Paradigms and Falsifiability

Can we really hold one thing as the truth? Imagine you have been asked to help with a sketch of a culprit. Someone else has been asked to assist, but the two sketches don’t match. Who is telling the truth? Maybe you both are? What we know as the truth depends on what we currently know, which is constantly evolving. The different approaches in psychology have different views on what the truth is. Let’s look at what paradigms and falsifiability in psychology research mean.

Paradigms and Falsifiability Paradigms and Falsifiability

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Table of contents
    • We will start by exploring falsifiability: psychology.
    • Then we will learn about research paradigms and delve deeper into the predominant psychology approaches.
    • After this, we will explore the falsifiability in research concepts, the principles of falsifiability and finally, some falsifiability examples.

    Falsifiability Psychology

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

    The different approaches in psychology differ in views concerning paradigms.

    Humanistic psychologists argue humans have free will, whereas biological psychologists state human behaviour is deterministic.

    And psychodynamic psychologists take an interactions approach that favours both qualitative and quantitative research. In contrast, cognitive psychologists prefer the nomothetic approach, i.e. quantitative (numerical) research.

    Although psychologists may take different standpoints of the ‘best’ approach when investigating psychological phenomena, they typically agree that theories/hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. This is known as the theory of falsifiability.

    Research Paradigms

    In psychology research, paradigms are the generally accepted perspective of investigating a phenomenon during the current zeitgeist.

    Zeitgeist is the spirit concerning ideas and beliefs during a certain time of history.

    According to Kuhn, the purpose of a paradigm is to provide researchers with a theoretical framework (the conceptual scheme). This framework provides guidelines for assumptions, concepts, and methodological techniques that a researcher should consider when conducting research. It also provides a consensus on 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.

    He proposed that researchers agree on a paradigm based on the zeitgeist.

    However, when there are anomalies or inexplicable results, this causes a ‘crisis.’ As the predominant paradigm can’t explain these results, there is a paradigm shift (a paradigm is replaced with a new one.) The time during the paradigm shift is called a ‘scientific revolution.’ These shifts are what allow psychology to progress.

    An example of a paradigm shift in Psychology is the emergence of the behavioural approach in the 1900s. This paradigm appeared because previous psychology approaches were unable to test hypotheses experimentally.

    There had been previous research that had taken a behaviourist approach. However, it was rejected when published due to the time’s zeitgeist.

    Since its emergence as a science, psychology has had different disciplines that underwent the process of acceptance or rejection. We can think of the accepted disciplines as paradigms used during those periods. Let’s discuss some paradigms that are prominent in this current zeitgeist.

    Paradigms and Falsifiability: Cognitive Approach to Psychology

    Cognitive psychologists believe that behaviour and psychological illnesses are a consequence of internal cognitive processes.

    They take an information-processing approach to explain human behaviour. Like computers, humans receive inputted information which is then processed, leading to an outcome (i.e. behaviour).

    Cognitive psychologists argue that humans use pre-existing schemas to interpret a situation and respond to stimuli. This is known as cognitive appraisal. Maladaptive appraisals can cause psychological illnesses.

    Schema is a mental structure of knowledge used to facilitate cognitive processes and behaviours.

    Paradigms and Falsifiability: Behavioural Approach to Psychology

    Behavioural psychologists agree that the environment and human experience shape human behaviour and cause psychological illnesses.

    Some examples of learning methods that behavioural psychologists describe are:

    • Modelling: imitating the behaviour of role models.

    • Classical conditioning is when people form associations between a stimulus and a response, causing them to repeat actions that evoke the stimulus and, therefore, the associated response.

      • This can cause maladaptive behaviour, for example, phobias.

    • Operant conditioning is when behaviours change via positive or negative reinforcement. For example, if a parent praises their child for doing their homework, they are more likely to do it again.

    Paradigms and Falsifiability: Biological Approach to Psychology

    The consensus of this paradigm is to measure biological, physiological, and genetic factors or variables and establish a cause-and-effect relationship between these and behaviour.

    Factors that may influence behaviour and illnesses include:

    • Genes: offspring inherit genes from their parents so that they may inherit illnesses or gene mutations.

    • Irregularities or differences in brain functions: genetic or physical trauma may cause people to act differently. They may also cause illnesses.

    • Chemical reactions: certain chemical issues in the body can explain behaviours—for example, a hormone imbalance or neurotransmitter dysfunction. High levels of testosterone have been linked to aggressiveness.

    Paradigms and Falsifiability: Psychodynamic Approach to Psychology

    Psychodynamic psychologists argue that the inner battle between aspects of the human personality is what causes human behaviour. Some of their theories include the following:

    • The psychosexual stages suggest that late development or fixating in any of the stages can affect behaviour and psychological well-being.

    The psychosexual stages are stages a child goes through to develop their personality.

    • There are three parts of the personality (psyche); that are in constant conflict.

    The id is responsible for our impulsive desires; the superego is responsible for emotions, such as hilt and regret. The ego tries to balance the id and prevent giving in to temptations by rationalising with potential punishments resulting from impulsive desires.

    • Maladaptive behaviour happens when the ego and superego can’t combat the id, and humans give in to their impulsive desires.

    Falsifiability in Research

    Karl Popper, the philosopher behind the theory of falsifiability, proposed that theories or hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via experimental or observational methods.

    This means that hypotheses based on subjective opinions, such as ‘vanilla ice cream is tastier than chocolate ice cream,’ can’t be regarded as falsifiable. This is because the results will always be different when tested on a different sample, and the findings will be non-generalisable.

    Examples of falsifiability include:

    • A hypothesis that can be proven: is the relationship between caffeine intake before a test and memory recall.

    • A hypothesis that can’t be proven: unicorns are magical creatures.

    Principles of Falsifiability

    The principles of falsifiability suggest that:

    • Researchers’ perspectives and understandings influence their observations. Popper argued that the world is ‘theory-laden’, and we use these theories to understand and explain our observations.

    • Research should take a deductive approach, meaning hypotheses should be deduced based on existing theories. The researcher’s role is to support or reject theories.

    The opposite of deductive reasoning is inductive reasoning.

    A deductive approach is an approach of coming up with a theory based on existing knowledge, testing it and verifying or negating it.

    One of Popper’s examples was how most swans in Europe were white. Using inductive reasoning, Europeans assumed that all swans were white. However, after exploring Australia, where they saw black swans, they deduced that not all swans are white.

    • If a falsifiable theory is tested and yields significant results, then it’s accepted as scientific evidence. The current paradigm can largely impact whether a theory is accepted as scientific evidence.

    Paradigms and Falsifiability, Black swan paddling in water, StudySmarterFigure 1. Popper proposed the principles of falsifiability after observing a black swan.

    Falsifiability Examples

    Let’s look at falsifiability examples for common psychological approaches.

    Psychological Approach Falsifiable Hypothesis
    Biological White matter reduction in the frontal lobe (brain region) is associated with difficulties controlling behaviour.
    CognitiveBiased schemas can lead to inaccurate memory recall.
    PsychodynamicChildren fixated on the oral stage of the psychosexual stage are more likely to smoke during adulthood.
    Behavioural Learned behaviours such as phobias from a traumatic experience can be unlearned via aversion therapy.
    Humanistic People who have attained self-actualisation are less likely to be depressed than those who have not reached self-actualisation.

    A falsifiable statement means that it can be proven right or wrong. Still, sometimes the results are inferences rather than directly observable behaviours, e.g. we can’t directly observe depression scores or self-actualisation levels. Still, we can measure them through means such as questionnaires.

    Principles of falsifiability are important because it ensures that scientific research follows similar standards and upkeeps the advancement of psychology. Can we reach an absolute truth if every human perceives the world differently? Maybe there are several truths and that’s why we need several psychological approaches.

    But it isn’t easy to know when to draw the line. Does one observation disprove a whole theory? How many observations are required to disprove a theory?

    Paradigms and Falsifiability - Key takeaways

    • A research paradigm is the standard psychological perspectives and concepts that concern theories and research methods. Essentially, research paradigms are a way of looking at something.
    • Examples of paradigms are the cognitive approach to psychology, the biological approach to psychology, the behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.
    • The principles of falsifiability indicate that the approaches should use deductive logic to formulate hypotheses.
    • Examples of paradigms are the cognitive approach to psychology, the biological approach to psychology, the behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.
    • Falsifiability in research indicates that hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via experimental methods.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Paradigms and Falsifiability

    What are paradigms in theory?

    Paradigms are scientific and philosophical concept which entails standard perspectives and concepts concerning theories and research methods.

    What is the theory of falsifiability?

    The theory of falsifiability is a theory that proposes hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. They should be observable and able to be tested via experimental/observational methods.

    What is a paradigm?

    Paradigms are a group of theories or perspectives used to explain a specific subject. Essentially, this means that paradigms are a way of looking at something.

    What are the four paradigms?

    The four predominant paradigms during the current intellectual and cultural zeitgeist are cognitive psychology, the biological approach to psychology, the behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach.

    What are examples of paradigms?

    Psychologists who take a behavioural approach to understanding psychology explain behaviour in terms of learning via different methods, such as modelling, classical conditioning, or reinforcement.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as non-falsifiable?  

    Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as falsifiable?  

    What paradigm in psychology do behavioural psychologists accept?

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