Editorial: Factualities – establishing empirical truths in child psychology and psychiatry
Albertine J. Oldehinkel
Empirical science is a fact-finding enterprise. This raises the question when we know enough about a particular topic to draw firm conclusions and can stop searching for additional evidence in order to save efforts for issues that are less well-established. Clarity on when scientific evidence has passed the stage of to-be-tested hypotheses is important, and setting up criteria for such stopping rules is a necessary as well as thought-provoking challenge. Not only over-investigating phenomena is undesirable but the opposite, falsely assuming beliefs to be facts, as well. Two common reasons for such misperceptions are that negative news is more likely to spread around than positive news (negativity instinct), and that individuals tend to look at problems from always the same perspective (single-perspective instinct). Our field is not immune to those instincts: child psychologists and psychiatrists tend to focus on messages suggesting that the burden of children´s mental health problems calls for more intervention and research, rather than on reports that the majority of children are doing quite well. This focus on problems may obscure the reality that the vast majority of children and adolescents never experience severe mental health problems, despite the challenges of growing up in a complex world.
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Tineke Oldehinkel is professor of Lifecourse Epidemiology of Common Mental Disorders at the University Medical Center Groningen, the Netherlands, director of the Interdisciplinary Center Psychopathology and Emotion Regulation, and principal investigator of the longitudinal cohort study TRAILS (Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey). Her research focuses on the interplay of individual psychobiological vulnerability and environmental challenges in the development of emotional problems, with a particular focus on adolescence and young adulthood. She is a member of the JCPP Editorial Board as a specialist in epidemiology and longitudinal studies.