Empiricism describes a type of research that is based on direct observation.
Many research psychologists prefer to learn about behavior through direct observation or experience, which is an empirical approach. Research psychologists design and conduct experiments, carry out structured interviews and surveys, and write case studies. The common feature of these approaches is that researchers wait until observations are completed before they draw any conclusions about the behaviors they are studying.
Scientists often maintain that empiricism fosters healthy skepticism. By this they mean that they will not regard a hypothesis as true until they have made detailed observations. Such an approach means that science can be self-correcting in the sense that when conclusions are drawn that initially appear accurate, others can test the original ideas to see if they retain validity over time and after repeated observations or measurements.
Empiricism is one of the hallmarks of any scientific endeavor. Other disciplines employ different approaches to knowledge acquisition. For example, many philosophers use an a priori method rather than the empirical method; they employ strictly rational, logical arguments to derive knowledge. Geometric proofs are an example of the use of the a priori method.
In everyday life, people frequently accept the truth or falsehood of ideas based on perceived authority, media presentation, or intuition. In many cases, people hold beliefs because individuals who are popularly seen as experts have voiced those beliefs. For example, in matters of organized religion, many people rely on the advice and guidance of their religious leaders in order to determine the correct way to lead their lives. Some people look to politicians or media figures to tell them what to believe or how to behave. Further, humans often believe what seems to them to be intuitively obvious. Relying on authority and intuition may have utility in some aspects of people's lives, such as those involving questions of ethics and morality.
Scientists generally require the empirical method in their work, because the subject matter of science lends itself to direct observation and measurement. When something cannot be observed or measured, scientists are likely to conclude that it is outside the purview of their field, even though it may be vitally important in some other realm.
See also Chomsky, Noam; Experimental psychology ; Locke, John; Validity .
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