Why is Psychology a Science? Part 1: Defining Characteristics

Everyone is an armchair psychologist.  Most of the humans I know love to people watch. We like to invent our own theories about why people do the things that they do. ‘Bob eats so much because he has low self-esteem. Hattie is so loud at parties because that is part of her personality.’ But, the general ideas that we have about behaviour, both as individuals and a society, do not always turn out to be true. Milgram’s (1963) study was a classic example; we did not believe that someone would be capable of delivering electric shocks to another person, but in the right conditions those people obeyed and did exactly that *. So, while it can be fun to have our own opinions about the causes of our behaviour, we need a more rigorous approach to help us to establish the facts.  By using scientific methods such as experiments, psychology has established itself as a more trustworthy and reliable source of information about ourselves.

When I was new to studying Psychology, I wished that I had read a similar article to the one I have written here. At college, I would inevitably encounter students of different subjects areas who would downright scoff at the idea of ‘science’ and ‘psychology’ being used together in the same sentence. I felt in my gut that they did not know the whole story. But at the time I just could not find the words to back up my beliefs.  This was incredibly frustrating for me as I was so passionate about my view!

Humans are incredibly complex creatures. Discovering the precise causes of behaviour in any given moment can seem like an impossible task. There are so many factors that could be involved. Biologists can show us that the heart pumps blood around the body. They have cold hard evidence to back up their theories. Psychology doesn’t always have this advantage. You cannot see ‘the mind’, so how can we demonstrate that it has an impact on our behaviour? This is probably the reason why some individuals are sceptical of a scientific approach to psychology.  But the majority of fields within psychology are most definitely a science!  And I hope to convince you of this by the end of this series.
Continue reading Why is Psychology a Science? Part 1: Defining Characteristics