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Study Notes

Emergence of Psychology as a Science: the Laboratory Experiment

AS, A-Level

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Psychology had its roots in philosophy and biology, but when German doctor and psychologist William Wundt opened the world's first experimental laboratory at the university of Leipzeg in1879, it marked a turning point: psychology's emergence as a separate and distinct scientific discipline.

Wundt showed that empirical methods could be applied to the study of mental processes.

Empirical methods of research are based on actual experience rather than on theory or belief. It involves gathering data in an objective way so that researchers’ preconceptions cannot influence the data. It also measures quantitative details so that patterns can be examined and inferences from the result are credible.

The laboratory experiment

The laboratory experiment is the most important empirical method used in science.

Laboratory experiments allow complete control of variables that might affect the results. Therefore, the researcher can be confident it's only changes in the one variable they manipulate that cause the effect on what they measure.

The control means that methods can be standardised and experiments replicated by other researchers to test they are reliable.

By making inferences from differences (caused by the specific changes he made to the stimuli he presented to them in controlled environments) in his participants’ introspections, Wundt showed that the scientific approach could be applied to the study of some aspects of psychology.

Should psychology be a science?

As you learn about the different methods and approaches used by psychologists, you should consider the degree to which they can be considered scientific.

Later in your A-level psychology studies, you will be expected to construct arguments about the strengths and limitations of adopting a scientific approach in psychology.

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