For many years now there has been an ongoing debate about whether the field of psychology should be considered a science.
As you’d expect there are psychologists who argue that it is, and traditional scientists that would argue that it is not.
So where does the truth lie.
Well… somewhere in between is probably realistic, although there are scientists that would refuse to grant even that much to psychologists.
So lets start by looking at where psychology could be considered a science – and that is in the research side of things.
One of the great aspects to science is the rigorous testing of theories and hypotheses using an objective, data driven approach.
So wouldn’t it make sense that if psychologists that were engaged in research studies using those very same principles, then it would be considered scientific in nature?
The truth is that there are definitely psychological research studies being done which are very scientific in nature.
Some even use high-tech computer equipment to analyze the relationship between brain activity and human behavior.
Unfortunately not all psychologists carry out studies that are so scientific in nature – not because they’re manipulating their research in any way, but because their research is being done into human behavior as opposed to something physical as with scientific areas like physics or chemistry.
So when talking about the scientific validity of psychological studies they could probably be viewed on a continuum – some are going to be far more scientific than others.
Now to the flip side – the argument against psychology as science. As you’d expect, the scientists have gotten quite ‘scientific’ in their explanations as to why it’s not a science.
One of the common arguments used is that in science, the research is aimed towards some practical application.
So for example, scientists are doing research into the causes of cancer, so that a cure can be found.
Or research is being done into alternative energy sources so that we can move away from our current, carbon based options.
In psychology there is far less of a connection between the research and its practical application.
While there are definitely studies that allow for breakthroughs in how clinical and counseling psychologists treat their patients, there are also many studies done which are not followed through into practice.
Again this would be seen on a continuum – research into educational psychology often has great benefit in a practical setting, whereas research into group behavior in social settings may not.
Another argument often put forward has to do with the subject matter. Science is about studying the world around us in the psychical sense. Psychology is about studying the human mind, and in particular human behavior.
Because human behavior is largely based on beliefs, this makes it far from a scientific subject matter, and impossible to categorize in a scientific way.
So while the argument will probably rage on for as long as we live, it would seem that while parts of psychology could be classified as being somewhat scientific in nature, large parts of it cannot.