justice, and have contributed to a broad application of humanistic psychology to social betterment, which is incongruent
with an accusation of narcissism. And I also want to add the argument that
much of the human potentials movement arose concurrently with the rise
of humanistic psychology and was not just narcissistically driven but, rather,
oriented toward substantial social changeand its fruits have been
profoundly influential way beyond the boundaries of psychology, such as
in revolutionizing contemporary management practices. In this sense, I cannot think of a more successful area of psychology than humanistic psychology
in terms of bettering the world.
Consequently, I focus mainly on the accusation of the alleged unscientific
nature of humanistic psychology, which leads to perhaps the greatest divide
between positive and humanistic psychology, namely the differential emphasis on methodology, with the formers penchant for qualitative (e.g.,
Fischer, 2006a; Wertz, 2001) and the latters for quantitative approaches
(e.g., Ong & Dulmen, 2007). But this divide may be more illusory than real,
because much of humanistic psychology research is firmly quantitative and,
likewise, some qualitative research stems from the positive psychology
tradition. So how real is this divide?
I start this exploration with some of the history of quantitative
approaches to humanistic psychology research, including the seminal works
of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, as well as by identifying another
recognized by positive psychology as one of its pioneers but whose own
professional identity is firmly rooted within humanistic psychology. I then
present some of the vibrant quantitative research tradition that continues
within humanistic psychology, including a brief touching on my own quantitative research on transpersonal self-concept, as well as paying some attention to the large literature of quantitative work examining humanistic
psychotherapies, a research tradition not well-known by those who denigrate humanistic psychotherapies as unsupported by this type of research.
Finally, I present on the growing movement toward methodological pluralism, also known as multimethods and mixed-methods, through which
researchers collect, analyze, and integrate both quantitative and qualitative

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data within the same investigations. In these discussions, I argue that there
can be no firm delineation between quantitative and qualitative research as,
in fact, all empirical research, despite how purely it may attempt to adhere
to only one approach, unavoidably includes aspects of both approaches.
In this regard, the perceived divide between humanistic and positive
psychology based on preferences for different research methods is rejected,
calling for rapproachment between these traditions.
I start with the accusation that humanistic psychology is unscientific and
has failed to generate a cumulative research tradition. It is useful to look at
this from a number of perspectives. First, what were the positions of the two
major founders of humanistic psychology referenced by Seligman and
Csikszentmihalyi (2000), namely Rogers and Maslow, on science? In 1965,
Rogers wrote Some Thoughts Regarding the Current Philosophy of the
Behavioral Sciences in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, stating as
In the behavioral sciences I think that one of our problems is that the methods
of testing hypotheses come to be regarded as dogmas. These are, or should be,
as unwelcome as dogmas in any other field. The rules and methods we have for
testing hypotheses are creations of the scientists themselves and should be
recognized as such. Thus we should realize that there is no special virtue to
any one procedure. Some hypotheses can best be tested in one case. One such
famous hypothesis had to do with the circulation of the blood, and the testing
of it involved no statistics. Others can only be satisfactorily tested on a large
population using all of the most elaborate statistical methods. Some very pioneering hypotheses should first be tested in rough ways before they are put to
refined test. In all instances the method of testing should be appropriate to the
hypothesis, the pattern, the vision of reality. (n.p.)

Rogers stance toward science, articulated over 4 decades ago, expressed a

broadened version of scienceand was unwavering through the end of his
career. And as a personal note, I worked in 1967 as an undergraduate
research assistant with Don Kiesler, a colleague of Rogers, and can personally vouch for the soundness of that scientific research; one article that came
out of this research was titled Comparison of Experiencing Scale Ratings
of Naive Versus Clinically Sophisticated Judges (Kiesler, 1970), and I note
that, as an undergraduate, I was in the naive category of judges but still was
greatly influenced by Rogers sophisticated approach to science.
Regarding Maslows stance toward science, I note that he studied experimental psychology and was deeply steeped in scientific methods. Later in
his life, he wrote The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance (Maslow,
1966), in which he too, like Rogers, broadened, but never abandoned,
his commitment to empirical science. Relevant concepts for him involved

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distinguishing between nomothetic versus idiographic methods, as well as

between experiential versus spectator knowledge. He was adamant that
science must be an open process and must not arbitrarily exclude anything
of potential interestand he decried any approach to science that would
only allow generalizations across many as opposed to also allowing holistically approaching the individual as a legitimate level of study. In fact,
Maslow (1954=1987) even used the term positive psychology (as cited in
Resnick, Warmoth & Serlin, 2001, p. 74) nearly a half century prior to this
term being reintroduced by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000). Clearly,
both Rogers and Maslow were neither antiscientific nor antithetical to producing cumulative research traditions.
Second, Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) did mention a long history
of research in positive psychology, such as Deiners (2000) work on happiness that they claimed was in this field for 3 decades, despite that the field of
positive psychology did not exist until recently. I cannot speak for Dieners
professional identification, but at least one other person pursuing research
on happiness three decades ago solidly identified with humanistic psychology: Fordyce (1977; 1983), whose empirical work on happiness was
recently recognized as pioneering by Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson
(2005) in an American Psychologist article, clearly identified as a humanistic
psychologist throughout his career (Fordyce, personal communication,
October 31, 2006). It is important to note that Seligman and his co-authors
did not see happiness work as tangential to positive psychology but, rather,
stated that the efficacy of psychological interventions to increase individual
happiness [is] in many ways the bottom line of work in positive psychology
(n.p.). On a personal note, Fordyce and I taught at the same college when he
was doing this pioneering, work and I frequently collaborated with him,
such as in using his happiness measure in my first empirical research on
transpersonal psychology (Friedman, 1983). I also note that, in an article
comparing various measures of happiness, Fordyces (1977) early happiness
measure, coming from within the humanistic psychology tradition, showed
the greatest indication of validity when compared to many other measures
(Compton, Smith, Cornish, & Qualls, 1996). I conclude that the core area
of interest of positive psychology is inextricably bound with the work of
at least one humanistic psychologist.
In this regard, I might mention my own cumulative humanistic research
that started in the late 1970s, and that I still actively pursue, namely quantitative research on transpersonal self-concept. I have published over a
dozen articles focusing on transpersonal assessment and measurement, the
first being in 1983 from my dissertation in the Journal of Transpersonal
Psychology (Friedman, 1983); the most recent is from a dissertation that I
supervised (Pappas & Friedman, 2007)and many others have used my

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measure of transpersonal self-concept in their studies (e.g., Guzma, 2003;
MacDonald, Tsagarakis, & Holland, 1994). Although most of my work
has been published in humanistic and transpersonal journals, some has
come out in mainstream journals (e.g., MacDonald, Gagnier, & Friedman,
2000) and clearly is a counterexample to the accusation that no cumulative
research has stemmed from humanistic psychology.
In addition, there are many other vibrant research traditions within
humanistic psychology. Taylor (2001) mentioned the large research literature on meditation as an example of one such area of humanistic psychology
research. As of August 4, 2007, I found 2879 PsycINFO references on meditation. In fact, Davis (n.d., n.p.) concluded, meditation is the third most
researched topic in clinical and counseling psychology (after behaviour
modification and biofeedback), and Walsh and Shapiro (2006) concluded
that meditation is now one of the most enduring, widespread, and
researched of all psychotherapeutic methods (p. 227). That this huge
research tradition lies at least partially within humanistic psychology can
be exemplified by Shapiro and Walshs (2003) review article, first published
in The Humanistic Psychologist, summarizing the vast cumulative research
tradition on meditation. Later, a revised version of this article was published
for a larger audience in the American Psychologist (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).
I note that research on meditation is also seen as within the purview of
positive psychology (e.g., Shapiro, Schwartz, & Santeere, 2005), further
supporting the commonality of humanistic and positive psychology.
As an additional example, I have often heard voiced that humanistic
approaches to psychotherapy should be dismissed as lacking a research base
(e.g., at the 2006 APA convention, Robert Woody, a leading scholar in clinical psychology, expressed such a view to me in a personal communication,
August 12, 2006). However, there is a substantial, but little known, research
literature on outcomes of humanistic psychotherapy. In one meta-analysis
of 86 quantitative studies of humanistic approaches to psychotherapy,
there was considerable support for its effectiveness (Elliott, 2002) and the
findings were published in an edited book from the American Psychological
Association Press. In fact, the area of measuring psychotherapy effectiveness was pioneered by humanistic psychology with some of the earliest
studies conducted by Rogers and Dymond (1954).
Last, regarding the accusation of a lack of a cumulative research tradition
within humanistic psychology, I mention humanistic psychological testing,
because that is an area in which I have long worked. When I first attended
graduate school in clinical psychology at Georgia State University (GSU)
in the early 1970s, two of the programs prominent professors in that
explicitly humanistic program debated the role of testing within clinical
psychology. Brown (1972) posited that psychometric procedures violate

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the major tenets of humanistic psychology (p. 103), whereas Craddick

(1972) defended the use of tests in humanistic assessment. I note that Craddick, although he was clearly identified as a humanistic psychologist, widely
published in the area of testing, researching both so-called objective tests
such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (e.g., Craddick,
1962) and projective tests such as the Thematic Apperception Test (Squyres
& Craddick, 1982). One of my earliest encounters with applying this tradition
was through working with Maholick in existential psychotherapy in the early
1970s at GSU; he and Crumbaugh (Crumbaugh & Maholick, 1969) had
devised the Purpose in Life Test operationalizing existential meaning constructs, which was used to guide psychotherapy. And my own dissertation
from that program was on test construction and validation of a measure
of transpersonal self-concept (Friedman, 1983). Ironically, this was supervised by Brown who, although he rejected using tests in clinical psychology
practice as violating humanistic principles, encouraged me to complete a
quantitative dissertation to facilitate my being accepted as a legitimate
researcher within both mainstream, as well as humanistic, psychology.
Looking more broadly at the use of tests within humanistic psychology,
both Rogers (1961) and Maslow (1966) discussed tests favourably. And
there are many explicitly humanistic psychological tests, including the
Personal Orientation Inventory (POI; Shostrom, 1966), which measures
self-actualization; the Feelings, Reactions, Beliefs Survey (Cartwright &
Mori, 1988), which measures aspects of Rogerian personality theory; and
the Peak Experiences Scale (Mathes, Zevon, Roter, & Joerger, 1982), which
measures Maslowian peak experiences, just to mention a few. Many of these
avowedly humanistic measures have produced rich quantitative research
traditions. MacDonald and I (MacDonald & Friedman, 2002) reviewed
some of these measures in an article titled, Assessment of humanistic,
transpersonal and spiritual constructs: State of the science published in
the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. To take just one of the measures
mentioned, the POI is cited 618 times in PsycINFO (as of August 1,
2007), clearly producing an ongoing and cumulative research tradition.
William James, in an 1890 lecture that is often quoted, declared: To
upset the conclusion that all crows are black, there is no need to seek demonstration that no crow is black; it is sufficient to produce one white crow; a
single one is sufficient (n.p.). These many examples of quantitative research
in humanistic psychology offer a murder (the name for a crow flock) of
white crows to evidence that there are ample cumulative research traditions
within humanistic psychology to disprove the generalization that not much
research has stemmed from humanistic psychology, even when limited to
just quantitative research. It does appear that positive psychology has not
recognized the pioneering quantitative empirical work coming from the

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humanistic psychology tradition in the niche now claimed exclusively by
some in positive psychology. And, of course, I have not even mentioned
the voluminous work within humanistic psychology that used qualitative
methods. Finally, on this accusation that humanistic psychology has not
produced much science, Shapiro (2001) aptly noted the large number of
empirical articles, both quantitative and qualitative, published in many
explicitly humanistic journals (e.g., The Humanistic Psychologist and the
Journal of Humanistic Psychology).
This segues into the paradigmatic divide between humanistic and positive
psychology. It needs to be acknowledged that there is a general difference in
research style, namely humanistic psychologys penchant for mostly qualitative work (Fischer, 2006a) as opposed to positive psychologys penchant
for mostly quantitative research (Ong & Dulmen, 2007), which is more
implicitly obvious rather than explicitly stated in the positive psychology
literature. That this is undeniably a real difference can be illustrated by
comparing landmark works, such as Fischers (2006b) recent book on
Qualitative Research Methods for Psychologists, written from a humanistic
perspective and congruently filled with examples of actual qualitative
research, with the Oxford Handbook of Methods in Positive Psychology
(Ong & Dulmen, 2007), which literally reads like a statistics text and contains no reference to qualitative approaches. But there are many exceptions
to these general tendencies. For example, Reynolds and Lim (2007) recently
published a qualitative study in The Journal of Positive Psychology titled
Turning to Art as a Positive Way of Living with Cancer: A Qualitative
Study of Personal Motives and Contextual Influences, and quantitative
work continue to appear in the top humanistic psychology journals such
as The Humanistic Psychologist (e.g., Anderson, 2006) and the Journal of
Humanistic Psychology (e.g., Friedman & MacDonald, 2006). And the term
positive psychology is increasingly being used in describing work published
in humanistic journals, such as Patterson and Josephs (2007) paper titled,
Person-Centered Personality Theory: Support From Self-Determination
Theory and Positive Psychology, published in Journal of Humanistic
Psychology. All of these are good signs of a softening of otherwise rigidlyheld boundaries.
Nevertheless, the general tendency toward a preference for qualitative
research from within humanistic psychology and for quantitative research
within positive psychology continues to prevail, reflecting an underlying
epistemological difference between the two. This has sometimes reached a
crescendo of difference when advocates of both sides of this divide mutually
disrespect each others work (e.g., humanistic psychologists who think that
quantitative approaches reduce the richness of subjective experience and
positive psychologists who think that qualitative approaches are prescientific

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or even simply unscientific). And this is reflected in prejudices on both sides.

For example, I can attest to very recently having some of my quantitative
work criticized as inappropriate for top journals in humanistic psychology,
including having several papers rejected with the caveat that, if they were
rewritten with less quantitative emphasis (e.g., if I summarized the quantitative findings in tables to deemphasize their prominence in the text), the
papers would be positively reconsidered. Likewise, I had a prominent colleague in positive psychology share that, for a recently written mixedmethod paper that he submitted to a top positive psychology journal, he
was asked to reduce the qualitative component of his paper (Shane Lopez,
personal communication, August 4, 2007). Both of these experiences are
opposite ends of the same divide, and are equally egregious.
So what are the epistemological differences between humanistic and positive psychology? Mruk (2006) differentiated between humanistic positive
psychology and positivistic positive psychology, the former being older
but taking a broader approach to science; and the latter, although newer,
embracing an older form of epistemology, namely logical positivism. Mruk
concluded that the most central concept in humanistic psychology is holism,
or to put it differently, disagreement with reductionism, whereas positive
psychology unabashedly embraces a perspective congruent with reductionism. This broaches the larger question of the comparative negative appraisal
of the value of qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, research, in positive
psychologys alignment with a positivism that rejects qualitative research as
not only less valuable, but perhaps even prescientific or unscientific. In contrast, humanistic psychologys frequent alignment with several versions of
postpositivism often rejects quantitative research as less valuable, or even
a scientistic distortion of science misapplied to studying humans. Here,
I believe, lies the crux of the quarrel between positive and humanistic
psychology: paradigmatic differences.
However, this leads to a paradox for positive psychology. Sugarman (2007),
as well as Sandage and Hill (2001), discussed the postmodern flavor of positive
psychology, which openly embraces the value-laden construct of virtues that is
eschewed by most reductionary scientific traditions. By trying to take the paradigmatic high ground of logical positivism as a type of gold standard for science
focused on quantitative approaches, positive psychology has ironically ignored
its own variance from reductionary science inherent in its stance toward values.
These problems of positive psychology, in terms of its supposedly value neutral
scientific position, have been addressed more fully by Robbins (this issue).
However, humanistic psychology has also ventured into its own paradox.
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) accused its followers of veering from
Rogers and Maslows broad scientific commitment, and I think this has,
indeed, happened through its gravitating toward a preference for qualitative

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methods, notwithstanding that there are many cumulative quantitative
research traditions stemming from humanistic psychology.
These two paradoxes open some room within both humanistic and positive psychology for potential rapprochement. Both humanistic and positive
psychology possess many obvious points of agreement and shared heritage.
But the founders of positive psychology apparently have tried to differentiate
themselves from humanistic psychology in a way that has led to considerable
rancor, at least from the humanistic psychologists who see their rich heritage
usurped by the tremendous success garnered by positive psychology in terms
of media coverage, publications in top-tier academic journals, and funding
through the Templeton Foundation. Likewise, many leaders in humanistic
psychology openly denigrate so-called reductionary quantitative research. I
can recall vividly how, when I nominated a mostly quantitative dissertation
(Pappas, 2003) I had supervised for the award of best dissertation of the year
from a humanistic psychology graduate program, a colleague (who also was
the editor of an eminent humanistic psychology journal) yelled out
disrespectfully, Dont we have a qualitative dissertation better than that
quantitative one to represent our humanistic psychology program?
I conclude with a recommendation for bringing these methodologies and
their underlying epistemologies together through a renewal emphasizing
multimethod (Brewer & Hunter, 2006) or mixed-method (Cresswell & Clark,
2007) approaches. Such methodological pluralism can avoid the parochial
stance of favoring any method as best for all research applications, and can
offer the additional advantage of providing triangulation on research to avoid
spurious findings due to method invariance. In addition, ultimately the distinction between qualitative and quantitative approaches can be argued as untenable, insofar as all natural language (i.e., qualitative) depictions inevitably
include some rudimentary quantitative expressions, and, conversely, all quantitative expressions are interpreted to some degree in natural language; similarly, any attempt to separate a subjective approach based on qualitative
methods as opposed to an objective approach based on quantitative methods
is equally untenable, points I have discussed elsewhere at length (e.g.,
Friedman, 2002). Adhering exclusively to any one method with religious devotion has been called methodolotry (Friedman, 2003, p. 817) and it is my hope
that both humanistic and positive psychology will abandon their respective
idols and find more amicable ways to strive toward mutually valued goals.
I end with a quote from a source no less authoritative than the American
Psychological Association Board of Scientific Affairs:
There are many forms of empirical studies in psychology, including case
reports, controlled experiments, quasi-experiments, statistical simulations,
surveys, observational studies, and studies of studies (meta-analyses). Some



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are hypothesis generating: They explore data to form or sharpen hypotheses

about a population for assessing future hypotheses. Some are hypothesis testing: They assess specific a priori hypotheses or estimate by random sampling
from that population. Some are meta-analytical: They assess specific a priori
hypotheses or estimate parameters (or both) by synthesizing the results of
available studies.
Some researchers have the impression or have been taught to believe that
some of these forms yield information that is more valuable or credible than
others. . . . Occasionally proponents of some research methods disparage
others. In fact, each form of research has its own strengths, weaknesses, and
standards of practice. (Wilkinson & Task Force on Statistical Inference,
1999, n.p.).

It is in this spirit that humanistic and positive psychology could heal the rift
that unfortunately now separates them.

Another, earlier version of this article was presented August 20, 2007 at the
Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

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