Chaos as a psychological construct: historical roots, principal findings, and current growth directions

Nonlinear Dynamics Psychol Life Sci. 2009 Jul;13(3):289-310.


The landmarks in the use of chaos and related constructs in psychology were entwined with the growing use of other nonlinear dynamical constructs, especially catastrophes and self-organization. The growth in substantive applications of chaos in psychology is partially related to the development of methodologies that work within the constraints of psychological data. The psychological literature includes rigorous theory with testable propositions, lighter-weight metaphorical uses of the construct, and colloquial uses of "chaos" with no particular theoretical intent. The current state of the chaos construct and supporting empirical research in psychological theory is summarized in neuroscience, psychophysics, psychomotor skill and other learning phenomena, clinical and abnormal psychology, and group dynamics and organizational behavior. Trends indicate that human systems do not remain chaotic indefinitely; they eventually self-organize, and the concept of the complex adaptive system has become prominent. Chaotic turbulence is generally higher in healthy systems compared to unhealthy systems, although opposite appears true in mood disorders. Group dynamics research shows trends consistent with the complex adaptive system, whereas organizational behavior lags behind in empirical studies relative to the quantity of its theory. Future directions for research involving the chaos construct and other nonlinear dynamics are outlined.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Nonlinear Dynamics / history*
  • Psychological Theory*
  • Psychology / history*
  • United States

Personal name as subject

  • Edward Lorenz