On the Accuracy, Media Representation, and Public Perception of Psychological Scientists’ Judgments of Societal Change

Cendri A. Hutcherson*, Konstantyn Sharpinskyi, Michael E. Varnum, Amanda Rotella, Alexandra S Wormley, Louis Tay, Igor Grossmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
43 Downloads (Pure)


At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, psychological scientists frequently made on-the-record predictions in public media about how individuals and society would change. Such predictions were often made outside these scientists’ areas of expertise, with justifications based on intuition, heuristics, and analogical reasoning (Study 1; N = 719 statements). How accurate are these kinds of judgments regarding societal change? In Study 2, we obtained predictions from scientists (N = 717) and lay Americans (N = 394) in Spring 2020 regarding the direction of change for a range of social and psychological phenomena. We compared them to objective data obtained at 6 months and 1 year. To further probe how experience impacts such judgments, 6 months later (Study 3), we obtained retrospective judgments of societal change for the same domains (Nscientists = 270; Nlaypeople = 411). Bayesian analysis suggested greater credibility of the null hypothesis that scientists’ judgments were at chance on average for both prospective and retrospective judgments. Moreover, neither domain-general expertise (i.e., judgmental accuracy of scientists compared to laypeople) nor self-identified domain-specific expertise improved accuracy. In a follow-up study on meta-accuracy (Study 4), we show that the public nevertheless expects psychological scientists to make more accurate predictions about individual and societal change compared to most other scientific disciplines, politicians, and nonscientists, and they prefer to follow their recommendations. These findings raise questions about the role psychological scientists could and should play in helping the public and policymakers plan for future events.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)968–981
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number8
Early online date20 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


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