The term ‘psychology’ that we have come to familiarize ourselves with today originated from the Greek words ‘psyche’ which means soul or mind, and ‘ology’ which is known as ‘study of’. Hence, the definition of the term simply means the study of the mind. As the field of psychology matures, psychologists are not only interested in the mental processes that go on in the mind of an organism, but also how these thoughts affect an organism’s behaviour. Unlike other fields of science such as pure science (chemistry, physics etc), psychology posits itself in a sub-field called social science, and the findings from the studies carried out in this field are often subjective. Let’s face it; it would be highly unlikely to conclude that if something happens in a particular group of individuals, it will also have the same effect on every other person on the face of this planet, unless of course the sample being studied happens to be every single living entity, which is another impossibility in itself. We have to keep in mind that humans are after all distinguished from one another and aren’t clones of each other. In the field of social science, it does not go as certain as in the case of ‘two atoms of hydrogen to one atom of oxygen give you one molecule of water’ because human beings are complex creatures, and we are not just particles made up of two elements. It is the cognition, feelings, thoughts and motivation that differentiate us vastly. Nonetheless, psychology is still considered a science as it adopts a stringent set of scientific methods that are used to quantify the findings of its studies.
Just like any other scientific study, psychology often starts with a problem statement and followed by a hypothesis of an event. The concept is similar in the sense that instead of wanting to find out if oxygen is needed for combustion, we are interested to know, say, if violent television shows lead to aggression. The difference here is merely the subjects being studied, but the intention of exhibiting a cause-and-effect scenario still utilizes the same way, that is through experimentation. In a psychological experiment, the independent variable (IV) and the dependent variable (DV) still exist as they are. When it was mentioned that findings of psychological studies are subjective, do not mistake it for being exclusive. Psychologists also take into consideration the internal validity (relationship between the IV and DV) and the external validity (ability to generalize findings) of their results. We say it is subjective because humans are not static beings, and they are able to change over time; however, through the studies done on them, we are able to show that a particular change may cause an effect, thus creating a more quantifiable measure of behaviour. For example, findings from classic psychology experiments still stand until today. Stanley Milgram’s controversial study of human obedience still produce similar results when replicated by researchers today, even when different samples are used, and Ivan Pavlov’s study of classical conditioning is still a valid reasoning for the way organisms learn and behave. Ultimately, it is unfair to state that psychology is not a science because it still uses relatively objective methods of study and fits the purpose of a scientific study- that is to find reasons for the phenomena in our lives.
All in all, psychology may have been stigmatized by societal perceptions (e.g. people think it’s merely a study of abnormalities and mental illnesses), and therefore, clouding the true nature of the study. Psychologists use similar methods of conducting studies just like physicists in the lab. Where is the lab of a psychologist? If you ask me, it could be anywhere in the world. Anywhere with humans there can be a lab, and that’s the beauty of it.