Psychology as a Science and the use of Scientific Methods in Psychological Research

Psychology as a field of study has evolved considerably over last few years with different perspectives, approaches and research interests of psychologists and researchers. But they all have one thing in common and that is relying on the usage of scientific methods. The field of psychology as a scientific area of study is important for both practitioners and researchers. The psychologists engaged in research activities focus on unleashing newer perspectives on the causes of human behaviour by using scientific methods. On the other hand, the practitioner psychologists such as clinical psychologists, counsellors, industrial-organizational psychologists and school psychologists utilize the existing research knowledge in enhancing or improving the life of people.

Just like other social sciences, psychology is also a science as it attempts to predict the causes of human behaviour by relying on data collection, empirical evidences and provide interpretations by analyzing facts and evidences related to different behavioural tenets. Much of the research work on psychology is based on a scientific examination of day to day human behaviour (Heider, 1958; Kelley, 1967). By applying the scientific methods, the psychologists systematically and objectively explain the cause of variations in human behaviour.

Psychologists study and analyze human behaviour by providing different levels of explanations, which ranges from biological level to social level to cultural level. These levels of explanation are also called as perspectives used for understanding and explaining human behaviour. Biological factors such as genes, neurotransmitters, neurons and hormones are all integrated with lower levels of explanation. On the other hand, explanations of the middle levels refer to the individual’s characteristics and abilities, whereas explanations of the highest levels refer to the social set-ups, organizations and cultural factors (Cacioppo, Berntson, Sheridan, & McClintock, 2000). These three levels of explanation can be aptly explained with the help of an example. Depression is very common these days, which is caused due to all the three factors biological, individual attitude and socio-cultural factors.

Depression can be treated at lower levels by investigating the chemical changes in the brain that cause depression and can be treated by the clinical psychologists with the help of drugs. At the middle level, the individuals suffering from depression can be helped by treating with therapies or sessions for helping them to overcome negative experiences of life. At the highest level, the psychologists attempt to analyze the cause of depression between men and women or across cultures. Research results reveal that depression affects women at a much higher rate than men and it is alarmingly high in Western cultures (USA, Europe and Canada) than the Eastern cultures (Japan, China and India, Chen, Wang, Poland, & Lin, 2009; Seedat et al., 2009. All the levels of explanation help us to understand the cause of depression from diverse perspectives. All the levels of explanation help in understanding the causes of depression from a broader perspective.

Reasons for using Empirical methods in Psychology

All social researchers use empirical techniques for sharing insights on their respective disciplines of research. Empirical techniques involve collection of data, organizing data and providing conclusions about the data. Scientists deploy scientific methods for conducting empirical research. Scientific methods can be defined as combination of rules, assumptions and procedures which are followed for conducting scientific research by the social and research scientists.

Though scientific research methods may not guarantee an objective and an unbiased solution for various questions, still scientific methods are considered to be the best for deriving close to accurate conclusions about the people and their behaviour across the world. Old facts or research ideas are discarded or replaced by the newer research facts and findings. Empiricism and objectivity in social research provide a much accurate understanding about different shades of human behaviour in comparison with other approaches.

Psychological processes are complex and making predictions about the psychological phenomenon is very difficult because of the individual differences and various factors which influence their behaviour in relation with different levels of explanation. Scientific research methods should be free from personal biases or prejudices of the scientists. The goal of scientific research is to provide a meaningful interpretation to the information gathered for applying it in similar situations by following certain principles which can be generalized for such situations, which is termed as laws. In Psychology, there are certain well established laws which are accepted worldwide such as Weber’s laws and the Law of Effect. But since these laws have a proven validity and have already been accepted as general principles, these laws need to be subjected to any kind of scientific testing.

Theory is also interrelated with the laws in the hierarchy of generalized principles. A theory can be defined as an integrated combination of principles that predicts the observable patterns in a relationship in a given domain of investigation. Let’s analyze the crucial characteristics of good theories:

  1. A proper theory should be general, which means a good theory should be able to summarize various outcomes.
  2. Good theories should be parsimonious.
  3. Good theories should provide ample scope for future research and investigation in a given field of research.
  4. Good theories can be falsified

The already existing theories can be challenged or altered based on data collection and information gathered, then new modified theories are further tested for making important predictions based on new data gathered.

Psychological Research

The main objective of psychological research is to analyze human behaviour and provide effective solutions for problems like memory and learning issues, aggression and depression, issues related to various psychological disorders and used in a wide range of research activities for further studies and investigations. Psychological research can be divided into Basic Research and Applied Research. Basic research attempts to understand the basic questions around human behaviour. On the other hand applied research investigates those issues which have day to day implications on our everyday life and provide remedial solutions for addressing our everyday problems.

Psychologists develop testing instruments for testing and investigating their research questions for measuring the feelings, thoughts and behavioural processes of individuals and analyze as well as interpret the data gathered. By learning about the principles and key processes of psychological research, one can critically evaluate the data gathered and arrive at a relevant decision.

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