Relations Between Psychology and Science

Psychology has struggled to be acknowledged as a science since its start. However, the need for unified knowledge has precluded a clear image of whether psychology is a science. Several ways have given their reasons in this dispute, and none of them can be refuted to reach the result. Various historical hurdles prohibit it from being declared a science. To have a comprehensive knowledge of the notion and deeper insights into the long-running argument, it is necessary to understand how we define science and what qualities are required for a topic to be labeled scientific. It is followed by a brief explanation of the psychological journey to provide context.

Is Psychology a Scientific Discipline?

If we follow psychology's path, it reveals ongoing attempts to categorize psychology as a science. Various psychologists' methods of study are comparable to those of pure science. It raises two more questions. Why is psychology considered a science, and what problems does it face in becoming mainstream? But before that, let us see what sciencce is?

What is science?

A considerable corpus of study, similar to psychology, is committed to providing a globally recognized definition of science. What is more important for this study is to determine what makes a subject scientific. Some prevalent ideas on scientific technique are undermined by adhering to both conventional and current viewpoints, and this is the foundation upon which intellectuals have discussed the definition of science.

  • Empirical evidence underpins scientific knowledge − The knowledge obtained via sense organs, primarily through direct observation or testing, is referred to as empirical evidence. It is the fundamental way of verifying a proposition or hypothesis in the scientific community, and it originated from an empiricist viewpoint in philosophy. This is in contrast to the rationalist viewpoint, which held that logical argument could achieve verification.

  • Experimentation may be used to test theories − Another important feature of the scientific method is that its assertions can be checked by experimentation. An experiment is another way of hypothesis testing in which one variable (independent) is altered to examine the change in another variable (dependent) in a controlled context. This aids in the development of a cause-and-effect link between two variables.

  • Making future predictions − The basic objective for using a scientific approach is to make predictions or deductions. After seeing the occurrence or event, the experimenter develops a hypothesis to test. When a hypothesis is proven in several circumstances, it is referred to as a consequence.

  • Knowledge objectivity − Science largely believes in objective knowledge, i.e., truly independent of individual subjectivity. Objectivity contributes to one of science's primary aims, generalization. Science is not concerned with unique, unusual phenomena but with general rules that can be witnessed and validated by the public.

Another dilemma is where to begin scientific research. According to conventional wisdom, it begins with empirical observation, followed by theory building and subsequent processes. In contrast, Karl Popper presented the hypothetico-deductive model. He believes that research begins with a problem and is followed by an attempt to solve it. Thomas Kuhn added a fresh perspective by claiming that science does not grow gradually towards truth but instead is based on a consistent paradigm. He proposed a pragmatic evolution of science in which one replaces the other. Although these points of view are distinct in their own right, their coexistence cannot be ignored.


Scientific research is based mostly on the notion of determinism. Determinism is a philosophical position that holds that pre-existing causes predetermine all occurrences. This contributes to the development of causal rules in science, which is one of its primary purposes. They also believed in multiple causations, which means that there is more than one reason for an occurrence. As a result, while causes are predetermined, not all of them are known. The deterministic viewpoint is countered by non-deterministic viewpoints emphasizing free choice and chance. There are several pieces of evidence in the literature to support both perspectives.

Why is Psychology considered a Science?

The scientific study of behavior and mental processes is known as psychology. There are several reasons why it is called science, some of which are listed below.

Psychology Employs Empirical Methods

The study technique utilized in research is the basic qualification for a discipline. Since psychology is defined as the study of behavior, it employs the scientific approach and has abandoned prior concepts of soul, mind, and awareness. Unlike the prior idea, conduct is measurable and may be scientifically observed. Behaviorists such as JB Watson, BF Skinner, CL Hull, and EC Tolman used an experimental technique to eliminate bias. The cognitive revolution of the 1950s combined psychology with other scientific disciplines, such as artificial intelligence, computer science, and neurobiology. It hastened the use of the scientific method in studying human mental processes. This was accomplished by designing experiments using artificial intelligence computational models to test theories in a controlled laboratory setting systematically.

Replicable Experiments

To assure the universality of ideas, it is critical to duplicate the experiments on which they are founded. Psychology experiments, like other sciences, are fairly reproducible. This is mostly due to controlled environments, statistical assumptions, and stringent methods. Ernst Heinrich Weber and Gustav Fechner pioneered psychological experimentation with the advent of psychophysics. Wilhelm Wundt, known as the "Father of Experimental Psychology," followed in their footsteps and established an experimental psychology laboratory.

Many twentieth-century psychologists, including Watson, Tolman, Bandura, Milgram, and Asch, used experimental approaches. These studies were carried out in a controlled environment and are thought to be highly repeatable. Jerry M. Burger (2009) discovered identical results in a repeat of Milgram's obedience study after 50 years. The approach was also used to investigate cognitive functions such as memory, learning, and language.

Deterministic Perspective

Psychology, like other disciplines, takes a deterministic approach to examine humans. This means that they assume that everything in their conduct is predestined. This includes biological and environmental determinism (physiological conditions and genetic predispositions) (external stimuli and sociocultural variables). These determinants are directly measured, referred to as physical determinism.

Psychical determinism, on the other hand, is far more subjective and depends on the individual's beliefs. Freud was a major proponent of such determinism. This viewpoint adheres to scientific rules and aids in developing a causal link between two occurrences. Many psychology schools, including behaviorism and psychoanalysis, have deterministic notions, although not all.

Scientific Psychology's Limitations

Despite efforts to qualify as science, psychology is still not regarded as a STEM topic and is frequently attacked for employing unscientific methods. Several impediments prohibit psychology from being a pure science.

The concept of Non-Determinism

Although many psychological schools hold a deterministic viewpoint, certain schools emphasize the individual's free will. The humanistic school of Maslow and Rogers and James' existential concepts held that conduct is freely chosen and independent of physical and psychical factors. They believed that a person is accountable for his or her acts and that they are not the result of predetermined conditions.

Their key point is that free will is required for self-actualization and behavioral change. In his book "Free Will," Sam Harris points out that the voluntary/involuntary difference is meaningless as long as the voluntary acts are preceded by preceding causes or chance. This was an unscientific method of studying psychology since it hampered the establishment of causal linkages. As a result, psychology's standing as a science suffers.

Inadequate Generalization

As previously said, science is concerned with universal rules rather than specific phenomena. Psychology, however, focuses on humans as its core topic. Differential psychology promotes the premise that human behavior is unique and highly customized. As William Stern proposed, individual differences are widely acknowledged in psychology. The emphasis on individual differences generates a generalization difficulty, which leads to deduction problems.

One of the primary goals of science is to make predictions, which is impossible without certain general rules. Despite thousands of investigations, tens of thousands of trials, and hundreds of hypotheses and models, universal principles of behavior still need to be established. Another area for improvement with generalization is multiple causalities, which makes it difficult to form meaningful conclusions. It is also said that behavior cannot be examined in a controlled environment, which causes difficulty.

Behavior is Dynamic

Another consideration is that behavior is extremely contextual. It shifts with changes in location and time. Psychology concentrates on the individual's social and cultural surroundings and fails to construct a larger picture. It is constrained not just by physical constraints but also by temporal ones. Any change in any sector, social, political, or technical, influences people's mentality. The effects of world conflicts and technological development were felt by people all around the world. As a result, even if a study is generalized, it will only be true for the specific context for a limited time frame. Theories that are true now may not be true tomorrow.


Physics, chemistry, and astronomy study objects, but psychology examines persons. Humans, unlike objects, are very subjective, and nothing can be quantified via experimentation and observation, as in physical sciences. Human behavior is even more complicated, with several processes operating in simultaneously. To properly grasp human behavior, subjective elements must be included. Subjectivity leads to prejudice, and bias precludes deductions.

Several psychological schools, including psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology, have promoted subjective psychology. Freud, Maslow, Jung, and Rogers' methods were often considered unscientific. Verifying such hypotheses is similarly difficult, contradicting Karl Pooper's formulation of science's falsification principle.

Replication Crisis

After years of hard study, 270 experts reproduced 100 psychological results in 2008. Surprisingly, despite the materials given by the original authors, only 36% yielded the same conclusion. Several similar initiatives have since generated similar results in various sub-fields of psychology. In psychology, such low levels of replicability are referred to as a replication crisis.

This failure to replicate other people's experiments has potentially serious implications for psychology, as important theories are based on unreproducible experimental data. Concern over this situation is growing by the day, and numerous steps are being made to assure the scientific study technique, but no substantial findings have yet been shown. This raises severe research methodological concerns, the most important of which is whether psychology will ever be recognized as a pure science.


Psychology has been striving to be defined as a science for millennia. To that end, it has evolved its knowledge over time, beginning with the soul, moving on to the mind, awareness, and eventually behavior. It has also shifted its research methodology from philosophical to empirical. Nonetheless, there are several impediments along its road. The biggest two are: 1.) A need for a unified knowledge and tangible foundation on which all psychologists agree. 2.) The very complicated and subjective character of human conduct. While the first is an external boundary in history, the second breed the subject to the present day. So, as long as these two issues persist, psychology will be difficult to qualify as a science.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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