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PSYCHOLOGY as a SCIENCE
Psychology is a relatively new field of science as opposed to the natural sciences because it was born out of the spirit of humanism after the Renaissance (Hergenhahn, 108). As a result, methods and norms in the field are still being developed. In addition, the subject matter of the field includes the mind, personality and other intangible entities that cannot be subjected to the same kind of testing and experimentation as in medicine or physics.
Psychology has intended to become a branch of science to gain greater credibility and reliability for its claims. Science is recognized as objective whereas other fields may be treated as subjective and based on philosophical speculation rather than rigorous experimentation and research. In fact, the history of science in the modern world can be traced to the moment in 1600 when William Gilbert published his work on magnetism based on objective analysis and experimentation as opposed to the philosophical approach of Aristotelianism prevalent in those days. To be considered a science, therefore, psychology would have to accommodate experimentation and objective analysis of its observations in the methodology.
Science involves repeated experiments and trials to test a hypothesis. Therefore, psychology should possess the capacity for hypotheses to be developed based on observations and then tested through controlled experiments to verify or negate those hypotheses. There should be adequate arrangements for laboratories and other contexts where factors can be controlled and the subjects of the experiment monitored for their observations (McDougall, 4). The psychologists should also consider the extent to which experiments on human beings can be conducted as this could have social costs for the study. Currently, experiments on the same scale of control as those in natural sciences cannot be performed in psychology.
Psychology has been studied from a variety of perspectives that may not all be considered as scientific. They are not based on observation, experimentation and testing of hypotheses. One of these perspectives is the psychodynamic perspective. Developed and popularized by the efforts of Freud, this perspective is based on a unique conceptualization of the human mind. Freud believed that the human mind was comprised of the conscious and the subconscious and that a number of innate drives and suppressed desires affected human behavior. This was not a scientific approach because the claims of Freudian psychology could not be tested empirically. Hence, these claims were not verifiable and hence could not be relied upon.
A second perspective of psychology that is not scientific is the humanistic perspective. This approach was born out of the spirit of the Renaissance and emphasized the primacy of human experiences in explaining human and social behavior. This approach also tried to explain how human behavior could be changed in addition to how it was shaped by environmental forces. It emphasized the power of human will and independence despite environmental factors affecting behavior. The humanists stressed that behavior could be changed through the power of the will and by conscious effort. This perspective was openly subjective in its orientation and was therefore inappropriate for scientific approval. There was no consistent set of rules for validating or disproving any claims as any explanation based on unique personal experiences was valid.
Similarly, other approaches that are artistic or theological in nature cannot be classified as scientific because they do not stand up to objective scrutiny. The claims and conclusions of these perspectives cannot be proved through experimentation and logic. Their findings are not based on reliable results that can be described as constant for a given set of environmental factors. Therefore, approaches such as the psychodynamic approach and the humanistic perspective are philosophical in nature as opposed to being scientific. Scientific psychology is based on experiments and observations. An example is behaviorism which tries to explain how human beings and animals learn new behaviors through experimentation (Galotti, 9). Classic experiments include those on classical and operant conditioning where repeated trials were used to establish the stimulus-response relationships on which acquisition of new behaviors is based.
Psychology should differ from other branches of science, in particular natural and physical sciences because of a number of social and ethical questions that impinge upon the study of psychological issues. The distinguishing feature of psychology compared to other sciences is that the subject matter of psychology is human beings. Given this situation, it is difficult for psychology to undertake experiments involving human beings and their personal and social actions at the same level as with animals or inanimate objects. Experiments in psychology cannot incorporate laboratory experiments with human beings for extended periods of time because invading the privacy of human beings poses ethical and moral questions. It is also difficult for psychologists to conduct experiments to observe changes in generations of human beings as opposed to studying similar changes in animals or plants. Therefore, psychology needs to depend on retrospective studies as part of its scientific methodology.
The content of scientific psychology is in the form of theories of behavior and perception. These theories are based on the assumption that the human motives can be gleaned from behavior and self-reporting. Therefore, observation and self-report are the most common ways used in scientific psychology to conduct research and gather evidence. The assumption underlying the content of scientific psychology is that the content is uniformly applicable within the population under study. For instance, the conclusions about human behavior under stress are assumed to be uniformly explainable by instances of human stress behavior within the population. The content of scientific psychology is also based on the assumption that it can be used to predict human behavior and actions. So the behavior of people entering a football stadium can be predicted based on the behavior of visitors to a football stadium in earlier instances. On the other hand, the assumptions also include the caveat that human behavior is not entirely predictable and that various other factors may enter the picture to complicate it. External pressure through institutional norms, socialization and free will may also modify the outcome.
Evaluating psychological theories therefore involves a process of rigorous intellectual activity and objective analysis of alternative theories. Such an approach helps to breed objectivity and support a consistent criterion for theory evaluation. At times, several theories may be put forward to explain certain concepts r phenomena. In evaluating a psychological theory, the principal ideas to consider are the assumptions. Generally, the theories that are preferred are those that are based on assumptions that are fewer in number (Kalat, 31). Theories with fewer assumptions are assumed to be more efficient than theories that explain the same phenomena but are based on numerous assumptions. It is also preferable to support psychological theories that are based on simple assumptions as opposed to complex ones (Kalat, 31). Simple assumptions reflect clarity of ideas and concepts. A third criterion for evaluating psychological theories, particularly when there are other theories that explain the same phenomena, is whether the theory supports or complements other theories on the subject (Kalat, 31). The theory should also distinguish between correlation and causation (Plotnik & Kouyoumdijan, 33). In any field of scientific study, a theoretical framework is constructed by integrated theories. Therefore, evaluating psychological theories on the basis of their support to one another helps the theorist to create a strong theoretical framework.
At times, several theories may be presented for evaluation before psychologists. Given the historical evolution of the field, some of these theories may be based on common sense or folk wisdom while others may be based on scientific explanation and experimentation. It is therefore, important that the theories e identified as such and only those theories be accepted that possess the characteristics of a scientific theory. The theories that should be selected are those that carry conclusions that can be verified through repeating the experiments in…[continue]
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