PSYCHOLOGY AS A SCIENCE

I. Advantages of science

A. Obtain objective facts

B. Correct mistakes

C. Build on previous discoveries

II. Key assumptions of science

A. Operationalism: Objective and accurate measurement of variables

B. Determinism: Any event can be explained by causal laws; there's a reason (cause) for everything

C. Invariance: Laws don't change

III. Are people too complex to be studied scientifically?

A. They react to being observed
(but that's a problem for other sciences as well, indeed physics has the Heisenberg uncertainty principle)

B. People may change over time: A challenge to the invariance assumption.

However, note the difference between changes in behavior versus change in laws (Ex: Clothing styles are different in different places and in different eras, but the underlying reasons for wearing those styles hasn't changed.)

C. Simple rules don't appear to apply to everyone: A challenge to the determinism assumption.

However, complex rules may work. Analogy: In spelling, "i before e" doesn't always work, but the more complex rule "i before e, except after c"does work.

D. Thoughts and feelings can't be directly observed: A challenge to operationalism.

However, thoughts and feelings can be inferred from objective behavior.

IV. Isn't psychology's inability to predict human behavior proof that psychology isn't a science?

A. Young science can't be expected to have all the answers--look at early chemists, and physicists, as well as current medical science.

B. We demand more specificity from psychologists than from other scientists. Asking what a person will do is like asking a physicist what will happen to a particular drop of water in the ocean.

C. Many factors influence human behavior: It is unrealistic to expect that people's behaviors can be predicted by knowing only one or two variables. (In physics, we can't predict behavior of subatomic particles even though such particles probably don't have free will. Why? Because we can't observe all the determinants of the particle's behavior at the same time). Similarly, few would say that the weather follows no rules whatsoever, yet meteorologists are often wrong because they haven't measured or are unaware of all the factors influencing the weather. Finally, as chaos theory explains, behavior that obeys laws may still be quite hard to predict.

D. Conclusion: Not knowing the cause doesn't mean thereisn't a cause.

V. Should psychology be a science?

A. Knowledge may be mis-used.
True of all sciences, but unlike other sciences, psychological research would not be restricted to those who had political or economic power, thus people should be able to defend themselves. (Imagine the difference between research developing a laser weapon or deadly germ versus a persuasion technique.) Furthermore, because people are so complex, it's unlikely that they can easily be controlled--even if scientists discovered exactly how every single factor in the universe affects human behavior.

B. Research on humans may be unethical.

1. In the past, there were some controversial studies, such as the Milgram studies. But even in the Milgram studies very few participants reported harm, vast majority glad to have participated.

2. Today, ethical safeguards: Federal laws and APA principles

C. Research on animals may be unethical.

1. 93% of psychological research done on humans

2. Most animal research with mice, rats, and gerbils (not the family pet)

3. Strict APA and federal guidelines

4. Animals and humans have benefitted from animal research.

D. Shouldn't some areas be left a mystery?

  1. The advantage of mystery: Not understanding love may make it seem more magical, exciting, and romantic.

  2. The disadvantage: Not understanding love makes it difficult to prevent divorce, break-up, and heart break.

  3. Even with research, it is unlikely that all the mystery will be removed from complex phenomena such as love.


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