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What Is Psychological Science

As the study of the human mind and behavior, psychology, in its earliest philosophical form, dates back much further than many modern sciences. But it has often been thought of as a "soft" science, not bearing the legitimacy of "hard" sciences like physics or chemistry that use the scientific method of inquiry to establish empirical and quantitative truths. Yet modern psychological practice has become increasingly "hard." In the many sub-disciplines of psychological science, experimental research findings are used to develop evidence-based psychological theories and strategies for practical application in the field.

This development has established psychology as a true science in the minds of many. But conducting experimental research in the psychological context is a complicated endeavor, and it is only one aspect of the field. Psychological science integrates experimental research methods, scientific and quantitative inquiry, psychological theory and history, and practical application in the professional context. This multifaceted approach is the basis of modern degree programs like Northern Kentucky University's (NKU) online Bachelor of Arts in Psychological Science, offering students a comprehensive education in the complex and fascinating field.

What Is the Modern Definition of Psychology?

To understand psychological science, and how, if at all, it differs from psychology, one should understand the meaning of the word "psychology" itself. The definition used by the American Psychological Association (APA) is among the most common:

"Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior."

But as psychology has developed into a more complex science or set of sciences consisting of numerous sub-disciplines, the definitions of the word have also become more varied and complex. And the old definition has become a point of controversy for many. In an article for Psychology Today, Gregg Henriques, Ph.D. describes three main problems with the normal definition of psychology. Is psychology focused on brain function and the mind or behavior? Is it concerned with all animal behavior or just that of people? Is psychology a science or a profession? To resolve these three areas of contention he gives the following definition:

"Psychology is the science of mental behavior and the human mind, and the professional application of such knowledge toward the greater good."

How Does this Definition Apply to Psychological Science?

According to the Henriques' definition of psychology, psychology is both a science and the application of knowledge derived from that science. These two aspects of psychology are reflected in literature from two of the major psychological associations, the psychology-focused APA as well as the more scientific psychology-focused Association for Psychological Science (APS).

From the APA: "The science of psychology benefits society and enhances our lives. Psychologists examine the relationships between brain function and behavior, and the environment and behavior, applying what they learn to illuminate our understanding and improve the world around us."

From APS guiding principles: "Psychological science has the ability to transform society for the better and must play a central role in advancing human welfare and the public interest."

The basis of psychological science is using experimental research based in the scientific method to further the understanding of psychology and apply findings from research to evidence-based strategy, theory, and practice for professional psychological applications. Whether the terms used are "psychological science," "scientific psychology," or "the science of psychology," this field focuses on using science to better the impact psychology can have on humanity. From this, it seems the words used are of lesser import than the substance of the science and its application.

So Is There any Difference Between Psychological Science and Psychology?

Psychological science strives to represent psychology as a science rather than merely a healing profession or philosophical study. But there is not exactly a difference between the two. Rather, psychological science is a scientific approach to psychology, through research and development as well as practice. It is part of the greater study of psychology, integral to most (though not all) of the field's sub-disciplines whether based on "science" or "profession."

Psychological science has transformed the field of psychology as a whole. The complex interplay between scientific research, theory and practice allows for collaboration and learning across many psychological disciplines. In this way, psychological science promises to play an important role in continuing to improve the mental, emotional, behavioral and societal health of people around the world.

Learn more about the NKU online BA in Psychological Science program.


Association for Psychological Science

American Psychological Association: Science of Psychology

American Psychological Association: About APA

Psychology Today: The "Is Psychology a Science?" Debate

Psychology Today: Psychology Defined

SimplyPsychology: Psychology as a Science

Scientific American: Psychology's Brilliant, Beautiful, Scientific Messiness

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