Averting the next credibility crisis in psychological science: Within-person methods for personalized diagnostics and intervention.





within-person methods, theory-method gap, personalized learning, personalized medicine


Personalizing assessments, predictions, and treatments of individuals is currently a defining trend in psychological research and applied fields, including personalized learning, personalized medicine, and personalized advertisement. For instance, the recent pandemic has reminded parents and educators of how challenging yet crucial it is to get the right learning task to the right student at the right time. Increasingly, psychologists and social scientists are realizing that the between- person methods that we have long relied upon to describe, predict, and treat individuals may fail to live up to these tasks (e.g., Molenaar, 2004). Consequently, there is a risk of a credibility loss, possibly similar to the one seen during the replicability crisis (Ioannides, 2005), because we have only started to understand how many of the conclusions that we tend to draw based on between-person methods are based on a misunderstanding of what these methods can tell us and what they cannot. An imminent methodological revolution will likely lead to a change of even well-established psychological theories (Barbot et al., 2020). Fortunately, methodological solutions for personalized descriptions and predictions, such as many within-person analyses, are available and undergo rapid development, although they are not yet embraced in all areas of psychology, and some come with their own limitations. This article first discusses the extent of the theory-method gap, consisting of theories about within-person patterns being studied with between-person methods in psychology, and the potential loss of trust that might follow from this theory-method gap. Second, this article addresses advantages and limitations of available within- person methods. Third, this article discusses how within-person methods may help improving the individual descriptions and predictions that are needed in many applied fields that aim for tailored individual solutions, including personalized learning and personalized medicine.