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Paradigms and Falsifiability

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Paradigms and Falsifiability

Paradigms in psychology are standard perspectives and concepts that concern theories and research methods. Essentially, research paradigms are a way of looking at something. Although psychologists may take different standpoints of the ‘best’ approach to take when investigating psychological phenomena, they typically agree that theories/hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. This is known as the theory of falsifiability.

The principles of research paradigms

In terms of psychology research, paradigms are the generally accepted perspective of investigating a phenomenon during the current zeitgeist.

Zeitgeist: the spirit concerning ideas and beliefs during a certain time of history.

Kuhn and research paradigms

According to Kuhn, the purpose of a paradigm is to provide researchers with a theoretical framework (the conceptual scheme). This framework provides guidelines for assumptions, concepts, and methodological techniques that a researcher should keep in mind when conducting research. It also provides a general consensus of the direction and goals that research should follow.

Throughout the history of psychology, there have been changes in the predominant paradigm. Kuhn’s work explained the link between paradigms and the progression of research. He proposed that researchers agree on a paradigm based on the zeitgeist. The intellectual and cultural spirit during a given period means that some theories are accepted and some rejected.

However, when there are anomalies or inexplicable results, this causes a ‘crisis.’ As the predominant paradigm can’t explain these results, there is a paradigm shift (a paradigm is replaced with a new one.) The time during the paradigm shift is called a ‘scientific revolution.’ These shifts are what allow for psychology to progress.

An example of a paradigm shift in Psychology is the emergence of the behavioural approach in the 1900s. This paradigm appeared because previous psychology approaches were unable to test hypotheses experimentally. There had been previous research that had taken a behaviourist approach. However, it was rejected when it was published due to the time’s zeitgeist.

Research paradigms in psychology

Since its emergence as a science, psychology has had different disciplines which gone through the process of acceptance or rejection. We can think of the accepted disciplines as paradigms that were used during those periods. Let’s discuss some paradigms that are prominent in this current zeitgeist.

Cognitive approach to psychology

Cognitive psychologists believe that behaviour and psychological illnesses are a consequence of internal cognitive processes. They take an information processing approach to explain human behaviour. For them, similar to computers, humans receive inputted information which is then processed leading to an outcome (i.e. behaviour.)

Cognitive psychologists argue that humans use pre-existing schemas to interpret a situation and respond to stimuli. This is known as cognitive appraisal. Maladaptive appraisals can cause psychological illnesses.

Schema: mental structure of knowledge used to facilitate cognitive processes and behaviours.

Behavioural approach to psychology

Behavioural psychologists agree that the environment and human experience are what shape human behaviour and what causes psychological illnesses.

Some examples of learning methods that behavioural psychologists describe are:

  • Modelling: imitating the behaviour of role models.

  • Classical conditioning: this is when people form associations between a stimulus and a response, causing them to repeat actions that evoke the stimulus and therefore the associated response.

    • This can cause maladaptive behaviour. For example, phobias.

  • Operant conditioning: when behaviours change via positive or negative reinforcement. For example, if a parent praises their child for doing their homework they are more likely to do it again.

Biological approach to psychology

The consensus of this paradigm is to measure biological, physiological, and genetic factors or variables and establish a cause and effect relationship between these and behaviour.

Factors that may influence behaviour and illnesses include:

  • Genes: offspring inherit genes from their parents so they may inherit illnesses or gene mutations.

  • Irregularities or differences in brain functions: genetic or physical trauma may cause people to act differently. They may also cause illnesses.

  • Chemical reactions: certain chemical issues in the body can explain behaviours. For example, a hormone imbalance, or neurotransmitters dysfunction. High levels of testosterone have been linked to aggressiveness.

Psychodynamic approach to psychology

Psychodynamic psychologists argue that the inner battle between aspects of the human personality is what causes human behaviour. Some of their theories include:

  • Psychosexual stages (stages that a child goes through to develop their personality). Late development or fixating in any of the stages can affect behaviour and psychological well-being.

  • There are three parts of the personality (psyche) that are in a constant conflict:

    • The id: impulsive desires.

    • The ego: tries to balance the id and prevent giving into temptations by rationalising with potential punishments that may occur as a result of the impulsive desires.

    • The superego: this part of the psyche is responsible for emotions involving guilt and regret.

      • Maladaptive behaviour happens when the ego and superego can’t combat the id and humans give in to their impulsive desires.

Falsifiability in research

Karl Popper, the philosopher behind the theory of falsifiability, proposed that theories or hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via experimental or observational methods.

This means that hypotheses based on subjective opinions such as ‘vanilla ice cream is tastier than chocolate ice cream,’ can’t be regarded as falsifiable. This is because the results will always be different when tested on a different sample and findings will be non-generalisable.

Examples of falsifiability include:

  • A hypothesis that can be proven: the relationship between caffeine intake prior to a test and memory recall.

  • A hypothesis that can’t be proven: unicorns are magical creatures.

Principles of falsifiability in research

The theory of falsifiability argues that:

  • Researchers’ perspectives and understandings influence their observations. Popper argued that the world is ‘theory-laden’ and we use these theories to understand and explain our observations.

  • Research should take a deductive approach: using deductive logic, a researcher’s role is to provide support or to reject theories.

    • One of Popper’s examples was how most swans in Europe were white. Using inductive reasoning, Europeans assumed that all swans were white. However, after exploring Australia, where they saw black swans, they deduced that not all swans are white.

  • If a falsifiable theory is tested and yields significant results, then it’s accepted as scientific evidence. The current paradigm can largely impact if a theory is accepted as scientific evidence or not.

Evaluation of the theory of falsifiability

Strength: the theory is realistic as it proposes that hypotheses can’t be 100% proven.

Weakness: it is difficult to know when to draw the line. Does one observation disprove a whole theory? How many observations are required to disprove a theory?

Paradigms and Falsifiability - Key takeaways

  • Paradigms in psychology are standard perspectives and concepts that concern theories and research methods. Essentially, paradigms are a way of looking at a problem.
  • Examples of paradigms are the cognitive approach to psychology, the biological approach to psychology, the behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.
  • The theory of falsifiability is a theory that proposes hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via experimental methods.

Frequently Asked Questions about Paradigms and Falsifiability

Paradigms are a scientific and philosophical concept which entails standard perspectives and concepts concerning theories and research methods.

The theory of falsifiability is a theory that proposes hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. They should be observable and able to be tested via experimental/observational methods.

Paradigms are a group of theories or perspectives used to explain a specific subject. Essentially, this means that paradigms are a way of looking at something.

The four predominant paradigms during the current intellectual and cultural zeitgeist are cognitive psychology, biological approach to psychology, behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.

Psychologists who take a behavioural approach to understand psychology, explain behaviour in terms of learning via different methods, such as modelling, classical conditioning, or reinforcement.

Final Paradigms and Falsifiability Quiz

Question

What theory did Kuhn propose?

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Answer

Theory of paradigms

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Question

What are paradigms?


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Answer

Paradigms are a group of theories or perspectives used to explain a specific subject. Essentially, paradigms are a way of looking at something.

Show question

Question

What are the four predominant paradigms of psychology used in the current zeitgeist? 


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Answer

Cognitive psychology, biological approach to psychology, behavioural approach to psychology, and the psychodynamic approach to psychology.

Show question

Question

What constitutes the cognitive psychology paradigm?

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Answer

Cognitive psychologists believe that behaviour and psychological illnesses are a consequence of internal cognitive processes.

Show question

Question

What constitutes the behavioural psychology paradigm? 

Show answer

Answer

Behavioural psychologists agree that the environment and experience are what shapes human behaviour and what causes psychological illnesses.

Show question

Question

What constitutes the biological psychology paradigm? 

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Answer

The consensus of this paradigm is to measure biological, physiological and genetic factors/variables and establish a cause and effect relationship between these and behaviour.

Show question

Question

What constitutes the psychodynamic paradigm?

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Answer

Psychodynamic psychologists argue that the role of the inner battle between aspects of the human personality is what causes human behaviour.

Show question

Question

What theory did Karl Popper propose?

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Answer

Theory of falsifiability

Show question

Question

What is the theory of falsifiability? 

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Answer

The theory of falsifiability is a theory that proposes theories/hypotheses should be testable and able to be proven wrong. For instance, they should be observable and able to be tested via observational methods.

Show question

Question

What are the principles of falsifiability? 


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Answer

  • For research to be regarded a scientific it needs to be observable and hypothesesmust be able to be proven wrong. 
  • The world is ‘theory-laden’ and we use these theories to understand and explain our observations.
  • Research should take a deductive approach: using deductive logic researchers’ role is to provide support or reject theories. 
  • If a falsifiable theory is tested and it yields significant results, then it is accepted as scientific evidence. The current paradigm can largely impact if a theory is accepted as scientific evidence. 

Show question

Question

Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as non-falsifiable?  

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Answer

Unicorns are magical creatures

Show question

Question

Of the following example statements, which would be regarded as falsifiable?  

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Answer

The relationship between caffeine intake prior to a test and memory recall

Show question

Question

State the example Popper gave of why scientific research should take a deductive approach to research. 

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Answer

Based on their observations and using inductive reasoning, Europeans thought that there were only white swans. However, after exploring Australia, Europeans observed black swans and so deduced that not all swans are white.

Show question

Question

What is a strength of the theory of falsifiability?


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Answer

The theory is realistic as it proposes that hypotheses cannot be 100% proven.

Show question

Question

What is a weakness of the theory of falsifiability? 

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Answer

It is difficult to know when to draw the line. For instance, how many observations are required to disprove a theory?  

Show question

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