Are non-scientific methods research methods meaningless?

Psychology has many approaches, some of which use scientific methods (biological) and some which use various other research methods (psychodynamic). Psychology is the science of behaviour and mental processes, so are the methods useless if they do not have a scientific basis behind them? This also looks into the idea of whether psychology is a science.

 Freud used many non scientific methods in his research; this includes his theory of consciousness and his dream theory. Freud thought that dreams were representative of unconscious desires, thoughts and motivations. We don’t consciously express these thoughts but Freud suggested that they find their way into our awareness via dreams. The problem with this theory is that dreams can not be scientifically measured and some people would argue that this makes the method less valid. Many forms of therapy make use of client’s dreams but the Freudian interpretations of dreams often have the tendency to relate back to sexual meanings. Also you cannot measure someone’s unconscious mind but it still made up a big part of Freud’s theory. However, many psychologists disagreed with his theory and instead use more scientific methods, for example Skinner’s behaviourist methods. Freud’s method can be criticised as it has been accused of only explaining behaviour after the event has happened, rather than predicting what will happen in advance, which is what scientific methods aim to do.

 I think that although non scientific methods can be useful, scientific methods are more reliable and accurate. For example, lab experiments are highly scientific and you can replicate the findings and control the variables making the method much more valid. The scientific method looks at empirical evidence which means it does not rely on argument or beliefs. The behaviourism approach is regarded as scientific and it has parsimonious theories of learning and uses only a few simple principles to explain a vast amount of behaviour.

 To conclude, I think that both methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Psychology is the study of behaviour but behaviour changes over time and it depends on the situation too. These factors and individual differences make research findings reliable for a limited time so it could be said that both scientific and non scientific methods become meaningless eventually anyway.


Posted on October 21, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I think that psychology should aim to use scientific methods. Mainly because they are often reliable due to often being easy to replicate. Also, scientific experiments are usually high in internal validity due to the high levels of control, which ensures that the researcher is testing what they aim to. Also, by using scientific methods it reduces the chance of bias because science is objective and uses empirical evidence rather than acting subjective and relying on personal experience.
    However, like you mentioned some branches of psychology, like the psychodynamic theory do not use scientific methods. Freuds theories cannot be falsified and often cannot be tested which causes them to lack reliability. But, despite Freud using non-scientific methods his theories were still highly influential and have highlighted many important issues, such as the influence childhood can have on later-life or the influence of the unconscious mind. So, although his theories are often scientifically impossible to test they have been beneficial to psychology.
    Also, I think non-scientific methods are acceptable to be used if they provoke further scientific research into the field. For instance, non-scientific methods often provide more indepth and detailed results than scientific methods and therefore can be useful in formulating new hypotheses to conduct objective research.
    So, I think that psychology should aim to use scientific methods, however it is appropriate to intially use non-scientific methods if they then use subsequent scientific methods to support them.

  2. I agree with the comment above. The idea of using non scientific methods to initiate research areas is useful. Often case studies are used in this manor, a case occurs and this often promotes research into areas that have not previously beein thought about. For example Genie and the Czech Twins helped start research into privation, attachment and language development. I think non-scientific methods are important for research as they provide us with rich and in-depth data about a subject, whereas more scientific methods do not provide such data. However scientific methods are needed to provide data that is reliable and can be used to establish truths.
    Curtiss.S. (1977) Genie: A psycholinguistic study of a modern-day “wild child”. Academic Press (New York)

    Koluchova.J. (1976). The further development of twins after severe and prolonged deprivation: A second report. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Vol 17(3), Jul 1976, 181-188. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00390.x

  3. Yes, we should aim to use scientific methods, or at least where the publishing of results is considered – After all, we need to be at least slightly scientific to be taken seriously in todays society.
    However, non-scientific methods are a great deal more flexible and can provide us with theories that may be able to be tested later on.
    A lot of research is based on assumptions, even in the scientific field of phisics and chemistry – This is how we progress! Without the ability to assume we would be very limited in our ideas.

  4. I personally do not think non-scientific methods are useless. Using Scientific Methods is certainly more reliable as it is easier to be replicated and be tested. However, from the idea of the ‘Duhem-Quine problem’, every theories are built on some sort of assumptions as a starting point, and those assumptions are not made by Scientific Methods. Non Scientific Methods obtained information can be used as the starting idea of which psychologists can work from, and develop a technique to test scientifically and collect empirical data. This also applied to Freud’s idea. Despite his conclusion is based on his own interpretation which is non-scientific, however it helps developing techniques such as Free Association and Dream Analysis, of which both techniques are useful in helping clients. Overall well done Vicky 🙂 xxx

    Reference: D Gillies(1998) Philosophy of science: The central issues,

  5. I would argue that research conducted using a non-scientific method doesn’t make findings meaningless. Freudian theories are very influential in psychology even though they do not use scientific methods. Although, scientific research has much more weight as it is seen to be more reliable and objective this does not mean non-scientific research is meaningless.
    I agree that sometimes it is difficult to scientifically experiment topics in psychology. Researchers in psychology are generally less able to scientifically analyse theories. As part of scientific research in chemistry, researchers are able to manipulate the sample in any way they choose. However, this freedom is not apparent in psychology. This suggests that non-scientific research should not be disregarded.

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