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Author's Final Manuscript

Publication Title

American Psychologist



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Comments on the article by D. Westen and J. Weinberger, which explored the benefits and limitations of clinical observation and judgment. Westen and Weinberger identify two categories of informants--clinicians and participants--but these categories could be expanded to include other observers who might have particular expertise or experience related to the phenomenon of interest. The type of expert best suited to provide observations depends on the type of expertise required. There are some domains, however, in which those with the greatest expertise are neither specially trained observers nor self-reporters but, rather, lay observers who have a native or learned ability to detect complicated social or psychological phenomena and make subtle discriminations. This type of expertise is often thought of as intuitive because it uses implicit knowledge that is not always accessible to conscious awareness or capable of being fully articulated. One way to harness this intuitive expertise effectively is to pool the judgments of multiple lay observers. Our research has led us to believe that lay observers' intuitive judgments about emotions may in fact capture important information that is lost when coders depend on more commonly used manualized approaches such as the Specific Affect Coding System (SPAFF; Gottman, McCoy, Coan, & Collier, 1996) and the Facial Action Coding System (Ekman & Friesen, 1978). In our zealousness to reduce variability among coders and to make our methods more exportable to other investigators, researchers risk losing the intuitive expertise that people naturally develop in making judgments about the world.



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