Is Psychology a science?
In this essay I am going to explain and evaluate the different psychological perspectives and identify how scientific theories have allowed us to further understand the inner workings of the mind; and provide a relevant and informed argument that psychology is a science-based academic, comparing and contrasting the different psychological approaches also giving reference to the early schools of thought and how they defined the way in which the study of psychology has scientifically evolved.
Psychology is the scientific study of the mental processes and behaviour of the human and animal mind. It has derived from the scientific study of physiology and the non-scientific study of philosophy which creates the argument, is psychology considered a science? The early schools of thought came from Wilhelm Wundt and William James, combined their work helped to shape the way we explore and examine the mind and created substantial foundations for the positivist’s school of thought and the introduction of a conscious field of experimental study. William James 1842-1910 was the first psychologist who came up with a different perspective on psychology. William James took his learnings from Charles Dar-win’s theory of evolution through natural selection he saw psychology’s purpose as the study and function of behavior in the world this is known as the functionalist approach. functionalism was focused on how mental activities helped individuals fit into their envi-ronment.
According to (Kendra Cherry 2018) In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt created a technique called in-trospection this is the unobservable mental state and the examination of one’s own thought processes, this was a product of his theory of structuralism which is the attempt to under-stand the structure of the characteristics of the mind. In 1879 he founded the first laboratory dedicated to psychological study where he used his theory of introspection in his experi-ments and observations but found it not to be an accurate or effective research method be-cause he relied on the thoughts and experience of each individual. This resulted in an unre-liable outcome as it was unable to be replicated. He is the first self-professed psychologist and described psychology as the structure of the conscious experience.
According to (Watson) Previously in the 1600’s French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes provided the theory of dualism, this is the thought of the mind and soul be-ing individuals. given that the body is a physical being and the mind or soul is that of a spir-itual nature he hypothesized that this could not be scientifically measured as a physical sub-stance, which Wilhelm Wundt later contradicted with his theory of structuralism.
There are five main perspectives within psychology these include; The biological approach which consists of the study of genetics and examines the processes that occur and how deep-ly they affect an individual, the cognitive approach which consists of the study of behaviour and social learning this is used to explain the mental processes and learning, the behavioural approach which is based on the idea of all behaviour is learned through environmental fac-tors, unlike the latter approaches these three are considered scientific. the humanistic ap-proach studies the uniqueness of each individual and focuses on personal growth and lastly the psychodynamic approach which is the influence of subconscious and conscious forces largely influenced from experiences as a child. Each individual perspective has its own strengths and weaknesses bringing different ideas to our understanding of human behaviour.
The features of psychology that are scientific are cause and effect, replicability, and control and objectivity. explanatory research is the investigation of Cause and effect relationships and is at the forefront of experimental study, for these studies to be reliable they must be tested and replicated. A scientific example of cause and effect would be as follows. when examining if and how the amount of study affected grades the “study” would be the inde-pendent variable which would stay the same. The manipulated variable would be the “amount of study” which would change, and the dependent variable would be the “exam re-sults” which will give a conclusion to the experiment to conclude if the amount of study time affected exam results. Scientists use this as a reliable experimental process as it can be tested and replicated.
The cognitive approach is the study of internal mental processes when specific behavior is exhibited. This is the thought process which produces behavior and consists of the nature element in the comparison between the ‘nature-nurture’ argument. Memory is a major part of the cognitive approach and how we store information in schemas these are memory com-partments in the brain developed through experience. Studies show that everyone on aver-age can only hold seven bits of information at any one time, this was found by repetitive tests reaching the conclusion that we have a limited capacity in short-term memory. Com-puters are regularly used in analyzing this information.
This approach proposes that individuals learn from their environment by classical condi-tioning which was studied by Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov. This involves learning by association for example; recognizing hunger as a consequence of smelling food and by op-erant conditioning which was studied by B.F Skinner which involves voluntary and involun-tary behavior and the thought that an individual’s behavior could be explained by a person’s motive. For example the positive reinforcement: a child being rewarded or praised for good behavior which gives them the incentive to repeat this behavior, whereas a negative rein-forcement when a child receives no reward or praise for good behavior and a negative pun-ishment for instance, taking away a child’s toy if they do not show good behavior. It is be-lieved that punishment will decrease the chances of this bad behavior occurring whereas positive and negative reinforcement increases the likelihood of this behavior reoccurring. This approach offers scientific validity through the process of testing the hypothesis and repeating observations and is often used in cognitive behavioral therapy aiming to teach al-ternative coping mechanisms and look at situations from a different perspective. Much like the humanistic approach, it is a person-centered perspective expecting the individual to be an active participant in achieving their own desired goals. Unlike the biological approach, this perspective does not include genetic or hereditary factors that are quite often found in mental health.
A humanistic approach is a person-centered approach focusing on free will and the ability to control one’s own destiny. it is largely based on personal experience and the desire to reach one’s full potential and is considered a non-scientific approach in its methods to pro-vide evidence. An important concept in the humanistic approach is Abraham Maslow’s hier-archy of needs and self-actualization. Starting with our physiological needs such as food, water and shelter than on to safety and security, health property then on to personal relation-ships and family then on to self-esteem and right up to self-actualization. It is proven that if we do not obtain each level of the hierarchy we are unable to reach the end goal of self-actualization which is believed to be a human’s basic motive and the highest level of need according to (Psy.D., 2013). (Saul Mcleod 2014) stated that Carl Rogers in 1959 strongly agreed with Abraham Maslow’s concept of the hierarchy of needs and developed on this creating the humanistic approach to psychology. This approach is used in client-centered therapy, which encourages individuals to become more open to experience, learn to trust themselves, to develop an evaluation of themselves and have the willingness to grow to achieve the best possible form of themselves. This approach lacks scientific validity as it has very little research evidence and relies heavily on the interpretation of a client’s own thoughts and feelings which in turn is unmeasurable.
The behavioral approach According to James Coplan (2010) The behavioral perspective in psychology was founded by Edward Thorndike 1874-1949 and John Broadus Watson 1878-1958. Edward Thorndike formulated his studies around animals unlike Watson who studied humans, children in particular. his most famous case included the infant “little Albert” he conditioned him to associate a rat with a loud unnerving sound as to associate the rat with the feeling of fear this is a form of Ivan Pavlov’s classical conditioning. He believed that all behavior was learned through early childhood classical conditioning and interaction with the environment. This approach takes the nurture side in the ‘nature-nurture’ debate and is only concerned with the observable stimulus behaviors. This method of study offered a sci-entific and objective method of observation. This approach consists of the use of systematic desensitization and aversion therapy allowing the client to learn and unlearn behaviors such as anger, phobias, and anxiety. This approach has similarities to the cognitive perspective in way of working with clients in a therapy-based situation to try and change individuals’ mindset to help them evaluate and understand why certain behaviors occur and condition ourselves to change the outcome of a trigger or behavior, which supports the scientific anal-ysis of behavior. It also shares similarities with the humanistic approach given the person-centered approach.
According to (Bradford, 2017) For any research or experiment to be considered scientific it must be objective, it must be able to be recorded tested and replicated in a controlled envi-ronment offering true and unbiased results. This includes of the empirical evidence, the evi-dence collected through experiment, these results must be repeated to verify the results, ob-jectivity means that the researcher must study the investigation in an unbiased way, hypoth-esis testing where a prediction or statement made beforehand supports the results of the theory. Using this scientific method theories become reliable accounts of the real world in-stead of guesses.
Having researched and evaluated each psychological perspective many of these approaches are able to be observed and replicated interpreting it as a scientific study. I feel that this is sufficient and substantial enough to consider psychology as a scientific academic as results contain validity and replicability. I do however feel there will always be a valid argument against it being considered scientific because there will always be the fact that we largely must rely on individual’s thoughts and feelings and trust that they are a trueness. I do how-ever feel that the evidence presented for scientific study is of far greater value when you also include the progression of social and cultural changes within behavior and the evolu-tion of science and technology of modern day. The scientific knowledge and research sur-rounding psychology is only going to progress in its intelligence and technical analysis. we can already see this looking back on earlier research and theories and how they have strengthened and evolved into a more technical and scientific thought process. This scien-tific shift in psychology has allowed us greater knowledge about the inner workings of the mind and has resulted in the improvement of health, social behaviors and overall human development. The use of these individual Psychological perspectives has been a contrib-uting factor to the better understanding of development disorders and mental health issues.
Is Psychology a science?