"The theory ladenness of observation"
From a previous student in my class Science, Truth
and Bias (Phi 375)
Theory-ladenness is a concept that is very important in understanding
why people think the way they do and agree or disagree with certain
paradigms. 'Theory-ladenness' means loaded with theory. The word
'theory laden' refers to observations or perceptions, not people,
paradigms, or theories.
Any situation as a whole is directly influenced by the perspectives
and background assumptions the individual involved brings to the
observation setting. These perspectives and background assumptions
are correlated to the educational training she or he attained during
previous experience. Training is of great importance to the concept
of theory ladenness. It is training that helps people choose which
paradigms fit their life style and sculpts their mind into seeing
the world in a certain way.
An example of this concept of theory ladenness may go as follows.
A young man named Tom, who is in his later educational years, decides
that he wants to pursue the field of psychology and become a psychologist.
During graduate school, one of his professors stresses Freudian
theory to the class and Tom finds truth and validity in this way
of thinking. Tom previously thought that he was going to follow
an eclectic style in his career as a psychologist, finding truth
in bits and pieces of numerous theories. However, after the impression
that this professor made on Tom, he has decided to become a strict
Tom's career as a psychologist takes off and his first client comes
into the session with Tom and immediately lights a cigarette. The
two begin to chat and the cigarette eventually dies out. The client
seems a little nervous and begins to bite his finger nails ravenously.
As conversation progresses, Tom notices the client begin to play
with his lip. Tom has now begun to think that perhaps some conflict
took place during the oral stage of this person's childhood, because
of the constant attention this person gave towards his mouth. He
began to develop a treatment plan based on this diagnosis.
Tom observed and analyzed this clinical situation in the fashion
he did because he bought into a particular paradigm. He was trained
to observe and think in a Freudian manner. Another individual with
different training would not have observed and noted what Tom did.
Training is the most important factor in the concept of theory-ladenness.
This process begins at birth and continues throughout an individual's
lifetime. Background assumptions, education, and experience drive
the way we think and how we perceive things. All throughout life,
but more so during childhood, we are influenced by significant others.
These significant others influence our behaviors and also our cognitive
processes forming a basis for the way we view the world.