Introspecting in the spirit of William James: comment on Fox, Ericsson, and Best (2010)

TitleIntrospecting in the spirit of William James: comment on Fox, Ericsson, and Best (2010)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsSchooler J.W.
JournalPsychological Bulletin

Fox, Ericsson, and Best’s (2011) thoughtful justification of the use of think-aloud protocols for revealing the stream of consciousness comes on the centennial of the death of William James, history’s greatest practitioner and advocate of introspection. This confluence naturally invites speculation about how James might have responded to the analysis of Fox et al. I suggest that although James would likely view the think-aloud procedure as a scientifically rigorous form of introspection, he would also admonish us not to overlook its limitations. Most notably, although the think-aloud procedure readily captures substantive verbal thoughts, it is less able to capture inchoate cognitions. The conclusion that verbal protocols are nonreactive also raises several additional issues. First, the nonreactivity of thinking aloud does not necessarily speak to its validity. Second, the conclusion that verbal protocols are benign is at odds with recent findings in which verbalization impairs performance on various tasks. I suggest that whereas James might express some concerns regarding aspects of conscious thought that may be overlooked by the think-aloud procedure as well as some caution regarding the possible situations in which thinking aloud might still be reactive, he would almost certainly be pleased to see introspection finally getting the scientific grounding that it deserves.