Advanced search

to wonder if Psychology is a "real" science or not?

(44 Posts)
floraeasy Sat 15-Apr-17 18:34:48

I never used to question it really. The only science I have ever done is my A-Level Biology a million moons ago. But I seem to be hearing more and more about this. I suppose I was curious the first time I heard the argument and now I am seeing more of it on the Internet (Carl Jung would say it was synchronicity, I suppose - I've heard of that!)

Anyway, I imagine there are Psychologists and other people who have graduated in the other Sciences here too.

Have you heard this argument and what do you think of it? I can give more detail on what I've heard, but maybe this is commonly known to you already. Basically, it's stuff like "how can Psychologists possibly measure happiness" and that sort of thing.

Would be interested in your thoughts and conclusions.

newtlover Sat 15-Apr-17 18:39:14

what do you think a science is?

LadyLoveYourWhat Sat 15-Apr-17 18:45:25

My DS has just started his psychology GCSE syllabus, and I did a first year psychology option when doing my physics degree, so I'm no expert, but it seems to me DS is learning a lot about designing experiments, there's also loads of stats in psychology. The way that we learn and the way the brain works for example seem to have a lot of science in - but maybe popular/Internet psychology isn't quite the same?

LordCake Sat 15-Apr-17 18:47:52

Psychology is a science. What else would
It be?

gamerwidow Sat 15-Apr-17 18:48:08

I think Psychology could be argued to meet the OED definition of science below, ergo I think it is a science.

"The intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment"

Cannaeshoveyergranny Sat 15-Apr-17 18:53:43

Lots of experiments and statistical analysis in my psychology degree so definitely a BSc!

SpitefulMidLifeAnimal Sat 15-Apr-17 18:55:47

Mine too, Cannae. Lots of maths (thank god for SPSS!) and neurobiology.

Parisinthespring Sat 15-Apr-17 18:56:39

The government put psychology as part of sciences to boost science grades nationally. In terms of the real question 'is psychology a science?' I've taught many a great lesson this over the years. There's no right answer by the way, just a long debate.

TrollTheRespawnJeremy Sat 15-Apr-17 18:57:02

I think psychology is a relatively new science and thus new developments are being discovered/disputed daily.

I think it is very important to recognise the issues with replication of psychological tests.

It is a science- but one we know relatively little about.

0live Sat 15-Apr-17 18:57:15

The OP sounds like an essay question

I8toys Sat 15-Apr-17 18:57:25

Did my psychology BSc 25 years ago and as Cannaes says - loads of statistics needed to be used to prove your findings - hated it. So much theory and biology learnt as well that I can remember!

SummerKelly Sat 15-Apr-17 19:04:44

I did four science A levels then went to Uni to study psychology and found it frustratingly lacking in robustness in its conclusions. That was many years ago though. Like many other things I think it can suffer from low sample sizes (particularly with some of the more recent neuroscience experiments), a lack of diversity in subjects for research (Uni students) and like many academic disciplines a failure to report studies without positive findings.

I wonder whether you can also argue that sociology is a science if psychology is. That also involves experiments and SPSS!

floraeasy Sat 15-Apr-17 19:06:57

This is the kind of article I mean:

Why can we definitively say that? Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability.

Happiness research is a great example of why psychology isn't science. How exactly should "happiness" be defined? The meaning of that word differs from person to person and especially between cultures. What makes Americans happy doesn't necessarily make Chinese people happy. How does one measure happiness? Psychologists can't use a ruler or a microscope, so they invent an arbitrary scale. Today, personally, I'm feeling about a 3.7 out of 5. How about you?

The failure to meet the first two requirements of scientific rigor (clear terminology and quantifiability) makes it almost impossible for happiness research to meet the other three. How can an experiment be consistently reproducible or provide any useful predictions if the basic terms are vague and unquantifiable? And when exactly has there ever been a reliable prediction made about human behavior? Making useful predictions is a vital part of the scientific process, but psychology has a dismal record in this regard. Just ask a foreign policy or intelligence analyst.

To be fair, not all psychology research is equally wishy-washy. Some research is far more scientifically rigorous. And the field often yields interesting and important insights.

But to claim it is "science" is inaccurate. Actually, it's worse than that. It's an attempt to redefine science. Science, redefined, is no longer the empirical analysis of the natural world; instead, it is any topic that sprinkles a few numbers around. This is dangerous because, under such a loose definition, anything can qualify as science. And when anything qualifies as science, science can no longer claim to have a unique grasp on secular truth.

That's why scientists dismiss psychologists. They're rightfully defending their intellectual turf.

Not an essay question for me, LOL! I am waaaaay past that. If I learn anything at all from here on out, I might have a go at French (nothing formal).

blueskyinmarch Sat 15-Apr-17 19:07:07

It can be either arts or science. I did a psychology degree and could choose if I wanted a BA or a BSc. I opted for a BA as I already had a BSc. grin

JDelanysCleanHorse Sat 15-Apr-17 19:15:20

When I was checking out university's with my ds(18) we sat in on an hour long talk about their course on optometry. At the end a lady in the audience asked what a-levels were required. The lecturer said they needed at least two science and that psychology was not a science.

YouTheCat Sat 15-Apr-17 19:16:02

I have a Bsc in Psychology.

It's, mainly, common sense and huge piles of crap. Most data can be tweaked to deliver the desired results. Most sample sizes are just not big enough to actually be conclusive. Massive waste of 3 years of my life.

Etymology23 Sat 15-Apr-17 19:18:50

I think it can be either - I've done both psychology and biology at degree level, and I think chunks of psychology are very much less rigorous than the work I studied during my biology degree. However, other chunks can be quite rigorous, requiring proper statistical analysis etc. Overall I would classify it as a science, because it is more like a science than an arts subject, but it can be extremely width washy at times. My friend who did a psych model as part of her arts degree thought it was vastly more scientific than the degree she was doing.

Ameliablue Sat 15-Apr-17 19:18:59

Yes it is a real science. A lot of research will be qualitative, such as asking people to rate how they feel but that doesn't mean it is not scientifically valid and in some research the is quantitative measurements such as levels of cortisol.

Genius46 Sat 15-Apr-17 19:20:22

Psychology is a social science but may be viewed as an art or engineering discipline also. Psychological research is a pure science. Applied psychology is partly art and engineering. I think that I decided (as an officer in the DES ad1969-4) to classify psychology as a science subject. I learnt and practiced psychological auditing achieving relief within 30 minutes. I also learnt Psychology A level. Sigmund Freud was a doctor who invented( not science) mental analysis based on ancient Greek myths.

inkydinky Sat 15-Apr-17 19:34:13

Psychology is a very broad field. Some parts of which absolutely meet the criteria for "science" and some do not. It's true that we are, more often than not, dealing with phenomena that cannot be observed, only subjectively reported (e.g. My own specialism, psychosis) but we spend a lot of time developing reliable measurement tools so that the trials etc we conduct are valid. The arguments above re sample size and subjects ring true for poor research (e.g. Undergraduate research projects) but that is not how research is conducted by professionals. I work on large multi centre randomised controlled trials and birth cohort studies which are absolutely designed to minimise bias. To my mind I am not a scientist but I am certainly 'scientific' in my approach.

QuackDuckQuack Sat 15-Apr-17 20:00:33

Psychology is a very broad subject and ranges from things that may well not be science (perhaps Freud and Jung would fit here, though I've never studied them) through to things that are undisputedly science. Psychology is a great way to teach the scientific method because it is so hard to design good quality studies. Dealing with human subjects brings in all sort of complications. Psychology can also engage more students than the stand range of Biology, Chemistry and Physics as it can be very relatable. Everyone who learns about Milgram's studies on obedience wonders what they would have done. If you're interested in Psychology I would recommend Opening Skinner's Box as an easy to read high interest book on some amazing studies.

floraeasy Sat 15-Apr-17 20:14:36

Very interesting discussion.

I will look at that link Quack.

I've often wondered, if I were to see a psychologist - I suppose they can't guarantee to help me as I am not a science exhibit, iyswim? I may be beyond help, even grin.

floraeasy Sun 16-Apr-17 09:11:08

One of the things I've been reading is that because psychology can't get the same results each time with experiments, that weakens it as a science.

But couldn't the same be said for biology? I don't think anyone would argue medicine wasn't science and yet we can never say for such how someone will respond to a medical treatment or surgery, for instance.

So does that mean only physics and chemistry are sciences? confused

PaulAnkaTheDog Sun 16-Apr-17 09:16:06

Was pretty much going to say what YouTheCat said, apart from I wasted four years.

oldbirdy Sun 16-Apr-17 09:31:51

I had this as an essay question when I started my degree!
Research psychology tries hard to be scientific but struggles from ethical issues, samples sizes and the muddiness of data (eg you can't deliberately mistreat a cohort of babies to see the impact on their developing brains so you have to use an already impacted group which makes controlling variables difficult etc). When I did my masters I wanted to use statistical analysis and found my supervisors were unable to supervise this as they were so used to studies using thematic analysis, is you ask a load of people the same questions and then group responses into themes in a more discursive analysis.

As a psychologist I think the primary skills are analysis (seeing beyond behaviours, identifying reasons why a situation has arisen) and reporting. I find my English literature A level with training in analysis particularly useful 😁

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, watch threads, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now »

Already registered? Log in with: