Re: What Is Psychology?

From: Catriona Barrett (
Date: Mon Nov 03 1997 - 21:47:46 GMT

The word 'psychology' is derived from two Greek words, 'psyche',
meaning the mind, soul or spirit and 'logos', meaning discourse or to
study. These words combined produce the 'Study of the mind'.

Psychology first appeared as a discipline in its own right around the
time of 1879 when William Wundt opened the first ever psychology
laboratory in the University of Leipzig in Germany. He and his
colleagues were concerned with studying the mind via 'introspection',
or observing their own thoughts and feelings as they occured. These
conscious mental processes were recoreded under controlled conditions
and the emphasis on control and measurement in these investigations
were what first established psychology as a scientific discipline as
opposed to its parent discipline, philosophy.

Psychology is the Science of Mental Life, both of it's phenomena and of
their conditions...The Phenomena are such things as we call feelings,
desires, cognition, reasoning, decisions and the like. (William James,

This century, however, many psychologists, inparticular the American
J.B. Watson, began to question the validity of these methods. He
believed that it was impossible to either prove or disprove the results
obtained by introspection. If one person's introspection produces
different results form another, it does not necessarily mean that one
set of results is correct and the other is incorrect. As a result
Watson suggested that psychologists should confine their studies to
what can be measured and observed by more than one person, behaviour.

Thus behaviourism was formed. This particular school implied that
humans are complex animals that should be studied scientifically.
Watson believed that by doing so would be the only way to enable
psychology to be referred to as a scientific discipline. Does this now
mean that psychology is, in fact, a scientific discipline? In order to
determine this it is necessary to take into account the whole concept
of science.

Science can be defined in many ways but it has been proposed that there
are certain criteria to be met. Firstly, there must be a definable
subject matter, in other words, the range of objects or phenomena that
are to be studied must be clearly defined. Secondly, there must exist a
kind of theory construction and hypothesis testing. A theory can be
defined as "a complex set of interrelated statements which attempts to
explain certain observed phenomena". from this theory it must be
possible to create testable statements about the relationship of two or
more variables. It is these testable statements that are known as
"hypotheses' and it is the hypotheses that are tested during scientific
research. Thirdly, facts must be established through the use of
"empirical' methods of investigation, in other words, observation,
measurement and other objective methods. Lastly, attempts should be
made to establish general laws or principles.

If we take all these criteria and apply them to the discipline of
psychology it may be possible to determine whether or not psychology is
a science. Firstly, it can indeed be said that psychology does have a
definable subject matter, which is the study of the mind and behaviour.
Secondly, the discipline of psychology does construct theories, for
example, the theory invented by Piaget that children are born with a
Language Acquisition Device that enables them to learn language.
Psychology also tests its hypotheses, for example, by placing a child
in an environment where no verbal communication is made at all and to
see whether or not the child does learn language. This would determine
whether language is an innate ability in children or whether it is
learned through social interactions with others. Thirdly, the
discipline of psychology does use empirical methods of investigation,
such as observing and recording the behaviour of children in response
to certain stimuli. Lastly, the discipline of psychology does attempt
to establish general laws, for example, that the mind and thoughts and
feelings inparticular directly affect behaviour.

The discipline of psychology can be said to satisfy the necessary
criteria and so may therefore be classed as a 'science'.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Tue Feb 13 2001 - 16:24:19 GMT