Archive | February, 2012

Can psychologists measure everything?

12 Feb

Is it possible for psychology to measure everything in society and is it a viable aim for the subject? If it’s true (and i believe it is) that knowledge and it’s validity is forever changing due to new findings then does it matter if psychology tries, and fails, to study everything?

The main issue I think with this question is the operationalisation of concepts. Take for example research into studies based on emotions. Emotions are very hard to operationalise as they differ in meaning from person to person. Take for example the emotion of happiness. This word is used to describe a wide range of good feelings by people that are as a result of a wide range of events and news. To operationalise this means that some versions of happiness will be missed out as one definition would never be enough to cover the whole range. Easterlin (1994) looked at whether or not that increasing the income of people made their happiness increase. He found that as the peoples income increased so did what was needed to fulfill their happiness. For example a poor family may only need their bills and food to be paid for in order for them to class themselves as happy, however would this suffice for the billionaire who is used to a large house, fancy cars and designer clothes. I think maybe not. If anything this study showed that there are some concepts like emotions that are changing constantly that mean any measurement of them would be outdated the minute it was taken (I get that this is the case for other concepts as well but I think that emotion measurement is probably more fluid than most).

So  back  to the question… is it possible to measure everything for psychologists? In my opinion no. Though the majority of things there is some way to measure and study i just feel that some things are too ambiguous and not specific enough for research. Again back to emotions how would this be measured exactly..a scale? If so what would be used for the different intervals? Life events of some kind maybe rating your happiness on a scale against certain other events in your life? This doesn’t exactly sound very scientific to me and how would it all be quantified? everyone’s experiences are different so how could they be compared to each other if the life events scale are different? It just doesn’t seem entirely possible to me.


Should psychology be ‘dumbed down’ so it’s accessible to everyone?

5 Feb

This put simply is whether or not psychology should be open for all to understand or whether it should be reserved purely for scientists and those that are knowledgeable on the subject. This poses questions of whether or not the findings in psychology (a field that professes to study in order to improve society) is actually of any benefit to everyday life. On the one hand in order for scientific research in general to be understandable to the public certain aspects have to be simplified as without a technical understanding the whole concept would be lost on the majority of the population. However in the ‘dumbing down’ process is not some part of the findings lost in translation and therefore does this not detract from the overall concept?

The wording that goes into research and the publication of research is chosen specifically by the researcher in order to convey their findings exactly the way that they understand them and how they wish them to be presented. To paraphrase words where such thought has gone into their presentation cannot help but to take away from the findings even if it is just marginally. For example no one would think of taking a timeless classic novel and changing the setting and plot in order to make the story easier to be understood by todays generation. This would be seen as a desecration of culture. So why is it viewed necessary for science? The main culprit of this ‘dumbing down’ of science is the media and seeing as their aim is to improve ratings I seems that they are the most likely to twist the findings of any study. For example a Telegraph article in Jan 2009 claimed that a scientist had found evidence to suggest that it was greenhouse gases that caused an ice age. They then went on to misquote the scientist himself and ignore any attempt to correct the mistake- his research had actually found that a hot greenhouse gas filled atmosphere could co-exist with a cold ‘snowballed earth’. This just shows that when research is taken by none specialists and put into ‘understandable’ words often the information is misrepresented.

However the answer to the question of why science is treated this way seems, to me, to lay in the fact that areas like science study things in order to improve society, how can they do this if their findings are illegible to anyone without a PhD in the area of study? Not only is it important that findings are understood in order to be implemented but also it stands to reason that people will only ever take an interest in something if they can understand it. Take for example physics very few people understand the simple theories let alone the complexity of Quantum physics. This is being reflected in the declining number of people choosing to take physics at a higher level of learning. In order to maintain interest in psychology and to inspire future researchers theories and studies need to be understood by none specialists.

In conclusion though it is important for fields like psychology and science to make themselves accessible to none experts the way that this is done needs to be monitored in some way to ensure misrepresentation isn’t given. Maybe the researcher themselves could create a laymen friendly version of their findings? Just an idea.