Critically Discuss the Use of the Scientific Method in Psychology
This essay examines the advantages and disadvantages of using a method primarily for gathering research on human subjects that can be examined for later use. It will give a basic outline of the methods of investigation, their uses and their suitability. I will also look at the scientific method as a whole and examine the criticisms of this method using the writings of Hume and Popper.
The first method I will look at is the rt method which is built upon collected data from surveys etc. Its main plus points being that it uses a much larger sample than the other methods because it takes less time to collate the results. It is also useful because it allows for further research to be added – it can be updated. There are a number of problems with this. The subjects may not feel comfortable and could answer just to please the experimenter. A big problem with the method is that it does not give enough range for the subject. They are restricted within the boundaries of the tick boxes. The researcher can only learn so much.
The laboratory experiment gives the experimenter a greater chance to control the conditions and enables you to measure behaviour with greater precision. This method also allows for quantative research and also enables greater control of variables. Although it gives the experimenter greater control, this can also seem daunting to the subject who may feel more uncomfortable and is less likely to give an natural reaction or answer. This type of research also relies on strict controlled conditions so that the experimenter can in no way affect the test or experiment.
The field experiment is similar to the laboratory experiment in the way that an independent variable is manipulated but the methods differ because the field experiment tries to simulate the real life scenario more effectively. It is seen as a more valid “real-life” situation. The participant is unaware of the experiment and so the results are unaffected by bias. This method does not give the experimenter enough control over the independent variable being tested so examination and comparison of the results is difficult. There are ethical issues to be looked at as well because of the participants’ ignorance of what is taking place. For these reasons the experiment will also be difficult to replicate.
The natural experiment is seen by some as a non-experiment. It does not test an independent variable but rather analyses the variables on offer. This has the highest level of ecological validity because there are no test conditions as such.
Though there are many good and bad aspects of the scientific method, there is an underlying fault with all of them. The scientific method in psychology relies on empiricism. Empiricism is a view that all knowledge is derived from experience. The scientific method can ultimately be split into two attitudes. The first is the dogmatic attitude. Dogmatism is the wish to impose regularities on the basis that repetition of regularly occurring events mean that a belief in the truth of something proves that is correct. It relies on the view that you can confirm a belief by testing it. It is the product of an inductive method. It assumes that conclusions can be justified because you can repeatedly produce the same results. The critical attitude is that you can add to your belief and make it stronger through testing.
Hume’s theory states ” the strength of a belief should be a product of repetition”
The critical attitude a method is a way of trying to establish a belief rather than trying to prove its genuineness. Popper believed then that the critical attitude is identified with the scientific attitude and that the dogmatic attitude is associated with the pseudo-scientific.
Yet Popper goes further to criticise both the methods of deduction and induction. He points out “The demand for rational proofs in science indicates a failure to keep distinct the broad realm of rationality and the narrow realm of certainty: it is untenable, an unreasonable demand. In fact nothing can be proved or disproved (outside of maths and logic)”.
This is then the most important fault in the scientific method. For the scientific method to be used, then it must rely on assuming a number of things are true which are not testable within the system. They are only true to the extent that, for example, we think we have included all the relevant variables when conducting a psychological experiment. However, this is an assumption because we have no way of knowing whether all the relevant variables have in fact been taken into consideration.