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- by Charlotte King
- In General, Courses
Posted April 11, 2023
Is Psychology a Social Science or Natural Science?
Psychology is the study of the human mind and human behaviour from both a scientific perspective and a social perspective. Psychologists are interested in the workings of the brain and use scientific analysis and research to try and understand human behaviour and thought processes.
However, the work of a psychologist can also involve exploring how societal constraints and circumstances can affect behaviour and brain function. Taking this all into consideration, is psychology a social science or a natural science?
Defining social and natural science
Social science is the study of human beings within their environment, considering how they interact within their society and the world as a whole. There are many subjects that come within the category of social science including history, linguistics, education, human geography, economics and law. Due to its interest in human behaviour, psychology could also be considered a social science.
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Natural science is the study of the world and the universe from a scientific perspective – with popular areas of study including biology, chemistry, biochemistry, physics and mathematics. Due to its links with biology, as well as its scientific foundations and the scientific methods employed – particularly quantitative research methods – psychology could also be considered to be a natural science.
Natural science masters degrees
Psychology is the study of the human mind and behaviour, with psychologists examining various areas related to the brain, including emotions, personality, brain function, thoughts and mental health.
The purpose of psychology is to try and understand the workings of the human brain and how this affects human behaviour. By understanding the brain, psychologists endeavour to make the world a better place by helping individuals function better in the world around them.
The study of psychology contributes to the wellbeing of society as a whole, helping people understand why they feel certain feelings and why they behave in certain ways.
There are many different areas of specialism within the study of psychology – and popular fields include:
- Clinical psychology
- Criminal psychology
- Child psychology
- Behavioural psychology
- Sports psychology
- Forensic psychology
Is psychology a social science?
The social sciences are academic disciplines that examine different aspects of society. Although the term ‘social sciences’ covers a broad variety of subjects – including geography, history, politics, sociology and law – all of these topics have something in common, in that they are all concerned with how people behave, interact and influence (and are influence by) the world around them.
Psychology is concerned with the human mind and how people behave, which means it is considered a social science. But it differs from the other social sciences in that it has a greater ‘scientific’ component than the other more traditional social sciences. Students of psychology will be required to have a good grasp of scientific research methods as well as an understanding of statistical analysis.
Because social sciences tell us about how society works and help us to understand how to improve processes at a societal, community and individual level, psychology can be considered a key social science, as the mind is very much a key component to the working of human beings and therefore society as a whole.
So, if you compare psychology to other social sciences, for example sociology, you can see that while sociology looks at society from a broad perspective, such as when associated to nationality, race or religion, the study of psychology is a much more individual approach, considering how the mind of an individual works and how this can affect human behaviour.
The study of all social sciences, including psychology, will require excellent communication, analytical, research, listening, observational and problem-solving skills.
Is psychology a natural science?
Because psychology is an interdisciplinary subject, some areas of the topic could be considered to be more akin to the natural sciences to the social sciences. For example, psychologists often need to use scientific research methods such as statistical analysis or data collection. Their objective interpretation of this data and information shares common ground with the natural sciences.
Some aspects of psychology, for example the branch that studies the brain, can be considered ‘observable’ and therefore directly related to other natural sciences like biology and physics. However, other areas of psychology, for example when examining the working of the mind, human behaviour and emotions, are less like the natural sciences because any finding or analysis are much more subjective and therefore open to interpretation.
Psychology research methods
When undertaking research, psychologists will use both qualitative and quantitative research methods and these different types of research are also employed by the natural sciences and the social sciences.
Natural sciences use quantitative research methods – those that depend on numerical and measurable data. Whereas researchers studying the social sciences are more likely to rely on qualitative research methods, ie those that rely on personal accounts of events and situations as well as other types of documentation that is more subjective.
By using both qualitative and quantitative research methods, psychology contributes both to scientific knowledge and the shaping of society.
The bottom line: psychology is interdisciplinary
Psychology is an interdisciplinary field of study that incorporates both social and natural sciences. In fact, psychology is often described as a ‘hub science’, because psychological research has links to the social sciences and the natural sciences, as well as the humanities and the medical sciences.
Natural sciences focus on the biological foundations of behaviour and cognition, and in this respect, psychology is a natural science sharing common ground with key areas of study in this field including biology and physics.
Social sciences are concerned with the social nature of human behaviour including the role of culture, religion, family and community. By exploring the human mind and how this affects human behaviour, the study of psychology and key findings can help shape society and share common ground with other social sciences including sociology, anthropology
Study postgraduate psychology
Psychology is a fascinating area of study and students can choose between studying an MA (Master of Arts) or an MSc (Master of Science) in this field.
An MA in Psychology is likely to have less science content than an MSc in Psychology, but it is important to check the modules included in the different options to make sure the masters course you choose is suitable for your areas of interest.
Some psychology masters degrees will lead onto careers in professional practice including counselling and therapy, while others will lead on to further research such as a PhD. Consider why you want to study a postgraduate program in psychology, so you make sure you choose the right course.
Use our PG postgraduate course results page, to find the ideal psychology masters course.
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