Introduction to Psychology/Criticisms of Psychology

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Criticisms of Psychology

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Psychology as normative

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One question that arises in the study of abnormal psychology is the question "what is a disorder?" In medicine, it may be more obvious when a person has a disease. But when studying the depths of the human mind, who gets to draw the line between what is a disease and what is not? And who has the authority to decide who is "stupid" and who is not?

Controversy as a science

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Although modern psychology attempts to be a scientific endeavour, the field has a history of controversy. Some criticisms of psychology have been made on ethical and philosophical grounds. Some have argued that by subjecting the human mind to experimentation and statistical study, psychologists objectify persons. Because it treats human beings as things, as objects that can be examined by experiment, psychology is sometimes portrayed as dehumanizing, ignoring or downplaying what is most essential about being human. This criticism has come from within the field as well, particularly by existential and humanistic psychologists.

A common criticism of psychology concerns its fuzziness as a science. Philosopher Thomas Kuhn suggested in 1962 that psychology is in a pre-paradigmatic state, lacking the agreement on facts found in mature sciences such as chemistry and physics. Because some areas of psychology rely on "soft" research methods such as surveys and questionnaires, critics have claimed that psychology is not as scientific as psychologists assume. Methods such as introspection and psychoanalysis, used by some psychologists, are inherently subjective. Objectivity, validity, and rigour are key attributes in science, and some approaches to psychology have fallen short on these criteria. On the other hand, greater use of statistical controls and increasingly sophisticated research design, analysis, and statistical methods, as well as a decline (at least within academic psychology departments) in the use of less scientific methods, have lessened the impact of this criticism to some degree.

Debates continue, however, such as the questioned effectiveness of probability testing as a valid research tool. The concern is that this statistical method may promote trivial findings as meaningful, especially when large samples are used.[5] Psychologists have responded with an increased use of effect size statistics, rather than sole reliance on the traditional p<.05 decision rule.

Research-practitioner gap

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There is also concern from researchers about a perceived scientific gap between empirically based practices. Exponents of evidence-based approaches to psychological practice say that "over the past several decades, the fields of clinical psychology, psychiatry, and social work have borne witness to a widening and deeply troubling gap between science and practice" and "less and less of what researchers do finds its way into the consulting room, and less and less of what practitioners do derives from scientific evidence." Moreover there are many "unvalidated and sometimes harmful psychotherapeutic methods" that have been widely adopted by the profession. However, "the fields of clinical psychology, psychiatry, and social work have recently placed increased emphasis on evidence-based mental health practices." Lilienfeld, Scott O. "SRMHP: Our Reason d'Être". Retrieved 13 February 2010.