Define Psychology. Is psychology a science? Elucidate your answer with relevant arguments. DEFINITIONS OF PSYCHOLOGY Psychology has been defined in different ways. Some people have defined psychology as an art. Other people have defined psychology as a science. Many text books define psychology as the science of mind and behavior. Psychology involves the study of human nature and/or behavior. Different opinions come from different perspectives. Eric Pettifor at GIGANTOPITHECUS defines psychology as “an art which presents itself as science”.
H. D. Hamm Ph. D. ,who authored and maintains a site for Northern Michigan University,defines psychology as the “scientific study of the behavior of humans and animals”. Tom Bolling at the University of Washington in Seattle,Washington defines psychology as a science of description and application used for the “interpretation,prediction,development and improvement of human behavior” and that psychology was originally a branch of philosophy. Psychology is the science of the mind and behavior.
The word “psychology” comes from the Greek word psyche meaning “breath,spirit, soul” and the Greek word logia meaning the study of something. According to Medilexicon’s medical dictionary,psychology is “The profession (clinical psychology),scholarly discipline (academic psychology) and science (research psychology) concerned with the behavior of humans and animals and related mental and physiologic processes. ” Although psychology may also include the study of the mind and behavior of animals,in this article psychology refers mainly to humans.
IS PSYCHOLOGY A SCIENCE? The field of human psychology is a powerful force in modern society,and its influence is widespread–in language,law,the social contract and in our perception of ourselves. Because legal decisions are sometimes made based on psychology,decisions that might cause someone to be incarcerated or freed, it is important to establish whether psychology is a science or a simple belief system. We should determine whether psychology can be relied on to objectively support the social and legal policies that are based on it.
In modern times,such a serious public burden can only be borne by a field that is based on reason,on science. Which leads to our question:is human psychology steered by science? What Is Science? Science’s goal is to create reasonable explanations to describe reality–theories that rely,not on feelings or passions,but on evidence. Science defines “evidence” in a special way that will seem rather strict to someone only familiar with the legal definition. To science,evidence is gathered and evaluated according to some rigid rules,rules meant to assure that a scientific theory reflects reality to the best of our ability.
About scientific evidence,philosopher David Hume said,“No amount of observations of white swans can allow the inference that all swans are white,but the observation of a single black swan is sufficient to refuse that conclusion. ”This saying aptly summarizes the difference between scientific evidence and every other kind of evidence,and it dramatizes the difference between science and ordinary human thinking. When properly conducted,scientific investigations never draw conclusions directly from observations. | It’s very simple,really.
If a theory doesn’t make testable predictions,or if the tests are not practical,or if the tests cannot lead to a clear outcome that supports or falsifies the theory,the theory is not scientific. This may come as another surprise,but very little of the theoretical content of human psychology meets this scientific criterion. As to the clinical practice of psychology,even less meets any reasonable definition of “scientific. ” What Is Psychology? Psychology has as its aim the understanding of human behavior and as a secondary goal,the treatment of behaviors deemed abnormal.
Almost immediately upon the formation of the field,efforts were made to place psychological studies on a scientific basis. But this was never true,and it is not true today–human psychology has never risen to the status of a science,for several reasons: Ethical considerations In order for human psychology to be placed on a scientific footing,it would have to conduct strictly controlled experiments on humans,in some cases denying treatments or nutritional elements deemed essential to health and the researchers would not be able to tell the subjects whether or not they were receiving proper care.
This is obviously unethical behavior and it is a key reason why human psychology is not a science. Blurring of research,diagnosis and therapy This blurring is a problem in mainstream medicine as well as psychology,but it has a more severe form in psychology and psychiatry. It is more severe mostly because of the above ethical limitations,which preclude formal,strict scientific study on human subjects. As a result,ordinary clinical therapeutic treatments are actually a mixture of the three items listed above–research,diagnosis and therapy.
If the treatment is routine and uneventful,it is clinical therapy,which most people realize is entirely ineffectual in any case. Present-day Human Psychology One might think the dismal history of psychology and the recent revolution in psychoactive drugs might cause more than a few psychologists to wonder whether their field means anything at all. But the absence of a scientific foundation for psychology means that,like religion,it can prevail in the face of overwhelming evidence that it has no fixed,testable content.
The Architecture of Science Many psychologists have argued that,because psychological research is carried out and published and because that research meets many of the criteria describing valid scientific research,it therefore follows that psychology is itself scientific. But this conclusion sidesteps some evaluation points that can be used to determine whether the existence of scientific research within a field grants scientific status to the field itself. Here are the points: A.
Does research address and potentially falsify one or more core theories that define the field? B. Does research honor the null hypothesis? C. Does research have the potential to change how the field is practiced? Point A Does research address and potentially falsify one or more core theories that define the field? Does the scientifically valid result make psychology itself scientific? No,of course not. Why? Because,regardless of its practical significance,research doesn’t address or potentially falsify the core theories.
When psychologists perform research,some of the results pass muster as legitimate science,but unless those results address and potentially falsify the core theories of psychology,the research cannot confer a scientific status to psychology itself. To summarize,for criterion (A) to be satisfied,psychology must have a theoretical core of testable,falsifiable theories and ongoing research must address and potentially falsify those theories. On this ground,psychology fails Point A. Point B Does research honor the null hypothesis?
The “null hypothesis” is a scientific precept that says assertions are assumed to be false unless and until there is evidence to support them. In scientific fields the null hypothesis serves as a threshold-setting device to prevent the waste of limited resources on speculations and hypotheses that are not supported by direct evidence or reasonable extrapolations from established theory. Null hypothesis is not honored and psychology fails Point B. Point C Does research have the potential to change how the field is practiced?
The answer to this question is entangled with point B above. If clinical psychologists won’t honor the null hypothesis,if any idea can become clinical practice without a preliminary scientific evaluation for efficacy and safety,then psychological research can have no effect on clinical practice. As to the various clinical practices that have come and gone over the years,none of them arose from scientific research,to then make their way into clinics—so far,it has been the other way around,with researchers struggling to validate a clinical fait accompli.
And psychological research,regardless of its merit,has no measurable effect on clinical practice. Therefore psychology fails Point C. Conclusion Clinical psychology can make virtually any claim and offer any kind of therapy,because there is no practical likelihood of refutation–no clear criteria to invalidate a claim. This,in turn,is because human psychology is not a science,it is very largely a belief system similar to religion. Like religion,human psychology has a dark secret at its core–it contains within it a model for correct behavior,although that model is never directly acknowledged.
Buried within psychology is a nebulous concept that,if it were to be addressed at all,would be called “normal behavior. ”But do try to avoid inquiring directly into this normal behavior among psychologists–nothing is so certain to get you diagnosed as having an obsessive disorder. In the same way that everyone is a sinner in religion’s metaphysical playground,everyone is mentally ill in psychology’s long,dark hallway–no one is truly “normal. ”This means everyone needs psychological treatment.
This means psychologists and psychiatrists are guaranteed lifetime employment,although that must surely be a coincidence rather than a dark motive. But this avoids a more basic problem with the concept of “normal behavior. ”The problem with establishing such a standard,whether one does this directly as religion does or indirectly as psychology does,is that the activity confronts and attempts to contradict,something that really is a scientific theory–evolution.
In evolution,through the mechanism of natural selection,organisms adapt to the conditions of their environment and because the environment keeps changing,there is no particular genotype that can remain viable in the long term. The scientific evidence for evolution is very strong and evolution’s message is that only flexible and adaptable organisms survive in a world of constant change. Reduced to everyday,individual terms,it means no single behavioral pattern can for all time be branded “correct” or “normal. This is the core reason religion fails to provide for real human needs and this failing is shared by psychology–they both put forth a fixed behavioral model in a constantly changing world. The present state of psychology is the best answer to the original inquiry about whether it is scientific,because if human psychology were as grounded in science as many people believe,many of its historical and contemporary assertions would have been falsified by its own theoretical and clinical failures and it would be either replaced by something more scientifically rigorous or simply cast aside for now.
But this is all hypothetical,because psychology and psychiatry have never been based in science and therefore are free of the constraints placed on scientific theories. This means these fields will prevail far beyond their last shred of credibility,just as religions do and they will be propelled by the same energy source—belief. That pure,old-fashioned fervent variety of belief,unsullied by reason or evidence.