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How Psychology a Science? Analyzing Academia Perspective

Psychology a Science
What do you think, Is Psychology a Science?

Psychology, while fundamentally a science of behavior and mental processes, also extends to applying this scientific knowledge to enhance the functioning of individuals, organizations, and communities, as outlined by the American Psychological Association in 2011.

There’s been a long debate about the question: “Is psychology a science?” By defining psychology and looking at academic definitions of science, we can see how psychology is a science.

First see this example!

Many believe women talk more than men, with estimates suggesting women say 20,000 words a day and men 7,000. Matias Mehl’s team investigated this by having male and female students wear audio recorders. They found women spoke 16,215 words and men 15,669 per day on average, a minor difference possibly due to chance. Their study in “Science” journal concluded that the idea of women being more talkative is a baseless stereotype. This example shows how psychology, the study of human behavior and mental processes, is scientific.

This essay explores how researchers conduct psychology studies, who conducts them, and the reasons behind their research. It questions if this science offers insights beyond common sense and why it’s important, even for clinical psychologists. Answering these questions lays a strong foundation for understanding the rest of the essay.

Understanding Science:

What is science?

Many are surprised to find out that psychology is a science, just like astronomy, biology, and chemistry. These fields investigate diverse things (space, living things, and chemicals), yet they all study and understand nature. Psychology does this too, by studying human behavior using scientific methods.

Features of science:

Science has three key characteristics.

  • First, it relies on systematic observation. This means scientists observe the world in an organized way, making and analyzing careful observations to learn about nature. They don’t only use opinions or casual observations, like when researchers counted men and women’s utterances to test a stereotype.
  • Secondly, science addresses empirical questions, which are answerable through real-world observations. For instance, asking whether women talk more than men can be answered by observing and recording speech. However, science doesn’t answer questions about values, like whether a stereotype is morally wrong.
  • Thirdly, science generates publicly shared knowledge. Scientists publish their findings so others can learn, collaborate, and correct any errors. This makes science a social activity and allows it to self-correct over time, ensuring our understanding of the world improves.

Science Versus Pseudoscience:

Pseudoscience is when beliefs or activities pretend to be scientific but aren’t. Biorhythms hypothesis asserts that our talents follow cycles from birth to death, although there’s no scientific proof. Pseudoscience might look scientific or use fancy terms, but it misses key aspects of real science. These observations or research may not have received careful scrutiny or sharing for others’ use.

Pseudoscience often doesn’t focus on questions that can be tested or proven wrong, which is important in real science. Intentionally unproven, claims like psychic powers defy confirmation despite observed phenomena or test outcomes. Understanding pseudoscience is important for a few reasons. It helps us recognize what real science is and why it matters. Astrology and magnet treatment are popular pseudoscience’s, so knowing what makes them pseudoscientific helps us evaluate them. For psychology students, it’s crucial to know the difference between real psychological science and false ideas, or “pseudo psychology.”

A Model of Scientific Research in Psychology:

“A Simple Model of Scientific Research in Psychology” describes how scientific research is done in psychology. Typically, a small team of researchers do research. They creates research question, designs research, collects and analyzes data, concludes findings, and then publishes. These results to add to existing research literature. Since this literature often sparks new questions, the process is cyclical. A new research generates new questions, leading to more research, and so on.

“The Basic Model of Psychological Research” shows that research questions can come from casual observations or real-world issues needing solutions. Researchers begin by reviewing existing literature to check for previous answers and to refine their question based on past findings. Take the example of the rise in cell phone usage in the 1990s, which led to questions about its impact on driving. Psychologists investigated this scientifically. While earlier studies showed that simple verbal tasks could affect other tasks, the specific impact of cell phone use on driving hadn’t been studied.

Researchers conducted experiments, both in labs and on roads, to compare driving skills with and without cell phone use. They discovered that using a cell phone while driving reduced hazard detection, slowed reaction times, and worsened vehicle control. Researchers published these findings, contributing to the growing body of research on the subject.

Who Conducts Scientific Research in Psychology?

Individuals holding PhDs or master’s degrees in psychology and related fields usually conduct psychological research. Research assistants with bachelor’s degrees or similar qualifications frequently assist these researchers. Government bodies, non-profits, and private sector companies often employ these researchers. Many are university or college faculty who work with their students on research projects. While some researchers are also practicing clinicians, particularly in clinical psychology, most specialize in other psychology branches like cognitive, developmental, or social psychology.

Researchers are drawn to this field not just for employment but also for the intellectual stimulation it provides and the chance to contribute to our comprehension of human behavior. Students interested in these aspects can often participate in research at their colleges or universities, either as assistants or as study subjects. Even if conducting research doesn’t appeal to everyone, understanding its process enriches one’s grasp of psychology’s scientific basis, its strengths and limitations, and its practical applications in professional settings and daily life.

Science and Clinical Practice

The most familiar application is in clinical psychology, encompassing the diagnosis and treatment of mental health issues. This broad category includes the work of clinical and counseling psychologists, school psychologists, marriage and family therapists, and licensed clinical social workers, among others, who focus on addressing and resolving individual or small-group psychological challenges. The intersection of scientific research and clinical practice is particularly relevant, as many students express a keen interest in clinical practice as a potential career path.

The fact that psychological conditions and behavioural challenges are natural allows for empirical and scientific study. It is important to recognise that intuition and common sense cannot fully explain human behaviour. Scientific studies, like Lilienfeld et al.’s, contradict media assumptions that adult offspring of alcoholics have certain psychological features.

In 2010, researchers disproved this notion as they found no significant personality abnormalities in adult offspring of alcoholics. Researchers can empirically test the efficacy of psychotherapies. Scientific approaches can determine if a new depression treatment is better than none. Empirically supported treatments demonstrate the importance of scientific inquiry in psychological practice.

Clinical psychology’s scientific research involvement is debated. Some say it hasn’t used research-backed treatments enough and suggest training and practise modifications. However, Norcross, Beutler, and Levant (2005) believe these issues are exaggerated and the recommended improvements unneeded. Although perspectives differ, clinical psychology’s scientific methodology is agreed upon.

The most accurate and effective psychiatric diagnosis and treatment require this technique. Thus, scientific principles are essential for field research and physicians, even non-researchers. This allows them to stay abreast of new research and make treatment recommendations based on the best evidence.

Findings from the Discussion

The conclusion drawn from the discussion about psychology as a science is multifaceted.

  • Firstly, psychology, much like fields such as biology or chemistry, adopts a scientific approach to understanding human behavior and mental processes. This involves systematic empiricism, focusing on empirical questions, and the creation of public knowledge through research and publication.
  • Secondly, psychological research is mainly conducted by highly educated professionals, ranging from doctoral degree holders to research assistants with relevant training. They work in diverse settings, including academia, government, nonprofits, and the private sector. While many are focused on research, the field also heavily intersects with clinical practice.
  • A significant point of discussion in psychology is the relationship between scientific research and clinical practice. There is a debate about whether clinical psychology has sufficiently integrated scientific research, particularly concerning empirically supported treatments. Despite differing viewpoints, there’s a consensus on the necessity of a scientific framework for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of psychological issues.
  • Finally, the distinction between science and pseudoscience is crucial in psychology. Understanding what constitutes scientific rigor helps in distinguishing legitimate psychological practices from pseudoscientific ones, thereby ensuring the integrity and effectiveness of the field.

Conclusion

Psychology as a science is characterized by its methodological approach, diverse applications, ongoing debates about the integration of research and practice, and a clear delineation from pseudoscience, all of which contribute to its role in enhancing our understanding and treatment of human behavior and mental processes.

Bibliography

Andy Schmitz, “The Science of Psychology,” in Github.io, 2010, https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_research-methods-in-psychology/s05-the-science-of-psychology.html.

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