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Critically exploring psychology
Critically exploring psychology

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3.1 Positivism and constructivism

The framework most often associated with science is perhaps positivism. Positivism is guided by the principles of objectivity and deductive logic. The ontological view of positivism is that there is a single truth or reality ‘out there’; a researcher’s task is to seek to identify ‘the truth’. In other words, the ontological view feeds into the epistemology. There is a single truth (about particular human behaviour) which you can then objectively measure by creating reliable and valid tools. To objectively measure it, and thereby generate common laws of human behaviour, you must ask questions that allow you to gather data which either proves or disproves theoretical assumptions. You must ask questions that are falsifiable.

Constructivism, in contrast, does not assume that reality is ‘out there’ or that it can be accessed objectively. Instead, the paradigm of constructivism assumes that reality needs to be interpreted and understood from the point of view of individuals themselves. Within this paradigm, you don’t ask research questions that are right or wrong, but rather you ask questions that allow you to gather insights on how people interpret reality and why. This then often involves qualitative research methods, such as interviews.

In summary, doing psychological research isn’t just about picking a particular method to use, or a type of data to work with, it is also about embracing a particular perspective towards reality and truth, and how these in turn inform what type of data you use to answer research questions. Critical thinking is required to do this, so in the next section you will look at how to put it into action.