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Popperian versus Kuhnian conceptions of scientific progress

When researching data, psychologists have generally gathered data using empirical methods and then induction or deduction. This is a traditional approach which was criticised by Popper (1959) who made the valid argument that it is easy to find evidence for a theory however this does not necessarily prove a theory to be correct yet one piece of contradictory evidence could completely disprove a theory, invalidating the supporting evidence. To create an example to explain his theory Popper used a hypothetical scientist who only ever sees black swans flying past his island and puts forward the hypothesis that all swans are black, however a year later after thousands of black swans flying past the one white swan he sees disproves his hypothesis completely. He created a model of how science should be done and a theory of how science progresses suggesting that there are a number of stages: Identify a problem, develop a hypothesis on the problem, devise a study to test this, analyse and evaluate the results to see whether or not they support the hypothesis, modify and repeat process and develop a theory. The key point here is that the most relevant test is falsifiability.  However like any theory involving specific stages, there is slight reductionism invloved here, experiments can vary dramatically and the stages may not apply to all studies depending on what they are researching, suggest that Popper is simply presenting an idealistic version of how studies should be completed.
Kuhn (1996) takes a more realistic approach suggesting that research actually occurs very differently considering humans’ emotional responses, suggesting that scientists have the tendency to cling onto theories even if contradictory evidence occurs, this creates a paradigm and these assumptions limit and define the type of questions that scientists ask. This would continue until there is a lot of contradictory evidence and is the science community accepts the new theory, this then becomes the next paradigm which is a constant cycle. 
In general Kuhn suggests that the progress of science is characterized by long periods of normal science using one paradigm followed by revolution when a new one takes over. This means it is difficult to introduce new ideas or a new paradigm since it can be considered an attack on established members of the community, slowing down the progress of psychological research.
In general, it may be assumed that Kuhn’s ideas are more relevant as he considers a realistic approach however again, it would be extremely reductionist to assume that this applies in every instance when a new paradigm is attempting to be introduced. Both ideas can be argued however Popper’s theory may be considered an outdated approach.


About rachelpsychology

Psychology is cool man.

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