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    Thread: Is psychology a science?

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Is psychology a science?

      I have often wondered whether or not psychology is a pseudo-scientific branch of human knowledge. On the one hand psychoanalysis attempts to empirically observe a patients behavior and words but on the other hand I get the impression that many psychological explanations for human behavior are too speculative given the questionable evidence(the possibility that the patient is lying) at hand.

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      Pseudo-science? No, not at all. It's definitely a science. Good psychological experiments are set up in such a way that the patient doesn't know enough about the situation to lie. Also, psychology is not only focused on behavior that a patient would lie about at all. It's simply the study of the mind, its mental states and processes. Sleep studies, for example, are psychological studies. A patient can't lie about their brain waves.

      Unless you mean pop-psychology, which is mostly bullshit. :p
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      There's a lot more math in psychology than most people realize. Studies are subject to as rigorous a peer review as any other science. Now, psychiatric medicine as it's put into practice is another matter. Particularly at 'street level,' very little psychology is practiced. The sole aim of interacting with patients is to determine what drug(s) to throw at the problem, and the drug of choice depends as much on fads and pharmaceutical marketing as any genuine familiarity with current research. Really, it's a problem with medicine in general in this country: doctors become familiar with current research primarily through pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, which generally consist of $100-$125 per-plate dinners at fancy restaurants accompanied by a Power Point presentation, all on the drug manufacturer's tab, as was the original research in most cases. So, the question of what to prescribe comes down to who bought you the best steak while making a more-or-less adequate case for their product.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



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      Yes it is a pseudo-science on a whole. It's getting better though. Most have moved on from Freud's psychoanalysis, except for a few specific things.

      Tao is correct about all that drug stuff. America needs to catch up to Australia on that one. We've banned all "gifts" from big pharma to doctors and misleading advertising is followed up by a fine (which is measly usually (to them anyway lol)).

      There's been a thread about this not too long ago. I posted a lot about the upcoming DSM V.
      At the moment they basically just keep adding more and more afflictions. When it is blatantly obvious that a great majority of them are just various presentations of anxiety, OCD or schizophrenia.

      But as I said, some research is being done with fMRI. To see what is causing the problems. Apparently nicotinic receptors are a prime candidate at the moment for a lot of mental problems.

      But yes, atm, with the way it's being practiced, it's pretty much as close to pseudo science as you can get, while still maintaining a faint air of scientific entitlement.

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      I would think that most clinical psychologists (for example) are just as good scientists as any other. All the psychology I've been taught and witnessed at uni was all just as scientific and evidence based as my biology classes.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Pensive Patrick View Post
      I would think that
      You would think that wouldn't you. The truth is that it isn't.

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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post
      Pseudo-science? No, not at all. It's definitely a science. Good psychological experiments are set up in such a way that the patient doesn't know enough about the situation to lie. Also, psychology is not only focused on behavior that a patient would lie about at all. It's simply the study of the mind, its mental states and processes. Sleep studies, for example, are psychological studies. A patient can't lie about their brain waves.
      This is true I didn't take into account experiments with the patient unaware. I guess I was more addressing psychoanalysis "the talking cure". I would say that psychology is very concerned with behavior, in many psychology schools mental states are examined through behavior. I think the study of the mind through empirical means is more in the realm of cognitive science (they would also consider themselves scientists not psychologists).

      @Taosaur- I'm am very skeptical of a "doctor" who prescribes me pills to treat everything, this is another reason why I think alot of people are wary of psychology.

      I guess the reason why I brought this thread up is because I feel alot of psychological claims describing behavior are too speculative and based off of questionable evidence. I agree with Tommo I think it is getting more scientific in its methods in the latter part of the 20th century.

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      Member Savy's Avatar
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      Yea, I'm pretty postive psychology is a science. I don't feel like studies such as the Milgram experiment to be too speculative, do you? The test was redone several times, always with the same results. Also, what about Pavlov's dogs? That's also psychology, and it doesn't even have to do with humans. What about studies in the behavior of babies? Certainly conclusions are drawn from observation, and we can never know absolutely if we are correct, but the odds are that we are, especially when we can create direct cause and effect responses. Often, patients aren't even asked questions that they can lie to. They don't have an opportunity to lie, and it's not really their answers we're interested in, anyways. We're interested in the behavior.

      Psychology goes so much further than crappy therapists who throw drugs at you.
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      Quote Originally Posted by tommo View Post
      You would think that wouldn't you. The truth is that it isn't.
      The reason I've said "I would think that" is because I don't have any evidence to back my assumption up.

      Do you have evidence that clinical psychologists aren't as good scientists as say molecular neurobiologists?

      This thread is ultimately about our opinions so I expect we'll just have to agree to disagree...

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      Quote Originally Posted by Pensive Patrick View Post
      The reason I've said "I would think that" is because I don't have any evidence to back my assumption up.
      I had a feeling you'd misinterpret that. By "you", I just meant, people. Like "You would assume psychologists base their diagnoses on scientifically proven grounds", addressing no one in particular.

      I have plenty of evidence. Just look at the DSM V. There is a website for it to get feedback. At least there was last year. Dunno if it's still up, just Google it.

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      Quote Originally Posted by tommo View Post
      I had a feeling you'd misinterpret that. By "you", I just meant, people. Like "You would assume psychologists base their diagnoses on scientifically proven grounds", addressing no one in particular.

      I have plenty of evidence. Just look at the DSM V. There is a website for it to get feedback. At least there was last year. Dunno if it's still up, just Google it.
      Therapist =/= Researcher, just like Doctor =/= Biologist and Engineer =/= Physicist. Applied science is rarely as tidy and, well, 'scientific' as theory, precisely because it's applied: it has to work in the real world. A psychological therapist's position is no different in that regard than a physiological therapist's (i.e. doctor).
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



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      Xei
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      Perhaps it isn't tidy but applied stuff has to be just as scientific, really... in the sense that it has to have empirical basis. Engineers don't speculate about tensile strengths; they find them out, accurately and repeatedly, and that's basically exactly what science is.
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      Yes, it is a science, the workings of which are largely unknown and imprecise given it's complexity, emotional involvement, and the fact that it's trying to grasp a birds eye view and describe a process that it is. lol

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      Empirical data inform the engineer's, doctor's and psychologist's decisions, but many of those decisions are not and cannot be made empirically. In real-world situations, there are often competing explanations, approaches and methods, as well as extenuating circumstances to be weighed. My point was that just because application cannot be empirical in every respect does not discredit what science does inform it.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



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      Psychology is a science. Although a lot of its findings are absolute.

      Edit: aren't*
      Last edited by Black_Eagle; 04-28-2011 at 09:18 PM.
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      Yes.

      All my psych classes at uni are scientific. (half the people drop the major after learning that)

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      DuB
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      Well I just noticed this thread, but I see I've already been mentioned

      I think it's a fair question given the common perception of what psychologists do. For a variety of reasons, people seem to have an incredibly skewed view of what exactly psychology is and what most psychologists do. This is evident even in this thread. I'll outline two examples below and offer some reasons why I think this is. I'll also offer some of my personal thoughts on the matter.

      First, the OP brings up psychoanalysis and wonders, given the status of psychoanalysis, whether psychology has much useful to say about human behavior. Of course, it's a bit like wondering if the theory of vitalism discredits biology, or if phlogiston theory discredits chemistry. These are archaic and, in retrospect at least, frankly ridiculous theories. I've never met a psychoanalyst--I've heard that there still are some, somewhere, but as far as I'm concerned they are mythical creatures. One would be right to question the utility of these theories, but fewer people think to ask if that's really what the fields they ostensibly represent actually do. In case I haven't made it clear yet, psychoanalysis has no relation to anything modern psychologists do.

      Second, most people in this thread have asked about the status of clinical psychology in general. Again, those are fair questions, but what's striking to me is that, to most people, that's just what psychology is. However, in reality, slightly more than half of us have no interest whatsoever in clinically abnormal populations. Psychology is the study of how human behavior and cognition work, and accordingly, most of us study normal people. I won't ever have a "patient" and I'm quite sure that any potential patient who knew a thing about me wouldn't want me as their clinician. (And if they doubt that, I'm sure that some of you could warn them properly.) I don't intend to denigrate clinical psychology--what they do is undoubtedly important--I only mean to point out that, while they essentially comprise the public image of what psychologists do, they in fact represent a subset of the field. More accurately, psychologists just seek to understand the why and how of human action.

      So, putting aside those issues, we are left with the original question: is psychology really a science? It seems to me that, on any reasonable definition of what "science" is, the answer must be yes. As psychologists we attempt to systematize empirical observation of human behavior and cognition and then to synthesize those observations into general theories of human behavior and cognition. What more would you ask of the enterprise of science? As far as I can discern, most people seem to identify "science" with fields and studies that are what I would call "sciencey"--that is, if you wear white lab coats and fiddle around with colorful beakers of strange, caustic liquids and write out intimidating mathematical equations that are long enough to fill a chalkboard, well then by golly, you must be doing real science(tm)! It's a pretty naive view of what science really is.

      Perhaps a more interesting question then is: how good is psychology doing as a science? Here I would probably agree with the majority of posters that the best answer is: not as well as we would like for it to be. Psychology, as it turns out, is really hard to do. Human behavior and cognition are--surprise!--really, really, really complicated. Predicting the amount of money that someone will choose to place on a risky gamble (I study decision making so this broadly represents the type of questions that I tend to ask) tends not be be quite as easy as predicting how how long a textbook will take to hit the ground if I drop it from a second-story window. But what can you do? You try to account for the myriad of influences that go into such a decision as best you can. If you have suggestions for how we can do that better, we're all ears.
      Last edited by DuB; 04-28-2011 at 07:42 AM.
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      Dionysian stormcrow's Avatar
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      @Dub- thanks for responding, it is evident that I have an outdated notion of what psychologist actually do. However I am skeptical of the notion that human behavior can be addressed with a broad stroke. As you have said human behavior is an really complicated.

      The example with the textbook was spot on, we can use induction to infer how long it will take to hit the ground but it gets rather tricky when we try to predict how humans will act in a certain situation. We can use controlled experiments to observe human behavior(of the participants) and then apply the results to the whole population(when the experiment only observed the behavior of 5-10 people). Are social/economic/geographic variables taken in consideration in conducting these experiments?

      I framed the question "Is psychology a science?" because I hoped that it would strike an emotional chord with people who support psychology and people who don't as well as spark heated debate but what I really want to know is, is there any validity in the psychological explanations of human behavior?

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      Well, a study involving 5-10 people would be a little extreme, but it's true that even the largest experiments involve observing data for a relatively small subset of the population and then generalizing those data to the population. We use statistical theory to address this, but it's a fact that such statistics implicitly rely on mathematical assumptions which may or may not actually be realistic. The degree to which wide generalization can be accomplished through experimentation is an open and somewhat controversial issue.

      Regarding demographic variables, different areas of psychology (and even different psychologists within each area) approach them in different ways. Some areas, such as so-called "cultural psychology," spend almost all of their time actively searching for differences in basic effects as a function of demographic variables. I think that such data are important, but I tend to disagree with the approach taken by many of these researchers. They appear to be very interested in demonstrating how some of our basic theories seem to break down in unusual cultural situations, but they appear to have far less interest in actually revising those theories to address the issues of when, where, and why these basic effects differ by culture. In my view, science ought to be about progressive theory development. Cultural differences are a fact that we must deal with, but we must do so by developing theories of those differences, not by simply hunting for cultural differences and then, upon finding them, declaring the original theories to be defective. In my estimation, the latter tact is more common than the former, and this is unfortunate.

      The most common view, held by most psychologists even if it's never articulated, is that for the kinds of basic mental processes most of us study, there's probably not much good reason to suppose that these basic processes differ widely as a function of demographic variables. Of course, the degree to which that is actually true is an empirical question.

      Regarding validity. Psychological explanations for human behavior are all around us. When you say, "My boss refused my raise because he's a prick" or "The reason she can't remember my name is probably that she doesn't really like me," those are psychological explanations. So the question of validity is probably best framed as: are the explanations given by psychological science more valid than the everyday explanations given by non-psychologists? And again, the answer seems to be yes. Consider the fact that ten non-scientists can look at the same set of behaviors and give you ten mutually contradictory, but somehow "obvious," explanations for why the behaviors occurred. Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or is out of sight out of mind? Do birds of a feather flock together, or do opposites attract? Are you never too old to learn, or can you not teach an old dog new tricks? Do clothes make the man, or should you never judge a book by its cover? Everyday attempts at psychological explanation can "explain" any possible behavioral outcome, thereby actually explaining nothing at all. We need scientific psychology to cut through all the bullshit and address the questions of human behavior systematically and rigorously.

      It's not at all clear to me that we'll ever have psychological theories that are as precise and elegant as in the so-called "hard" sciences (which, paradoxically, are the sciences which are actually easiest to do). As I wrote earlier, human behavior is a huge complicated mess. But throwing up our hands and declaring its explanation not worth the effort seems to me to be exactly the wrong reaction. I prefer that we dive in and try to sort it all out as best we are able.
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      Quote Originally Posted by Taosaur View Post
      There's a lot more math in psychology than most people realize. Studies are subject to as rigorous a peer review as any other science. Now, psychiatric medicine as it's put into practice is another matter. Particularly at 'street level,' very little psychology is practiced. The sole aim of interacting with patients is to determine what drug(s) to throw at the problem, and the drug of choice depends as much on fads and pharmaceutical marketing as any genuine familiarity with current research. Really, it's a problem with medicine in general in this country: doctors become familiar with current research primarily through pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, which generally consist of $100-$125 per-plate dinners at fancy restaurants accompanied by a Power Point presentation, all on the drug manufacturer's tab, as was the original research in most cases. So, the question of what to prescribe comes down to who bought you the best steak while making a more-or-less adequate case for their product.
      Tha's psychiatry. Psychologists cannot prescribe drugs.

      Psychology is one of the social sciences.

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      I've heard rumors that in some places psychologists are able to prescribe certain drugs. If that's actually true, I think it is a huge mistake. Take it from me: We are not qualified to prescribe drugs!

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      @Dub- You are a psychologist?
      Euphemisms like "Does absence make the heart grow fonder, or is out of sight out of mind?" are clearly misguided and redundant. This is why whenever someone says something like "I can read into people" I always laugh and think they are just a little bit full of shit. In this regard I can see the need to systematize a range of explanations for human behavior rather than leaving it to the average persons misguided confidence at their ability to "read people".

      I think there are aspects of human beings that defy labels or explanations. I do not think humans are a thing or event but a process of becoming and constantly changing making attempts to understand us difficult to say the least. For instance my father has known me for almost 20 years and yet there are still aspects of my personality that he can never know and not because there are things that I don't tell him (I tell him everything) but just for the simple fact that he cannot experience what I experience and I feel he only know the "surface me" and not who I truly am. I feel that who most people "truly are" is indescribable.

      I guess to put another way, if I was born in a lab and observed by a panel of psychologists, they would know intimately "who I was" by observing my behavior and speech, but there will still be some aspects of me that they will never know and cannot know, if that makes sense.

      Also I didn't mean to come off as saying that we should throw our hands in the air and quit psychology. I most definitely see the significance of what psychology is attempting to do and think that we as humans can benefit from this knowledge considerably, we just have to make sure this knowledge has a valid basis and isnt mostly speculation.

      And also can you recommend any psychologists? Ive read Jung, Lacan and Skinner but that's about it, I'm not very knowledgeable on the subject.

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      Quote Originally Posted by Supernova View Post
      Tha's psychiatry. Psychologists cannot prescribe drugs.

      Psychology is one of the social sciences.
      ...hence my specifying that I was talking about "psychiatric medicine" and pointing out that "very little psychology is practiced" in the actual delivery of mental health services.

      Quote Originally Posted by DuB View Post
      I've heard rumors that in some places psychologists are able to prescribe certain drugs. If that's actually true, I think it is a huge mistake. Take it from me: We are not qualified to prescribe drugs!
      I get the impression talking to non-wealthy people who have ended up on meds that even if a psychiatrist's or MD's name is on the scrip, it's often case workers with limited medical background who are, for all intents and purposes, making the diagnosis and deciding the course of treatment. A lot of people who end up in the system should be so lucky as to actually lay eyes on a psychiatrist, much less a clinical psychologist.
      If you have a sense of caring for others, you will manifest a kind of inner strength in spite of your own difficulties and problems. With this strength, your own problems will seem less significant and bothersome to you. By going beyond your own problems and taking care of others, you gain inner strength, self-confidence, courage, and a greater sense of calm.Dalai Lama



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      Quote Originally Posted by Taosaur View Post
      ...hence my specifying that I was talking about "psychiatric medicine" and pointing out that "very little psychology is practiced" in the actual delivery of mental health services.
      ................ oh

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