The natural sciences and social sciences represent two broad fields that employ scientific analysis to study different aspects of the world around us. But what exactly are the key differences that set these academic disciplines apart?
Read on for a deep dive into how the natural sciences and social sciences diverge across subject matter, approach, methodology, and subfields of study.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The natural sciences study the physical world and natural phenomena, while the social sciences focus on human society, behavior and relationships. The natural sciences like biology rely more on the scientific method, while social sciences like sociology use more qualitative methods.
In this comprehensive guide, we will compare and contrast natural sciences and social sciences across factors like aims and objectives, subjects of study, research methods, data types, and major subfields.
Whether you are a student looking to select a major or simply want to understand these complex fields better, read on for an in-depth look at what sets these critical academic disciplines apart.
Aims and Perspectives
Natural Sciences Seek to Understand the Physical World
The natural sciences are a branch of science that aims to understand the physical world and natural phenomena through observation, experimentation, and analysis. They encompass disciplines such as physics, chemistry, biology, and geology.
The main objective of natural sciences is to uncover the fundamental laws and principles that govern the universe. Scientists in these fields strive to explain and predict natural events, ranging from the behavior of subatomic particles to the formation of galaxies.
For example, physics seeks to understand the fundamental forces and particles that make up the universe, while chemistry studies the composition, properties, and interactions of matter. Biology focuses on the study of living organisms, their structure, function, and evolution, while geology examines the Earth’s composition, history, and processes.
These disciplines rely on rigorous scientific methods, including controlled experiments, mathematical models, and empirical evidence to support their findings.
Did you know? According to a study conducted by the National Science Foundation, the field of physics has made significant advancements in recent years, with researchers discovering new particles and making breakthroughs in quantum computing.
Social Sciences Aim to Study Humans and Societies
The social sciences, on the other hand, aim to study human behavior, societies, and the interactions between individuals and their environment. This field includes disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics, and political science.
The main objective of social sciences is to understand and explain human behavior, social structures, cultural norms, and economic systems.
Psychology focuses on the study of the mind and behavior, exploring topics like cognition, emotions, and personality. Sociology examines social institutions, group dynamics, and societal issues such as inequality and social change.
Anthropology studies human cultures, traditions, and the evolution of societies. Economics analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services, while political science investigates political systems, governance, and public policies.
Fun fact: According to a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, the field of psychology has seen a significant increase in research on topics such as mental health, well-being, and the impact of technology on human behavior.
While the natural sciences and social sciences may have different aims and perspectives, they both contribute to our understanding of the world we live in. By applying scientific methods and conducting research, these disciplines help us unravel the mysteries of the physical world and the complexities of human behavior and societies.
Subjects of Study
Natural Sciences Study the Natural World and Its Phenomena
The natural sciences encompass a wide range of disciplines that investigate the natural world and its phenomena. These disciplines include biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, geology, and more. Natural scientists seek to understand the laws and principles that govern the universe, from the tiniest particles to the vastness of space.
They conduct experiments, make observations, and analyze data to uncover the secrets of nature.
For example, biologists study living organisms and their interactions with the environment. They explore topics such as genetics, ecology, and evolution. Chemists, on the other hand, focus on the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter.
They investigate the building blocks of the universe and develop new materials and medicines. Physicists delve into the fundamental forces and particles that make up the universe, while astronomers study celestial objects and the mysteries of the cosmos.
Statistical data from The National Science Foundation reveals that the number of students pursuing degrees in natural sciences has been steadily increasing over the years. This indicates the growing interest and importance of this field of study.
Social Sciences Examine Human Societies and Relationships
The social sciences, on the other hand, focus on the study of human societies and relationships. This includes disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, political science, and more.
Social scientists seek to understand how individuals and groups interact, how societies function, and how social structures and institutions shape behavior.
Anthropologists study human cultures and societies across time and space. They explore topics such as language, kinship systems, and cultural practices. Sociologists examine social structures, institutions, and social behavior, investigating topics such as inequality, social change, and group dynamics.
Psychologists study the human mind and behavior, exploring topics such as cognition, emotions, and personality.
Economists analyze the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. They study topics such as supply and demand, market behavior, and economic growth. Political scientists focus on the study of governments, political systems, and the exercise of power.
The social sciences play a crucial role in understanding and addressing societal issues. They provide insights into human behavior, social change, and the factors that shape our societies. By studying social sciences, individuals can gain a better understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Research Methods and Data
Natural Sciences Rely on Empirical, Quantitative Data
In the field of natural sciences, research methods heavily rely on empirical and quantitative data. Scientists in disciplines such as physics, chemistry, and biology use systematic and controlled experiments to gather data.
These experiments are often conducted in a laboratory setting, where variables are manipulated and measured to obtain measurable results. The data collected is then analyzed using statistical methods to draw conclusions and make predictions.
For example, in a study on the effect of a certain drug on a specific disease, scientists would conduct experiments on a group of patients. They would measure variables such as the patients’ symptoms, blood pressure, and heart rate before and after administering the drug.
The data collected would be analyzed using statistical tools to determine the drug’s effectiveness.
Social Sciences Use Both Qualitative and Quantitative Data
In contrast to natural sciences, social sciences employ a range of research methods and data types. Social scientists, including sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists, use both qualitative and quantitative data to study human behavior and society.
Qualitative data in social sciences involves the collection and analysis of non-numerical data such as interviews, observations, and textual analysis. This method allows researchers to gain insights into the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of individuals or groups.
For instance, an anthropologist studying a remote tribe might conduct interviews and observe their cultural practices to understand their way of life.
On the other hand, social scientists also use quantitative data, which involves numerical measurements and statistical analysis. Surveys, experiments, and statistical modeling are some common methods used to collect and analyze quantitative data.
For instance, a psychologist studying the effects of social media on mental health might distribute surveys to a large sample of participants and analyze the responses using statistical techniques.
It is important to note that while social sciences do rely on quantitative data, they also recognize the value of qualitative data in providing a deeper understanding of complex social phenomena.
Prominent Subfields and Disciplines
Core Natural Science Disciplines
Natural sciences encompass a wide range of disciplines that explore the physical and natural world. Some of the core natural science disciplines include:
- Physics: Physics is the study of matter, energy, and the fundamental forces that shape the universe. It seeks to understand the laws that govern everything from the smallest particles to the vast expanses of space.
- Chemistry: Chemistry investigates the composition, properties, and interactions of matter. It plays a vital role in fields such as medicine, materials science, and environmental research.
- Biology: Biology focuses on the study of living organisms and their interactions with the environment. It encompasses various sub-disciplines such as botany, zoology, genetics, and ecology.
- Astronomy: Astronomy explores celestial objects, such as stars, planets, galaxies, and other astronomical phenomena. It involves observing, analyzing, and interpreting data to deepen our understanding of the universe.
- Geology: Geology examines the Earth’s solid materials, processes, and history. It investigates topics such as rocks, minerals, fossils, plate tectonics, and geological hazards.
These core natural science disciplines form the foundation for further specialization and research in various subfields.
Major Branches Within the Social Sciences
The social sciences encompass disciplines that study human society and its various aspects. Some of the major branches within the social sciences include:
- Sociology: Sociology examines social behavior, relationships, and institutions. It seeks to understand how individuals and groups interact, and how societies are structured and change over time.
- Psychology: Psychology focuses on the study of the human mind and behavior. It explores topics such as cognition, emotions, personality, and mental health.
- Economics: Economics analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. It explores topics such as market dynamics, resource allocation, and economic policies.
- Political Science: Political Science studies political systems, institutions, and behaviors. It examines topics such as governance, international relations, and political ideologies.
- Anthropology: Anthropology investigates human cultures, societies, and their evolution. It explores topics such as cultural diversity, archeology, linguistic anthropology, and physical anthropology.
These major branches within the social sciences provide a broad understanding of human behavior, society, and the complexities of the world we live in.
For more information on the disciplines within natural sciences and social sciences, you can visit the following websites:
- National Geographic – Physics
- American Chemical Society – What is Chemistry?
- National Geographic – Biology
- National Geographic – Astronomy
- National Geographic – Geology
- American Sociological Association – What is Sociology?
- American Psychological Association – Psychology Topics
- Concise Encyclopedia of Economics – Economics
- American Political Science Association – About Political Science
- American Anthropological Association – What is Anthropology?
While the natural sciences and social sciences take varied approaches, they share the common goal of advancing human knowledge through rigorous methodology. However, their core focus and subjects of analysis differ, with the natural sciences aimed at the physical world, and social sciences at human societies.
Grasping these key differences provides a stronger understanding of the diverse branches of academic study.