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The debate as to whether psychology is considered a science has drawn considerable attention since the inception of the discipline of psychology during the second half of the 19th century. Some have even stated that psychology is more than science. Other scholars have stated the debate is complicated because both psychology and science are multifaceted, and complex constructs; thus, a dichotomous approach to the issue involving yes and no answer to the issue is insufficient. This paper argues that psychology is not a science. To support this argument, the key elements of science are discussed, after which it is demonstrated that psychology fails to meet the criteria of a scientific discipline.

Attributes of Science

Redding outlined the key features associated with science, which include empirical evidence, objectivity, control, testing of hypothesis, replication, and predictability. Empirical evidence represents the data gathered using experiment or observation. Empirical evidence is not reliant on belief or argument; rather, observations and experiments are conducted cautiously and reported with sufficient detail to enable other investigators to repeat and validate the work. The objectivity criterion requires researchers to remain independent of their research, which demands that they should be wholly unbiased in their studies to ensure that the knowledge gained is not influenced by personal experiences and feelings. The control criteria requires the researcher to control all extraneous variables to be able to ascertain the cause and effect relationships. Hypothesis refers to a statement developed by a researcher prior to conducting an investigation to show the predicted outcomes based on existing theory. Replication denotes the degree to which a specific method can be replicated to ascertain whether the findings are consistent. The criterion of predictability requires scientists to have the ability to predict future behavioral patterns by relying on the findings reported in research.

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Psychology as not a Science

Whereas psychology has been frequently defined as the “scientific” study of mind processes and behavior, the raw data that psychologists rely on human behavior to illustrate the functioning of human brain. The fundamental criticism that scientists level against psychologists as being their peers is the fact that the discipline of psychology lacks direct observations. Mind represent the actions of brains. There are practical limitations when trying to observe the human mind and its functioning since the mind is an inaccessible aspect of nature. This implies that true physical evidence regarding the mind cannot be collected. As a result, practitioners in other scientific disciplines such as anatomy and medicine do not consider psychology to be in the same level as far as the merits of science are concerned.

Secondly, psychology is not considered a science because it does not satisfy the key requirements of scientific fields including a terminology that is clearly defined; experimental conditions that are extremely controlled; reproducibility/replication; quantifiability; and testability and predictability. A notable example indicating why psychology fails to meet this key requirements of science is happiness research. There are no exact definitions of happiness. The definition of happiness various between individuals and cultures. Additionally, it is extremely problematic to measure happiness. Psychologists cannot utilize a microscope or a ruler; thus, they rely in an arbitrary scale to measure ambiguous constructs in an attempt to achieve quantifiability. Failing to satisfy the requirements of quantifiability and clear terminology (needed to achieve scientific rigor) makes it nearly impossible for the psychological research on happiness to meet the requirements of extremely controlled experiments, testability and predictability, and replication. For instance, it is not possible for an experiment to report consistent findings using vague and unquantifiable terms. Additionally, it is impossible to reliably predict the behavior of humans. Meaningful predictions is a key tenet of science; however, psychology performs dismally in this aspect. Other limitations that arise when psychology is considered a science include problems applying a reductionist and deterministic approach in human behavior; inability to generalize psychological explanations since they are limited to particular places and times; and that objectivity is impossible when studying the behavior of humans.

To be reasonable, not all research in psychology is weak. Some scientifically rigorous research has been conducted in psychology and has been able to provide crucial insights; however, it is erroneous to state that it is science. Instead, psychologists are aiming at redefining science. When science is redefined, it ceases to be an empirical assessment of the physical world, which is a dangerous precedent since anything can merit to be considered science, which threatens the influence of science in provide unique explanations for truth. Various authors agree that redefining science to a level that it does not rely on time-tested criteria like predictability and testability is a dangerous trend. As a result, some authors have argued that psychology should not be classified as science, but instead be viewed as an alternative to science, just like belief, argument, and rational research. This means that psychology is in the same class as the humanistic approach that places considerable emphasis on the subjective conscious and advocates for rejecting science on grounds that objective reality is of less importance when compared to an individual’s subjective understanding and perception of the world. Consequently, some have proposed that psychology should cease using scientific methods in understanding and explaining human behavior since it is dehumanizing and cannot be effectively used to explore the richness associated with conscious experience.

Conclusion

It is evident that psychology fails to satisfy the requirements of a scientific discipline including empirical evidence, objectivity, control, testing of hypothesis, replication, and predictability. Even though psychology utilizes scientific methods, the subject of psychology (human behavior) cannot be studied scientifically. The rules of science are fundamentally inapplicable in the subjective nature of psychology. This has resulted in the proposition that psychology should cease using scientific methods, and instead focus on using humanistic and subjective approaches. Overall, psychology cannot be deemed a scientific discipline.

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