Is psychology a science?

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Science - establishing truths

- Scientific research should be objective and independent of beliefs or values. This methods used should be empirical - based on experimental data, not just a theory.

- To do this an experiement would collect quantitative data and has strictly controlled variables, enabling the researcher to establish a cause and effect relationships.

- However, it’s hard to make an experiment completely objective.

- Rosenthal and Frode (1963) showed this in an experiment on psychology undergraduates. They were told to train some rats to run a maze, and that some of the rats were genetically pre-disposed to be better at learning than others.

- Actually there was no difference between any of the rats, but the students’ results showed that the supposedly more intelligent rats did better in the maze task.

- This shows how researchers can bring their own biases and expectations to an experiment.

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Peer Review

All scientific work must undergo peer review before it's published - it's sent to expert in the field (peers) so they can assess its quality. 

Inadequate research will not get published in scientific journals.

If it is published, it helps to validate conclusions - it means the published theories, data and conclusions are more trustworthy. 

Other scientists then read the published reserach and may attempt to repeat it. This will determine whether the theory is reliable. If it is, it shows the findings aren't affected by time or place. 

If new evidence arises that conflicts with the current evidence the theory may be questioned again, followed by more testing to see which theory prevails.

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Popper (1969)

Popper argues that theories are abstract so it's impossible to prove them right through empirical research.

Instead, he claimed that a theory is scientific if it's falsifiable - if it can be proved wrong.

So, every test of a theory should be an attempt to falsify it. If a theory is not falsifiable, it is described as non-scientific.

An example of this is Freud's theories.

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Kuhn (1962)

To be a science, a subject should have a basic assumption or principles - a paradigm.

This is reductionism - the idea that a complex explanation can be reduced to a smaller level.

Kuhn argued that there are three different stages of science:

1. Prescience - the subject isn't a true science because it has lots of different, competing approaches.

2. Normal science - an overall paradigm has been established. This means there's general agreement about theories, and appropriate research methods are used to develop knowledge.

3. Scientific revolution - research evidence that challenges the current paradigm ends up changing it, so the subject returns to the normal science stage.

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Human Research Issues

1. Sampling - scientists can't study every occurance of something so they need to use samples that represent what they're looking at. Individual differences will have an impact, e.g. age, gender, culture or class could all affect a person's behaviour. This makes it difficult to generalise the whole population from small samples.

2. Operationalisation - operationalising variables means defining them in measurable terms. However, human behaviour is hard to define, therefore motivational forces and drives cannot be operationalised accurately, meaning human behaviour is difficult to control.

3. Participant variables - individuals bring their past learning experiences to experiments. Individuals may be subject to demand characteristics, people's behaviour also changes if they know they're being watched - the Hawthorne effect. Social desirability bias is when people change their behaviour to make themselves appear more desirable.

4. Procedures - experiments focus on just a few specific variables, so they're simplistic compared to real life. This leads to a lack in ecological validity - may not see genuine behaviour.

5. Experimenter effects - the experimenter can influence participants by subtle desirable clues.

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Psychological approaches (some are more scientific

Biological - empirical methods are used to generate quantitative data e.g. brain scans. This means results can be replicated and aren't affected by participant variables such as past experience. The theories are falsifiable.

Behaviourist - only looks at observable behaviour not thought processes or emotions, so the methods are empirical. e.g. animal studies generate quantitative data and falsifiable theories. However, participant variables can have an impact on results.

Cognitive - empirical methods are used e.g. memory tests, so findings can be replicated and the theories are falsifiable. But it's hard to isolate the variables because it's hard to separate cognitive processes.

Social - some experimental methods are used which get quantitative data e.g. Milgrams study. Other methods are based on observation and get qualitative data e.g. studies that look at prejudice. This means the variables can be difficult to operationalise and control

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