There has been a debate if psychology can be considered as a science or if it is an art or if it can be considered as both. This debate becomes logical in view of the fact that the historical rise of psychology had been significantly impacted by two disciplines. One of these disciplines was scientific (physiology) and the other discipline was non-scientific (philosophy). However, applying the empirically based scientific methods present under the natural sciences for the purpose of studying psychology is a recent event in history. it is generally recognized that it started in the second half of the 19th century. This was the time when Wundt had established lab in Leipzig, Germany. Within a short period of 80 years, scientific methods were started to be applied in case of the study of conscious thoughts of human beings as well as human and nonhuman behavior (Penrose, 1994). In this way the rapid evolution that took place within the formative period of psychology can reveal a dynamic struggle for developing a unifying theory and laws that are capable of explaining all experiences of human beings and at the same time to recognize the inherent methodology the limitations that are present at the time of considering the non-observable mental phenomena (Pérez-Álvarez, 2009).
At the same time it also needs to be mentioned that a long time was taken by psychology for emerging as a scientific discipline in the first place. This fact in itself also reveals the difficulties that are present in understanding human emotions and thoughts. With the passage of time, the behaviorists started to adopt scientific methodologies in controlled lab experiments and rejected any non-observable or subconscious forces to be the cause of behavior (Machado and Silva, 2007). Regarding the present goals of psychology, they can be described as:
In case most of the subject matter of psychology it remains unobservable and not capable of being measured, then it is not possible to test the hypothesis related with these. On the other hand, the intention in case of science is to be objective, positivistic and value free. Therefore it allows for the discernment of the truths regarding the subject being studied. In case of psychology, it may be difficult to maintain an objective and value free study. The reason is that scientists-practitioners may have their own biases and they can have their own views regarding the cultural and other matters that may be considered to be significant factors. Some of the issues that need to be considered in this regard include if it is possible to have completely objective study and if this scientific approach to words the study of humans can be considered as appropriate or desirable (Lilienfeld, 2012). As a result of ethical considerations, the amount of psychological experimentation has been limited severely, that can be conducted directly on the human beings. The result is that extrapolation of the findings derived from the experiments undertaken on animals to human beings and also retrospective studies are generally used for providing the psychologists with what may often result in poor evidence and science (Lamiell, 2013).
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The evidence which is present in support of the idea that psychology needs to be considered as a science also needs to be examined in the present work. Science is based on empiricism paradigm in which the observations and experiences are postulated or the data collected by the senses, is considered as the main method of achieving knowledge. Therefore in this case, empirical methods are used for achieving factual information that is capable of agreeing on and when such information is immune from any effect by the researchers. Therefore been a scientific approach has been adopted, there is a need for using double blind experiments wherever possible and the subjectivity also needs to be reduced to bare minimum (Laland and Brown, 2006). The reason behind this requirement is that in case of science, the research ideal is to assume that all the observations made in the study are neutral and have not been impacted by any bias, knowledge or the culture of the researchers (Jacobs et al., 2014).
According to scientific tradition, mainly the research relies on the collection of objective empirical data from the persons taking part in the study. For instance, such data may be collected with the help of performance tasks, experiments, observation or questionnaires. Hence it is possible to argue that psychology can also be described as a science as there are a number of researchers who rely upon the scientific method of hypothetico-deductivism. In case of this methodology, emphasis is laid on the verification of hypothesis or its rejection by statistical analysis and using significance testing. The result is that in case of a number of psychological disciplines, there is a need present for the researchers to test a hypothesis or theory by making observational predictions that are capable of being tested empirically. At the same time, there is also need to conduct direct statistical analysis in case of the data and if the predictions made in the beginning are supported by the data, then it can be considered that the result confirms the theory in such a case. But if the data does not support the predictions the particular study is going to be considered as disconfirming the theory being tested (Holt, 2001).
Arguments against psychology as a science
After going through the arguments that have been given in support of psychology as a science, it becomes imperative to consider the arguments which have been given against this notion. In this regard one significant factor that needs to be considered while deciding the scientific nature of psychology is that in view of the complexity of human behavior and functioning of the brain, it is nearly impossible to control all extraneous variables. For example in case of a study that is being undertaken for examining the relationship present between eating habits and depression, the psychologist will not be in a position to really control the childhood experiences of the individual. Apart from it, most of the research undertaken in psychology does not use the double-blind procedures even if the studies, those are of a clinical nature, where it is going to be advantageous to do so. Therefore it is also probable that a researcher may not be in a position to become totally sure that the hypothesis is true as the psychological processes take place in the mind and cannot be accessed readily (Hatfield, 2002).
Another interesting point present in this regard is that even if the hypothetico-deductive approach that has been adopted towards the research is highly valued by a number of signed this and psychologist, it has also faced significant criticism. In this regard an argument has been made that approaching the research with the help of principles related with empiricism means that the role played by culture and language in case of psychological processes are going to be neglected. Moreover, in view of the nature of empirical research, it can be said that generalizations are present while studying a particular population and therefore it may not be capable of representing all the groups. Under the circumstances it may become difficult to reconcile psychology with science. The reason is that great variations are present in the human behavior different circumstances and over the time.
It can be argued in the end that it is not possible to consider psychology as a science when the confirmation bias is so widely present in this field. However it is natural that the humanistic psychologists are going to approach this debate from a different perspective and are going to completely reject psychology as a science. According to date claim, the emphasis of mainstream psychology is on lab experiments and objectivity has been achieved at the cost of real understanding the experiences of individuals and their free will. Hence the humanistic psychologists are not going to accept that psychology is going to benefit from being a science. Instead the psychologists are required to try to understand human behavior from the viewpoint of the individual. Under these circumstances, it can be said that up to a large extent, psychology can be treated as a science. However the focus of psychology remains on the processes of human mind and behavior. However this does not means that the potential value of the subject can be ignored. Therefore, psychology can be described as the subject whose scientific identity is going to remain a cause of controversy.
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Lilienfeld, S. O. (2012). Public skepticism of psychology: Why many people perceive the study of human behavior as unscientific. American Psychologist, 67, 111129
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Penrose, R. (1994). Shadows of the mind: A search for the missing science of consciousness. New York: Oxford University Press.
Pérez-Álvarez, M. (2009). The four causes of behavior: Aristotle and skinner. International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 9, 4557.
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