Is Psychology Value-Free?
Social Activism in Psychology
Many people are concerned that Psychologists are not true scientists because of the infiltration of social values in their research. Oftentimes, psychologists are social activists – inducing changes and developments in social institutions and systems in whatever field of expertise they specialize in. For instance, Rosalind Barnett, a psychologist who specialized in the Psychology of Women, advocates that journalists and policy makers should get together to discuss and study about gender issues. With this and other advocacies, people are increasingly being skeptical if Psychology is indeed an objective discipline. Although psychologists employ various techniques to objectify research studies, the question lies on whether Psychology is a purely scientific discipline.
In the pure world of Science…
The way scientific experiments are oftentimes conducted lead to the widespread stereotypical view that the scientific world is pure and objective. The separate relationship between the observer (the researcher) and the object of observation (the research participant) has lead to the belief that some people are objective while others are not. Now, whether or not psychologists are objective or subjective is being debated upon. Consequently, people are being confused on whether or not they should believe in psychologists or results gathered from psychological research. The problem and common pitfall with this kind of reasoning is that the categories of objectivity and subjectivity are applied to human beings and not with specific behaviors.
In terms of objectivity, much as we do recognize that some forms of activities render the practitioner a chance to be called objective, scientific endeavors produce scientists that thrive in what we call scientific communities. In terms of subjectivity, the habit of putting emotional content in an otherwise objective problem (that leads to contamination of supposedly clear way of thinking) produces subjective people who make inaccurate judgments. Indeed, it is quite easy to classify people as either objective or subjective, and to categorize professions as either scientific or unscientific.
Extreme positions are oftentimes made. Some people begin to think of Psychology as a belief system that lacks objective, hence, scientific basis; while some people raises the possibility that viewing science as purely objective is unrealistic. The battle ensues, and the burden is passed on to people who consume psychological information. They ask, “Should I continue attending sessions with my psychologist?”
Distinguishing between Social and Scientific Responsibility
Let us remember that human beings are social beings, driven by many (and sometimes even conflicting) social values. A psychologist may be compelled to study about the effectiveness of the public educational system because he believes that children have the right to gain quality education from the government. He might join staged rallies for or against educational policies proposed by some sectors of the government, or he could use his background in Psychology to convince people to join his cause. In this light, the Psychologist in question is clearly motivated by his subjective values on education. On the other hand, if the research activities of that psychologist are delineated from the rest of his social work, and assessed in terms of objective requirements stipulated in all scientific research, that particular psychologist begin to emerge not as a social activist, but as a scientist. People have the capacity to be both objective and subjective in their activities. The problem lies not in classifying people, but distinguishing between our social and scientific responsibilities. So is Psychology value-free? A “yes” and a “no” would be the most appropriate answer.
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