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Psychology is a science that studies human behaviour and the cognitive processes of the mind. It is the topic of many discussions and debates whether psychology actually qualifies as a science. As will further be discussed, the profession has developed tremendously well as a science and follows many facets of the scientific method, therefore, should definitely be classed a science. There are many arguments that support this theory, as well as many that oppose of it. With sufficient evidence, it is shown that psychology is a science and it is used to develop theories about human perception and thinking. However, the focus of psychology has not always been thought of as scientific. Over the past century psychology has flourished from an art into a science and it has taken many years for it to develop into how it is known today, as a modern science. The term science is used to define a body of knowledge that has been derived from the systematic application of the scientific method. The scientific method is a system of investigating a subject or phenomena, in this case the human psyche, following methods and procedures, focusing on basic principles and general laws of science. (Penguin, 2001) Research can be undertaken using various methods including experiments, questionnaires and observational studies. The main objective of scientific research is to explain, describe and predict certain aspects of a phenomenon. Often, in psychological research, the purpose of a study is to discover causal factors of a particular area of interest in order to understand why certain things occur, such as why do some children develop differently to others? Or why are particular people more susceptible to develop mental illnesses? Once an investigative study has been undertaken, the researcher is required to compile the findings of the study and report on it. The study then moves towards the difficult task of presenting the data in a manner that convincingly conveys the information, in order to prevent skepticism and provide credible, plausible empirical research. (Sue, S, 1999) In the modern psychological profession, the main focus has not only been to promote human welfare, with the practice of clinical psychologists, but also to advance as a science and despite many intellectual battles and differentiating opinions along the way, it has become quite successive as a scientific discipline. The founder of psychology was a German Professor, William Wundt (1832- 1920). He first brought psychology into light as an independent scientific discipline, concentrating on the consciousness. He stated that it should be a science, based on the fields of physics and chemistry, this way it would still keep its focus on the mind, but would use scientific methods in order to study it. Wundt opened the first research laboratory for psychology in Germany in 1879. This began a new era for psychology with many students studying underneath Wundt, following his principles, which led to the opening of more laboratories, many of which were in America. Throughout the rise of the profession there have been endless debates on what the focus of the scientific psychology should be. Edward Titchener, a former student of Wundt‟s, believed that it should study the elements of the consciousness such as sensations and feelings, this school of thought came to be known as structuralism. This form of study undertook the method of introspection, which involves observing the subject in various conditions and using visual stimuli, optical illusions and other types of probes during the study. The participant would then give an explanation of their experiences during the study in order to be analysed. (Weiten, W) The argument against this approach, known as functionalism, was led by the work of an American Scholar, William James. Functionalists believed that psychology should focus on the functions of consciousness instead of its structure. This approach was found to be more successful then that of structuralism and led to the emergence of behaviourism and applied psychology, two dominating schools of thought which changed the path of psychology. Behaviourists stated that psychology should only focus on observable behaviour. This approach was directed by John B Watson (1878-1958), who believed that scientific psychology should change its focus completely to study behaviour that can only be observed directly. Watson believed that this approach would provide the most credible, exact and more so, verifiable data. This brought the debate of “nature versus nurture” to view, and Watson argued that the surrounding environment was more dominate then that of heredity. The opposing opinion was that of Gestalt psychology and this brought the focus of psychology back to the study of the conscious. The opinion of Gestalt psychologists was that the focus should remain on the conscious experience and was mainly concerned with perception. The work of Sigmund Freud focused the unconscious and mental disorders. He believed that unconscious thoughts influenced a person‟s behaviour without them knowing it. Freud used a technique called psychoanalytic theory, which emphasise is on explaining personality and mental disorders through the unconsciousness. Psychoanalytic theory followed the belief that people were influenced greatly by there sexual urges, many people of this era found this to be controversial, sex was not a topic that was to be spoken about openly. Despite this, Freud‟s popularity grew and the psychoanalytic theory became well known throughout the field of psychology. (Weiten, W) Behaviourism returned in the 1950‟s with the argument that the focus should continue to be on observable behaviour. B F Skinner (1904-1990), used laboratory experimentation methods with animals to prove that behaviour was governed by external stimuli. Some of his most famous experiments included training animals to perform behaviours that they normally wouldn‟t do, such as, teaching pigeons to play ping pong. These experiments were used in his argument to prove that people are controlled by their environment and their actions are not the result of conscious decisions. The argument against this brought about a new school of thought called humanism. Humanists believed that the study of animals was irrelevant to the study of human psychology and they argued that the focus should be based on humans themselves. The debate has not stopped there, psychology took a turn, once again, back to its original focus of the mind. Cognitive research has followed the thought that it is crucial to study the mind to help understand behaviour and is the most dominant form of the psychological discipline today. For something to be scientific there is a requirement for something to study. Many argue that psychology, the study of the psyche, can not be studied physically and therefore is not a science. Arguments that the consciousness does not contain sufficient qualities that can be studied scientifically have been proven wrong by the existence of many successful scientific studies that have been undertaken, such as, experiments on the mental development of children, the effectiveness of education and studies on behavioural differences between the sexes. To study the cognitive processes of the mind, methods such as electrical stimulation and scientific studies on the brain functions are used, for example, through scientific research on the brain it has been found that the right and left half of the brain handle different mental tasks. Modern psychology has proven that people, their thoughts and cognitive processes can be studied scientifically and despite the many debates and changes to the subject matter of the psychology discipline, the focus of scientific research remained. Psychology continued to use the application of experiments and controlled situations to undertake studies and continues to provide further understanding and predictions of particular areas of interest. This was successful with the use of experiments, questionnaires and psychological testing. These methods are also used to investigate the cognitive processes of the human mind and provide sufficient data in order to present reputable empirical research. As shown, there are many experimental procedures undertaken during the study of psychology. Often, due to ethical reasons certain studies cannot be carried out. In this case, an investigative method called psychometrics is used. The term psychometrics is used when two variables of a study are carefully observed. This method of study allows psychologists to introduce other methods of researching techniques, such as psychological testing and questionnaires, which produce reliable and sufficient scientific data made possible with the use of statistics. The statistical method is used to provide quantitative data on observations of a population of study that occur outside of the laboratory. Statistics help to strengthen the legitimacy of the data that is produced from psychological studies. The use of statistics has extended the study of psychology from focusing directly on one individual at a time to concentrating on the characteristics of a population. A „population‟ is a group of people used to represent the entire population of a study. To make this possible, the hypothetical population is used and all the participants undertake the same investigative procedures during the study, from this statistics are collected and a mean, or average, is sought from the data and used as an overall result for the study at hand. Despite the forever changing debates on what the focus should be on, from the beginning of the scientific discipline of psychology, it has always used and applied methodological investigations to its studies in order to provide scientific evidence of its findings. Laboratory experimentation is used where possible to establish and produce credible knowledge during studies and closely follows the examples set by other experimental sciences. Whilst in many cases of psychological research the focus is on naturally occurring issues and important concerns of everyday life. Within this area of the psychological scientific discipline it has developed its own investigative style and experimental techniques but still follows scientific methodologies and laws that are different in some ways to that of the traditional sciences, which mainly concentrate on artificial objects that are produced such as chemical elements, but still qualify as scientific. Psychology is successful as a science as it draws on a hypothesis, it uses valuable researching techniques and methods such as experiments, questionnaires and data collecting. Once it has found the appropriate information the data is then analyzed and concluded by reporting of the new found findings.
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