8 Approaches Of Scientific Psychology

Since psychology was established as an independent field of study, various scientific methods have been evolved for the study of its subject matter. Such methds were evolved after several years of researches on various aspects of behaviour, by both psychologists and other scholars in other fields of study, who later developed interest in psychology. In fact, wilhelm Wundt, who established the first psychology laboratory at Leipzig University in 1879, was greatly influenced by the work of E.H. Weber, a Physiologist, and G.T. Fechner, a Physicist. Herman Ebinghaus, a German Physiologist/Philosopher, carried out some experiments on memory and forgetting. Francis Galton, an Englishman, did some work on individual differences and measured them in bodily terms, while Alfred Binet, a French Psychologist, devised intelligence tests. Stigmund Freud and his followers developed the idea of unconcious mind based on childhood experiences. Such other psychologists as John B. Watson, B.F. Skinner and other Americans enriched the development of scientific psychology with the idea of objective observation of behaviour on the basis of environmental stimuli and conditioning.

Thus, from the contributions made by these psychologists and others, the following scientific approaches were evolved:

1. Observation

Psychology, like other sciences, employs the observational method in obtaining information and facts about its subject matter. Observation is said to be scientific when it is devoid of prejudices, biases and subjective imputes of a trained or skilled observer. There are two kinds of observations:

i. Naturalistic or Objective Observation

This is the type that can be verified by others as well as by the person under observation. Such observation always has to do with overtly expressed activities like running fast, speaking the truth or being strong physically. Such observation is always carried out in the natural environment.

ii. Subjective Observation

This has to do with the observation of those internal processes like thoughts, feelings, heartbeat, or memories associated with overt activities.

2. Introspection

Introspection has to do with careful and detailed monitoring and analysis of our mental state or activities. It is to look into the working of our own minds in order to observe and report the contents of mental processes associated with a particular experience we are undergoing. Wilhelm Wundt was the first person that adopted this method and he effectively used it in the study of sensation.

However, introspection is not very easy because it requires very keen power of abstraction, great practice, training and habits of alertness to deal with mental processes. This is so because, when we focus attention on our mental process, we tend to remove it from the very object that brings about it, and thereby stop the process itself. Moreover, it is a very subjective method. It cannot be used for the study of children, insane people and animals.

3. Experiment

Experiment is an observation made under conditions, which, we can control and manipulate. Experimentation involves four basic steps which include:

  • Formation of hypothesis
  • Deduction of consequences or results from the hypothesis, which, can be proved or disproved when experimented upon
  • The third step is to arrange an experimental process to test and find out whether the deduced consequences can be verified or not. If the experiment gives a negative result, the hypotheses stands disproved and another hypothesis is framed.
  • Finally, if the result proves the hypothesis right, effort is made to strengthen the verification by testing the hypothesis over and again to remove all possible doubts. After certifying the outcome, it is changed into a law or a general proposition expressing causal relation.

Thus, the scientific method of experimentation in psychology involves formulating and testing some hypothesis or guess about the possible course and outcome of an event.

4. Genetic Method

The genetic method seeks to study the part played by various factors in the development and changes that take place in behaviour. Through this method, psychologists are able to find out how heredity and environment interact in moulding human personality; what is the influence of social and economic conditions on behaviour and personality; what kind of home and learning environments are most suitable to the growth and development of individuals, etc.? It also helps to trace the growth and development of complex forms of behaviour from their elementary stages.

5. Survey Method

This method is used in studying social relationships and social problems, which cannot be studied under controlled conditions or experiments. It involves the study of a particular social situation by selecting the representative samples of categories of persons that make up the social group or situation under study.

6. Comparative Method

This method is used to study the comparison of behaviour of different animals; the behaviour of animals with that of humans and people of different cultural groups. Through this method, we can compare or study human and animal adaptation.

7. Statistical Method

Statistics is the manipulation of facts in such a manner as to express them in a numerical form, and to find out how frequently a certain phenomenon occurs. Three techniques are used for this purpose.

The first is to find out the average, which is the centre point where the largest number of individuals is grouped. The second is variability, which represents the group that deviates from the central point. For instance, the mental patients deviate from the noraml, and they are said to possess behaviour traits or variables dispersed from the normal.

The third one is correlation, which is a method of measuring the degree of relationship between two sets of facts, and when such relationship is very strong, it may now become a law. For instance, if we want to establish the factors that lead to child abuse in Nigeria and in our finding we observe poverty as frequently associated with it, such relationship between child abuse and poverty is spoken of as correlation.

8. Psychoanalytic Method

This method was devised by Stigmund Freud to help his mental patients achieve a deep level of understanding and gain insight into their abnormal behaviour so as to enable them regain their normalcy and solve their basic problems themselves. Freud himself was of the view that mental disorders were due to the repression of unfulfilled desires, wishes and accumulation of frustrations and disappointments during early stages of life.

Freud postulated that reviving the memories of such experiences and bringing them to the level of consciousness would help to cure the patient. It takes a form of talking out technique, whereby the patient lies down on a coach, relaxes and then says whatever comes into his mind, regardless of how irrelevant and objectionable it may be. Freud referred to it as a “Free Association”.

This method is designed primarily for the treatment of neuroses, but can also be used for a variety of other personality disorders. Besides, Psychology has established the understanding of the unconscious sources of behaviour through this method. However, it is argued by critics that it is time-consuming and very expensive.


The type of method to be employed by the psychologist will depend on the particular type of problem he has to face. In some cases too, there may be need to combine a number of methods, particularly when investigating an underlying cause or motive of behaviour, the feeling of inferiority may be indicated in a number of ways.

Various aspects of behaviour may have to be studied before it is concluded that the individual is suffering from inferiority complex. The person may shy away from tasks that will expose his weaknesses, avoid social gatherings or may boast of his great power, intelligence or wealth and may even identify himself with very highly placed people in the society.

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