Critically discuss the extent to which Psychology as a discipline can be considered: a) scientific and b) objective/value free.
The question of Psychology being a science is straightforward. Science is an absolute concept. Something can not be moderately scientific, just as something can not be moderately true; it either is or it isn’t, as there is no in between measure of the concept. The question of Psychology being objective and value free, however, is more complex. Objectivity can be achieved to an extent by appearing to remove the individual from the scientific process, for instance abandoning the use of personal pronouns when writing up findings, however without values there is no science and without science there are no values. The strive for value free science is a similar concept to a philosophers strive for a perfect utopian society; simply unattainable. As long as humans continue to play an active role in science and society it will be driven by values and science will provide the evidence to either reinforce or discredit these values. Popper (1959) views science as the formulation of hypotheses that are testable and falsifiable. If science is about falsifying theories then it is correct to say that Psychology is a science; theories are formed and Psychological research provides evidence which either confirms or disputes the hypothesis. However, it would be equally as correct to say that Psychology is essentially a social science and is a science that has the power to improve society through empirical study. This is because the subject matter is crucially different to the subject matter used in the traditional sciences such as Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Psychology deals with human beings who possess free will and are therefore able to create their own views on the way society should be. Psychology does not necessarily disprove hypotheses, as who is to say which individual is right or which is wrong, however it does provide solid scientific evidence that allows people to make educated decisions regarding collective view points, leaving it up to the individual to decide whether the hypothesis has been confirmed or disproved. One example of the power of empirical evidence to influence societal views is the theory that women are less competent in the workplace than men. Lahtinen & Wilson (1994) argued that men had higher status jobs because of mens greater dominance in the workplace and used findings from Psychological research conducted by Hampson (1990) that women performed worse on various tasks during menstruation. This was later found to hold no scientific truth as further studies showed that there was little significant difference in the intelligence and skills of men and women. Another example is the idea of homosexuality as a mental illness; until scientific evidence proved that this is not the case, in the 20th century this was the widely accepted viewpoint, leading to the imprisonment of homosexuals on the grounds that they were mentally unstable. This demonstrates the power of empirical evidence to change societal paradigms and ultimately improve the lives of the oppressed. Kuhn (1962) considers paradigms to be an important factor in the classification of a discipline as a science. Kuhn views paradigms as a world view shared amongst the great majority of working scientists in a particular discipline, and that these views are subject to change when a revolutionary discovery results in a paradigm shift. One such revolutionary shift in Psychology was the emergence of ADHD; as ADHD entered the lexicon of society cases of ADHD began to steadily rise. Children have always misbehaved, but this misbehaviour is now commonly attributed to deficit in attention and managed with medication rather than looking at other possible causes. Psychology has encountered, and is still encountering many paradigm shifts which coincide with the cultural Zeitgeist of the times; in the American Civil Rights era when...
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Hampson, E. (1990). Variations in sex-related cognitive abilities across the menstrual cycle. Brain and cognition, 14(1), 26-43.
Kuhn, T.S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chigago Press cited in Kuhn, T. S. (2012). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago press.
Lahtinen, H. K., & Wilson, F. M. (1994). Women and power in organizations. Executive Development, 7(3), 16-23.
Popper, K. R. (1959). The propensity interpretation of probability. The British journal for the philosophy of science, 10(37), 25-42.
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