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Is Psychology a Science?

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Is Psychology a Science? Psychology is commonly defined as 'scientific' study of human behaviour and cognitive processes. Broadly speaking the discussion focuses on the different branches of psychology, and if they are indeed scientific. However, it is integral in this to debate to understand exactly the major features of a science, in order to judge if psychology is in fact one. There must be a definable subject matter - this changed from conscious human thought to human and non-human behaviour, then to cognitive processes within psychology's first eighty years as a separate discipline. Also, a theory construction is important. This represents an attempt to explain observed phenomena, such as Watson's attempt to account for human and non-human behaviour in terms of classical conditioning, and Skinner's subsequent attempt to do the same with operant conditioning. Any science must have hypotheses, and indeed test them. This involves making specific predictions about behaviour under certain specified conditions, for example, predicting that by combining the sight of a rat with the sound of an iron bar banging behind his head, a small child will learn to fear the rat, as is the case of Little Albert (1923). ...read more.


Whether psychology has, or ever had, paradigm is hotly debated. Others believe that psychology has already undergone two revolutions, and is now in a stage of normal science, with cognitive psychology the current paradigm. A third view, which represents a blend of the first two, is that psychology currently, and simultaneously, has a number of paradigms. For example, Smith and Cowie (1991) identify psychoanalysis, behaviourism, information-processing and cognitive-developmental approaches as paradigms. Davidson and Neale (1994) claimed that there are 'four major paradigms of contemporary psychology', namely the biological, psychodynamic, learning and cognitive. With regards to which perspectives are regarded as 'scientific', and which are not, the majority lies with 'scientific'. There are four perspectives that clearly lie under 'scientific', the behavioural, cognitive, cognitive-developmental and the physiological. The psychodynamic and humanistic perspectives are argued to be idiographic, in that they look at individual differences, instead of universal laws. The social approach can be seen as an intermediate, as, although it appreciates that there is a strong element of science involved in psychology, for example the treatment of some mental disorders, it focuses on social and environmental factors. For example, the biological perspective is said to be scientific fundamentally because it looks at the biological functioning of every human being and searches for reasons and solutions which can be applied nomothetically. ...read more.


On the other hand, psychology can be viewed not as a science, as it does not aim at scientific principles to measure the whole world. In many areas of psychology there is no attempt to generalise from some human behaviour to all human behaviour. The social representation theory focuses on interactions, and the humanistic theory focuses on self-actualisation and the individual's experiences and actions. Where there is focus on interactions between people, and on the individual's experiences, scientific methods are not useful. Non-scientific methods include case-studies and unstructured interviews. If a method in not scientific, it aims for good validity, in-depth material about someone or a small group, qualitative data and a richness of data that is not found by isolating variables, as in many psychological studies. Psychology as a separate field of study grew out of several other disciplines, both scientific (such as physiology) and non-scientific (in particular philosophy). For much of its life as an independent discipline, and through what some call revolutions and paradigm shifts, it has taken the natural sciences as its model. Ultimately, whatever a particular science may claim to have discovered about the phenomena it studies, scientific activity remains just one aspect of human behaviour. I feel that psychology should be viewed as a science, even if it does not concur with traditional scientific specifications. ...read more.

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This essay considers the subject of the scientific status of Psychology pretty thoroughly with balanced debate. The conclusion perhaps reflects the fact that just as the discipline of Psychology aims to move away from 'street corner bias' towards greater insight and understanding of human behaviour, so also should our definitions of what is valuable and how it is gained be open minded and scientific recognising that we still have much to learn and we can learn in surprising ways. Qualitative interviews can be one example of rich data that may highlight hitherto unthought of ideas. Well done

Marked by teacher Stephanie Porras 26/03/2013

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Response to the question

Response to Question: This is an excellent response due it being well-structured (with a clear introduction, argument and conclusion) and it giving well-explained evidence for both sides of the debate. The introduction is good as it makes clear what exactly ...

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Response to the question

Response to Question: This is an excellent response due it being well-structured (with a clear introduction, argument and conclusion) and it giving well-explained evidence for both sides of the debate. The introduction is good as it makes clear what exactly will be discussed by saying “Broadly speaking the discussion focuses on the different branches of psychology, and if they are indeed scientific.” This allows the reader to easily understand what is to come. The evidence for and against psychology as a science is well-explained; the general idea is stated (“Science is meant to be objective and unbiased.”) and then goes on to elaborate. This is important as all analytical points need to be explained in the context of the question – many essays give good evaluative points but don’t explain how these relate the matter at hand.

Level of analysis

Level of Analysis: This is also very good, four main evaluative ideas are explored: definable subject matter, theories, hypotheses and empirical methods. Each of these points are supported by citations of scientists (e.g. Smith and Cowie (1991), Kline (1998) ). This is good as it shows the writer’s views have evidence from influential psychologists to support them – they are not simply subjective opinions. To add, many points are supported by examples (“. For example, if someone talks about hearing voices, they may be referring to a spiritual experience, but a medical practitioner might well diagnose schizophrenia.”) which again, improves the objectivity of the essay.

Quality of writing

Quality of Writing: There is nothing to fault here – spelling and grammar are both good. Also, the structure is important in improving the standard of the essay – the main points flow together with the use of connectives such as ‘on the other hand’ and the essay is ordered so that each point links to the rest. This makes it easy to read and understand.

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