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      Choosing prediction over explanation in psychology: Lessons from machine learning

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          Abstract

          Psychology has historically been concerned, first and foremost, with explaining the causal mechanisms that give rise to behavior. Randomized, tightly controlled experiments are enshrined as the gold standard of psychological research, and there are endless investigations of the various mediating and moderating variables that govern various behaviors. We argue that psychology’s near-total focus on explaining the causes of behavior has led much of the field to be populated by research programs that provide intricate theories of psychological mechanism, but that have little (or unknown) ability to predict future behaviors with any appreciable accuracy. We propose that principles and techniques from the field of machine learning can help psychology become a more predictive science. We review some of the fundamental concepts and tools of machine learning and point out examples where these concepts have been used to conduct interesting and important psychological research that focuses on predictive research questions. We suggest that an increased focus on prediction, rather than explanation, can ultimately lead us to greater understanding of behavior.

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          Most cited references56

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          Is Open Access

          Deep Learning in Neural Networks: An Overview

          (2014)
          In recent years, deep artificial neural networks (including recurrent ones) have won numerous contests in pattern recognition and machine learning. This historical survey compactly summarises relevant work, much of it from the previous millennium. Shallow and deep learners are distinguished by the depth of their credit assignment paths, which are chains of possibly learnable, causal links between actions and effects. I review deep supervised learning (also recapitulating the history of backpropagation), unsupervised learning, reinforcement learning & evolutionary computation, and indirect search for short programs encoding deep and large networks.
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            A 61-million-person experiment in social influence and political mobilization.

            Human behaviour is thought to spread through face-to-face social networks, but it is difficult to identify social influence effects in observational studies, and it is unknown whether online social networks operate in the same way. Here we report results from a randomized controlled trial of political mobilization messages delivered to 61 million Facebook users during the 2010 US congressional elections. The results show that the messages directly influenced political self-expression, information seeking and real-world voting behaviour of millions of people. Furthermore, the messages not only influenced the users who received them but also the users' friends, and friends of friends. The effect of social transmission on real-world voting was greater than the direct effect of the messages themselves, and nearly all the transmission occurred between 'close friends' who were more likely to have a face-to-face relationship. These results suggest that strong ties are instrumental for spreading both online and real-world behaviour in human social networks.
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              Systematic Review of the Empirical Evidence of Study Publication Bias and Outcome Reporting Bias

              Background The increased use of meta-analysis in systematic reviews of healthcare interventions has highlighted several types of bias that can arise during the completion of a randomised controlled trial. Study publication bias has been recognised as a potential threat to the validity of meta-analysis and can make the readily available evidence unreliable for decision making. Until recently, outcome reporting bias has received less attention. Methodology/Principal Findings We review and summarise the evidence from a series of cohort studies that have assessed study publication bias and outcome reporting bias in randomised controlled trials. Sixteen studies were eligible of which only two followed the cohort all the way through from protocol approval to information regarding publication of outcomes. Eleven of the studies investigated study publication bias and five investigated outcome reporting bias. Three studies have found that statistically significant outcomes had a higher odds of being fully reported compared to non-significant outcomes (range of odds ratios: 2.2 to 4.7). In comparing trial publications to protocols, we found that 40–62% of studies had at least one primary outcome that was changed, introduced, or omitted. We decided not to undertake meta-analysis due to the differences between studies. Conclusions Recent work provides direct empirical evidence for the existence of study publication bias and outcome reporting bias. There is strong evidence of an association between significant results and publication; studies that report positive or significant results are more likely to be published and outcomes that are statistically significant have higher odds of being fully reported. Publications have been found to be inconsistent with their protocols. Researchers need to be aware of the problems of both types of bias and efforts should be concentrated on improving the reporting of trials.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                101274347
                34287
                Perspect Psychol Sci
                Perspect Psychol Sci
                Perspectives on psychological science : a journal of the Association for Psychological Science
                1745-6916
                1745-6924
                15 June 2019
                25 August 2017
                November 2017
                02 July 2019
                : 12
                : 6
                : 1100-1122
                Affiliations
                University of Texas at Austin
                Author notes
                Corresponding author: tyarkoni@ 123456gmail.com
                Article
                PMC6603289 PMC6603289 6603289 nihpa845851
                10.1177/1745691617693393
                6603289
                28841086
                3085b8b2-c10d-4706-ac5f-2b3c41fd9a1b
                History
                Categories
                Article

                explanation,machine learning,prediction
                explanation, machine learning, prediction

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