Paul Everett Meehl (3 January 1920 – 14 February 2003) was a
clinical psychologist and Professor of
Psychology at the University of
Minnesota. A Review of General
Psychology survey, published in 2002,
ranked Meehl as the 74th most cited psychologist of the 20th century,
in a tie with Eleanor J. Gibson. Throughout his nearly 60-year
career, Meehl made seminal contributions to psychology, including
contributions on construct validity, schizophrenia etiology,
behavioral assessment and prediction, and philosophy of science.
1.2 Education and career
Philosophy of science
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
4 Clinical versus statistical prediction
7 Applied clinical views and work
8 Selected works
10 External links
Paul Meehl was born January 3, 1920 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Otto
and Blanche Swedal. His family name "Meehl" was his stepfather's.
When he was age 16, his mother died as the result of poor medical care
which, according to Meehl, greatly affected his faith in the expertise
of medical practitioners and diagnostic accuracy of clinicians.
After his mother's death, Meehl lived briefly with his stepfather,
then with a neighborhood family for one year so he could finish high
school. He then lived with his maternal grandparents, who lived near
the University of Minnesota.
Education and career
Meehl started at the University of
Minnesota in March 1938. He
earned his Bachelor's degree in 1941 with
Donald G. Paterson as his
advisor, and took his PhD in psychology at
Minnesota under Starke R.
Hathaway in 1945. Meehl's graduate student cohort at the time included
Marian Breland Bailey, William K. Estes, Norman Guttman, William
Schofield, and Kenneth MacCorquodale. Upon taking his doctorate,
Meehl immediately accepted a faculty position at the University that
he held throughout his career, with appointments in psychology, law,
psychiatry, neurology, philosophy, and as a fellow of the Minnesota
Philosophy of Science, founded by Herbert Feigl, Meehl, and
Wilfrid Sellars. Meehl was chairman of the University of Minnesota
Psychology Department at age 31, president of the Midwestern
Psychological Association at 34, recipient of the American
Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Scientific
Psychology at 38, and president of that association
at age 42. He was promoted to the highest academic position at the
Minnesota in 1968. He received the Bruno Klopfer
Distinguished Contributor Award in personality assessment in 1979, and
was elected to the
National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Sciences in 1987.
Meehl was not particularly religious during his upbringing, but in
adulthood collaborated with a group of Lutheran theologians and
psychologists to write What, Then, Is Man? (1958). This project was
commissioned by the
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod through Concordia
Seminary. The project explored both orthodox theology, psychological
science, and how Christians (Lutherans, in particular) could
responsibly function as both Christians and psychologists without
betraying orthodoxy or sound science and practice.
In 1995, he was a signatory of a collective statement titled
Mainstream Science on Intelligence, written by
Linda Gottfredson and
published in the Wall Street Journal.
Meehl practiced as a clinical psychologist throughout his career. In
1958, Meehl performed psychoanalysis on
Saul Bellow as a patient,
while Bellow was an instructor at the University of Minnesota.
Meehl died on February 14, 2003 at his home in
Minneapolis of chronic
In 2005, Donald R. Peterson, a student of Meehl's, published a volume
of their correspondence.
Philosophy of science
Meehl was a leading philosopher of science. Early in his career he was
a proponent of Sir Karl Popper's Falsificationism, and later amended
his views as neo-Popperian. Meehl was a strident critic of using
statistical null hypothesis testing for the evaluation of scientific
theory. He believed that null hypothesis testing was partly
responsible for the lack of progress in many of the "scientifically
soft" areas of psychology (e.g. clinical, counseling, social,
personality, and community).
Meehl with his colleague
Lee J. Cronbach introduced the notion of
construct validity in psychology, as well as the application of
nomological networks to understand psychological test properties and
scientific theorizing and practice.
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory
Meehl conducted research on the
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory (MMPI), including development of the K scale.
While Meehl did not directly develop the MMPI (he was a high school
junior when Hathaway and McKinley created the item pool, for example),
in the years after obtaining his PhD he contributed widely to the
literature on interpreting patterns of the MMPI scores. In
particular, Meehl argued that the MMPI could be used to understand
personality profiles systematically associated with clinical outcomes,
something he termed a statistical (versus a "clinical") approach to
Clinical versus statistical prediction
His 1954 book Clinical vs. Statistical Prediction: A Theoretical
Analysis and a Review of the Evidence, analyzed the claim that
"mechanical" (formal, algorithmic) methods of data combination
outperformed "clinical" (e.g., subjective, informal, "in the head")
methods when such combinations are used to arrive at a prediction of
behavior. The analysis favored mechanical modes of combination and
caused a considerable stir amongst clinicians. Meehl (1954) argued
that mechanical methods of prediction would, used correctly, make more
efficient decisions about patients' prognosis and treatment. As
recently as 2009, however, clinicians make such decisions based on
their professional judgment, that is, they combine all kinds of
information "in their head" and arrive at a conclusion/prediction
about a patient. Meehl (1954) theorized that clinicians would make
more mistakes than a mechanical prediction tool created for a similar
decision purpose. Mechanical prediction methods are simply a mode of
combination of data to arrive at a decision/prediction concerning the
emission of behavior. Mechanical prediction does not exclude any type
of data from being combined. Mechanical prediction approaches can
incorporate clinical judgments, properly coded, in their predictions.
The defining characteristic is that, once the data to be combined is
given, the mechanical approach will make a prediction that is 100%
reliable. That is, it will make exactly the same prediction for
exactly the same data every time. Clinical prediction, on the other
hand, does not guarantee this.
Meta-analyses comparing clinical and mechanical prediction efficiency
have supported Meehl's (1954) conclusion that mechanical data
combination and prediction outperforms clinical combination and
In his later 1973 paper Some methodological reflections on the
difficulties of psychoanalytic research, Meehl successfully predicted
that "wall plaques in the stairwell of the Washington Monument would
show more financial donations from fire departments than police
departments," which possibly evolved from the Freudian theory and its
theoretical constructs of fixation and phallic stage.
Meehl was elected president of the American Psychological Association
in 1962. That year, he theorized that schizophrenia had a genetic
link, contrary to the prevailing notion at the time that
schizophrenia was caused by the rearing environment including
Meehl developed taxometrics, a field concerned with using mathematical
formulas to determine the natural groupings of biological or
psychological variables. Coherent Cut Kinetics (CCK) is Paul
Meehl's method for taxometric analysis.
Applied clinical views and work
In 1973, Paul Meehl published Why I Do Not Attend Case
Conferences. He stated that his main reason for not attending case
conferences in a psychological or psychiatric clinic is that he feels
that they are intellectually unstimulating and boring, sometimes to
the point of being offensive. Meehl directly identified problems and
fallacies that he noticed in the psychology or psychiatry case
conference setting. In contrast, he stated he found case conferences
for internal medicine or neurology illuminating, in part because they
often contain a pathologist's report containing the true disease
and/or pathophysiology. In other words, the medical case conference
often benefits from having a gold standard to which the clinical
symptoms and signs could be compared and contrasted. Meehl argues that
creating a psychiatric analogue to the pathologist's report is a
promising area of research, and he proposes a format for case
conferences that includes data provided for discussion, and a subset
of data revealed at the end to show whether conference attendees'
clinical inferences about the patient's diagnosis were in fact
correct. Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences also addresses the issue
of clinical versus statistical judgment, and the fact that clinical
decision making, in case conferences and other environments, is often
not very accurate. More generally, Meehl's paper encourages clinicians
to be humble when it comes to skills used in decision making, and
pushes for a higher scientific standard for clinical case
These fallacies can also be considered more general errors of thinking
that all individuals (not just psychologists) are prone to making.
Barnum effect: Making a statement that is trivial and true of nearly
all patients, but which is made as though it is important for the
Sick-sick ("pathological set"): The tendency to generalize from
personal experiences of health and ways of being, to the
identification of others who are different from ourselves as being
Me too: The opposite of Sick-sick. Imagining that "everyone does this"
and thereby minimizing a symptom without assessing the probability of
whether a mentally healthy person would actually do it. A variation of
this is Uncle George's pancake fallacy. This minimizes a symptom
through reference to a friend/relative who exhibited a similar
symptom, thereby implying that it is normal.
Multiple Napoleons fallacy: "It's not real to us, but it's 'real' to
him". "So what if he thinks he’s Napoleon?" There is a distinction
between reality and delusion that is important to make when assessing
a patient and so the consideration of comparative realities can
mislead and distract from the importance of a patient's delusion to a
diagnostic decision. "If I think the moon is made of green cheese
and you think it's a piece of rock, one of us must be wrong". For
this, pointing out that the deviated cognitions of a delusional
patient "seem real to him" is a waste of time. So, the statement "It
is reality to him," which is philosophically either trivial or false,
is also clinically misleading.
Hidden decisions: Decisions based on factors that we do not own up to
or challenge. An example is the placement of middle- and upper-class
patients in therapy while lower-class patients are given medication.
Meehl identified these decisions as related to an implicit ideal
patient who is young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, and successful
(YAVIS). He argued that
YAVIS patients are preferred by
psychotherapists because they can pay for long-term treatment and are
more enjoyable to interact with.
The spun-glass theory of the mind: The belief that the human organism
is so fragile that minor negative events, such as criticism,
rejection, or failure, are bound to cause major trauma---essentially
not giving humans, and sometimes patients, enough credit for their
resilience and ability to recover.
Crummy criterion fallacy: This fallacy refers to how psychologists
explain away the technical aspects of tests, using inappropriate and
'crummy' criterion that is observational instead of scientific, rather
than incorporating the psychometric aspects into the interview,
life-history, and other material being presented at case conferences.
Understanding it makes it normal: The act of normalizing or excusing a
behavior just because one understands the cause or function of it,
regardless of its normalcy or appropriateness.
Assumptions that content and dynamics explain why this person is
abnormal: Those who seek psychological services have certain
characteristics associated with the fact they are seeking services.
However, not only do they have the characteristics of clients but also
characteristics of being human. To attribute one’s complete life
dysfunction to attributes that make one a patient ignores the fact
that some problems are just human problems.[clarification needed]
Identifying the softhearted with the softheaded: The belief that those
who have sincere concern for the suffering (the softhearted) are the
same as those who tend to be wrong in logical and empirical decisions
Ad hoc fallacy: Creating explanations after we have been presented
with evidence that is consistent with what has now been proven.
Doing it the hard way: Going about a task in a more difficult manner
when an equivalent easier option exists; for example, in clinical
psychology, using an unnecessary instrument or procedure that can be
difficult and time consuming while the same information can be
ascertained through interviewing or interacting with the client.
Social scientists’ anti-biology bias: Meehl argued that social
scientists like psychologists, sociologists, and psychiatrists have a
tendency to react negatively to biological contributors to abnormal
behavior, and therefore tending to be anti-drug, anti-genetic, and
Double standard of evidential morals: When one is making an argument
and requires less evidence for him or herself than does so for
Paul E. Meehl (1945). The Dynamics of "Structured" Personality
Tests. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 1, 296–303.
Paul E. Meehl (1948) on a distinction between
hypothetical constructs and intervening variables Classics in the
History of Psychology, retr. 22 Aug 2011.
Lee J. Cronbach and
Paul E. Meehl (1955). "
Construct validity in
psychological tests". Psychological Bulletin, 52, 281-302.
Meehl, Paul E. (1956). "Wanted—A good cookbook". American
Psychologist. 11: 263–272. doi:10.1037/h0044164.
Paul E. Meehl (Jun., 1967). "Theory-Testing in
Psychology and Physics:
A Methodological Paradox".
Philosophy of Science, Vol. 34, No. 2, pp.
Paul E. Meehl (1973). "Some methodological reflections on the
difficulties of psychoanalytic research". Psychological Issues, 8(2,
Mono. 30), 104-117.
Meehl, Paul E. (1978). "Theoretical Risks and Tabular Asterisks: Sir
Karl, Sir Ronald, and the Slow Progress of Soft Psychology" (PDF).
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 46: 806–834.
Paul E. Meehl (new edition 2013) Clinical versus Statistical
Prediction. Echo Point Books & Media, ISBN 978-0963878496
^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.;
Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey,
Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th
century". Review of General Psychology. 6 (2): 139–152.
doi:10.1037/1089-26188.8.131.52. CS1 maint: Explicit use of et al.
^ a b c d e f g h i Paul E Meehl (2007). Lindzey G, Runyan WM, ed. A
Psychology in Autobiography (PDF). 8. American
Psychological Association. pp. 337–389.
^ a b c d e f Goode, Erica (19 February 2003). ""Paul Meehl, 83, an
Example For Leaders of Psychotherapy"". New York Times. New York, NY.
Retrieved 4 January 2017.
^ Meehl, Paul E. (1958). What, Then, Is Man?: A Symposium of Theology,
Psychology, and Psychiatry. St. Louis (MO): Concordia Publishing
^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on
Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
^ Menand, Louis (May 11, 2015). "Young Saul". The New Yorker. New
York, NY. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
^ Peterson, Donald R. (2005). Twelve Years of Correspondence With Paul
Meehl: Tough Notes From a Gentle Genius. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence
^ Meehl, Paul E. (1978). "Theoretical risks and tabular asterisks: Sir
Karl, Sir Ronald, and the slow progress of soft psychology". Journal
of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 46 (4): 806–834.
doi:10.1037/0022-006X.46.4.806. ISSN 0022-006X.
^ Cronbach, Lee J.; Meehl, Paul E. (1955). "
Construct validity in
psychological tests". Psychological Bulletin. 52 (4): 281–302.
doi:10.1037/h0040957. ISSN 0033-2909. PMID 13245896.
^ Meehl, P. E.; Hathaway, S. R. (1946). "The K factor as a suppressor
variable in the
Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory". Journal
of Applied Psychology. 30 (5): 525–564. doi:10.1037/h0053634.
^ a b Konnikova, Maria. "The perils of hindsight judgment". Scientific
American Blog Network. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
^ a b c d "Paul E. Meehl: Smartest Psychologist of the 20th Century?".
Psychology Today. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
^ Starke Rosecrans Hathaway; Paul Everett Meehl (1951). An atlas for
the clinical use of the MMPI. University of
^ Meehl, Paul E. (1956). "Wanted--a good cook-book". American
Psychologist. 11 (6): 263–272. doi:10.1037/h0044164.
^ Vrieze, Scott I.; Grove, William M. (2009). "Survey on the use of
clinical and mechanical prediction methods in clinical psychology".
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. 40 (5): 525–531.
doi:10.1037/a0014693. ISSN 1939-1323.
^ Paul Meehl (1 February 2013). Clinical Versus Statistical
Prediction: A Theoretical Analysis and a Review of the Evidence. Echo
Point Books & Media. ISBN 978-0-9638784-9-6.
^ Grove, W.M.; Zald, D.H.; Hallberg, A.M.; Lebow, B.; Snitz, E.;
Nelson, C. (2000). "Clinical versus mechanical prediction: A
meta-analysis". Psychological Assessment. 12: 19–30.
^ White, M. J. (2006). "The Meta-Analysis of Clinical Judgment
Project: Fifty-Six Years of Accumulated Research on Clinical Versus
Statistical Prediction Stefania Aegisdottir". The Counseling
Psychologist. 34 (3): 341–382. doi:10.1177/0011000005285875.
^ 1920-2003., Meehl, Paul E. (Paul Everett), (1991). Selected
philosophical and methodological papers. Anderson, C. Anthony.,
Gunderson, Keith. Minneapolis: University of
ISBN 0816618550. OCLC 229431582.
^ Meehl, Paul E. (1962). "Schizotaxia, schizotypy, schizophrenia".
American Psychologist. 17 (12): 827–838. doi:10.1037/h0041029.
^ "Taxometrics using Coherent Cut Kinetics Paul E. Meehl".
meehl.umn.edu. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
^ a b Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers.
Minneapolis (MN): University of
Minnesota Press, p. 225-302.
^ 1920-2003., Meehl, Paul E. (Paul Everett), (2006). A Paul Meehl
reader : essays on the practice of scientific psychology. Waller,
Niels G. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
ISBN 1134812140. OCLC 853240687.
^ 1920-2003., Meehl, Paul E. (Paul Everett), (1973).
Psychodiagnosis : selected papers. Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press. ISBN 0816606854. OCLC 234368210.
^ Meehl, Paul E. (2000-03-01). "The dynamics of "structured"
personality tests". Journal of Clinical Psychology. 56 (3): 367–373.
Paul E. Meehl website including full list of publications and complete
videos of Meehl teaching his course in Philosophical
1989 at the
Psychology Department of the University of Minnesota.
Presidents of the American Psychological Association
G. Stanley Hall
G. Stanley Hall (1892)
George Trumbull Ladd
George Trumbull Ladd (1893)
William James (1894)
James McKeen Cattell
James McKeen Cattell (1895)
George Stuart Fullerton (1896)
James Mark Baldwin
James Mark Baldwin (1897)
Hugo Münsterberg (1898)
John Dewey (1899)
Joseph Jastrow (1900)
Josiah Royce (1901)
Edmund Sanford (1902)
William Lowe Bryan
William Lowe Bryan (1903)
William James (1904)
Mary Whiton Calkins
Mary Whiton Calkins (1905)
James Rowland Angell
James Rowland Angell (1906)
Henry Rutgers Marshall (1907)
George M. Stratton
George M. Stratton (1908)
Charles Hubbard Judd
Charles Hubbard Judd (1909)
Walter Bowers Pillsbury
Walter Bowers Pillsbury (1910)
Carl Seashore (1911)
Edward Thorndike (1912)
Howard C. Warren
Howard C. Warren (1913)
Robert S. Woodworth
Robert S. Woodworth (1914)
John B. Watson
John B. Watson (1915)
Raymond Dodge (1916)
Robert Yerkes (1917)
John Wallace Baird (1918)
Walter Dill Scott (1919)
Shepherd Ivory Franz
Shepherd Ivory Franz (1920)
Margaret Floy Washburn
Margaret Floy Washburn (1921)
Knight Dunlap (1922)
Lewis Terman (1923)
G. Stanley Hall
G. Stanley Hall (1924)
I. Madison Bentley (1925)
Harvey A. Carr (1926)
Harry Levi Hollingworth
Harry Levi Hollingworth (1927)
Edwin Boring (1928)
Karl Lashley (1929)
Herbert Langfeld (1930)
Walter Samuel Hunter (1931)
Walter Richard Miles (1932)
Louis Leon Thurstone (1933)
Joseph Peterson (1934)
Albert Poffenberger (1935)
Clark L. Hull
Clark L. Hull (1936)
Edward C. Tolman
Edward C. Tolman (1937)
John Dashiell (1938)
Gordon Allport (1939)
Leonard Carmichael (1940)
Herbert Woodrow (1941)
Calvin Perry Stone (1942)
John Edward Anderson (1943)
Gardner Murphy (1944)
Edwin Ray Guthrie
Edwin Ray Guthrie (1945)
Henry Garrett (1946)
Carl Rogers (1947)
Donald Marquis (1948)
Ernest Hilgard (1949)
J. P. Guilford (1950)
Robert Richardson Sears
Robert Richardson Sears (1951)
J. McVicker Hunt (1952)
Laurance F. Shaffer (1953)
Orval Hobart Mowrer (1954)
E. Lowell Kelly (1955)
Theodore Newcomb (1956)
Lee Cronbach (1957)
Harry Harlow (1958)
Wolfgang Köhler (1959)
Donald O. Hebb (1960)
Neal E. Miller
Neal E. Miller (1961)
Paul E. Meehl (1962)
Charles E. Osgood (1963)
Quinn McNemar (1964)
Jerome Bruner (1965)
Nicholas Hobbs (1966)
Gardner Lindzey (1967)
Abraham Maslow (1968)
George Armitage Miller
George Armitage Miller (1969)
George Albee (1970)
Kenneth B. Clark (1971)
Anne Anastasi (1972)
Leona E. Tyler (1973)
Albert Bandura (1974)
Donald T. Campbell
Donald T. Campbell (1975)
Wilbert J. McKeachie (1976)
Theodore H. Blau (1977)
M. Brewster Smith (1978)
Nicholas Cummings (1979)
Florence Denmark (1980)
John J. Conger (1981)
William Bevan (1982)
Max Siegel (1983)
Janet Taylor Spence (1984)
Robert Perloff (1985)
Logan Wright (1986)
Bonnie Strickland (1987)
Raymond D. Fowler (1988)
Joseph Matarazzo (1989)
Stanley Graham (1990)
Charles Spielberger (1991)
Jack Wiggins Jr. (1992)
Frank Farley (1993)
Ronald E. Fox (1994)
Robert J. Resnick (1995)
Dorothy Cantor (1996)
Norman Abeles (1997)
Martin Seligman (1998)
Richard Suinn (1999)
Patrick H. DeLeon (2000)
Norine G. Johnson (2001)
Philip Zimbardo (2002)
Robert Sternberg (2003)
Diane F. Halpern (2004)
Ronald F. Levant (2005)
Gerald Koocher (2006)
Sharon Brehm (2007)
Alan E. Kazdin (2008)
James H. Bray (2009)
Carol D. Goodheart (2010)
Melba J. T. Vasquez (2011)
Suzanne Bennett Johnson (2012)
Donald N. Bersoff (2013)
Nadine Kaslow (2014)
Barry S. Anton (2015)
Susan H. McDaniel (2016)
Antonio Puente (2017)
Jessica Henderson Daniel (2018)
ISNI: 0000 0001 1512 0687
BNF: cb13490620d (data)