The Status of Psychology as a Science.



Science is the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. 

Eysenck and Keane- science has features such as controlled observations, objectivity, falsifiability and replicability.

Loftus and Palmer- research into leading questions was a scientific study involving controlled conditions and quantitative data. It could also be replicated. 

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When debating whether or not psychology is a science we consider the fact that at least some 'levels' of psychology are scientific. 

Some sciences are reductionist, and so are many aspects of psychology because they explain complex behaviour by breaking it down to simpler components. 

The Attribution Theory in the cognitive approach is reductionist as it seeks to explain the way we interpret peoples behaviour (situational/dispositional). 

Reductionism is desirable because it allows us to creat testable predictions which are then carried out in controlled expreiments like in Loftus and Palmers hypothesis of ''eye witness testimony is inaccurate''.

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Scientific method is used because research is more reliable and the findings have more internal validity. 

A consequence of this is that reductionist theories are falisifiable. 

Propper (1969)- argues that the main point of science is that we do not seek data that comfirms the theory, but that which disproves it, and we only accept a theory if we cannot disprove it.

As a result theories that are non-falisifiable are unscientific. 

Pavlov's theory of classical conditioning is an example of a falisifiable study. Dream Analysis is an example of a unfalisifiable study as it cannot be proven wrong. 

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Issues with reductionism- not all human behaviour can be explained in simple parts (like the computer analogy tries to do).

Issues with scientific methodology- lab experiements lack ecological validity and participants are subject to demand characteristics. 

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It can be argued that psychology isn't a science as it lacks objectivity and control needed to be truely scientific. 

Popper (1972)- argued it is impossible to observe something and remain completely objective i.e no one observes something without some idea of what they are looking for.

Thus, scientific observation is driven by hypothesis and theories, and so what you observe depends on what you expect to see such as in Rosenhan's study when he was expecting patients to be diagnosed as mentally ill and looking for ways the staff treated them. 

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Issues of Objectivity

Objectivity is an issue in science, but very relevant in psychology as what we measure is often human measure, which unlike atomic mass, can be measured objectively and often relies on the interpretationof the observer. 

In Bandura's study he had to determine whether children were acting aggressively by making his own judgement. 

This is not always the case...

In Skinner's experiments on rats, human interpretation and opinions were not needed. 

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Issues of Scientific Method

They may not have any value outside of the lab and so they lack external validity (Asch)

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle explains that it's not possible to measure subatomic particulars because as soon as you measure them they change. 

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Sharing the Goals of Science

Psychology shares the goals of science.

Allport (1947)- science has three aims:

Prediction: putting forward theories to generate hypothesis

Understanding: results are understood to gain a deeper understanding of whats being investigated. 

Control: use knowledge gained to alter some aspect of the world

On the other hand, in humanist psychology theres no predictions as we are all driven to be the best we can be; there's no barriers in the way.

Also, whilst we can make predictions in psychology we cannot always change the outcomes, such as Asch's predictions on comformity. 

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Miller (1983)

Some parts of psychology achieve the goals of science, but some don't, so we cannot accurately call the entire subject scientific. 

Miller (1983)- suggests psychology is a pseudoscience; it claims to be scientific, but does not achieve the key principles of the scientific process. 

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Humanist Psychologists

The goals of science may not be appropriate for psychology, this can be argued by humanist psychologists.

Humanist psychologists like Maslow (1968) say that science is a inadequate tool for completely understanding human experience. 

Maslow's Hierachy of Needs (1948) is an example of a non-scientific study. It explains what an individual needs to reach the peak of human experience.

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Arguments Against Science

Laing- by using scientific explanations to explain and treat psychological disorders, important factors such as distress and suffering are missed. 

Social constructionist approaches also explain that psychology isn't a science as it explains that all psychology is a product of the cultural and historical circumstances of the time. 

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Arguments For Science

Psychologists desire scientific research because psychology has no paradidigm, which according to Kuhn (1962) is the most essential ingredient to science. 

Kuhn said there are three distinctive stages in the development of science

  • pre-science
  • normal science
  • revolutionary science

According to Kuhn, psychology is currently a pre-science as no paradigm exists and there is much debate about what the subject us and it's theoetical approach.

This leads us to conclude that we are uncertain as to whether psychology is a science or not as we have research to support both instances. 

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