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). Also, empirical methods are used in scientific fields to collect data, relevant to the hypothesis being tested, as is the case in many psychological experiments, such as the use of brain scanning in Dement and Kleitman’s 1957 study.
Science is meant to be objective and unbiased. It should be free of values and discover the truths about what it is studying. Positivism is the view that science is objective and a study of what is real. For example, schizophrenia, when diagnosed as being caused due to excess dopamine, is being studied in a scientific manner. The explanation does not take into account any cultural customs or individual differences that might lead to ‘schizophrenic’ behaviour.
However, even in scientific research like this the person is doing the diagnosing has his or her own views, and may misinterpret behaviour because of his or her own subjective biases. For example, if someone talks about hearing voices, they may be referring to a spiritual experience, but a medical practitioner might well diagnose schizophrenia. So objective, value-free study is not easy, because the scientist has views and biases, and cultural or other issues are perhaps important factors. Some say that a truly objective study is not possible. In conclusion, it’s a science.