The scientific method is suited to investigate all psychological problems and questions?


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Stormy Weathers answered
As a method, it is as well suited to studying psychological problems as any other method; however, I feel it is important to point out the inherent weaknesses that are not always obvious:

Scientific Method:
The steps of the scientific method are to:

1) Ask a Question
2) Do Background Research
3) Construct a Hypothesis
4) Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
5) Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
6) Communicate Your Results

The hard parts are step 4 and step 5. 

The problem with step 4 and psychological problems is that there is really no effective way to create a control group where other variables are eliminated.  You have no ethical way to orchestrate the lives of people, so it is nearly impossible to say that your variable or focus of study is causing the differences you observe.  Pretty much all you can do is conduct interviews with people who have led different lives and try to separate the groups into the variables you want to control.

This causes a common, and grossly abused problem in step 5.  I wish I could brand this phrase onto every journalist who reports on a psychological study.

"Correlation does not demonstrate causation."

Otherwise stated, just because two variables seem to be related in some way does not necessarily mean that one caused the other.

Here is a really common example:

The hypothesis is that beating children increases the likelyhood of behavior problems in adults.  < That is step 3.

Step 4 is to conduct interviews with as many people as you can asking all of them questions that will tell you if they were beaten as children and whether or not they have any of the behavior problems you think this causes.

Lo and behold ... When you examine the data you will find there is strong correlation between beating children and behavior problems such as heightened levels of aggression, likelihood of being in prison, etc.  Kids who were beaten are more likely to have these problems than those who weren't.

And now step 5, and this is where we should set our journalists on fire.

The temptation is to say that because certain behavior problems are more prevalent in kids that were beaten, that beating children *causes* those behavior problems ...

... WRONG!  That has NOT been demonstrated by the experiment.

To see the flaw in this conclusion, consider the opposite ...  Consider the possibility that children with behavior problems are beaten more often rather than the beating causing the behavior problems.  Intuitively, it is obvious that this is a possibility because undesireable behavior is the reason why parents beat them ... 

Causality hasn't been demonstrated one way or the other, nor has the possibility been eliminated that both of these factors might be caused by something your study did not account for ...

... Consider the possibility that aggressive, hostile, or strict parents are both more likely to beat their children *and* cause behavior problems ...

... If that were true, then there should be a similar correlation between other tactics that aggressive, hostile, or strict parents use and the same behavior problems ... And lo and behold ... That correlation has also been demonstrated.

So, this psychological study along with countless others, all using the scientific equation, are valuable, but they should not be misused. 

"Correlation does not demonstrate causation."

Looping this back to your original question, this is what I am saying:

The scientific method is probably as good as any other method for studying psychological problems; however, it is still frequently riddled with errors, misleading data, and logical flaws in drawing and reporting conclusions.

Psychological problems are simply difficult to study accurately and usefully by any method, the scientific method included.

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