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I have a simple question, I'm sure you're all shall love it.

Do you think psychology is a science or it's just some sort of pseudoscience base on the philosophy of science?

Do you also think that the testability principle is a necessity in advance to consider a field to be scientific?

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    Not loving it, "what do you think" questions are off-topic here. And psychology is a science today despite Kant once thinking otherwise.
    – Conifold
    Feb 17 at 0:29
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    Modern psychology is actually testable. Are you sure you're not confusing with psychoanalysis?
    – armand
    Feb 17 at 0:54
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    Absolutely. One of the best philosophy of science books I own is Clinical Psychology and the Philosophy of Science.
    – J D
    Feb 17 at 6:53
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    I would suggest that "does publication in a peer-reviewed psychology journal respected by holders of psychology degrees constitute strong evidence for the truth and/or usefulness of a paper and its claims?" and "are there minds and can you do experiments to find out things about them?" are extremely different questions.
    – g s
    Feb 17 at 8:16
  • "Psychology" in the sense of the general field-of-knowledge, or "Psychology" in the sense of a currently-prevailing social-institution/community that claims to pursue that general field-of-knowledge?
    – Nat
    Feb 17 at 18:09

3 Answers 3

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Yes, psychology is a science.

Anyone who knows anything about psychology research should agree. Psychology follows the exact same principles of science as essentially every other scientific field.

The idea that it isn't a science presumably comes from therapy being more subjective - there are certainly subjective elements, but it's not purely subjective. There are also negative public perceptions of therapists just repeatedly asking "how does that make you feel", which is important for therapists to know (although some bad therapists might ask it a bit too much), but there's a lot more to therapy, and there are well-demonstrated treatments and diagnostic criteria behind what they do. There are entire research journals dedicated to psychology - it's a lot more than just therapy.

Psychology might also not have the best history. But people misusing psychology, doing psychology poorly, or mistreating people under the guise of psychology does not mean psychology itself is not valid science.

I suspect people also don't want to accept that psychology is a science because if we can reliably predict behaviour based on environmental and biological factors (which we can), then that undermines the idea of having some free will that's not bound by our biology and environment. Most people would accept that behaviour can at least be predicted to some degree in some cases (e.g. with mental illness or brain trauma). But the more behaviour we can predict, the less behaviour can be attributed to any such "free will".

Testing a hypothesis in psychology could look something like this:

  • Hypothesis: people with blue eyes are more likely to act like ...
  • Observe a group of people of varying eye colour and record how they behave.
  • Separate the recorded behaviours into those with blue eyes and everyone else.
  • Run a statistical test to determine whether to reject the hypothesis with some given confidence.

Take the above and replace some behaviour with having cancer, and now you'd be doing research in biology.

I'm oversimplifying a lot of details about how science is done, but the above is the basic idea that a lot of science follows.

Psychological research involves statistical hypothesis tests based on observations. Many other scientific fields (including things like biology) involve statistical hypothesis tests based on observations. I don't see any reasonable line that can be drawn that would separate psychology from other scientific fields.

It would probably also be difficult to argue that the psychological observations themselves are necessarily subjective (or, rather, more subjective than other scientific fields, given that human experience itself is subjective). Observations in psychology may include things like whether someone did something, which is about as objective of an observation as you can get: either they did it, or they didn't do it (or you do not know whether they did it). It could also include more subjective things like self-assessments of mood, but even those can be analysed using very concrete statistical methods to detect how those assessments changed across time. Never mind that psychology researchers are very much aware of the subjectivity within things like self-assessments, and they try to mitigate the effects of that in various ways.

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  • The scientific method can't be applied to subjective facts. An objective test of a subjective fact is by definition (and nature) polluted by subjectivity. Psychology is not a science, but a discipline in metaphysics.
    – RodolfoAP
    Feb 17 at 7:31
  • @RodolfoAP All observations are subjective. Hence all science is subjective, and applied to subjectivity. Falsification of your invalid claim by test.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 17 at 8:52
  • Science =\= determinism!!!!
    – Dcleve
    Feb 17 at 8:54
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    @RodolfoAP What is a "subjective fact"? What is not a "subjective fact"? Let's say there's a psychological study involving trying to determine whether having blue eyes increases the likelihood that someone would take up smoking. Is whether someone has blue eyes a subjective fact? Is whether someone smokes a subjective fact? Where's the subjective fact that would make such a study "not science"? Or if you accept that as science, but you say that's not psychology, then I can only recommend you read more/any psychology papers.
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 17 at 9:10
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    @Stef ... and now you're starting to get at why I don't think "free will" exists, why the definition doesn't make much sense and isn't something we should even want. You make decisions based on emotions and preferences, and you don't choose either. If you're making decisions not based on those things, you either don't care, in which case it doesn't matter, or you sometimes choose things you don't prefer or which you know will make you feel bad, neither of which is desirable (we certainly sometimes choose things that make us feel bad, but we do so due to another preference that outweighs that).
    – NotThatGuy
    Feb 17 at 14:37
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If you watch some experiments with monkeys doing tasks and rewards granted, it becomes clear they understand and insist on "equal pay for equal effort". Genetically ingrained.

Equal pay experiment presented in a Ted Talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meiU6TxysCg

It is observable. And repeatable.

Also publicly available are experiments showing they understand cooperation, and sharing as a result of gaining reward from shared effort.

Monkey cooperation experiment https://youtu.be/2BYJf2xSONc?si=hiRzazFW-CK1Kbzb

More personally, I did observe... Raccoons, who befriend humans, if scolded, will ask for foregiveness by stroking the humans beard. (assuming they have one).

I picked up on this while fostering an orphan raccoon from eye-closed age to about 5 months old. While I was fostering it, I came upon a used book in a thrift shop that had a raccoon story in it, so I purchased it, and read the story.

70 years earlier, a ranger in British Columbia, wrote a story, and noted this fact, that his friend raccon, when scolded would stroke his beard.

When being scolded, my little feller, Sly, would grasp at my face, I thought he was angry for being scolded... and looking to scratch me.

https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/1721328

After I read the story, the next time Sly earned a stern talking to, sure enough, the same behaviour.., reaching at my face with his front paws, claws opening and clenching. I brought him closer...

... beard stroked. And... he went ecstatic. Mewing, and cuddling and trying to squirm into my jacket. Completely lovey dovey.

Forgiven. Redeemed. Request communicated and granted.

It is anecdotal. A very veery small sample size. And it is an easily repeatable experiment. A testable controllable observable test into the psychology of genetically socially inclined creatures.

A genetic predisposition that leads to seeking of understanding, seeking acceptance, forgiveness, and redemption. (Sound like anybody we know? Or group?)

I conclude that... yes... at least some aspects of psychology are testable. Just find an orphaned raccoon that hasn't yet had time to learn behaviors... test if they are as ingrained genetically as I suggest. I would happily bet a bounty I don't get disproved. Though, be fair, if one raccoon fails, try a second, in case the first was a "lone wolf" gene carrier.

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    Argumentum from anecdote.
    – RodolfoAP
    Feb 17 at 7:28
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    @RodolfoAP. Untrue. Field studies are not “anecdote”.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 17 at 8:56
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    @RodolfoAP An anecdote that can be replicated is scientific. It's not scientific by the academic standards, of course, but I am talking about the philosophy of science.
    – rus9384
    Feb 17 at 10:30
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    @rus9384 -- Yes, an individual case study is science: tse1.mm.bing.net/th/id/… So is an opinion from an expert practitioner in the field. They are on the lowest tier of scientific evidence, but yes, they are science.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 17 at 17:47
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    I could have noted in my answer that my raccoon inspired observations, and the monkey experiments are not "clues in isolation", and were "puzzle pieces" put into a web of inter-related thoughts and concepts that were collected over several decades. They were more like "further reconciliation" than "starting points". The tip of an iceberg. Feb 17 at 19:10
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TLDR

Psychology is not part of science, but almost the opposite. Thinking that psychology is just part of science demeans its core foundation.

In detail

While science targets objective/physical facts, the object of study in psychology is essentially subjective/metaphysical. So,

Psychology is just not part of science. It is far more.

First, let's focus on how psychology is just not science.

Applying the scientific method does not make Psychology a science. There are two classical arguments about it:

On one hand, the scientific method can't be applied rigurously over inputs coming from subjects. A measure of subjective facts is at minimum non-objective. Such fact disqualifies the method. Scientific testability depends on the absolute exclusion of absolutely all subjective elements. It is not that science is objective: science is about the exclusion of subjective facts.

On the other (even if it subjective inputs can be considered objective), applying the scientific method over a subjective element vices the result, makes it subjective. In other words, the subjective quality of the measure makes the measure subjective. The fact that peace and humbleness can be tested using the scientific method doesn't make Buddhism a science. In the same way, the fact that subjective facts can be scientifically tested does not make them objective: subjective facts remain subjective.

If we would be able to measure a trauma by measuring the electrical behaviour of certain neurons, we would have a purely objective test. But such kind of practices, which in fact COULD GIVE PSYCHOLOGY THE CHARACTER OF A SCIENCE are not part of psychology. They are used in other branches of science. Repeat: such approach is part of science, but not part of psychology.

Now, let's get to the core: how, in a certain way, science is part of Psychology.

Many want to frame psychology as part of science just due to the belief that psychology would be a pseudo-science if it is not part of science. But such is a wrong appreciation. The core root of knowledge is Philosophy, which encompasses physika (science lies within) and meta ta physika; there is Mathematics, Logic, time, space, etc., what Kant calls PURE Metaphysics, mixed with a posteriori metaphysics: ontology, epistemology and... Psychology. So, psychology is way more profound than any conventional scientific discipline, it is part of Philosophy (did you ever wondered why you get a PhD and not a Science-D? Because Ph implies more profound knowledge).

Look it from a different perspective: psychology is not part of science, but almost the opposite: in a certain way, science is part of Psychology, because science is part of Philosophy.

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  • You do not understand science or empiricism. All observations are subjective. And we use observations, and the empirical process based on them, to do almost all our learning about the world. Science is just a formalization of informal empiricism, and it is intrinsically subjective. If you want to understand science, read some of Karl Poppers writings.
    – Dcleve
    Feb 17 at 9:02

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