Paul E. Meehl

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Paul E. Meehl
Born Paul Everett Meehl
(1920-01-03)3 January 1920
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Died 14 February 2003(2003-02-14) (aged 83)
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Citizenship American
Alma mater University of Minnesota
Known for Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, Genetics of Schizophrenia, Construct Validity, Clinical v. Statistical Prediction, Philosophy of Science
Awards National Academy of Sciences (1987), APA Award for Lifetime Contributions to Psychology (1996), James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award (1998), Bruno Klopfer Award (1979)
Scientific career
Fields Psychology, philosophy of science
Institutions University of Minnesota
Doctoral advisor Starke R. Hathaway
Doctoral students Harrison G. Gough, William M. Grove, Dante Cicchetti, Donald R. Peterson, George Schlager Welsh

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.[1] 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.



Paul Meehl was born January 3, 1920 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Otto and Blanche Swedal. His family name "Meehl" was his stepfather's.[2] 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.[2] 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[edit]

Meehl started at the University of Minnesota in March 1938.[2] 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.[2] 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 Center for Philosophy of Science, founded by Herbert Feigl, Meehl, and Wilfrid Sellars.[2] 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 Contributions to Psychology at 38, and president of that association at age 42. He was promoted to the highest academic position at the University of 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 in 1987.[2]

Meehl was not particularly religious during his upbringing,[2] but in adulthood collaborated with a group of Lutheran theologians and psychologists to write What, Then, Is Man? (1958).[3] This project was commissioned by the 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.[4]

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.[5]

In 2005, Donald R. Peterson, a student of Meehl's, published a volume of their correspondence.[6]

Meehl died on February 14, 2003 at his home in Minneapolis of chronic myelomonocytic leukemia.[7]

Philosophy of science[edit]

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.[2] 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).[8]

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.[9]

Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory[edit]

Meehl conducted research on the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), including development of the K scale.[10] 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 the MMPI.[2] 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 predicting behavior.[11][12]

Clinical versus statistical prediction[edit]

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.[13] 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.[14]

Meta-analyses comparing clinical and mechanical prediction efficiency have supported Meehl's (1954) conclusion that mechanical data combination and prediction outperforms clinical combination and prediction.[15][16]


Meehl was elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1962. That year, he theorized that schizophrenia had a genetic link,[17] contrary to the prevailing notion at the time that schizophrenia was caused by the rearing environment including parenting.[7]

Applied clinical views and work[edit]

In 1973, Paul Meehl published Why I Do Not Attend Case Conferences.[18] 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 conferences.[18]

Selected works[edit]


  1. ^ 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:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.139. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Paul E Meehl (2007). Lindzey G, Runyan WM, ed. A History of Psychology in Autobiography (PDF). 8. American Psychological Association. pp. 337–389. ISBN 978-1-59147-796-9. 
  3. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1958). What, Then, Is Man?: A Symposium of Theology, Psychology, and Psychiatry. St. Louis (MO): Concordia Publishing House. 
  4. ^ Gottfredson, Linda (December 13, 1994). Mainstream Science on Intelligence. Wall Street Journal, p A18.
  5. ^ Menand, Louis (May 11, 2015). "Young Saul". The New Yorker. New York, NY. Retrieved October 18, 2016. 
  6. ^ Peterson, Donald R. (2005). Twelve Years of Correspondence With Paul Meehl: Tough Notes From a Gentle Genius. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  7. ^ a b Goode, Erica (19 February 2003). ""Paul Meehl, 83, an Example For Leaders of Psychotherapy"". New York Times. New York, NY. Retrieved 4 January 2017. 
  8. ^ 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. ISSN 0022-006X. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.46.4.806. 
  9. ^ Cronbach, Lee J.; Meehl, Paul E. (1955). "Construct validity in psychological tests.". Psychological Bulletin. 52 (4): 281–302. ISSN 0033-2909. PMID 13245896. doi:10.1037/h0040957. 
  10. ^ 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. ISSN 0021-9010. doi:10.1037/h0053634. 
  11. ^ Starke Rosecrans Hathaway; Paul Everett Meehl (1951). An atlas for the clinical use of the MMPI. University of Minnesota Press. 
  12. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1956). "Wanted--a good cook-book.". American Psychologist. 11 (6): 263–272. ISSN 0003-066X. doi:10.1037/h0044164. 
  13. ^ 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. ISSN 1939-1323. doi:10.1037/a0014693. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ 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. doi:10.1037/1040-3590.12.1.19. 
  16. ^ 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. ISSN 0011-0000. doi:10.1177/0011000005285875. 
  17. ^ Meehl, Paul E. (1962). "Schizotaxia, schizotypy, schizophrenia.". American Psychologist. 17 (12): 827–838. ISSN 0003-066X. doi:10.1037/h0041029. 
  18. ^ a b Meehl, P.E. (1973). Psychodiagnosis: Selected papers. Minneapolis (MN): University of Minnesota Press, p. 225-302.

External links[edit]

Educational offices
Preceded by
Neal E. Miller
71st President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Charles E. Osgood