Psychological Research: Summary
Table of Contents
Why Is Research Important?
Scientists are engaged in explaining and understanding how the world around them works, and they are able to do so by coming up with theories that generate hypotheses that are testable and falsifiable. Theories that stand up to their tests are retained and refined, while those that do not are discarded or modified. In this way, research enables scientists to separate fact from simple opinion. Having good information generated from research aids in making wise decisions both in public policy and in our personal lives.
Approaches to Research
The clinical or case study involves studying just a few individuals for an extended period of time. While this approach provides an incredible depth of information, the ability to generalize these observations to the larger population is problematic. Naturalistic observation involves observing behavior in a natural setting and allows for the collection of valid, true-to-life information from realistic situations. However, naturalistic observation does not allow for much control and often requires quite a bit of time and money to perform. Researchers strive to ensure that their tools for collecting data are both reliable (consistent and replicable) and valid (accurate).
Surveys can be administered in a number of ways and make it possible to collect large amounts of data quickly. However, the depth of information that can be collected through surveys is somewhat limited compared to a clinical or case study.
Archival research involves studying existing data sets to answer research questions.
Longitudinal research has been incredibly helpful to researchers who need to collect data on how people change over time. Cross-sectional research compares multiple segments of a population at a single time.
A correlation is described with a correlation coefficient, r, which ranges from -1 to 1. The correlation coefficient tells us about the nature (positive or negative) and the strength of the relationship between two or more variables. Correlations do not tell us anything about causation—regardless of how strong the relationship is between variables. In fact, the only way to demonstrate causation is by conducting an experiment. People often make the mistake of claiming that correlations exist when they really do not.
Researchers can test cause-and-effect hypotheses by conducting experiments. Ideally, experimental participants are randomly selected from the population of interest. Then, the participants are randomly assigned to their respective groups. Sometimes, the researcher and the participants are blind to group membership to prevent their expectations from influencing the results.
In ideal experimental design, the only difference between the experimental and control groups is whether participants are exposed to the experimental manipulation. Each group goes through all phases of the experiment, but each group will experience a different level of the independent variable: the experimental group is exposed to the experimental manipulation, and the control group is not exposed to the experimental manipulation. The researcher then measures the changes that are produced in the dependent variable in each group. Once data is collected from both groups, it is analyzed statistically to determine if there are meaningful differences between the groups.
Psychologists report their research findings in peer-reviewed journal articles. Research published in this format is checked by several other psychologists who serve as a filter separating ideas that are supported by evidence from ideas that are not. Replication has an important role in ensuring the legitimacy of published research. In the long run, only those findings that are capable of being replicated consistently will achieve consensus in the scientific community.
Ethics in research is an evolving field, and some practices that were accepted or tolerated in the past would be considered unethical today. Researchers are expected to adhere to basic ethical guidelines when conducting experiments that involve human participants. Any experiment involving human participants must be approved by an IRB. Participation in experiments is voluntary and requires informed consent of the participants. If any deception is involved in the experiment, each participant must be fully debriefed upon the conclusion of the study.
Animal research is also held to a high ethical standard. Researchers who use animals as experimental subjects must design their projects so that pain and distress are minimized. Animal research requires the approval of an IACUC, and all animal facilities are subject to regular inspections to ensure that animals are being treated humanely.
Spielman, Rose M., et al. Psychology 2e. Second edition, OpenStax College, Rice University, 2020.