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Features of Science

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Features of Science

We consider that a subject is a science if those who practice it do research in a systematic manner using experimental methods. There are certain features that a subject needs to be regarded as a science: objectivity, collecting empirical data, hypotheses/theories should be falsifiable (can be shown to be false), and research should be collected using theory construction and hypothesis testing methods.

Nowadays, there is an ongoing debate of whether subjects with multiple paradigms and those that endure paradigm shifts can be classified as a science.

Essential features of science

What makes science ‘science’? What are the essential features and characteristics of science?

Let’s find out.

The empirical method and objectivity

A major feature of science is that it should follow the empirical method. The empirical method is a research process to obtain information using observable evidence to draw conclusions. These conclusions are what researchers use to build and propose theories. The empirical method provides a systematic way to collect, analyse, and organise data. The empirical method aims to differentiate between scientific facts and opinions about phenomenons.

The empirical method uses data that must be objective. This means that the data should be based on observable, factual information that isn’t influenced by subjectivity. For instance, the researcher’s personal opinion, bias, and prejudice should not influence the outcome of the research. Objective research that follows the empirical method can indicate that certain research findings have high validity.

Replicability

Scientific research needs to be replicable. Research findings must be tested repeatedly to identify if they are reliable. We assess the reliability of research by identifying if we found consistent results when we repeat the same study with different participants, in different settings, and at different times. If we find similar results, we can infer the research has high reliability and is therefore generalisable.

Falsifiability

Karl Popper (1934) proposed the theory of falsifiability. He proposed that to regard research as scientific, theories/hypotheses should be:

  • Testable.

  • Able to be proven wrong.

  • Observable and able to be tested via experimental/observational methods.

  • Based on objective facts rather than subjective opinions.

    • For example, research investigating whether strawberry ice cream is tastier than chocolate ice cream can’t be falsifiable. This is because the results will always differ when tested with different participants.

Additionally, Popper argued that research is provisional. He stated that scientific understanding and progression can occur via the theory of falsification. This process involves:

Features of Science Popper theory of falsifiability process StudySmarterPopper’s theory of falsifiability, StudySmarter Originals

Theory construction and hypothesis testing

A theory is an explanation for the cause of a phenomenon.

To ensure that their research is regarded as scientific, researchers need to:

  • Construct a logical theory.

  • Define variables that are predicted to be related to the phenomenon or a way of measuring the phenomenon.

  • Explain/predict the relationship between the variables.

  • Propose a theory that offers testable hypotheses.

After building a theory and developing their proposed hypothesis (testable prediction of what they expect to observe in their research), the researcher should use vigorous, scientific methods to test the hypothesis.

The purpose of this process is to allow the researcher to identify if their proposed hypothesis should be accepted or rejected based on empirical and objective evidence. This process is known as deduction.

If after the process the researcher rejects a hypothesis, they must modify and re-test the theory, hypotheses, and research.

Paradigms and paradigm shifts

Paradigms in psychology are standard perspectives and concepts that concern theories and research methods.

Essentially, paradigms are a way of looking at something. Psychologists decide which standpoint is the ‘best’ perspective or approach to take when investigating psychological phenomena.

Psychodynamic, Freud, pixabay.comPhotograph of Sigmund Freud, Pixabay

The psychodynamic approach to psychology

This approach argues that we can understand human behaviour better by investigating underlying issues that occurred during childhood or conflicts in the psyche (aspects of the personality that Sigmund Freud described) through means such as introspection and psychoanalysis.

According to Kuhn, the purpose of a paradigm is to provide researchers with a theoretical framework (the conceptual scheme), which provides guidelines for assumptions, concepts, and methodological techniques that they should keep in mind when conducting research. This provides a general consensus of the direction and goals that research should follow.

Throughout the history of psychology, there have been changes in the predominant paradigm. Kuhn’s work explained the link between paradigms and the progression of research, which is described in the chart below:

Features of Science Paradigm shift stages Kuhn StudySmarterThe stages of paradigm shifts according to Kuhn, StudySmarter Originals

Is Psychology a science?

There are ongoing debates amongst psychologists about whether psychology should be considered a science. This next section will discuss the points that are for and against psychology being classed as a science.

Psychology is a science

Some psychologists/scientists argue that psychology should be classed as a science because psychological research typically collects objective, empirical data following the scientific method.

Similar to scientific research, Psychology has established research quality criteria such as high validity, reliability, objectivity, and credibility. Research has to meet these criteria to be published.

Psychology is not a science

Some psychologists/scientists argue that psychology is not a science, because:

  • Some approaches and theories are not directly observable or testable, such as the imbalance and conflict that occur between parts of the psyche (personality.) As these can’t be objectively measured, this raises the question of whether this research is scientific.

  • Subjects that are regarded as scientific have a typically agreed-upon paradigm. As psychology has multiple paradigms, some argue that psychology should not be regarded as a science.

Features of Science - Key takeaways

  • A subject needs certain features for it to be regarded as a science. These include objectivity, replicability, collecting empirical data, hypotheses/theories should be falsifiable, and research should be collected using theory construction and hypothesis testing methods.
  • The empirical method provides a systematic way to collect, analyse, and organise data. It allows researchers to differentiate scientific, objective facts from opinions about phenomenons.

  • Scientific research should be replicable so that the reliability of findings can be established.

  • After constructing a theory and proposing a hypothesis, the researcher should use vigorous scientific methods to test and accept or reject the theories/hypotheses.

  • There is an ongoing debate about whether psychology can be classified as a science.


Frequently Asked Questions about Features of Science

Objectivity, an empirical approach, replicability, being falsifiable (can be shown to be false), going through theory construction and hypothesis testing methods. 


There is still an ongoing debate of whether subjects that have multiple paradigms and endure paradigm shifts should be classified as a science.

Theory construction is a major feature of science because it provides logical explanations of phenomena based on evidence and provides a testable method to collect data. This is an important feature of science because it is a way to provide empirical evidence to explain a phenomenon.

Objectivity is a major feature of science because it means that the data collected is based on observable factual information that isn’t influenced by subjectivity. For instance, the researcher's personal opinion, bias, and prejudice. Objective research is regarded to have high validity.

Final Features of Science Quiz

Question

What does a subject need to be considered a science?


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Answer

A subject can be science if research is done in a systematic manner using experimental methods.

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Question

What are the main features of science?

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Answer

  • Objectivity.
  • Collect empirical data.
  • Falsifiability of hypotheses/theories.
  • Research should be collected using theory construction and hypothesis testing methods.


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Question

Can subjects with multiple paradigms be regarded as a science? 


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Answer

There is an ongoing debate of whether subjects that have multiple paradigms and those that endure paradigm shifts can be classified as a science.

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Question

What is the empirical method?


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Answer

The empirical method is a process through which we obtain research using observable evidence to draw conclusions.

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Question

What does empirical and objective research allow?


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Answer

Empirical and objective data allows researchers to be able to differentiate scientific, objective facts from opinions about phenomenons.

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Question

Why is objectivity a major feature of science? 


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Answer

Objectivity is a major feature of science because it means that the data collected is based on observable factual information that isn’t influenced by subjectivity. For instance, the researcher's personal opinion, bias, and prejudice don’t influence the outcome of the research. Objective research is regarded to have high validity.

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Question

What are potential factors that may influence the objectivity of research findings?


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Answer

  • Researcher's personal opinion
  • Researcher bias
  • Researcher prejudice


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Why should research be replicable?


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Answer

Scientific research should be replicable to establish the findings’ reliability.

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Question

Why is theory construction a major feature of science?


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Answer

Theory construction is a major feature of science because it provides logical explanations of phenomena based on evidence and provides a testable method to collect data. This is an important feature of science because it is a way to provide empirical evidence to explain phenomena.

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Question

What does the theory of falsifiability propose?


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Answer

The theory of falsifiability proposes that research should be:

  • Testable. 
  • Able to be proven wrong. 
  • Observable and able to be tested via experimental/observational methods.
  • Based on objective facts rather than subjective opinions


Show question

Question

What is a paradigm?

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Answer

Paradigms in psychology are standard perspectives and concepts that concern theories and research methods. Essentially, paradigms are a way of looking and investigating something.

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Question

How does a paradigm shift occur? 


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Answer

Initially, a paradigm is accepted based on the zeitgeist, this paradigm is used to understand phenomena. However, when the current paradigm is no longer able to explain a phenomena or inexplicable anomalies are found a ‘scientific revolution’ occurs, and a paradigm that explains these is accepted as the new paradigm. This is known as the paradigm shift.


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Question

What are the arguments for psychology being a subject of science?


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Answer

  • Psychology research typically collects objective, empirical data following the scientific method. This is the method that the majority of scientific research is collected and therefore, suggests that psychology should be regarded as a science. 
  • Similar to scientific research, psychology has established research quality criteria such as high validity, reliability, objectivity, credibility, that have to be met in order for the research to be published.


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Question

What are the arguments against psychology being a subject of science?


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Answer

  • Some approaches/theories are not directly observable, or testable. As it can not be objectively measured it raises the question of whether this research is scientific.
  • Subjects that are regarded as scientific have a typically agreed upon paradigm, as psychology has multiple paradigms, some argue that psychology should not be regarded as a science.


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