Can Science Explain the Human Mind? Intuitive Judgments About the Limits of Science

Sara Gottlieb, Tania Lombrozo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Can science explain romantic love, morality, and religious belief? We documented intuitive beliefs about the limits of science in explaining the human mind. We considered both epistemic evaluations (concerning whether science could possibly fully explain a given psychological phenomenon) and nonepistemic judgments (concerning whether scientific explanations for a given phenomenon would generate discomfort), and we identified factors that characterize phenomena judged to fall beyond the scope of science. Across six studies, we found that participants were more likely to judge scientific explanations for psychological phenomena to be impossible and uncomfortable when, among other factors, they support first-person, introspective access (e.g., feeling empathetic as opposed to reaching for objects), contribute to making humans exceptional (e.g., appreciating music as opposed to forgetfulness), and involve conscious will (e.g., acting immorally as opposed to having headaches). These judgments about the scope of science have implications for science education, policy, and the public reception of psychological science.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • explanation
  • folk epistemology
  • mind-body dualism
  • open data
  • open materials


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