Critically evaluate the statement ‘psychology is a science’
Psychology can be described as the ‘scientific’ study of human behaviour. Therefore, scholars can develop several theories and test them for validation by making hypothesis about behaviour under specified conditions. During infield experiments, practical methods and appropriate equipments are used in the collection of data relevant to the theories being tested, as is the case in many psychological experiments, for example the use of brain scanner as utilised in a study by Dement and Kleitman’s 1957 (Dement, 1957).
Science is intended to be objective and fair. It ought to be free of qualities and find the facts about what it is considering. Due to difference in human perception, opinions and believes, value-free studies are difficult to attain. Some say that a truly objective study is not possible, and that a scientific approach to the study of people is not seductive.
The changes to how psychology is defined over the years largely express the impact and contributions of its important theoretical approaches or orientations. Kline claimed that the distinctive methodologies employed in neuroscientific research should be viewed as independent controls and also unique features of a similar topic. He further argued that a field of study can only be considered as a science if most of its workers can subscribe to a common, global perspective or ‘paradigm’ (Kline, 1998).
Whether psychology has, or ever had a common paradigm is strongly debated. Some people believe that psychology has already undergone two revolutions, and is now in a stage of normal science, with cognitive psychology as the current paradigm.
An alternative view, which speaks to a mix of the previously cited views, is that brain research right now, and all the while, has various ideal models.
Whether psychology is a science or not, is not clear. On the one hand, if psychology is a science, the main topic is behaviour, including mental viewpoints of humans, where the subject matter is separated into several sub-categories for study for example, memory; where there’s been different studies of long-term and working memory. However, in some studies variables are estimated, and deliberately controlled. Laboratories are frequently used to improve controls taking an exhaustive approach, so axiomatic statements about behaviour can be built.
Alternative, we can look at psychology as non-scientific as the study does not follow strict scientific laws and open to contrasting interpretations. In many fields of psychology there is no experiment to generalise from some human behaviour to all human behaviour.
For example, social representation theory focuses on collaborations, while humanistic theory concentrates on self-actualisation and the individual’s activities and experiences. Where there is focus on collaborations among people, and on the individual’s experiences, scientific techniques are useless. In this case, non-scientific methods such as case-studies and unstructured interviews are utilised. Non-scientific methods aim to gain good validity, in-depth material about someone or a small group.
Psychology as a separate field of study grew out of different kind of disciplines, both scientific (for example physiology) and non-scientific (in particular philosophy). For most of its life as an independent discipline, and through what some people call revolutions and paradigm shifts, it has taken the natural sciences as its model.
Finally, whatever a specific science may claim to have discovered about the phenomena it studies, scientific activity remains just one viewpoint of human behaviour.
Is Psychology a Science?
Some characteristics of scientific studies are; rigorousness, clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, predictability of test results. Berezow argues that psychology often does not meet these five requirements for it to be consider a science (Berezow, 2012).
Smedslund believes psychology in its current sense should be abandoned due to the following four reasons; 1. Irreversibility, since every experience changes a person. 2. Infinite number of determinants as behaviours can have many external influences. 3. Pseudo-empiricism (psychology tests only observed hypotheses). 4. Social interactivity (individual differences are ignored to focus on the average) (J., 2016).
There are some researchers in other fields that insist psychology is not a
science despite following the hypothetico-deductive model (Godfrey-Smith, 2003). They argue that psychologist should abandon the belief that it is a science and focus on practical studies. Wundt took the position that the hundreds of years long philosophical debates about the nature of mind should have been put aside and replaced with methodologies supported by the common sciences. He asked: “Why can’t the study of mind be based on observation? Just as physics observes the events of the physical world, why shouldn’t psychology observe the events of the mental world (Wundt, 1897)?”
Although Wundt emphasis on observation was advantageous, it however has a few drawbacks. As observation is proven to be a significant tool in psychological studies and could have advanced the mental science if dependency on introspective techniques were not overly emphasised. Introspective method is a form of disciplined, self-observation focused on mental action (Silverman, 2011).
Wundt and his student, E. B. Titchener (Cornell University), were interested in examining mental experiences into their elemental components as well as studying the similarities of these components. Their systematic position was not well-ordered as their examinations tends to create more theories or begs new questions. Data observed from introspection, required additional information to give their discoveries the kind of structure that had the possibility to lead to more knowledge (Silverman, 2011).
Immanuel Kant said in 1781 that the human mind is structured based on the external sensations it receives. Max Wertheimer, Kurt Koffka, and Wolfgang Köhler take the position that the brain gathers incoming stimuli and organise the into wholes, or “gestalts” (Wertheimer, 1950). With this previously established preconception, they set out to find ways to demonstrate how the principle of organization affects perception. While they performed something like experiments, the perceptions they looked to make were basically intended to show the value of their thoughts. This was not science, but it kept alive a perspective about what the brain does that would give a premise to the development a couple of decades later of cognitive psychology.
The quest to understand the mysteries of the mind continued in Europe and it extended beyond the research laboratories. It found its way into the clinical setting where, in 1895, Sigmund Freud set out to develop the elaborate theory of psychoanalysis (Breuer, 1895).
Although Freud was a clinician, he had been well trained in the principles of scientific research and knew the value of observation. However, he also felt that standard observation would not suffice; he could not limit his inquiries to the kind of evidence
appropriate for physics or chemistry, or for that matter to laboratory psychology. And, unlike Wundt, he did not focus on objectivity. Instead, he sought to find ways to analyse subjective material (Silverman, 2011).
To accomplish this goal, Freud made his laboratory setting his office in order to make the situation as unstructured as possible. His patients were encouraged to say anything that comes to mind without attempting to censor their thoughts. This “free-association” method coupled with his idea that dreams could also be very revealing, gave Freud the special tools he felt he needed (Silverman, 2011).
The fact that the information provided by free-association and dream interpretation was not constrained by the standards of observation used in natural science did not bother Freud. As he saw it, he was delving into the mysteries of the unconscious and he felt free to interpret this material rather than taking it at face value. If others would not accept this approach, that was their problem, not his (Silverman, 2011).
Psychology is complicated. There are many influences behind people’s behaviour. There are arguments on either side for whether psychology is a science or not. Regardless of these arguments, psychology has produced insights into important problems and will be able to offer solutions to important problems in the future. Psychology is still relatively young and human behaviour is complex.
Various meanings are still present and the temptations to invent informal explanatory concepts persists, we can accept that Wundt’s original goal is becoming more reachable. As the continued increase in collaboration between neuroscience and psychology is leading toward the point when psychologists and neuroscientists should be able to fully and objectively observe mental activities. As this relationship progresses, we can conclude that there will be no further need to worry about the role of science in psychology (Silverman, 2011).