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Discussion of Whether Psychology is a Science

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Science is typically understood as a method for producing reliable knowledge by testing falsifiable claims against objective evidence. Psychological phenomena, however, is traditionally taken to be ‘subjective’ and hidden from view. Both science and psychology are complex, multifaceted constructs. The globally accepted definition of science is the ‘intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiments.’ Science is believed to be made up of a ‘scientific’ mindset that involves assumptions about casualty, complexity and how an observer can know things about the way the world works. Many believe that psychology does not meet the five-basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous:

  1. Clearly defined terminology for regular use and understanding by psychologists and juniors
  2. Quantifiability
  3. Highly controlled experimental conditions
  4. Reproducibility
  5. Predictability and testability.

Psychologists have a small amount of control over a vast number of variables, which influences the behaviour they measure. They can control the participants surroundings within the laboratory due to the experimenter having set these up. There are several factors unique to humans that cannot necessarily be controlled by the psychologist, such as the participant receiving bad news prior to this practice or their lunch not agreeing with them. A question deemed to be the centre of psychology being denied its label as a science is how can psychologists reproduce reliable and strong conclusions about human behaviour given this problem? The answer is their use of many individuals in each experiment, with hope that individual errors will cancel each other out’ Their use of experimental techniques (e.g. placebos) are a guard against systematic bias which then allows them to bring a ‘control’ or ‘medium’ into the method; this can then lead to a generalization within their findings before the use of tools of statistical inference on their sample to help support their findings.

The ultimate desired product for scientists is a cumulative body of knowledge; ideally, the body of knowledge will have a centre that is consensually agreed upon such as the Periodic table, which is not at all given within psychology due to the difference within research and measurements constantly differing from the previous. Science relies on systematic methods of data collection and critical analysis of the ideas to do with science. These include:

  • Systematic observation
  • Measurements
  • Gratification
  • Data gathering
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Theory construction
  • Control experimentation (whenever possible).

The given definition of psychology that many people use is “the scientific study of human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.” The dismissive attitude scientists have towards psychologists is thought to be pure intellectual frustration. Academic psychology values the principle of a science and aspires to be a science, however not a core science which specifically follows the exact methodology of “what it takes to be a science”, but the science which evolves alongside the human specimen and focuses on changes within the living body- leading it to become a social science. The definition chosen to describe psychology in fact always contains the word ‘science’ or a variation of the word, which gives it its part within the larger field of ‘science’. In addition, academic psychologists have adopted the scientific mindset due to training along the silver lining of scientific discipline, so when it comes to the subject matter and have long employed scientific methods that accompany most research/journals. The official birth of psychology (Wuntz’ Lab) was characterized by the virtue of it employing the methods of science (systematic observation, measurement (although it would vary and wouldn’t be consistently the same or a similar object of measurement depending on experiment), hypothesis testing) to understand human conscious experience. Training in academic psychology largely determined by training in the scientific method, for the purpose of correct methodologies and research to support all hypothesises brought to the table. Many academic psychologists only act if questions that are proposed are reducible to empirical methods, which are indeed easier to follow but also give a clear guideline of how to progress with the development of the research and data gathering.

To answer the question of whether the scientific method is applicable to psychology, it is applicable in the sense it was defined by the application of the scientific method itself and psychologists conduct valuable research and have developed some key insights into behaviour, cognition and human condition using the scientific method. However, it has progressed in a way it will not always produce consistent results using empirical evidence and the scientific method.

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