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Social Sci LibreTexts

1: The Science of Psychology

  • Page ID
    20132
  • Psychology is usually defined as the scientific study of human behavior and mental processes, and this example illustrates the features that make it scientific. In this chapter, we look closely at these features, review the goals of psychology, and address several basic questions that students often have about it. Who conducts scientific research in psychology? Why? Does scientific psychology tell us anything that common sense does not? Why should I bother to learn the scientific approach—especially if I want to be a clinical psychologist and not a researcher? These are extremely good questions, and answering them now will provide a solid foundation for learning the rest of the material in your course.

    • 1.1: Prelude to the Science of Psychology
      Many people believe that women tend to talk more than men—with some even suggesting that this difference has a biological basis. One widely cited estimate is that women speak 20,000 words per day on average and men speak only 7,000. This claim seems plausible, but is it true? A group of psychologists led by Matthias Mehl decided to find out.
    • 1.2: Methods of Knowing
      The methods of acquiring knowledge can be broken down into five categories each with its own strengths and weaknesses: Intuition, Authority, Rationalism, Empiricism, and The Scientific Method.
    • 1.3: Understanding Science
      Some people are surprised to learn that psychology is a science. Philosophers and scientists who have thought deeply about this question have concluded that what the sciences have in common is a general approach to understanding the natural world. Psychology is a science because it takes this same general approach to understanding one aspect of the natural world: human behavior.
    • 1.4: Goals of Science
      Most of the phenomena and theories that fill psychology textbooks are the products of scientific research. In a typical introductory psychology textbook, for example, one can learn about specific cortical areas for language and perception, principles of classical and operant conditioning, biases in reasoning and judgment, and people’s surprising tendency to obey those in positions of authority. And scientific research continues because what we know right now only scratches the surface.
    • 1.5: Science and Common Sense
      Some people wonder whether the scientific approach to psychology is necessary. Can we not reach the same conclusions based on common sense or intuition? Certainly we all have intuitive beliefs about people’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings—and these beliefs are collectively referred to as folk psychology. Although much of our folk psychology is probably reasonably accurate, it is clear that much of it is not.
    • 1.6: Experimental and Clinical Psychologists
      Scientific research in psychology is generally conducted by people with doctoral degrees and master’s degrees in psychology and related fields, often supported by research assistants with bachelor’s degrees or other relevant training. Some of them work for government agencies, national associations (e.g., the American Psychological Association), non-profit organizations (e.g., the Canadian Mental Health Association), or in the private sector (e.g., in product development).
    • 1.7: The Science of Psychology (Summary)
      Key Takeaways and Exercises for chapter on The Science of Psychology.