Psychology as a Science
As Paul Valery, a French poet, essayist, and critic puts it, “The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.” Normally, people believe that what you see is what you get. However, on many, many situations, this is not the truth. Psychology helps us understand what the reasons behind certain phenomena are, and it leads us to view the world in a new and different perspective. It’s not only about common sense wherein the sound and prudent judgment was only based on simple perception of the situation or facts.
While we may say that a part of the success in developing psychological research is thanks to intuition, we must understand that it still has its flaws and limitations. Plessner, et al cites the definition of intuition as “a process of thinking. The input to this process is mostly provided by knowledge stored in long-term memory that has been primarily acquired via associative learning. The input is processed automatically and without conscious awareness. The output of the process is a feeling that can serve as a basis for judgments and decisions.” As you may know, a person can only learn so much. While we may be able to conjure a sound judgment with intuition, that doesn’t mean we could always be right. There are only some things that we’re able to learn as we grow up, and there are still a lot more that we are yet to discover; this is where the psychological research methods come in.
There are different ways and methods for researching, and this goes the same for psychology or psychological research. To learn psychology is to learn the nature of the scientific method. Unlike intuition where you only use what you already know, psychology and its research thrives to understand that which is not yet known.
This is why psychological research follows the steps of the scientific method. To analyze a certain situation, say a noticeable change in a person’s attitude, using the scientific method, we are to follow the concrete guideline which is: 1. Ask or formulate a question; 2. Research; 3. Construct/Make your hypothesis; 4. Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment; 5. Analyze your data and draw a conclusion; and 6. Communicate your result or make a generalization.
If a psychologist is to analyze a person’s sudden change of attitude, he must first know the problem. In this case, the problem is the changed attitude. Then, it would be time for research. In this phase, questions related to the central problem are to be answered. Why did his attitude suddenly change? When did it start? What caused it? When certain answers, facts, and data are gathered, a hypothesis is to be made. Following the example, we might say, after gathering data, that the person have monetary or family issues, which are troubling him—the result being his attitude change. To verify this hypothesis, an experiment must be done. How would we do that in this case? Directly question the person concerned. If you’re a psychologist and you’ve made an educated guess about a patient, usually, the only way to know if it’s right is to confront the person. Ask the person questions like or related to this example, “Did your attitude change due to the debts you have accumulated and the separation you had with your family?” As the person gives his answer, we would come to make a conclusion. Let’s say the person said “yes” to the question and explains the issues he had been facing. If this is so, we would come to conclude that the person is experiencing deep troubles, which in turn affect how he socialize and act toward his everyday activities, his job, and other people. Once the conclusion was made, we could finally tell a generalization. In this case, we may already tell that it was the monetary and family issues that had brought the change in the person’s attitude.
Although, a similar generalization may be conjured by common sense, the hunch would not be a fact until it is verified. And to verify it, the steps of scientific method should be followed.
Common sense. (2004). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved January 1, 2004, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/common sense
Ray, W. J. (2005). Methods Toward a Science of Behavior and Experience. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing
Plessner, H., Betsch. C., & Betsch, T. (2007). Intuition in Judgment and Decision Making. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hess, K. L. (2002-2009) Steps of Scientific Method. Science Buddies. Retrieved July 16, 2009 from Kenneth Lafferty Hess Family Charitable Foundation.