Psychology as a Science

Have you ever found yourself studying a course catalog and feeling pulled in many directions? You could just as easily throw yourself into philosophy and physiology as you could into anthropology or political science. And you feel enthusiastic about all of these subjects. 

Psychology as a Science Psychology as a Science

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Table of contents

    If this sounds like you, maybe your future lies in the field of psychology. The history of this discipline is connected with all the fields mentioned. Let's take a look at how psychology became a field of scientific inquiry.

    • What is psychology?
    • How has psychology evolved?
    • To what extent can psychology be considered a science?
    • Is psychology a social science?

    Psychology as a Science Definition

    Psychology is defined as the scientific study of mental processes and human behavior.

    Psychologists endeavor to predict, explain, and describe human behavior. Why do we do the things that we do? Where do our drives and behavioral reflexes come from? How can we change our behavior or develop new behaviors to improve or enrich our lives?

    The field of psychology inquires into an exhaustive inventory of mental processes. How do we experience perception? What are our dreams, and where do they come from? How do we create, experience, and store memories? What is the nature of our emotions and where do they come from? How do we think and learn? How do our environment and freedoms affect our concept of reality? What effect do our mental processes have upon the body?

    Psychologists take all of these questions and employ scientific methods to gather data, and arrive at possible answers and conclusions.

    The findings within psychology can be applied to every area of the human experience. Because of this, there are many subfields that examine specific areas of experience more deeply. Psychology isn't just something that takes place in a research lab or a lecture hall. Today, psychologists are consulted in every profession. They work in schools, clinics, marketing firms, arts organizations, police departments, law firms, and government agencies, to name a few.

    Psychology as a Science busts of philosophers StudySmarterBusts of Greek philosophers, pixabay.com

    Evolution of Psychology as a Science

    Although human beings have been exploring the nature of our existence and how we experience it from as far back as history has a record, the field of psychology has traveled a long road before finally being considered a proper science.

    Psychology springs from the sort of inquiry we typically classify under philosophy. In the 400s BCE, Socrates and Plato were drawing conclusions about the nature of knowledge and the mind, and the mind's relationship to the body. Shortly thereafter, Aristotle advocated for what can be considered an early understanding of experimentation in his pursuit of understanding the nature of knowledge.

    Psychology evolved further in the 1600s with the advancement of science and technology. In seventeenth-century France, René Descartes was writing prolifically about the nature of the mind, the body, and god. Though primitive by today's standards, he made considerable observations about nerve pathways and reflexes. At the same time, Francis Bacon was credited as a founder of modern science while making observations about the nature of the mind.

    John Locke laid the groundwork for empiricism by emphasizing the importance of experience to our understanding of knowledge and reality. However, it took until 1879 for Wilhelm Wundt to found the first laboratory for psychological research, at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

    Development of Psychology as a Science

    Wundt somewhat accidentally fell into creating the first psychology lab. He and his students created a machine to assist in the task of recording the reaction time of subjects in an experiment. As a result of Wundt's creation, the first psychological research laboratory was born.

    There is some debate today concerning a potential overreach of psychology. Some question whether it is possible to study thinking. Should only observable behaviors be studied? Some criticize the application of psychology to what seems like every area of the human experience. However, questioning the nature of our experiences is exactly how psychology was born. The mind cannot be extricated from experience, so the study of psychology will likely have a home in every area of our lives (even those the future has yet to reveal to us).

    To What Extent Can Psychology Be Considered a Science?

    Because it employs the empirical method, psychology is considered a science. It applies scientific methodologies to the study of human behavior. The scientific method starts with inquiry, asking a question or forming a hypothesis. Next, we create a prediction based on the hypothesis. Then follows experimentation, analysis of the data, and reporting on the conclusion. We can say something is scientific because it is empirical or based on experimentation, not just logic or theory.

    Let's explore sleep in psychology and run it through the scientific process. Sleep researchers have postulated or hypothesized that lack of sleep harms memory. They predict that those who sleep fewer hours than others will have poorer results on memory retrieval activities.

    Sleep researchers then conduct experiments in a sleep lab. They have a control group, which sleeps a regular eight hours, and an experimental group, which sleeps a reduced five or so hours a night. The groups are then asked to perform exercises that require memory retrieval. The psychologists then analyze the data they collected from the experiment and make a report of their findings.

    Psychology as a Social Science of Human Behavior

    Psychology is most often classified as a social science. Indeed, this is probably where you'll find it in a course catalog in a university. Psychology studies the human mind, people, and their behavior, and how different environments and social situations affect us.

    The evolution of psychology as a science stretches as far back as human history allows. However, it is relatively young as an established science, and has seen rapid advancements in a short amount of time. The human propensity toward inquiry and analysis is likely to continue.

    Psychology as a Science - Key takeaways

    • Psychology is the scientific study of mental processes and human behavior.
    • Psychology is classified as a social science.
    • Wilhelm Wundt founded the first psychological study laboratory, and is thought of as a father of psychology.
    • Psychology is a science because it uses the scientific method to examine human behavior.
    • The scientific method includes forming a hypothesis, making a prediction, conducting an experiment, analyzing data, and reporting on findings.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Psychology as a Science

    What is the nature of psychology as a human science?

    Psychology is defined as the scientific study of mental processes and human behavior.

    How did psychology begin as a science?

    Psychology became a science with the founding of the first laboratory of psychology in 1879. 

    To what extent can psychology be considered a science?

    Psychology is considered a science because it employs the scientific method.

    Which type of science is psychology?

    Psychology is a social science.

    When was psychology accepted as a science?

    Psychology was accepted as a science in 1879.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Philosophy plays an important part in the foundations of psychology. True or False?

    Psychology is a relatively new science. True or False?

    Which of the following is not part of the scientific method? 

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