Disadvantages of the Scientific Method

WJEC PY3 revision on the disadvantages of the scientific method

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  • Created by: Flo
  • Created on: 03-06-12 15:49


Scientits observe things in the world around them, develop an explanation, then produce a hypothesis to test this explanation. A study is designed to test if a hypothesis is true or faulse. A study is scientific if it is objective, repeatable, controlled and has a measurable hypothesis.

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Lack of Ecological Validity

As a result of the high levels of control the scientific method lacks ecological validity. In order to reduce variables, experimental settings and tasks are often artificial, meaning behaviour may not mirror real life so findings cannot be generalised. Therefore findings can have no basis in reality as they don't reflect the real world. Unrealistic tasks also lack mundame realism, meaning results cannot be generalised as the task isn't encountered in real life and so isn't an accurate reflection of real-world behaviour.


- Bandura's study into social learning theory was done in a highly artificial environment unfamilliar to the children taking part. This may have caused them to act differently as they were aware they were being obseved.

- In Rosenhan's study of the psychiatric system doctors don't usuallt have to identify fake symptoms and aren't mislead by patients. Therefore the task is unnatural and findings can't be generalised.

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The scientific method is reductionist, which is necessary to treat psychiatric illnessess, but over simplifies behaviour. It assumes behaviour is caused by just one thing (the IV), ignoring other important factors such as individual differences and the subjectivity of participants. This means it may not be produce an accurate explanation of behaviour as it doesn't account for other possibe causes, or the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This method is also determanistic as in order to predict and explain behaviour it must be universal and external causes must determine our actions, denying free will.


- Loftus and Palmer assumed that changes in speed estimate were due to the verb being used, ignoring individual differences like memory skill that may be impacting behaviour.

- Milgram assumed it was purely the situation that made people deliver lethal shocks, regardless of the individual. That 100% did not go to 450v shows that other factors must impact behaviour, rejecting deterministic and reductionist views.

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Ethical Issues

The scientific method assums that the benifit of some research outways ethical costs, and so during the experiments researchers manipulate participants behaviour. This may be seen as an infringement of their human rights. Although crucial to research, questions arise as to whether researchers have the right to purposefully change behaviour simply to see the effect, all in the name of science. It can have negative consequences for participants, who may suffer psychological harm and distress as a result.


- In Zimbardo's study participant's behaviour was modified so drastically the study was stopped early due to the extent of the distress. Participants then had to live knowing how they had acted and what they were capable of.

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Subject to Social Desirability Bias

The set up of the scientific method means that research is vulnrable to social desirability bias. The participants want to sound better than they are in real life and so change their behaviour in accourdance to that. This could lead to any results collected during the course of the study becoming unreliable which would mean that it could not be used in real life applications.


- Some of the questionnaires in Buss' study into sex mate preferences were done face to face which could have lead the participant to change their answer to a more socially acceptable one.

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Subject to Experimenter Bias

Experimenters could influence the behaviour of participants in accordace to their predictions or hypothesis. This could lead to the results being unreliable and lacking in validity.


- In Gardner and Gardner's study of Washoe they changed american sign language to actions that apes did naturally meaning that the interprataion of the action was highly subjective.

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