Features of Science


Paradigms and Paradigm Shifts

  • Thomas Kuhn (Philosopher, 1962) suggested shared set of assumptions and methods (paradigm)  is what distinguishes scientific disciplines from non-scientific disciplines.
  • Suggested that social sciences lack a universally accepted paradigm and are probably best seen as 'pre-science' as distinctr from natural sciences such as biology.
  • Psychology is marked by too much internal disagreement and has too many conflicting apporoaches to qaulify as a science and therefore is a pre-science.
  • Kuhn says progress within an established sicence occurs when there is a scientific revolution. A handful of researchers bega to question the accepted paradigm, this ctique begins to gather poularity and pace, and eventually a paradigm shift occurs when there is too much contradictory evidence to ignore.
  • Kuhn's example for a paradigm shift is -  the change from a Newtonian paradigm in physics towards Einstein's theory of relativity.
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Theory Construction and Hypothesis Testing

Theory Construction:

  • Occurs through gathering evidence via direct observation.
  • To be scientific, a theory needs to be a logically organized set of propositions that defines events, describes relationships amongst events and explains and prerdicts the occurence of events.
  • A scientific theory should also guide research by offering testable hyptheses that can be rigorously tested.

Hypothesis Testing:

  •  How theories are developed and modified. It should be possible to make clear and precise predictions on the basis of the theory.
  • If research fails to support the hypotheses, then this suggests that the theory needs to be modified in some way.


  • The process of derving new theory from an exisitng theory.
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What is Fasifiablility? 

  • The principle that theory cannot be considered scientific unless it admits the possibility of being proved false.

Karl Popper (Philosopher, 1934):

  • Argued that the key criterion of a scientfic theory is its fasifiablility. - Genuine scientfic theories should hold themselves up for hypothesis testing and the possiblibilty of being proved false.
  • Believed that even when a scientfic principle had been successfully and repeatedly tested, it was not necessarily true. Instead it had not been proven flase yet - became know as the teory of falsification.
  • Drew clear line between good science, in which theories are constantly challenged, and what he called 'pseudosciences' which couldn't be falsified.
  • Theories that survive most attempts to falsify them become the strongest as despite best efforts of researcehrs, they have not been proven false.
  • This is why psychologists avoid using phrases such as 'this proves' etc. and why an alternative hypothesis must always be accompained by a null hypothesis.
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What is Replicability? 

  • The extent to which scientific procedures and findings can be repeated by other researchers.
  • Important element of Pooper's hypothetico-deductive method.
  • Important role in determining the validity of a finding.
  • Also used to assess the validity of a finding; by repeating a study, as Popper suggests, over a number of different contexts and sircumstances then we can see the extent to which the findings can  be generalised.
  • In order for replicablility to become possible, it is vital that psychologists report their investigations with as much precision and rigour as possbile, so other researchers can seek to verify their work and verify the findings they have established.
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Objectivity and The Empirical Method

What is Objectivity?

  • When all sources of personal bias are minimised so as not to distort or influence the research process.
  • Scientific researchers must strive to maintain objectivity as part of their investigations.
  • Methods in psychology that are associated with the greatest level of control, eg. lab experiments, tend to be the most objective.

What is the Empirical Method? 

  • Scientific apporaches that are based on the gathering of evidence through direct observation and experience.
  • Objectivity is the basis of the empirical method. 
  • Empiricism is dervied from the Greek wold for 'experience' and empirical methods emphasis the importance of data collection based on direct, sensory expierence. 
  • Examples - the experimental and observational method
  • Early empricists such as John Locke saw knowledge as determined only by experience and sensory perception. Thus, a theory cannot claim to be scientific unless it has been empirically tested and verified.
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