Psychology As A Science
Psychology being categorised under the name science, can often lead to disputes within the field of sciences. Psychology is the observation of behaviour and thought process of the human mind, within itself it is a vital source of knowledge, such as how biology, chemistry and physics provides a source of knowledge that is vital to humans and the environment. Science can be seen as the study of natural behaviours and physical aspects of the world, this definition within itself accompanies itself with the idea that psychology is a science, as behaviours are studied within the field of psychology.
Eysenck and Keane (2000) believed that to make something a science it must have the following features, controlled observation, in which a specific manipulation is observed to see the effects. Secondly objectivity, as when data has been collected objectively it reduces the possibility of bias, thirdly testing theoretical predictions, because if a theory is not tested there is no evidence to provide if it is right or wrong.
Fourthly is falsifiability, which means the scientific theory has the potential to be proved wrong by evidence, fifthly is the unifying theory which is every subject within the sciences has a unifying approach all theories are based off. Finally there is the fact of is any research conducted replicable, as it is hard to rely on studies that could provide inconsistent findings.
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Although providing clear guidelines on what makes a science, there are still some aspects which make the divide not as clear as believed.
For example psychology uses the scientific method in some of the studies conducted, which is used throughout science for all research, so this aspect can be seen to make psychology a science. Too many the field of psychology is classed as a science; the science of the mind, as it looks at the most complex thing on Earth, the human mind, all theories on behaviours and thoughts stem from psychology (BBC, 2013).
In many areas psychology and the three sciences (physics, biology and chemistry) have similarities, for example, the sciences can be seen as reductionist as they try to take a complex behaviour or physical problem and break it down in to a simpler form. Many theories within psychology on similar problems can also be seen as reductionist as it aims to take complex behaviours and thoughts and break it down in to easier components to study.
An example of this can be shown by Freud (1909), Freud believes behaviour stems from the unconscious mind, making it a reductionist as it does not take biology or other factors in to account. Reductionism can be seen to be an advantage when it comes to conducting a study as it means testable predictions can be created, and then can be carried out in a controlled experiment. Although by making a reductionist theory can also cause disadvantages such as falsifiability. Popper (1963) believed falsifiability was key to science, as science does not seek to prove its own theory right, but tries to confirm it as wrong.
This means that if a theory is un-falsifiable then it is not scientific, psychology in many sectors is falsifiable through problems such as reductionism, but there are also theories that are un-falsifiable as they are untestable such as many of Freuds (1909) theories display, for example the Oedipus complex can neither be proven nor disproven. As well as having issues with falsifiability psychology also lacks the objectivity needed for science to make it truly scientific, as without objectivity the research is prone to becoming bias.
Even in experiments such as Skinners (1956) rat experiment can be shown to be subjective, because although the rat is pressing the lever and the lever presses are recorded automatically, it is still down to the opinion of the researcher on when he believes the rat has learnt by pressing the lever they get a treat. This can be counteracted on the bases that psychology has the unique position of studying the human mind which in itself is difficult to operationalize, as not all parts of the behaviour and thoughts can be measured scientifically, which unlike atomic mass or miles per hour in science can be.
Science within itself can also come across problematic issues over control and objectivity. An example of this is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle “The more precisely the position is determined, the less precisely the momentum is known in this instant, and vice versa. ” (Heisenberg, 1972) which means if something is precisely measured, and a hypothesis is believed to be true, it can often distant the researcher from the actual result. An issue with measuring investigations using the scientific method in general is it can restrict and affect answers within itself.
An example is it can be argued that laboratory experiments are very artificial, so do not provide a clear picture of what would happen in real life terms. As well as sharing similarities with science on the basis they both have issues with control and objectivity, they both also share the same goals. They have three aims, the prediction, understanding and control over a study. Scientists and psychologists both put a theory forward, these theories in both cases lead to a creation of a hypotheses, this is the prediction.
The next step is the understanding which is when you receive results from a prediction it should give the researcher and anyone reading the report a greater understanding of that subject. Control is the final step, the knowledge gained from the proven hypothesis provides knowledge which can be used to alter certain factors in the world. The three aims of science are according to Allport (1947), psychology follows these same three aims throughout studies, reporting and publishing work just as biology, chemistry and physics do.
Throughout psychology the scientific method is used, but not in all areas although science has default problems itself with the scientific method. So it cannot always be said subjects within science always stick within the scientific boundaries themselves. Another point within psychology is psychology is a ‘new’ science, biology, chemistry and physics have been in service for a good period longer, so it may be in time more likely to be classed as a science.
Nevertheless Miller (1983) would argue psychology is just a pseudoscience, an approach that claims to be scientific but does not have the key principles of science, he claims this can be dangerous as psychology is claiming to be a science, it provides the false ideal that their findings is ‘fact’. Although in comparison it could be argued that there is no ultimate knowledge of human’s behaviours and thoughts, so there must be a science to take over this role of discovering behaviours and thoughts.
Science may study the physical aspects of the brain e. g. hormones that can be proven through empirical evidence, but it does not study the unknown areas such as behaviours, this is where psychology can provide answers. For example Piaget’s (1966) stages of development theory, that people develop starting at the pre-concrete stage and move throughout these stages until they reach the formal stage, science does not provide an answer for how humans develop in this sense.
In conclusion psychology may seem like a vague subject with no clear goals or guidelines, but it does have aims, its aim is to study the mind, the way people behave and think. Science still has unexplainable occurrences, that have no empirical evidence so in turn cannot be falsified, which in itself should make it not scientific. Psychology can provide answers for what science cannot explain, such as how memories are stored, psychology provides a theory for this whereas science does not. In conclusion psychology can be seen as a science to explain human behaviour that other sciences cannot.