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Can Psychology be a Science?

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Access Psychology: Can Psychology Be a Science? To answer this question, a definition of science must first be established. This is not as straightforward as one might think as interpretations vary, and are the cause of some debate. The American Heritage Science Dictionary appears to encompass the general consensus, and defines science as: "The investigation of natural phenomena through observation, theoretical explanation, and experimentation, or the knowledge produced by such investigation. ? Science makes use of the scientific method, which includes the careful observation of natural phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis, the conducting of one or more experiments to test the hypothesis, and the drawing of a conclusion that confirms or modifies the hypothesis." Put simply, it seems that for a field to be considered a science, it must utilise observation and experimentation to confirm or falsify a hypothesis. The word science itself comes from the Latin word scire, meaning know, implying that knowledge is gained through science. To question psychology's status as a possible science, it is necessary to examine theories related to the field that are possible to falsify or to repeat; to see if they can be tested using scientific methods of hypothesis, observation and experimentation. Developmental Psychologist Jean Piaget's influential Theory of Cognitive Development has many elements that can, and have been, scrutinised in a scientific manner. ...read more.


Skinner carried out a similar experiment with a pigeon, pecking at a disc rather than pressing a lever. According to Allport (1947) the goals of science are "Understanding, prediction and control above the levels achieved by unaided common sense". By applying his assertion when considering if Thorndike's principle is scientific, it can be noted that both a prediction and control have been used, and that an understanding of behavior has been reached. A prediction or hypothesis could have been generated e.g. "will the animal learn that by behaving in a certain manner it will be rewarded?" The animals' environment was certainly controlled by the experimenter, while the knowledge generated can be used to create new hypotheses. Thorndike's and Skinner's particular experiments are limited because they were only tested on animals, but they are useful in showing that behavior can be modified using reinforcement, which have prompted controlled observations of human behavior. Sigmund Freud's Psychoanalytic Theories contain many ideas. Their scientific credibility is discussed below, after two of the key concepts are outlined. Freud believed that humans possess a conscious (the awareness we have when awake), a pre-conscious (containing memories of dreams) and an unconscious (containing secret wishes and fears; these thoughts are hidden and unavailable to us). ...read more.


It might be a more worthwhile exercise to divide psychology into its separate fields and ask the question of each. It could be argued that the behaviorist approach is the most scientific, focussing on what people do, rather than how they think; something that is observable. The approach ignores speculation while putting emphasis on objectivity. Conversely, most of Freud's theories within the psychodynamic approach seem untestable, unfalsifiable and, ultimately, unscientific. The question and answer sessions associated with psychoanalysis rely on introspection, of which there is scientific doubt. As for humanistic psychology, Maslow himself refuted psychology as a science, stating: "The uniqueness of the individual does not fit into what we know of science. Then so much the worse for the conception of science." (Maslow, 1968). There are further considerations. Psychological experiments tend not to yield laws of nature in the way of other "pure" sciences. Piaget might state that, as children age, they are able to perform more complex mental processes, yet not all children are the same; some will advance quicker than others. There are also, for example, cultural differences to take into account; people's behavior depends on their environment, and research on humans lacks external validity. In contrast, a ball will always fall back to earth (physics) and water freezes at zero degrees. The debate of psychology as a science will probably remain a debate for some time. ...read more.

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