Critique of Psychology as a Scientific Discipline - Profolus (2023)

Several problems have dogged the field of modern psychology. Note that it is generally defined as the scientific study of mind and behavior. It is also a diverse academic discipline and professional field that encompasses human development, cognitive processes, individual and social behavior, and mental and physical health. Over the years, however, criticisms have arisen that question the credibility of psychology as a scientific discipline.

The arguments: main problems and critiques of psychology in research and practice

Science writer and communications consultant Alex B. Berezow noted that psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous. These are well-defined terminologies, quantifiability, strictly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility, and finally, predictability and testability.

However, the application of metasciences in some of the psychological studies has revealed important methodological problems. These problems include confirmation errors, problems with the reporting or underreporting of experiments, low reproducibility or replication crises, and misuse of statistics and misrepresentation of their results.

1. Confirmation bias

Statistician Theodore Sterling published a study in 1959 reviewing and examining the results of psychological studies. His examination found that 97 percent of the results of the reviewed studies had conclusions that supported their original hypotheses, suggesting possible publication or confirmation bias.

Daniele Fanelli's 2010 study also showed that 91.5 percent of the studies analyzed had conclusions that supported their original hypotheses. The researcher explained that the probability of reaching positive results is about five times greater than in other fields such as space sciences and earth sciences, further arguing that "softer" sciences such as psychology have limitations in terms of their conscious biases. and unconscious.

2. Sub-declaration of experiments

One of the main causes of false positives lies in the practice and the way of reporting a subset of the potentially relevant statistical analyzes associated with a research project. Critics have noted that a complete experimental setup and set of measured variables are not easily accessible in various psychological studies, and therefore argue that there are researchers in the field who tend to underestimate their experiments.

The study, published in 2015 by A. Franco, N. Malhotra, and G. Simonovits, found that about 40% of the studies they reviewed did not fully report all experimental conditions, while about 40% did not fully detail all variables. of results included. in the research tool. The researchers noted that their study is the first to provide direct evidence of selective underreporting in psychological experiments.

3. Replication crisis

The replication crisis is another critical issue, and thus a major critique of psychology as a scientific discipline. Various efforts have been made to assess the magnitude of this problem. For example, in 2010, the Center for Open Science's Reproducibility Project found that two-thirds of the most widely reviewed findings in psychology failed the reproducibility test.

In particular, the project found that topics in social psychology have poorer reproducibility than those in cognitive psychology. Meanwhile, personality psychology, behavior genetics, and behavioral economics in general are not suffering from the replication crisis. Other subfields with questionable reproducibility are clinical psychology and developmental psychology.

4. Misuse of statistics

In his 1994 review, psychologist and statistician Jacob Cohen argued that many psychologists habitually confuse statistical significance with practical significance and therefore report unimportant facts with certainty and much enthusiasm. A more specific example involves the assumption that rejection of the null hypothesis confirms the true hypothesis.

Marjan Bakker and Jelte M. Wicherts also analyzed 281 articles from low and high impact journals. Their results showed that about 18 percent of the statistical findings in the psychological literature are misreported. These inconsistencies were more common in low-impact journals. Additionally, about 15 percent of the articles show at least one incorrect statistical calculation when recalculating.

5. Generalizations of the WEIRD bias

Another notable critique of psychology centers on the notion that researchers and practitioners seem to serve only a small fraction of the world's population. Psychologist Jeffrey J. Arnett mentioned that most of the articles published in the journals of the American Psychological Association relate to the population of the United States. Furthermore, he argued that psychologists should not assume that psychological processes are universal and should generalize research results to the rest of the world's population.

J. Henrich, S.J. Heine and A. Norenzayan also noted that behavioral scientists routinely publish broad statements about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, educated, industrialized, wealthy, and democratic or queer societies. Their review suggests that both the experimental results show significant variation between populations and that WEIRD subjects are particularly unusual compared to other subjects from other societies.

6. Gap between theory and application

In her book House of Cards, first published in 1994, psychologist Robyn Dawes noted that a perceived gap exists between theory and application as a result of unsupported or unsupported application of clinical practice and advice in psychology. Some of the examples he gave included notions that self-esteem is essential for productivity, childhood events influence adult destiny, and that a person must first love themselves before loving another.

Barry L. Beyerstein, professor of psychology and scientific skeptic, also noted that the number of mental health training programs that do not teach scientific knowledge has increased along with the advent of self-help psychotherapy. He concluded that as long as people refuse to put psychotherapy methods to rigorous empirical tests, bogus treatments will continue to flood the market.

Counterarguments: defense against criticism of psychology

Michael W. Kraus, a psychologist and professor of social personality psychology, made several interesting points. First, he acknowledged the fact that some of the criticism of psychology comes from self-proclaimed psychology experts with unscientific practices, as well as cases of retraction and research fraud.

However, he also pointed out that these incidents are common in other scientific fields such as medicine, biology and physics, among others. He explained that claiming that a field is not a science just because some of its members are scientists is not really reasonable.

Kraus also explained that psychology research is inherently complicated because researchers must grapple with the fact that human experiences are subjective. Although most people demand that psychology be a true science, it must discover universal human psychological processes. However, the fact that psychological phenomena are often culturally and individually linked does not indicate a lack of scientific rigor.

Please note that efforts have been made to improve research standards and practice in psychology. It is also worth noting that most of the critics of the field are the psychologists themselves. Several organizations and researchers have addressed the replication crisis by retesting key findings and providing rigorous methodological guidelines.

There are extensive collaborations between researchers working in multiple laboratories in different countries. These researchers have also made their data openly available for others to examine the work in progress. Revolving around critique, collaboration, and collaboration, these initiatives have helped deal with confirmation bias, statistical misrepresentation, and common methodological behavior.


  • Bakker, M. und Wicherts, J. M. 2011. „The (Miss) Reporting of Statistical Results in Psychology Journals.“behavioral research methods. 43(3): 666-678. DOI:10.3758/s13428-011-0089-5
  • Berezov, A.B. 2012, July 13. "Why psychology is not a science".Los Angeles Times.available online
  • Beyerstein, B. L. 2001. "Marginal Psychotherapies: The At-Risk Public."Scientific review of alternative medicines.. 5(2): 70-79.Available as PDF
  • Cohen, J. 1994. "The Earth is Round."American psychologist. 49(12): 997-1003. DOI:10.1037/0003-066X.49.12.997
  • Dawes, R. 1994.House of cards: psychology and psychotherapy building on myths.ISBN: 978-0-02-907205-9.
  • Henrich, J., Heine, S.J. and Norenzayan, A. 2010. "The World's Weirdest People?"Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 33(2-3): 61-83. DOI:10.1017/s0140525x0999152x
  • Fanelli, D. 2010. "Positive results rise up the hierarchy of sciences."plus one. 5(4): e10068. FROM:10.1371/daily.pone.0010068
  • Franco, A., Malhotra, N. y Simonovits, G. 2015. „Subreporting in Psychology Experiments.“social psychology and personality science.7(1): 8-12. DOI:10.1177/1948550615598377
  • Kraus, MW 2013, August 13. "The psychology of the 'psychology is not a science' argument".psychology today.available online
  • Open Science Collaboration. 2015. "Reproducibility Estimation from Psychological Science."Sciences. 349(6251): aac4716-aac4716. DOI:10.1126/science.aac4716
  • Sterling, T. 1959. "Publication decisions and their potential impact on significance test conclusions, or vice versa."Journal of the American Statistical Association. 54(285): 30-34. DOI:10.2307/2282137


What is the main concern of psychology as a discipline? ›

Psychology is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. Psychologists are actively involved in studying and understanding mental processes, brain functions, and behavior.

What is the most difficult problem facing psychology as a science? ›

Objectivity is impossible. It is a huge problem in psychology, as it involves humans studying humans, and it is very difficult to study the behavior of people in an unbiased fashion.

Is psychology considered a scientific discipline? ›

Psychology is commonly recognized as a social science, and is included on the National Science Foundation's roster of recognized STEM disciplines.

What is the criticism of psychology as a science? ›

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.

What are the 3 key issues in psychology? ›

Psychology as a Science

Key features of science include: objectivity (all sources of bias are minimized); collection of empirical data to support or refute a hypothesis; and predictability.

What is the importance of psychology as a discipline? ›

Essentially, psychology helps people in large part because it can explain why people act the way they do. With this kind of professional insight, a psychologist can help people improve their decision making, stress management and behavior based on understanding past behavior to better predict future behavior.

Why do people not consider psychology as a science? ›

Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability.

Why is psychology called a science of exception? ›

Psychology holds an exceptional position among the sciences—not least because it explores the very means by which any science is made, for it is humans who perceive, conceive, define, investigate, analyse and interpret the phenomena of the world.

What are the 5 issues and debates in psychology? ›

5 Core Psychological Debates
  • Nature vs. Nurture. ...
  • Materialism vs. Constructionism. ...
  • Person vs. Situation. ...
  • Consistency vs. Change Across Development. ...
  • Cultural Universals vs. Cultural Variability.
Jan 24, 2021

What is a main concern about psychology as a discipline quizlet? ›

What is a main concern about psychology as a discipline? It is a pseudoscience. It will treat humans inhumanely during research.

What are the major discipline of psychology? ›

Psychology involves various sub-fields of scientific research and study like Clinical, Experimental, Social, Educational, Neuro-psychological, Sports, Developmental, Organizational, etc also called branches of Psychology.

What is a discipline study in psychology? ›

training that is designed to establish desired habits of mind and behavior.

What discipline is related to psychology? ›

Over the past century, many important sub-disciplines of psychology have blossomed - social, cognitive, developmental, biological, comparative, industrial/organizational, and others.

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