Science and the Scientific Method

According to McGuigan (1990), "science is the application of the scientific method to solvable problems". It has the following characteristics: science is practical (as its primary activity is discovery); it is based on observation; science deals with data - both quantitative & qualitative; it is an intellectual pursuit (requiring the ability to derive generalizations based on specific observations); science makes predictions and tests those predictions using experiments; and, lastly, science is systematic. This last characteristic means that science is rigorous and methodical requiring that tests be repeated so results can be verified. So, science can be thought of as a way of thinking, but also as a way of working -- a process requiring scientists to ask questions, make hypotheses and test their hypotheses through experimentation. This process is known today as the scientific method.

In the context of science, experimentation also needs little elaboration. An experiment is a controlled observation. Studies conducting experiments employ any of the experimental designs. And, experimental designs involve manipulation (of the levels of the independent variable), control (taking measures so that extraneous factors may not influence the outcome of the experiment as well as incorporating a control group/ condition for the sake of comparing the experimental outcome against a baseline), and randomization. The last feature of experimentation may be little bit elaborated.

It needs to be mentioned that the pre-requisite of using the randomization technique is a 'sampling frame' or a list of the 'accessible population' (a part of the 'target population' that is accessible to the researcher for conducting a study). In conducting an experiment, use of randomization takes place at three stages: first, the subjects/participants desired for the study (i.e. sample) are randomly selected from the sampling frame; second, depending on the conditions of the experiment or levels of the independent variable to be manipulated, the selected subjects/participants are randomly divided into different groups (two or three, say); and finally, by using any of the randomization technique, it is decided which group to receive Treatment-1, which group to receive Treatment-2, and which group to receive Treatment-3, etc. The 2nd & 3rd stages above jointly ensure random assignment of subjects/participants to different groups. According to one source (Judd et al., in Shaughnessy and Zechmeister, 1997), "the ability to assign participants randomly to experimental conditions is often seen as the most critical defining characteristic of the true experiment".

Behaviorists' view of Psychology

In the history of psychology, 1879 is a remarkable date with the founding of the first laboratory for psychological research in Leipzig (Germany) by Wilhelm Wundt. Wundt was famous for studying conscious experience through a method called introspection. However, the behavioral psychologists objected to Wundt's method of introspection, terming it as unscientific. They maintained that when different people were asked to describe a certain conscious experience, they often disagreed. Behaviorists also considered knowledge of the 'mind' as too metaphysical that cannot be studied scientifically.

Behaviorism was a major change from previous theoretical perspectives that rejected the emphasis on both the conscious and unconscious mind. Instead, behaviorism strove to make psychology a more scientific discipline by focusing purely on observable behavior.
Behavioral psychologists' key assumption was that if psychology is to be a science, it must study only that which is observable, i.e. behavior. The followers of Behaviorism (Ivan Pavlov, Edward Thorndike, John B. Watson) define psychology as the science of behavior. And, behavior is any activity that can be observed, recorded, and measured (e.g., what we do/say/write, or changes in living beings' blood pressure or brain waves, etc.).

What are the determinants of the behavior of the human beings? It is said that behavior is the product of an interaction between heredity and environment. It is the specific kind of interaction between these two broad groups of factors that make every individual unique. Though the human beings are biological organisms, they live in the society where they interact with other fellow-creatures. In this interacting process, they not only influence and modify the behavior of others their own behaviors are also influenced and modified thereby. In this context, an earlier famous study dealing with identical twins (whose genetic characteristics are supposed to be the same) may be mentioned. In that study, the twins were separated immediately after birth and reared up in two different environments (one in an affluent environment and the other in an impoverished environment) for about 20 years. At the end of that period, when the twins were studied in terms of their feelings, attitudes, motivation, interest, and other behaviors, substantial differences were observed in their behaviors that were attributed by the investigators to the differences in their environment in which the twins were brought up. That is, the interaction between the hereditary and the environmental factors were different in case of the twins reared up in different environments. 

Recent Trends

The later decades of the 20th century witnessed a slight decline of behaviorism and the rise of cognitive science, an interdisciplinary approach to studying the human mind. Cognitive science now considers the 'mind' as a subject for investigation, using the tools of evolutionary psychology, linguistics, computer science, philosophy, behaviorism, and neurobiology. Taking into account the tools to be employed by the Cognitive Scientists, it is easily understandable that those intending to work in this new area will have to be heavily dependent on other disciplines.
However, though behaviorism appears to have lost a little bit of its hold on psychology, the basic principles of behavioral psychology are still widely in use today. Therapeutic techniques such as behavior analysis, behavioral modification and token economies are often utilized to help children learn new skills and overcome maladaptive behaviors, while conditioning is used in many situations ranging from parenting to education.

Psychology: Is it the study of mind?
Dr. Azizur Rahman
Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Dhaka
The term psychology has been derived from the Greek words psyche, meaning 'soul' or 'mind', and logos, meaning 'knowledge'. So, initially, psychology was regarded as the scientific study of mind. But, 'mind' is something that can neither be defined, nor observed or measured. In fact, mind is nothing but the some totality of the functioning of the brain. Any way, this brief note has been organized in the following three sub-sections:
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Muhammad Nazmul Haq
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Professor Dr. Muhammad Raushan Ali

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