Is psychology a science?

Is psychology a science?

Those of us who have devoted themselves to the discipline of psychology on many occasions have heard phrases that cast doubt on the fact that psychology is a science because of its subjectivity, or even expressions like "I have a lot of psychology, I see a person and I know how she isStatements such as these show us the great confusion that exists with regard to this discipline. This means that the majority of the population does not know what it means to study psychology.

To understand that psychology is a science, first you have to know what science isbecause there is a lot of confusion about it. Science is considered the undisputed bearer of truth, since it observes and describes reality. But reducing it to this definition can lead to multiple mistakes. Go further.

What is a science?

A science is a branch of knowledge that seeks to describe, explain, predict and modify a realm of reality. Psychology is about human behavior and cognitive processes. Science has a pragmatic objective, it seeks to understand certain events in order to use them to its advantage. To do this, she uses her own methodology, the scientific method.

The scientific method is a hypothetico-deductive strategy that makes it possible to draw conclusions and acquire certainties about the objective of the study. This method necessarily follows a series of steps, which are as follows:

  • problematization. This is the first part of the method. It is the search for a problem for which the reason for its appearance is unknown. For example, why do things fall to the ground or how does human learning unfold? These two questions are very generic, in science it will be necessary to work on a much more specific level, but they are good to understand what it means to look for a problem.
  • Hypothesis development. Through observation, deduction and bibliographic review, we can develop a series of hypotheses. This is to theorize about how the problem occurs. Hypotheses are neither true nor false, they are possibilities that want to be false.
  • Conduct of the experiment. Once we have the assumptions, the next step is to attack them to prove they are wrong. An experiment must be designed in which the above assumptions may be wrong. This experiment can be carried out in several ways, such as surveys, direct observations, experimental manipulations, etc.
  • Data analysis. After completion of the experiment, a statistical analysis of the data is performed. If it shows us that the assumptions are wrong, they are discarded. However, if we have not been able to deny them, they are considered to be proven. It is important to understand that you can never confirm a hypothesis because we can not access all the data and we always talk in terms of probability. The term "contrasted" only indicates that we have not been able to deny it for the moment.
  • Communication of results. This is the most important part of the scientific method, it would not make sense to discover something if we did not share it. By communicating the results, we are expanding our scientific knowledge, which can reveal new problems that need to be addressed in order to move forward. In addition, sharing an experiment allows other researchers to replicate it and find other evidence about these assumptions.

The key aspect of this process is to understand that science works by attacking its own assumptions. It is a way of reducing errors and avoiding the affirmation of immutable dogmas. By always leaving in doubt the proved hypotheses, science is in continuous verification. Thanks to this, we have a dynamic method that adapts to the new data that appears.

Another important question is the distinction some make between "hard science" and "soft science". Biology, physics or chemistry, which are the sciences that seem to be the most objective and easily observable, are called "hard sciences", but it is a mistake to think so. For example, just as in physics we deduce that gravity exists through observable events, in psychology we do the same with anxiety, emotion or learning processes. Even today, we know that the classic law of gravity was wrong. Science is not about saying what's going on, but why it's happening. And to do this, the "soft sciences" and the "hard sciences" use the same method.

Intuitive psychology and scientific psychology

We all generate intuitive theories of what is the world around us. It helps us stay in control and predict what will happen. Therefore, we have an intuitive psychology that tells us how we think others behave and why they do it. However, it would be a serious mistake to think that these beliefs are fundamentally correct.

This intuitive psychology is based on mental shortcuts formed by previous experiences. According to our education, our experiences and our personal history, we will have some way to see what is happening around us. These judgments are totally subjective and do not follow any scientific rigor, so they are part of our life but have nothing to do with the scientific discipline of psychology.

Scientific psychology is the opposite of this intuitive psychology. It does not rely on beliefs or value judgments to explain human behavior, but uses the scientific method and experimentation to collect objective data and interpret it. The various studies carried out gave rise to psychological constructions, supported by multiple empirical data.

A key aspect to understand, and that facilitates the understanding that psychology is a science, is to know the difference between opinion and interpretation. When we talk about opinion, we are referring to the beliefs we have because of our experience of one aspect of reality. For example, we can say that the human being is good and that society corrupts him because our experiences go hand in hand with him.

But the interpretation is very different: it involves analyzing, deciphering and explaining an event from scientifically obtained data. If we continue with the previous example, if the data shows us that the human being is neither good nor bad, we will have to interpret them from a different point of view that integrates all the information.

Scientific psychology is not a question of opinion, it can not be discussed in the same terms as intuitive psychology. This first is based on the interpretation of the evidence obtained and, therefore, its debate should take place between the different ways of giving meaning to the information obtained. In other words, the only way to refute the results of scientific research in psychology is to have objective data to refute them. Therefore, scientific psychology is part of the claim that psychology is a science.

To understand that psychology is a science, it is necessary to differentiate between intuitive psychology and scientific psychology.

Why do we believe that psychology is not a science?

We have seen that psychology uses the same methods and has the same validity and reliability as other sciences. But then, why are there so many doubts about whether psychology is a science or not? We will now examine three reasons which are the main causes of the questioning of the scientific value of psychology.

The first is the great confusion that exists about the concept of science. The majority of the population has a very vague definition in mind. This, together with the lack of knowledge of the instruments used to measure behavior and mental processes, leads to a categorization of psychology as subjective and unscientific.

The second reason is the pseudo-scientific practice derived from psychology. Unfortunately, around this discipline, there are many people who use the term "psychology" to refer to practices that do not use the scientific method. This means that most of the population mistakenly associates pseudoscience with psychology, although in reality they have nothing to do with each other. Examples are practices such as coaching, NLP or some parts of psychoanalysis.

And finally, another reason to explain this resistance that exists in assuming the evidence of psychology is that it may be due to the fact that it directly involves the human being. In physics, chemistry or other sciences, the results do not "bother" people and are easily accepted. But when we talk about the human being, the situation is different, because if the results go against intuitive beliefs, we quickly try to resolve this cognitive conflict because it is easier to ignore the evidence presented. than to restructure beliefs about it.

The confusion over the concept of science as well as pseudoscientific practices derived from psychology and the involvement of the human being as an object of study are the most important reasons that generate debate about whether psychology is a science.

Therefore, when we ask if psychology is a science, the answer is a resounding YES. We can not make the mistake of slowing down scientific progress by putting obstacles to this very important discipline in order to understand each other as a whole.

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