Falsifiability Concept in Science


Falsifiability, or refutability, as it is also called sometimes, is the possibility that a theory or any other assertion can be proved to be false. However, this does not mean that the theory or assertion is necessarily false; instead, this means that its falseness can be displayed by physical experiment or observation. Falsifiability is mostly spoken of as the most important concept of science and philosophy of science.

Thus, for instance, Karl Popper, an Australian and British philosopher, defined it as “the idea that a statement must be able to be proven false if it is to be considered scientific” (Feder & Houck, 2008, p. 15). In other words, a hypothesis can become scientific only if there is sufficient evidence which proves its falseness. Therefore, all the scientific hypotheses are tested by means of experiments before they can be considered scientific; this is what the empirical nature of science consists in.

With respect to falsifiability it should also be noted that if a theory or hypothesis is unfalsifiable, it may still be regarded as a consequence of a falsifiable theory or hypothesis, and that if a statement is falsifiable theoretically, it is not always falsifiable practically. If applied to psychology, falsifiability criterion is important to this discipline due to its ability to define the falsifiability of psychological theories. Psychology operates with both falsifiable and unfalsifiable theories, which changes the discipline’s empirical nature depending on the theory applied.

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To begin with, falsifiability criterion is no less important in psychology than in any other discipline. The matter is that psychology, just like any discipline, operates with a number of hypotheses which also need testing for falsifiability. All the psychological theories are based on assumptions which have to be proved. These assumptions are theoretically possible but, according to the falsifiability criterion, they are not always possible practically.

This means that the assumptions should be proved by means of experiments, which, in its turn, testifies to the fact that falsifiability criterion is needed for the proper development of such discipline as psychology. This criterion is important in psychology because it allows testing psychological theories by means of experiments. Moreover, psychology, like no other discipline, can use this criterion, because psychologists “are continually testing assumptions about various things with reference to experience and evidence” (McKenna, 2000, p. 62).

What is even more important is that most of the psychological theories cannot be considered valid until it is proven why they can be considered false. The matter is that the psychologists make a start from the opposite to prove the truthfulness of their theory. For instance, the assumption that a person is going to behave in a definite way under definite conditions can be proven only by showing that he/she will not behave in this way. This makes a falsifiability criterion vitally important for psychology.

Moreover, there exist psychological theories which can be falsified, though there are also some that cannot. For instance, it is possible to falsify folk psychology as a theory. Folk psychology claims that n pleasure, excitement, pain, anxiety, and other perceptions of the person’s daily life can explain his/her mental state which can be interpreted in external and internal sense. Both the interpretations can be false.

Thus, if external view is false, this means that the person’s pleasures, beliefs, and desires do not exist, which is false. Similarly, if the internal view is false, this means that it is possible to theorize about mental state of person, which is also false. This is why folk psychology as a theory is falsifiable. In contrast, Freudian theory is impossible to falsify. The matter is that this theory has explanations for everything, which is why Popper believed it to be scientifically useless.

Freudian theory gives explanation to absolutely opposite facts: “If a patient loves his mother, it is because of his Oedipus complex; if he hates her, it is reaction-formation to his Oedipus complex; if he is indifferent to her, he has repressed his Oedipal feelings” (Burns, 1991, p. 129). There was not a single person able to find a way to refute this theory, which testifies to the fact that it is unfalsifiable. Theoretically, this allows considering that Freudian theory is not scientific.

Finally, falsifiability of psychological theories influences the empirical nature of psychology. To be more exact, the existence of unfalsifiable psychological theories may become a sufficient proof for considering psychology a non-empirical discipline. For psychology to be empirical, its theories and hypotheses should be tested by means of physical experiments. It is possible in case with falsifiable theories, such as folk psychology as a theory.

This theory can be falsified, which means that its truthfulness can be proved during the physical experiment. For instance, within its internal sense, it seems impossible to theorize about people’s mental state. It may be possible theoretically, but it does not mean that it is possible practically. A psychologist can predict a person’s state depending on the situation and this can be proved by means of a physical experiment. However, the experiment may show that predicting a person’s mental state is impossible, which makes the theory falsifiable and which allows believing that psychology has empirical nature and, simultaneously, allows considering it a scientific discipline.

In case with Freudian theory, it is impossible to prove the opposite, because Freud provides for every objection to his theory. Thus, the nature of psychology with respect to Freudian theory is non-empirical, because there are not any experiments which can prove the falseness of this theory. Namely this inability to prove unfalsifiable psychological theories does not allow referring psychology to scientific disciplines.


In sum, falsifiability is a concept which is used to refer hypotheses and assertions to scientific ones. This concept has been introduced by Karl Poppet and it is able to define the empirical nature of science. For instance, the science is empirical if its hypotheses are falsifiable; similarly, it is not empirical if the hypotheses cannot be falsified. This is applicable to psychology which operates with falsifiable theories (such as folk psychology) and unfalsifiable theories (such as Freudian theory).

With respect to the folk psychology as a theory, the nature of psychology can be regarded as empirical, because this theory can be refuted by means of an experiment. With regards to Freudian theory, however, psychology is non-empirical, because no experiments can be carried out to refute this theory.

Reference List

Burns, R.B. (1991). Essential Psychology: For Students and Professionals in the Health and Social Services. New York: Springer.

Feder, H.A. & Houck, M.M. (2008). Feder’s Succeeding As an Expert Witness. London: CRC Press.

McKenna, E. (2000). Business Psychology and Organizational Behaviour: A Student’s Handbook. London: Psychology Press.

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