How is psychology different from other sciences?

In this article, we’ll explore the reasons why psychology is different from the other sciences. Though the other sciences quite often do share the same complexity as psychology, still there are some aspects of psychology that are very much peculiar to it.

Subject (observer) turned into the object

A psychologist studying the behaviour of others is certainly a big deal. However, those who also study themselves and try to figure out the complexities of their own behaviour are next level.

The only thing in the world trying to understand itself is the human mind. That’s the most fascinating thing about psychology. It turns the observer, which observes the world and how it works in all the other sciences, into an object of observation itself.

So if it’s the mind which observes the world and, in psychology, we observe the mind itself, what exactly is observing the mind in action?

When we say we have an awareness that observes the mind, doesn’t that imply we’re aware of the awareness that is aware of the mind? It’s an infinite regress and makes one’s mind go like “Error 404: page can’t be found”.

is psychology a science

Diverse levels of human behaviour

There’s no one way to look at human behaviour. There are different angles and perspectives from which you can study it. For the sake of simplicity, I have categorized human behaviour into three broad categories:

1. General human behaviour

It is behaviour that is common to all humans because of their humanity. From the need to survive and reproduce to the desire to feel loved, special and worthy, all can be said to comprise general human behaviour.

2. Gender-specific behaviour

For instance, men loving guns, gadgets, and sports while women loving social gatherings, parties and make-up tutorials.

3. Group behaviour

Behaviour that results from identifying with a particular group. A person adopts the behaviours that are associated with a social, cultural, religious or political group to which they belong. 

4. Individual behaviour

It is behaviour that is specific and unique to individuals, mostly shaped by past experiences but also influenced by genetics. It’s what comprises our personality and makes us different from other human beings.

Such diverse ways of looking at the same thing (human behaviour) and at different levels are unique to psychology.

In addition to these categories of behaviour, there are various perspectives from which to study psychology. These include the biological, evolutionary, cognitive, psychodynamic, cross-cultural, behavioural and humanistic perspectives.

Essentially, psychologists adopt a biopsychosocial approach to studying behaviour.

2+2 ≠ 4

Psychology is by no means a linear cause-and-effect science. Not only can there be more than one cause behind the same behaviour, but there can also be a single cause leading to many behaviours.

For instance, a person may smoke (effect) because he wants to alleviate stress and anxiety (cause 1) or assert his masculinity because he saw masculine actors on screen do it (cause 2) or be accepted among his smoker peers (cause 3).

Additionally, it can also be that he smokes because of the combined effect of all these causes.

A person who suffers a major setback in life (cause) may become depressed (effect 1) or form beliefs like “I’m not good enough” (effect 2) or comfort himself by saying everything is okay (effect 3) or commit suicide (effect 3) or choose to fight back and survive (effect 4).

The chosen effect will not only depend on the person’s personality but also on dozens of other factors that can be difficult to account for.

An observed behaviour seldom depends on a single factor. Even though researchers try their best to create controlled conditions, many subjective factors are often overlooked in psychological studies.

This is why psychology experiments and studies are rarely repeated or retested. Sometimes even the passage of time can be a crucial factor that governs behaviour. You can’t step into the same river twice when it comes to human behaviour.

The exact conditions in which a behaviour was first observed cannot be 100% replicated. Change in even a seemingly unimportant variable such as ‘passage of time’ can have significant effects.

Unlike many other sciences which assume that phenomena occur according to some set universal laws that are context-independent, psychology can be highly context-dependent.