Is Psychology a Science?

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  • Science is about establishing truths --> psychology needs to offer a method of distinguishing between true and false
  • Scientific enquiry involves devising theories, formulating hypotheses from them and using empirical methods of enquiry in order to test these hypotheses
  • The prime empirical method of enquiry = experiments
    • observations can also be used
  • Key features of a science are control over all variables, careful objective measurements and establishing cause and effect relationships


1. EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE: does not rely on argument/belief. It is based on experimental data NOT theories or logic.  The data is collected through direct observation/experiments. The best way to achieve this evidence is through the collection of quantitative data and strictly controlled variables so that cause and effect can be established

2.OBJECTIVITY: Researchers should remain value free --> should not allow biases to interfere with the investigations as the pursuit of science implies that the facts will speak for themselves, despite what the researcher believed would happen. However it is hard to remain completely objective. Popper (1972) challenged the assumption of total objectivity as he states that all scientists have beliefs, preferences, expectations and interests which will influence the observations that they make introducing biases. It is impossible to observe something without having an idea of what you are looking for. Rosenthal showed this in an experiment involving a group of psyhology students (1963). They were told to train rats to run a race and that some rats were genetically predisposed to learn better than others. The rats were not genetically predisposed however the students findings suggested otherwise. One way to enhance objectivity is to control the variables. Techniques such as the 'double blind' procedure where neither the experimenter or the participant goes through the same procedures in the experiment or know the aims. Scientific data should be gathered in such a way that it strives to be as objective as possible despite not being able o be completely objective.

3.REPLICABILITY: refers to whether a particular finding or method can be repeated with different/same people on different occasions and produce similar findings. Replicability = important because it avoids basing theories on unreliable findings or fluke occurrences.  If the same results are found irrespective of time or place then the results are said to be reliable. If a dramatic discovery has been reported but cannot be replicated it will not be accepted. If we get the same results over and over again  under similar conditions we can assume accuracy. Accuracy then means that we can build up a body of knowledge or a theory. Laboratory experiments often allow good reliability as long as details of the research have been well recorders so that others can repeat the experiment in the exact same way. When writing up psychological research high levels of detail are highly important as people reading the report need to know exactly what was done, the no. of participants and their defining characteristics, where the study was carried out, what data was collected


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