Is Psychology a Science?



In order to answer this question it is important to understand
the definitions of both psychology and science. The word
'psychology' comes from the Greek 'psyche' (or soul) and 'logos'
(or study), which came to be known as the 'study of the soul'.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines psychology as:

1. the science dealing with the mind and with mental and
emotional processes
2. the science of human and animal behavior.

In its pure definition the dictionary has provided us with a clue
to the answer, it describes science as:

1. systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, etc.
2. a branch of knowledge, esp. one that systematizes facts,
principles, and methods
3. skill or technique

In order to prove this claim we have to look at whether or not
psychology can fill this definition above.

Scientific study is a valid way of coming to an understanding of
life, and can be very useful in every area of life. Science
develops theories based on what is observed. It examines each
theory with rigorous and scrupulous tests to see if it describes
reality. The scientific method works well in observing and
recording physical data and in reaching conclusions which
either confirm or nullify a theory.

During the mid-19th century, scholars (although at that time
probably termed philosophers) wanted to study human nature with
the aim of applying the scientific method to observe, record, and
treat human behavior that was deemed as unnatural. They believed
that if people could be studied in a scientific manner, there
would be a greater accuracy in understanding present behavior, in
predicting future behavior, and, most controversially, in
altering behavior through scientific intervention.

There are many areas of psychology, each attempting to explain
behavior from slightly different perspectives;

Social psychology is concerned with the effects of social
situations on human behavior. Personality theorists study
individual behavior. Comparative psychologists study animal
behaviors across the range of species Physiological psychologists
are concerned with the biological basis of behavior.
Developmental psychologists study principles and processes
responsible for change throughout life. Cognitive psychologists
investigate memory, thought, problem solving, and the
psychological aspects of learning. Analysis of behavior studies
the conditions under which a behavior can be learned and the
situations that cause that behavior to occur. Learning is an area
of psychology exploring how new behaviors are learned
and maintained. Clinical psychologists study ways to help
individuals and groups of individuals change their behavior.
Industrial and organizational psychologists are concerned with
the physical and social aspects of people's work environments as
they affect work output. Community psychologists use scientific
methods to study and solve social problems.

As Western describes, the psychological paradigm is a collection
of assumptions used to make sense of a subject area or
experience, this can be applied to psychology itself. Psychology
lacks one unified paradigm but has four perspectives that search
for its understanding;

The pyschodynamic perspective believes that behavior is a result
of unconscious processes, personal motivation and early childhood
experiences. It's most famous advocate was Sigmund Freud. Its
method of data collection rely heavily on interpreting
discussion, dreams and fantasies, actions, case studies and a
limited amount of experimentation.

The behaviorist perspective believes that behavior is learned and
selected by environmental consequences. Its method of data
collection relies heavily on experimentation conducted in the
scientific laboratory where the factors studied can be
controlled; or it may take place in a real life setting where
more natural behavior is studied and far more variables
exist.

The cognitive perspective believes that behavior is a result of
information processing, storage in the brain, transformation and
the retrieval of information. The methods of data collection
used are again experimentation but with much use of computer
modeling.

The evolutionary perspective believes that psychological
processes echo the evolutionary processes of natural selection.
Its method of data collection includes the deduction of
explanations for behavior, and comparisons between species and
cultures. It also involves a limited amount of experimentation.

Of these four perspectives all lend common similarities to the
traditional sciences. All have elements of controlled
experimentation, as does physics or chemistry. Cognitive
perspectives use computer modeling, as does mathematics. There
are similarities, but there are also differences to any other
sciences, such as the study of dreams and fantasies.

The methods