What is a (psychological) process?
I would reckon that everybody reading this blog post can instantly think of an example of a psychological process. However, no matter how obvious finding an example may seem to you, my colleagues and I recently discovered that researchers can have vastly different answers to this question. And furthermore, those different conceptualizations can lead to heated debates about how we should study said processes.
Start of the debate
The debate on “what is a (psychological) process” started when my colleagues and I stated  that the process of resilience in sports (i.e., how athletes adapt to adversity) has largely been neglected in research so far. To us, a process describes the temporal structure of a behavior of interest. As research on resilience is traditionally focused on the outcome rather than studying the way people reach that outcome, we provided a theoretical framework to provide researchers with tools to fill this void (i.e., the dynamical systems approach). By establishing a time-series of the relevant behavior, researchers can outline the exact trajectory of how athletes respond to encountering stress and most importantly, what patterns are detectable prior to when no successful adaptation takes place.
A few months later we received some commentary articles  from fellow researchers working on resilience in sports. What struck me most in the responses was that some scholars criticized our work by saying that they already had been looking at the process of resilience in the past and that we did not specify what the resilience process exactly looks like (even though I was under the impression that was all our article did). Specifically, the researchers were missing the causal chain between the psychological components involved in the process. After I let this feedback sink in for a while (don’t you just love it when others criticize your work?), my colleagues and I took a close look at what we were saying in our article and what the respondents referred to in previous work. Although the opening paragraph should have contained a spoiler-alert, the “misunderstanding” between us and the respondents simply boiled down to how we defined a “process”.
To provide some background on our view on the process of resilience: the term resilience originates from physics and is an indicator for how a material returns to its original shape after some external force has been applied to it [see the video below for an illustration]. Proceeding from this idea, we describe resilience in athletes as the way an individual returns to their previous level of functioning after they have encountered some adverse event. Thus, a process to us was how the behavior of an athlete unfolds over time, in other words, the “temporal process” . To the best of our knowledge, there is no study in the sports context that has outlined the exact trajectory of people recovering from setbacks. Instead, the typical paradigm that has been adopted in the research on resilience comes from the alternative interpretation of the word process.
The alternative interpretation of the word process focuses on the “causal-chain process” . This definition reflects the most common research approach in Psychology. For instance, in an average psychological experiment, we systematically manipulate an independent variable, which we assume to have a direct impact on the dependent variable, while keeping all other aspects of the situation constant. The observed change in the dependent variable, is thus assumed to be caused by the independent variable. Therefore, the causal-chain process is concerned with how different variables influence each other at a particular moment, rather than with tracking how behavior changes continuously over time.
Implications of definitions for research approach
The different approaches to investigate a psychological process are of course tailored to different research questions. If a researcher is interested in predicting the sudden, nonlinear changes in behavior in response to adversity, we recommend applying the time-series approach. However, if a researcher is interested in what variables best predict the behavioral outcome at a particular moment, we recommend applying the causal-chain approach. The way we conduct research and try to understand the world around us may be extremely heavily driven by implicit assumptions or understanding of seemingly clear concepts. Therefore, critically reflecting on these concepts may be a crucial step to understand and advance different approaches to similar topics in research.
 Hill, Y., Den Hartigh, R. J. R., Meijer, R. R., De Jonge, P., & Van Yperen, N. W. (in press). Resilience in Sports from a Dynamical Perspective. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. doi: 10.1037/spy0000118
 Bryan, C., O’Shea, D., & MacIntyre, T. (in press). The What, How, Where, and When of Resilience as a dynamic, episodic, self-regulating system: A response to Hill et al. (2018). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.
 Galli, N. & Pagano, K. (in press). Comment on “Resilience in sports from a Dynamical Perspective” by Hill, den Hartigh, Meijer, de Jonge, and Van Yperen (2018). Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.
 Kiefer, A. W., Silva, P. L., Harrison, H., & Araújo, D. (in press). Antifragility in sport: Leveraging adversity to enhance performance. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology.