There’s been a long debate about the question: “Is psychology a science?” By defining what psychology is and looking at the ways in which academics have defined science, we can come to see how psychology is classified as a science.
To get to this endpoint, let’s explore the details about psychology and science.
What is Psychology?
The term psychology can be broken down into its root words that are Greek. Psyche means “mind” or “soul.” Logos means “the study of.” Psychology is the study of mental processes and human behavior.
Psychology consists of the following scientific steps:
- Collecting facts
- Developing theories and hypotheses to explain the facts
- Testing the theories
What Makes Psychology a Science?
Regardless of how you view psychology, it’s either going to be placed into the social sciences or science category. To support psychology as a science, we turn to the idea of empirical evidence. Empirical evidence is able to be supported and verified by way of observation and experience, as opposed to simply relying on logic or theory.
Through empirical evidence, psychologists can understand human behavior because of observation. Since the mind cannot be directly observed, it is through actions that psychologists are able to better grasp what may be happening in the mind.
Going deeper, psychology leverages the following:
- Reasoning: Psychologists rely on scientific reasoning to interpret and design psychological research and interpret phenomena.
- Discipline: At the core of psychology sits the scientific method. Psychologists conduct studies and contribute to research based on verifiable evidence.
- Research: Like traditional science, psychologists make use of quantitative and qualitative research methods that are necessary for performing analysis and drawing conclusions.
- Application: To practice psychology in a practical setting, students must complete further education beyond a bachelor’s degree. In most instances, a psychologist will need to obtain a PhD. This advanced education will consist of research skills and robust knowledge and application of the scientific method.
Key Characteristics of a Science
To define any field as a science, it generally will cover these key elements:
When conducting any study, researchers must remain unbiased and objective. They cannot let their own emotions and feelings enter the process. Additionally, while it’s not always possible to fully remove bias, it is necessary to minimize it as much as possible. That’s a main tenet of science.
Evidence is collected through experiments and observations. Again, this negates the entry of belief. While data is being collected, the information is diligently recorded so that other researchers can review the validity and the process.
In order to deduce cause and effect (independent variables and dependent variables), variables must be controlled.
To start off the process, an observation is made. Then, scientists, academics, and researchers create their hypothesis, which is a prediction that’s rooted in theory. These hypotheses should be clearly stated and then tested through unbiased experiments.
Based on the findings of research, scientists should technically be able to forecast and predict the future.
When scientists develop experiments, they should be able to be replicated to test if the outcomes are the same given different variables. When the same results occur based on the same conditions, then that provides credibility and accuracy to the findings, which can give way to the creation of a scientific theory or discovery.
Social Science: A Definition
It’s clear to see how psychology maintains the elements of science. However, the argument exists because it also can fall into the category of a social science based on the definition.
A social science is any academic study or science that looks at human behavior in a social and cultural aspect. Such studies include: sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, and for some, psychology.
Psychology as a Social Science
When it comes to studying psychology in college, most institutions will classify psychology under social science. As a student, you’ll study social behaviors, human development, and emotions, which all include social science methods. However, depending on the speciality of psychology you can pursue, some align more closely with hard science and others with social science.
For example, neuropsychology and biological psychology are closer to physical sciences. Social psychology, as you probably guessed, is closely aligned to the social sciences.
What Do Psychologists Do?
The main goal of a psychologist is to understand humans’ emotions, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In both the short term and long term, clinical psychologists work with patients to help them deal with and overcome their problems.
Psychologists have the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and study various sub disciplines. For example, a psychologist can work as a clinical psychologist, child psychologist, career counselor, professor, or neuropsychologist, to name a few.
Psychologists can be found working in private practice, rehabilitation facilities, schools, hospitals, clinics, corporations, sports teams, and other settings.
How to Become a Psychologist
To practice as a psychologist, you must complete the licensure process. Before becoming licensed, you’ll need to earn a degree.
Here are the basics steps you’ll need to follow to work in this rewarding field:
- Undergraduate Studies: Begin by earning your bachelor’s degree. You can do so in psychology or a related field like education, communication, or sociology, for example.
- Graduate Studies: To specialize, you’ll continue your formal education with a master’s, doctor of psychology (PsyD), PhD in Psychology, or education specialist (EdS) in Psychology.
- Intern: Based on your level of study, you’ll have to fulfill a specified number of hours working under a licensed psychologist and learning from them while completing projects.
- Licensure: To legally call yourself a psychologist and work as a psychologist, you’ll have to obtain licensure. The steps to do so will vary by state and location. However, the general idea is that you will have to pass national exams and work under supervision of a licensed psychologist. Some states also may require an oral examination or jurisprudence examination to understand the legal issues concerning psychology.
The Bottom Line
No matter how you look at it, the answer is yes to the question, “Is psychology a science?” While some people will argue that psychology is a social science, others will view it as a hard science.
Regardless of how you categorize the area of study and career, there are a variety of subspecialties and career paths to choose within the realm.