Is Psychology a science?

  • #1
Is Psychology a science?
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  • #2
russ_watters
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What do you think? Is this an essay topic?
 
  • #3
GCT
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I recently read an Wired article that claims theory is no longer required and is going to be replaced by statistical analysis ; while this statement is completely ridiculous in relevance to the major sciences it seems to be the prevalent trend that is happening to the field of psychology. The field of science itself is completely based on theory especially that of the quantum realm where the founding theories of Planck and others precede the experimental.
Machines that generate statistical results have there origins in theory.

This is why Psychology is not a science ; it is statistics and mostly used to provide a sense of direction for big business and their endeavors in the marketplace.
 
  • #4
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I'll hack this thread a little bit :tongue2:
theory is no longer required and is going to be replaced by statistical analysis ; [...] this statement is completely ridiculous in relevance to the major sciences
Let me mention : a prominent theorist (particle physics) became head of one of the major institution in France, encompassing astrophysics, particle and nuclear physics, as well as instrumentation which goes with it. When prompted to tell us what he thinks about experimental investigations in hadronic physics, he said (I am only slightly simplifying) that it was no longer necessary, since within a few years from now, all experiments can be done on lattice computations.

I would never have guessed that such a major intellectual person could decently, publically, claim that experiments are no longer necessary to physics. What he meants, really, is that all efforts should be put on very high energy. But still, I find it fortunate that the rest of the community was reasonable enough to prevent this move.
 
  • #5
This is why Psychology is not a science ; it is statistics and mostly used to provide a sense of direction for big business and their endeavors in the marketplace.

It's used for alot more that big business. Criminology, Clinical Psychology, Education, Public Health, ect..
 
  • #6
GCT
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It's used for alot more that big business. Criminology, Clinical Psychology, Education, Public Health, ect..

Agreed however not as useful as it is in big business ; e.g. people as still sick and crime is still prevalent.
 
  • #7
Evo
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I'll let this thread stay since people have responded.

scientiavore, in the future, you need to state your thoughts and be clear on exactly what you expect to discuss. Please do not post a single sentence question and say "discuss".

And if this is a homework assignment, you need to post in Homework Help > Other Sciences.

If you don't make a significant contribution to this thread today, it will be deleted.
 
  • #8
JasonRox
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mostly used to provide a sense of direction for big business and their endeavors in the marketplace.

Um... like chemisty, biology, physics, etc...

According to that statement, I have no idea what you consider a science.
 
  • #9
GCT
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Um... like chemisty, biology, physics, etc...

According to that statement, I have no idea what you consider a science.




If you've read my post the topic of theory is mentioned ; all of the fields you've mentioned above are rooted in theory. Psychology is not.
 
  • #10
arildno
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Psychology, in the shape of clinical psychology, is a rather "squishy" science.

It is not enough quantified, its basic categories often muddled, and just about the only sound work done there is in the extremely laborious quantification and statistical handling of data.

Some excellent work has come out of this, though:
Personality profiling, in particular with respect to sociopaths et. al, has gotten many good results.


There are other branches of psychology, though, that certainly classifies like science, for example studies of perception and learning.
 
  • #11
marcus
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Is Psychology a science?
Discuss

Doesn't it depend on what you call Psychology?

Some psychologists study how the brain works. they put in electrodes. or they watch real-time scans while the subject does things. maybe you call this experimental neurophysiology? whatever. if they are learning how the mind works that is science----just as much as studying how a star works or how geological tectonic plates move.

Where is the dividing line between brain neurophysiology and psych? I don't think you can make any but a vague temporary distinction based on current methodology. Boundaries shift.

But some other kinds of psychologists are more like practitioners of a craft or skilled trade IMO. They are skilled at identifying certain patterns of behavior, they know proven ways to communicate with people showing certain behavior, they know ways to control and things to advise-----accumulated lore, method, communication, control techniques. Just like barbers know about hair, they know about the mind.

It is not always applied in a clinical situation. It is not always about problem behavior. It can be applied in more everyday context----advertising, political consultancy, motivation, the military etc etc.

That kind of psychology, to me, has more the marks of an applied science, or a craft, or accumulated folklore based on generations of practical experience. It isn't necessarily based on a verifiable theory. What passes for theory may be more just descriptive taxonomy and schematics. It doesn't strike me as science, exactly.

I wouldn't expect the theoretical underpinnings of practical applied psych to be very consistent or complete. Even if they do experiments and circulate questionnaires and use a lot of statistics.

But I don't know. I never took a course in it. All I can say is you asked for a discussion and I'm trying to tell you my viewpoint, and I think it depends hugely on which psychologists you look at. Some of them are doing great science, IMHO. I read about exciting new developments all the time.

Chimps visual memory. Flash ten numbers on a screen for a moment, and the chimp can point at the dark screen to where each of the ten numbers was, in order.
Chimps controling a robot arm by thinking about it (implant electrodes)
Reversing symptoms of Parkinson Disease in humans by low level electrical stimulation.
Discovering which parts and formations in the brain have to do with emotion, memory, vision, control of arms and hands, attention, problem solving etc.
Being able to watch those areas light up in a human subject placed in an experimental situation. What I see is rapidly growing understanding of the brain as an organ.
================
E. so glad to see you back in action!
 
  • #12
Moonbear
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The similar threads feature is really handy, because I knew we'd discussed similar topics before. For example:
https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=169352

The answer to the question is yes...and no. It depends on the branch of psychology. There is very scientific psychology research being conducted, and then there are very unscientific psychologists as practitioners who make the scientists want to bang their heads on the wall. At various universities, some psychology departments are making more progress than others toward a more scientific approach to the discipline and what is taught to the students. In some, there are still great schisms between faculty who adhere to scientific approaches and those who do not.
 
  • #13
Astronuc
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. . . . Psychology . . . , it is statistics and mostly used to provide a sense of direction for big business and their endeavors in the marketplace.
Manipulation of peoples' thinking is certainly one aspect of applied psychology. Industrial psychology is used to make people more productive. Advertising/commercials are used to influence people buying habits.

Statistics is just one tool used psychology.

But then some psychologists are interested in helping people help themselves to overcome axiety, depression and some negative mental state.

I think arildno gave an excellent response with respect to describing the breath of psychology. There is applied psychology and there is the more theoretical side, and the relationship would be somewhat analogous to engineering/applied physics and physics.


One could have simply look in an online dictionary and found a comment such as the science of mind and behavior.

One could find a definition of science - which involves a systematized process of inquiry, learning and understanding some facet of one's environment or oneself. Science is also the knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method. If this applies to psychology, then psychology is a science.
 
  • #14
GCT
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Manipulation of peoples' thinking is certainly one aspect of applied psychology. Industrial psychology is used to make people more productive. Advertising/commercials are used to influence people buying habits.

Statistics is just one tool used psychology.

But then some psychologists are interested in helping people help themselves to overcome axiety, depression and some negative mental state.

I think arildno gave an excellent response with respect to describing the breath of psychology. There is applied psychology and there is the more theoretical side, and the relationship would be somewhat analogous to engineering/applied physics and physics.


One could have simply look in an online dictionary and found a comment such as the science of mind and behavior.

One could find a definition of science - which involves a systematized process of inquiry, learning and understanding some facet of one's environment or oneself. Science is also the knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method. If this applies to psychology, then psychology is a science.

This is somewhat of the argument that I was referring to ; theories are stated and then tested throughout the time until they are disproven irregardless there are plenty of theories which have survived throughout time. Not so for psychology with which most of the theories have disregarded .
 
  • #15
Astronuc
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This is somewhat of the argument that I was referring to ; theories are stated and then tested throughout the time until they are disproven irregardless there are plenty of theories which have survived throughout time. Not so for psychology with which most of the theories have disregarded .
I the last sentence incomplete? What have theories disregarded? Or if one claims that the field of psychology retains old theories which have been invalidated, please provide evidence of such a claim.
 
  • #16
GCT
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I the last sentence incomplete? What have theories disregarded? Or if one claims that the field of psychology retains old theories which have been invalidated, please provide evidence of such a claim.

Jung , Freud for example mainstream psychology has disregarded most of these old theories in favor of diagnosis e.g. DSM and statistical research.
 
  • #17
Moonbear
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Jung , Freud for example mainstream psychology has disregarded most of these old theories in favor of diagnosis e.g. DSM and statistical research.

I think you're correct there, and the reason you're seeing it is because psychology is better incorporating scientific methodology now than it did back in Freud's time. The old non-scientific "theories" are getting more properly tested now using scientific approaches and disproven. It's moving out of the realm of philosophy and more into hypothesis driven science.
 
  • #18
Math Is Hard
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Jung , Freud for example mainstream psychology has disregarded most of these old theories in favor of diagnosis e.g. DSM and statistical research.

I agree with your Jung and Freud comment. I've almost completed my degree in cognitive science/psychology, and in the entire time I have spent about 5 minutes reading about Freud (just for historical perspective), and 0 minutes reading about Jung. I also have spent very little time studying mental disorders and diagnoses. I'm more interested in how learning and performance can be optimized in normal, healthy people.

There are many models in psychology that are predictive of behavior, and these are frequently tested under different circumstances to see how they hold up under different manipulations. Computational models are very popular these days, and much is borrowed from math and engineering. For instance, I just finished a course that applied signal detection theory to psychophysical research methods.

Vision psychologists have interesting models of how the eyes and brain do edge detection and completion. Psychophysicists have robust models describing sensory discrimination. Decision-making and reasoning researchers employ Bayesian and non-Bayesian models in predicting choices and bias. For educational researchers, the "learning curve" is a model of how people change in their pickup of information with practice. The list goes on.

Behavioural measures are still very much employed in research, but intropsective measures are probably used much less now (I don't see them very often). Physiological measures are the hot new trend (fMRI, EEG, etc) and are often used to seek converging evidence for what has been found in behavioral studies.
 
  • #19
I agree with your Jung and Freud comment. I've almost completed my degree in cognitive science/psychology, and in the entire time I have spent about 5 minutes reading about Freud (just for historical perspective), and 0 minutes reading about Jung. I also have spent very little time studying mental disorders and diagnoses. I'm more interested in how learning and performance can be optimized in normal, healthy people.

There are many models in psychology that are predictive of behavior, and these are frequently tested under different circumstances to see how they hold up under different manipulations. Computational models are very popular these days, and much is borrowed from math and engineering. For instance, I just finished a course that applied signal detection theory to psychophysical research methods.

Vision psychologists have interesting models of how the eyes and brain do edge detection and completion. Psychophysicists have robust models describing sensory discrimination. Decision-making and reasoning researchers employ Bayesian and non-Bayesian models in predicting choices and bias. For educational researchers, the "learning curve" is a model of how people change in their pickup of information with practice. The list goes on.

Behavioural measures are still very much employed in research, but intropsective measures are probably used much less now (I don't see them very often). Physiological measures are the hot new trend (fMRI, EEG, etc) and are often used to seek converging evidence for what has been found in behavioral studies.

I was going to say.. my friend is working in Cognative Science at UCI and even though he uses quite a bit of "real science" in his work, he's focusing primarily on optics I believe, it's still considered "social science".
 
  • #20
Math Is Hard
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I was going to say.. my friend is working in Cognative Science at UCI and even though he uses quite a bit of "real science" in his work, he's focusing primarily on optics I believe, it's still considered "social science".

At my UC, all of the undergrad psych majors are classified as life science majors. I'm not sure that there is a similar sort of classification at the graduate and post-doc level, but I could be wrong.

How's he liking it over there?
 
  • #21
Doesn't it depend on what you call Psychology?

Some psychologists study how the brain works. they put in electrodes. or they watch real-time scans while the subject does things. maybe you call this experimental neurophysiology? whatever. if they are learning how the mind works that is science----just as much as studying how a star works or how geological tectonic plates move.

Where is the dividing line between brain neurophysiology and psych? I don't think you can make any but a vague temporary distinction based on current methodology. Boundaries shift.

But some other kinds of psychologists are more like practitioners of a craft or skilled trade IMO. They are skilled at identifying certain patterns of behavior, they know proven ways to communicate with people showing certain behavior, they know ways to control and things to advise-----accumulated lore, method, communication, control techniques. Just like barbers know about hair, they know about the mind.

It is not always applied in a clinical situation. It is not always about problem behavior. It can be applied in more everyday context----advertising, political consultancy, motivation, the military etc etc.

That kind of psychology, to me, has more the marks of an applied science, or a craft, or accumulated folklore based on generations of practical experience. It isn't necessarily based on a verifiable theory. What passes for theory may be more just descriptive taxonomy and schematics. It doesn't strike me as science, exactly.

I wouldn't expect the theoretical underpinnings of practical applied psych to be very consistent or complete. Even if they do experiments and circulate questionnaires and use a lot of statistics.

But I don't know. I never took a course in it. All I can say is you asked for a discussion and I'm trying to tell you my viewpoint, and I think it depends hugely on which psychologists you look at. Some of them are doing great science, IMHO. I read about exciting new developments all the time.

Chimps visual memory. Flash ten numbers on a screen for a moment, and the chimp can point at the dark screen to where each of the ten numbers was, in order.
Chimps controling a robot arm by thinking about it (implant electrodes)
Reversing symptoms of Parkinson Disease in humans by low level electrical stimulation.
Discovering which parts and formations in the brain have to do with emotion, memory, vision, control of arms and hands, attention, problem solving etc.
Being able to watch those areas light up in a human subject placed in an experimental situation. What I see is rapidly growing understanding of the brain as an organ.
================
E. so glad to see you back in action!

I thought that biologists were the ones in charge of studying human cognition and behaviour, neuroscience and sociobiology respectively, but I had often seen psychologists names appear on what seem to me like scientific books about those subjects.

I think the problem is that most psychologists don't work on research, and they are giving those special few that do a bad name, while I don't known much about the subject, my first impressions with normal psychologists were not good, (big generalization here) they never give straight answers, they look arrogant, like to profile people, and while I think it's reasonable to expect some of their "guesses" to be correct, they often offer no evidence nor they even attempt to prove their big generalizations.

Moreover, stuff like NLP, hypnosis, etc.. are giving them a bad name.

Science is elegant and can be seen as an integrated whole, psychology seems fragmented with many different school of thoughts, the study of the mind is a very interesting a complex subject, it should not be taken lightly.

Math Is Hard said:
(...)
I'm more interested in how learning and performance can be optimized in normal, healthy people.
(...)
Any tips?
 
  • #22
Dale
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IMO, science is the scientific method. Any time you are using the scientific method you are doing science. As such there is certainly some psychology that is science, and some that is not.
 
  • #23
At my UC, all of the undergrad psych majors are classified as life science majors. I'm not sure that there is a similar sort of classification at the graduate and post-doc level, but I could be wrong.

How's he liking it over there?

Hard to say with him. He's a lifer and getting to that point where he seems to be wondering just what it is he's going to be doing with himself. Its more or less like a job for him working as a teachers aid, giving lectures, and attending confrences. He doesn't seem to have any complaints but neither does he seem terribly excited or happy about anything.
 
  • #24
marcus
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I thought that biologists were the ones in charge of studying human cognition and behaviour, neuroscience and sociobiology respectively, but I had often seen psychologists names appear on what seem to me like scientific books about those subjects.

Thanks for responding, scientiavore. Isn't evolutionary sociobiology great?! I'm delighted by their using mathematical models to discover how social behavior in various species could have evolved. And also, along with that, uncovering the partly genetic basis of social behavior in various species.

I see Math Is Hard reported that at her university the undergrad psych majors are classified as in Life Science which basically means biology. This agrees with what you said, at least partly.

The boundaries in Academia are always shifting. There is no perfectly natural way to divide knowledge up, at least on a permanent basis. And academic groups have turf wars, too. and there are always funding issues.

the sciences of trying to understand how the brain works, and also human behavior, might be going to explode because the field is so big. to understand the brain is probably as big a job as understanding the universe or anything else that is really complicated.

we probably can't foresee what shape the science is going to take, or what the different fields and subfields and methodologies are going to be.

basically it seems like a bummer to represent the whole field by a sector of psychology professionals that are applied (non research) people trained to diagnose, counsel, and control behavior. society evidently needs them, so it trains them and hires them. But that group is not the whole scene, scientifically speaking, and moreover probably a lot of them are really nice people when they are off work.

IMO we shouldn't even WANT such people to be scientists. What is so good about being a scientist?
We should want those practical psych people to be effective, and kind, and moral, and perceptive, and skillful, and good team players.

So I guess my answer to your question "Is Psychology a science?" would be that the applied psychology people are not scientists, and we shouldn't expect them to be. We need them to have other qualifications.

And on the other hand a research scientist is a different kind of critter that you expect different things of, and just because he or she is a good research scientist you wouldn't necessarily want them counseling your daughter. Some excellent research scientists can be total jerks or have weird political beliefs. This is a very personal view I'm stating and not to be taken too seriously :smile:

So some kinds of Psychology are not science but we shouldn't necessarily disrespect them on that account.

It was nice of you to reply, scientiavore. The fact is is looks to me as if most of the other people on this thread actually KNOW more about this than I do, because they have direct experience with life sciences and psychology. Some are studying psychology.
It might be interesting to ask and find out what stuff the psychology students are actually studying and learning. I don't mean statistics. Everybody has to take required stat courses. I mean the really exciting squishy stuff. What is the most fascinating thing you learned this past semester. Did you take part in any experiments with human or animal subjects. etc etc.
 
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  • #25
symbolipoint
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YES! Distinguish between physical sciences and behavioral sciences.
 

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