I’ve been studying psychology at college for the past few months and have found it very interesting to learn about so far. From Sigmund Freud to B.F. Skinner there are many different views on the human mind. In one of my lectures recently we were asked “To what extent can Psychology be regarded as a scientific subject?” and to share our thoughts with the group. There are many different viewpoints out there, this is what I shared with my lecture group.
To what extent can Psychology be regarded as a scientific subject?
Scientists and psychologists have been debating this question for years and there are many differing views on both sides. I think it’s fair to say it has been a topic of discussion since Psychology became a subject matter. It is still being debating today, however it is unlikely there will be a definitive answer to this question. Unfortunately there are too many variables that would need to be covered and analysed to meet an informed conclusion. Which would be very time consuming.
There are some which believe and actively support that Psychology should be classed as a science. Others disagree, believing it is not science as many theories are not proven objectively.
The Oxford English dictionary describes science as:-
the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
By this definition Psychology is a scientific subject, in my opinion. However not in the same category as sciences like Biology or Chemistry. Psychology should be classified as a ‘Social Science’ like Sociology.
Psychology deals with a lot of its theories and studies scientifically and ideas about the world can be proven objectively. An example of this is the behaviourist approach to Psychology which uses experiments to prove its theories, e.g. operant conditioning. However there are other aspects of Psychology that cannot be proven in scientific or objective manner e.g. The psychoanalytic assumption of the unconscious mind. This is why I’d classify Psychology as a ‘Social Science’. It deals with both social issues that may need subjective methods to support them as well as scientific factors, for example genetics.
Objective or Subjective
If areas of Psychology can be supported or proven scientifically, why not all? It may depend on the subject matter in that some aspects/topics that are discussed in Psychology need a subjective approach to them where as others need an objective one, one example for this is human emotions, which would need a subjective approach to it for the factor that no human being is the same and most human beings react to situations differently to others where as things like depression and schizophrenia may need a more scientific and objective approach to them, e.g. the biological aspects of them, which can be tested in an objective manner. Another factor that would need to be considered is the type of perspective that is being used to ‘prove’ the theory and/or study, for example perspectives like that of the Psychoanalytic and the Humanistic would need subjective methods to support their views as they primarily deal with the thoughts and feelings of the individual, i.e. a case study may be used as a research method, where as the Behaviourist perspective would usually need experiments (usually done on animals) to set out to ‘prove’ their theories/studies.
As well as the two factors I have already mentioned there are quite a few more, these include the intended use of the findings, e.g. will they be used to help in a therapy session or to suggest how a child learns, whether there is a lack of evidence for the particular theory/study, e.g. the cognitive approach, i.e. mind processes and the unconscious mind, including the Id, Ego and Superego etc, whether there are too many explanations for a certain area, e.g. the causes for an illness like depression or schizophrenia, as well as the factor that people are not constant which is why there may be a variation in the results found, this could be a reason for why a subjective method may be used as all human beings are different, i.e. their emotions, which can change etc.
As a result of the many variables surrounding the question of “To what extent can Psychology be regarded as a scientific subject?” it is left to individual interpretation and it is unlikely that a definite answer will ever be settled upon because of peoples different opinions/view points