Psychology's Observables

From: Wright, Jon (
Date: Mon May 27 1996 - 14:56:49 BST

 The main problem with cognitive psychology is that there are relatively few
observable measures and many unobservables. While the fact that the activity in
the mind is unobservable it does not mean that it is useless to consider what
goes on since many hypothsized processes can still predict and explain without
there being proof. Psychology deals, in general, with behaviour whether it be
stress, interaction, understanding, health behaviour or whatever. In many cases
there are empirical measures which are useful but are usually calculated in
terms of comparisons or deviation from the average. The Stress Readjustment
Rating Scale is based on people's reports of stressful events all of which are
later given an arbitrary value in relation to "100=Death of spouse". IQ tests
are designed such that the average will always be 100 (in the whole population)
no matter what the 'intelligence' of the subjects is. These are indeed
observables but they are comparative empirical measures. Strictly defined, an
observable should be a measure which other people can investigate and accurately
verify, a measure which describes a precise variable. One can measure heart
rate, blood pressure, reaction time, levels of various hormones in the blood and
get an exact value from a test which other researchers could replicate and which
does not rely on some kind of convention such as words meaningfulness scores.
In terms of cognitive psychology observables might be behaviour or some brain
scanning technique. Behaviour is observable since you can measure how good a
person's memory is under a variety of conditions, for example (but it will still
only allow further predictions of behaviour with merely hypothesized causes).
Brain imaging allows pictures to be created of brain activity showing blood flow
for PET or neural activity for EEG, for example.

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