Psychology as a Science/Free Will & Determinism

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“Psychology as a Science”
&
“Free Will and Determinism”
(Applied to Pro and Anti Social Behaviour)

This essay will look to analyse and evaluate two of the major debates in psychology. In the first half of the essay the question ‘Is psychology a science?’ will be discussed and arguments for and against will be looked at. In the second part of the essay the debate ‘Free Will versus Determinism’ will be discussed and applied to Pro and Anti Social Behaviour. Psychology, according to Gross (2009:4) is literally “…the study of the mind”, derived from the Greek words ‘psyche’ which translates as mind, soul or spirit and ‘logos’ meaning knowledge or study. However, this definition is far too simplistic and throughout history many well known theorists have debated its true meaning. Early philosophers such as Boring and Aristotle claimed psychology was the study of human nature and ‘a science of the soul’, others such as Titchner argued that it was more of a ‘science of the mind’ and more recently J.B. Watson disagreed that it was in fact ‘the science of behaviour’ (Aqsa, n.d.). However, it is probably better not to get too embroiled in the philosophical debate, and instead to look at the main aims of psychology. There are five basic goals within the discipline of psychology; to describe (through objective observation), to explain (why the subject acted in a particular way), to predict (if you know what and why behaviour happens now, you can hypothesize about future behaviour), to control (the behaviour) and finally to improve (to control the behaviour in a constructive manner). Furthermore, psychologists, in order to achieve the afore-mentioned goals, use various methods to do so depending on the subject matter, whether they favour psychoanalytic, cognitive, behaviourist or biological approaches (AllPsych, 2011). Consequently, if these are the basic goals of psychology, can they be done so scientifically? In order to answer this it would be useful to look at the definition of science. According to some, science should be about “…Empirical evidence, objectivity, control over variables, predictability, hypothesis testing and replication”. Therefore, emphasis is placed on distinguishing the scientific method from other explanations using orderly experimentation (simplypsychology.com, 2008) So, if the aim of science is to use a systematic process in order to gain an understanding of cause and effect relationships, then it should be possible to apply this method to psychology, as it aims for similar outcomes. Psychology certainly meets the criteria of what constitutes a science, it uses logical and objective methods, verifies its findings and it definitely looks at cause and effect relationships in order to produce universal laws of behaviour. But is this enough to call it a science? It is perhaps useful to look at the contributions psychological research has made in order to see how it uses the scientific method to explain behaviour. Studies such as The Stanford Prison Experiment (1971) by Philip Zimbardo highlighted the powerful role that the situation plays in human behaviour and recently gained attention when reports came through of prisoner abuses in Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and which demonstrated real-world examples of Zimbardo’s research. (Cherry, 2011). However, Zimbardo’s work is often criticised for ethical reasons as well as for its lack of ecological validity, further adding to the debate of whether psychology should be regarded as a true science. Similarly Cherry (2011) describes the Asch Conformity Experiments, which showed that participants conformed to incorrect answers so as not to be ridiculed or because they believed the others must be correct and which remains one of the most famous in psychology history. The experiments went on to inspire further research on why people conform and the effects of pressure on behaviour. These, and other psychological experiments have been extremely beneficial in our...
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