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Psychology and Law Lecture Notes.docx
Psychology and Law Lecture Notes.docx

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University of Toronto Scarborough

Psychology and Law Lecture Notes Lecture 1 – Introduction to Psychology as a Science Why Psychology is Not a Natural Science: Implications for Forensic Psychology There are four requirements of a science: 1. Natural Law Requirement – candidate science studies phenomena reflecting natural order in the universe 2. Reductionistic Language Requirement – candidate science has reductionistic language for defining and ultimately explaining phenomena 3. Inter-Science Consistency Requirement – candidate science meshes linguistically with those levels of science immediately above and below 4. Empirical Test Requirement – candidate science uses sound empirical methodology to validate/invalidate its theories thereby refining knowledge Going into more detail and to illustrate these four requirements:  Natural Law Requirement  Say you have a study where you wanted to look at the demographics in the typical distribution of automobile types and years in a particular area  The method used is to look at the distribution of the cars that pass through a intersection between 2-3pm and compile a list  The question is whether this is considered a “scientific study”?  The answer is no because there is no law of nature dictating the owner of the relative car that drives through that intersection at that time  Reductionistic Language Requirement  Reductionism is an approach to understanding the nature of complex things by reducing them to the interactions of their parts and these complex things can be described in a language with a limited number of core concepts, and combinations of those concepts  For example: the concept of motion brought out by Newton can be described with this reductionistic language  Given the equation F = M x A to describe law of motion, we can explain it by saying “Acceleration is defined as ^Speed/^Time, Speed is defined as ^Distance/^Time, Distance and Time are fundamental and measurable in Newtonian world”  So you can see that high order constructs in motion (complex thing) are defined in terms of precise relationships between lower order constructs (interactions of their parts)  This is an example of reductionistic language – describing phenomena by defining the interactions between the parts  Inter-Science Consistency Requirement  You should see an overlap with other areas of science (such as biology, chemistry, and physics) and show no contradictions or violations in the ideas suggested by these other areas  Empirical Test Requirement  Uses research literatures from all sciences in order to validate or invalidate theories Does Psychology Satisfy These Criteria for a Science? Although many areas of psychology empirically study behaviors, they don’t really examine the underlying processing of such behaviors. These studies are descriptive but the descriptions are not amenable to evaluating at more fundamental levels and consequently do not meet criteria for science. Fundamental Problem with Psychology’s Current Status as a Science There are a number of unfortunate consequences of Watson’s definition of behavior as being externally observed actions of the organism: 1. Linguistically severed psychology from neurobiology which is its natural conduit into science 2. Introduces “circularity” problem (example confusing abstract description with “explanation” for behavior) 3. Rendered “reductionism” as an evil to be avoided as opposed to a necessary tool in understanding 4. Obscured the distinction between reductionistic explanation and the prediction process that requires taking into account interacting phenomena at succeedingly higher levels 5. Turned psychology into a patchwork of unrelated descriptive domains each with its “provincial” terms narrowly applicable only to immediate phenomena under study 6. Reductionism is misunderstood and has become a “straw man” (type of argument and s an informal fallacy based on misrepresentations of an opponent’s position) 7. Watson’s definition necessitated the “unification” movement that’s illustrated by Staats who attempted to resolve incongruities among behaviorism, language, and personality psychology Proposed Solution: A Re-Definition of Behavior Behavior is better defined as Expressed Information  Information is represented (stored) and processed in and between neurons and perhaps other central nervous system cells  Neuronal networks are segregated anatomically and physiologically affording specialized and optimal processing of distinct types of information What does “expressed information” signify?  The CNS stores a very large array of information in its various networks and cells  If activated at once, behavior would be grossly chaotic  Major organizer of behavior is inhibition of irrelevant information  Thus, behavior is the activity resulting from the disinhibited subset of the total information stored in the CNS – expressed information So how is the explanation of expressed information better in defining behavior and how does it solve the unfortunate consequences of Watson’s definition? There are five implications: 1. Theory – psychology, the study of behavior, could then be connected logically and linguistically with neurobiology rather than simple by “correlations”  Structure of psychological knowledge by processing systems:  Sensory/perception  cognitive/motivational/emotional  motor  Information content can be:  External (physical inanimate such as vision or auditory)  Intrapersonal (mood, pain)  Intrapersonal (personality as set of characteristic cognitive, motivational, and emotional tendencies/biases)  Motor sequences 2. Research – the goal of research is to understand: I. Internal operations of the discrete systems II. Interactions between the discrete systems III. How environments, physical or social, activate and inhibit different systems to process necessary informational subjects within networks IV. Identify individual differences from anatomy to transmitter, receptor subtype and controlling epigenetic and genetic substrates 3. Training and Education  Psychologists should be better and more broadly trained in behavioral neuroscience  Psychopharmacology and behavioral genetics should become part of core curriculum  Researcher training should include survey levels of ALL structural and functional imaging and specialization with at least one functional imaging modality 4. Application  Clinical system should be developed around behavioral neuroscience framework as
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