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Every so often, people ask the question is psychology a science? They might assume that psychology is just a bunch of individuals who talk about their feelings all the time. They may even claim that psychology is the study of the mind. However, psychology is not phrenology which focuses on feeling the skull for bumps to determine the person’s personality. Phrenology is also a pseudoscience which psychology has no part of. Pseudoscience may look like science, but it’s missing some key factors that are needed for scientific research.
Another example of pseudoscience beside phrenology is astrology when people look at their horoscopes they might think there is science behind it. However, horoscopes are vague, and they are set up that way so it can apply to everyone. Psychology, on the other hand, does have scientific ground to it. Psychology uses the empiricism approach which is getting information from direct observation ( Gravetter & Forzano,2009) and it uses all of the steps in the scientific method. The steps for the scientific method is to ask a question, do background research, make a hypothesis, test your hypothesis by doing an experiment, and lastly analyze your data and draw a conclusion then report the results. If it didn’t follow the scientific method then, psychology experiments like the Stanford prison experiment probably wouldn’t exist along with other experiments and discoveries that were made about human behavior today. The Stanford prison experiment is when a man named Philip Zimbardo wanted to study brutality reports among guards in American prisons. (McLeod,2009) Even though his experiment was not ethical, through his experiment, we learned that when people are given too much power they end up becoming sadistic tyrants. Zimbardo had to go through all the steps in the scientific method to acquire this information that he learned about what people do when they have too much power. Science is about understanding the world that we live in and using that information to possibly make the world a better place. That’s what psychology tries to do as well it sets out to explain, predict, describe and possibly change. People who believe psychology is not a science knows very little about psychology or doesn’t know anything at all. Not only is psychology considered a real science because of it’s methodology, but some other factors that make psychology scientific are psychology’s brilliant researchers/founders.
Psychology is a sibling of philosophy. Therefore, psychology was influenced by people in Greece from people like Socrates or Aristotle (McLeod,2011). However, psychology and philosophy are not the same fields; psychology is designed to study human behavior and why humans behave the way that they do, and philosophy looks how people relate to knowledge. Psychology was a part of the philosophy branch until the 1870s (“History of Psychology”, n.d) when the father of psychology Wilhelm Wundt opened the first experimental lab that was dedicated to psychology in 1879 in Germany. Wundt analyzed the human mind in a different way than philosophy does. By doing this, he separated psychology from philosophy by coming up with ideas such as introspection and structuralism. (“Discover Wilhelm Wundt’s Contributions to Psychology”, n.d). Structuralism looks at the structure of the minds and introspection looks at internal thoughts and feelings. Wundt’s work also helped on how to do experimental methods in psychology.
Even though Wilhelm Wundt helped give psychology it’s structure; William James also known as the father of American psychology established the first experimental laboratory in America, and he came up with the approach called functionalism. This approach focuses on how psychologists should focus on why and how people do what they do. He also developed the theory of emotion, which is that “emotions are caused by physiological reactions”. (“The Life and Theories of Psychologist William James”, n.d) He influenced other people in the psychology field such as Edward Thorndike and John Dewey, who also made contributions to psychology as well.
Another famous psychologist that helped to make psychology a real science is Sigmund Freud also known as the father of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis tries to explain and understand human behavior and it is a form of therapy when treating mental illness. This theory says that all mental problems comes from the unconscious mind. This type of theory is very influential in our society today. Freud analyzed people by getting his patients to talk about their dreams, fantasies, their childhood memories. Freud came up with the terms libido, id, ego, super ego, repression, etc. to describe what happens in the unconscious and the conflict that people experience every day.
In contrast, to Freud psychoanalysis theory is behaviorism. This theory was launched by Jon Watson also known as the father of behaviorism. Because psychology is a science and the fact that psychology uses the empirical approach than behaviorism focuses on observed behavior. Behaviorists believe that behaviors come from conditioning. “Conditioning happens through interacting with the environment.” (What Is Behaviorism, and How Does It Work?” n.d) Therefore, observant behavior can be objectively and scientifically measured. There are different types of conditioning which are classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is a method of learning that uses reinforcements and punishments for behavior and classical conditioning are used when a stimulus is paired up with a response. Many psychologists like B.F. Skinner made influences on behaviorism. One of his biggest contributions was in operant conditioning. He identified positive reinforcements, negative reinforcements, positive punishment and negative punishment. Skinner’s work is applied to shape behavior in classrooms, and it is even used to train animals because of his contributions to psychology.
When looking at all the data and research on psychology and the very fact that psychologists can help people with mental illness shows that psychology is a real science. That psychology does belong with the other sciences out there. Psychology is still relatively new but even if it is we as a society know so much about human behavior because of psychology and the people out there who is determined to learn about what makes humans tick. In the end, psychology is a real science and no matter if someone out says that it isn’t, it is not going to take away the fact that it is and always will be because of psychology’s methodology researchers, founders and many theories and explanations on human behavior.
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