Psychology is defined as the science of mind and behaviour. Not surprisingly this is a very large and diverse subject area with links to other life sciences. The most notable is biology, which links to cognitive psychology (especially neuroscience) and evolutionary genetics. Psychology places a lot of emphasis on understanding behaviour by studying the brain. An understanding of biochemistry and technology such as MRI scanning is important.
This emphasis on technology and scientific methods puts psychology in the category of a science. Confusion is caused by the Freudian image that many people have of psychologists.
It is true that Sigmund Freud played an important role because he was one of the first to try to study of the human mind, which was undoubtedly the beginning of psychology. However, since then psychology has evolved hugely as a subject and moved away from psychoanalysis (Freud’s area of expertise) and established itself as the science of mind and behaviour. Many of Freud’s theories have been proved false or invalid because they are not scientifically provable.
In modern psychology, there is a rigorous and scientific process to go through before something can be established as a scientific fact.
1) If a psychologist has an idea, they must find evidence from existing research to suggest that their idea could be true.
2) Using this knowledge, a hypothesis can be formed. Hypotheses must be falsifiable (i.e. something that could be true or false). A Freudian example of a non-falsifiable hypothesis would be “All men are attracted to their mothers, but are repressing it.” This means that the hypothesis is supported if men say “yes I am attracted to my mother” and it would also be supported if they said “no, I am not”, because they would be repressing it.
3) Evidence must be found to support (or refute) the hypothesis. This is gathered through scientific experimentation.
4) The data collected are tested for statistical significance.
5) The research is reported as a journal article. However, it will only be published in a reputable journal if it is peer-reviewed by experts in the field, and they find that the methods used in the research are reliable and valid.
Scientific psychology journals are accredited and monitored by the American Psychological Association (or British psychological society in the UK), which define themselves as scientific and professional organisations’. This means that only discoveries that have sufficient evidence to support them can be published.
Psychology may be a young science, but there is no doubt it is one.