Meehl, Paul J.

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Paul J. Meehl

American clinical psychologist and pioneer in the field of learning theory.

Minnesota professor influenced the world

Paul Everett Meehl, born on January 3, 1920, is a renowned expert in various aspects of clinical psychology . He earned his A.B. from the University of Minnesota in 1941, where he remained throughout his entire professional career. In 1945 he was awarded his doctorate from the same institution. His career as a faculty member at Minnesota has included his position as chair of the Department of Psychology from 1951 through 1958. In 2000 Meehl remains actively engaged in research and is the Regents' (Emeritus) Professor. His scholarship led also to a post as a professor in the medical school's Department of Psychiatry, in the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science, and on the faculty of the Department of Philosophy. Among his many roles is his seat on the Advisory Board of Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology, published by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Meehl's pursuits since his early career have reached a broad spectrum of interests and concerns. He has focused on the field of clinical psychology, in particular clinical assessment, and in personality , learning, psychometrics, and the philosophy of science. Meehl's exploration into the learning process led to his influence in the field of assessment. Traditionally, using subjective clinical judgment was used to perform psychological assessments. Meehl's work changed this approach. He developed ways to make assessments on an actuarial basis in line with quantitative standards. This approach was instrumental in the eventual computerized evaluation of psychological tests and revolutionized testing forever.

Respected by colleagues

Meehl's work in testing was as significant among his own colleagues as it was with the general population. For the American Psychological Association (APA) , he served as a member of the Committee on Test Standards and as chair for the Special Committee on Certification and Licensure of Psychologists. His professional contributions have represented a continually evolving passion for the scientific treatment of psychological study.

Perhaps Meehl's most significant contribution to his field was the fact that he helped prepare many of the most prominent practicing psychologists in the United States. He has been a leader in psychotherapy , behavior genetics, the philosophy of science, and forensic psychology , authoring over 160 publications. One of his first major studies was published in Modern Learning Theory in 1954. In 1958 Meehl published What, Then, Is Man? Active as a Lutheran layman, he co-authored this monograph exploring the relationship between behavioral science and Christian faith. Three of his works published in the 1990s reflected his current area of research. As Meehl himself noted, that work covers three areas; first, the development of testing of taxometric (assigning objects to appropriate classes) statistical procedures for the classification and genetic analysis of mental disorders and personality types, second, cliometric (the use of mathematical and statistical methods, often using computers, in order to analyze historical data) metatheory, and third, philosophical and mathematical contributions to the significance test controversy. His later publications include

Cliometric Metatheory: The actuarial approach to empirical, history-based philosophy of science in 1992.

Meehl's impact throughout psychology, philosophy, and medicine was significant enough to earn him numerous awards from his professional associations throughout his career. One of his earliest awards was that for Distinguished Scientific Contributions from the APA in 1958. Meehl was awarded the "Centennial Award" on August 9, 1996, from Division 12 of the APA in honor of 100 years of clinical psychology. This award honored the pioneering work he had done when the study of psychology was only beginning to gain scientific recognition. He has served as a member and Diplomate on the American Board of Professional Psychology (Clinical).

Meehl's major contributions to the field of psychology were his systematic and mathematical methods of research. He pioneered this systematic approach to diagnosis and evaluation. In addition to research, Meehl operated a private practice where he performed psychotherapy using both psychoanalytical and rational approaches.

See also Assessment, psychological

Jane Spear

Further Reading

American Psychological Association. Meehl Publications, Professional Information Available at the American Psychological Association Website at:, 2000.

Benner, David G., and Hill, Peter C., ed. Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.