Re: Psychology's Observables

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Fri Jun 07 1996 - 20:25:14 BST

> From: "Wright, Jon" <>
> Date: Mon, 27 May 1996 14:56:49 +0100 (BST)
> The main problem with cognitive psychology is that there are relatively
> few observable measures and many unobservables.

Compared to what? Does physics has more observables and fewer
unobservables? Does engineering?

> 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.

Proof is only possible in mathematics. In psychology, as in physics,
theories are formulated and tested.

> Psychology deals,
> in general, with behaviour whether it be stress,

Stress is behaviour? What do you observe?

> interaction, understanding,

Interaction I might be able to see as behaviour, but understanding? How
do you observe 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.

What is the point that is being made here, and its relation to the
material covered in the course?

> 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.

This reply seems to be for the wrong question, indeed, the wrong

> 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.

At last that made sense (except the very last bit).

> 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).

So memory is NOT an observable.

> Brain imaging allows pictures to be
> created of brain activity showing blood flow for PET or neural activity
> for EEG, for example.

You will need to sort the concepts out more clearly, and focus on the

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