Paradigms

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Research is a fundamental tool by which scientists are able to qualify and quantify natural phenomena. Sometimes research comes as a result of observing a phenomenon that occurs in nature. However, it may also be a result of hypothetical testing. In the research world, research itself is governed by rules such as scientific or legal laws, ethical norms, etc. Scientific laws are strictly documented and follow scientific scrutiny by being applicable to various situations as well as having high test-retest validity.  Ethical laws are put in place in order to protect individuals/animals from testing as well as to ensure that a researcher does not cross any ethical boundaries that society deems as socially unacceptable. However, unstated rules such as paradigms can influence the progress of research just as easily as stated law.

A paradigm can be loosely defined as a frequently observed phenomenon. As a rule, it is repeatedly seen during experimentation. There are many examples of this in the realm of psychology and sociology. The Diagnostic Manual for Mental Disorders contains coding that is used in psychological evaluation in order to determine if a person has a mental disorder based on his/her observable behavior. The statistics and prevalence of symptoms along with known facts related to these conditions are used to determine the criteria for each disorder. These can also be defined through observation and case studies. Another example of this would be showing how psychology has gone through major tendencies of thought, from psychoanalysis, which focuses on unconscious thoughts, to cognitive neuroscience in which scientists study behavior in its relation to brain activity.

Paradigms can influence research because they are in essence a heuristic phenomenon, a shortcut used by researchers to base facts on and explore current trends. As stated previously, the early days of psychology focused on unconscious motives as the main driving force for behavior. Freud, the father of psychology, also used these unconscious incompatibilities to describe mental health disorders. The technology and knowledge of the brain activity were not utilized until the 1900s. As a result, the role of cortical structures was not investigated. This is one way in which a paradigm can harm research; it causes a “functional fixedness” in that researchers will look at a problem from a specific viewpoint rather than multiple ones.

Paradigms will always influence current research just as experimenter’s bias can lead to results which one would not get under controlled conditions. In some ways, they can enhance research by maintaining a homogenized viewpoint and “set of rules” in the scientific community. However, as previously stated, this can also lead to setbacks in science.

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