At times social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, etc.) have been accused of succumbing to pressures to legitimate their discipline by borrowing from the “hard” sciences. In senior seminar for psychology majors this week, there was debate over the rationale of social sciences using scientific measures as dependent variables. For example, students took concern with a social psychology study by Page-Gould et al. (2008) that measured anxiety through salivary samples and cortisol analysis. Cortisol is a well-known and studied stress hormone that increases in both blood and saliva with anxiety.
After spending the past summer collecting countless swabs of saliva to analyze both cortisol and alpha amylase, I was admittedly annoyed that students were suggesting that proven biological measures have no place in social psychology research. My frustration with my peers’ rejection of using cortisol (THE stress hormone) to measure anxiety compelled me to find some support for the method. Indeed, the validity and reliability of using salivary cortisol as a measure of anxiety has been proven time and time (Kirschbuam and Helhammer, 1993).
Additionally, in class we have worked to tease apart the nature versus nurture controversy. Neuropsychology in my mind appreciates the importance of genetics and biology as well as environment and experience. Instead of accusing psychology of imitating “hard” sciences, we must acknowledge the need to understand psychology through both behavioral and biological analysis.