Data Type: Journal Article

Is a scientific revolution taking place in psychology?

Palermo, D. S. (1971). Is a scientific revolution taking place in psychology? Science Studies, 1(2), 135-155.

This work is an analytical, historical piece that attempts to apply T.S. Kuhn’s analysis on scientific revolutions to psychology. It first briefly describes Kuhn’s analysis, then overviews the history of psychology (with an emphasis on behaviorism), and finally suggests that the current era (during the late 1960s and early 1970s) is one of a revolution in psychology. Palermo explains that “Kuhn argues that periodically within the individual disciplines of science there are revolutions. Revolutions are occasions when normal science is disrupted by the process of discarding one paradigm for another” (136). While most situations are characterized by expected results in science, Kuhn argues that “Times of crisis [which lead to revolution] are distinguished by the recognition that something is wrong with the disciplinary paradigm”—a phenomenon that Palermo suggests was occurring in the late 1960s and early 1970s (137).

Based on his historical analysis, Palermo suggests that such a revolution has occurred twice in psychology; first, when psychology was considered as an independent field, and then, when it adopted the method of behaviorism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Palermo outlines “three major factors which were responsible for the crisis [and resultant behavioral revolution]: in psychology the unreliability of the introspective method; the interest in animals and the resultant necessity to anthropomorphize about animal consciousness in order to maintain the old paradigm; and the interest in the extension of psychological principles to practical application” (140). However, in more recent times, psychologists have moved away from the behaviorist approach, too, as certain studies no longer fit with the paradigm. Palermo suggests that psycholinguistics, as expressed by thinkers like Noam Chomsky, may ultimately replace behaviorism.

Palermo’s work contributes to the literature in psychology in the sense that it is considered a seminal work in the history of psychology, and is an oft-cited piece. This work, written from a history of science perspective, offers a paradigmatic lens through which to contextualize psychology. In it, Palermo suggests that a majority of early psychological works emphasize behaviorism, but that works in the 1970s may have been moving away from this paradigm toward a more psycholinguistic one—a trend which interestingly did not occur. Despite this failed prediction, Palermo’s article offers a fine example of thinking about psychology paradigmatically.

Categories: History & Philosophy of Psychology & Psychiatry
Publication Date: 1971