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Anna Nagy

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Chapter 1: Scientific Understanding of Behaviour
Uses of Research Methods:
Informed citizens in our society increasingly need knowledge of
research methods. Daily newspapers, general-interest magazines, and
other media are continually reporting research results. A background
in research methods will help us to read these reports more critically,
evaluate the methods employed, and decide whether the conclusions
are reasonable.
Many occupations require the use of research findings. For example,
mental health professionals must make decisions about treatment
methods, assignment of clients to different types of facilities,
medications, and testing procedures (such decisions are made on the
basis of research). Knowledge of research methods and the ability to
evaluate research reports are useful in many fields.
Scientific research has become increasingly important in public policy
Research is also important when developing and assessing the
effectiveness of programs designed to achieve certain goals.
The Scientific Approach:
People have always observed the world around them and sought
explanations for what they see and experience. However, instead of
using a scientific approach, many people rely on intuition and
authority as ways of knowing.
The Limitations of Intuition and Authority
When you rely on intuition, you accept unquestioningly what your own
personal judgment or single story about one persons experience tells
you about the world.
The intuitive approach takes many forms. Often it involves finding an
explanation for our own behaviour of the behaviours of others. Other
times, intuitions is used to explain intriguing events that your observe,
as in the case of concluding that adoption increases the chance of
conception among couples having difficulty conceiving a child.
A problem with intuition is that numerous cognitive and motivational
biases affect our perceptions, and so we may draw erroneous
conclusions about cause and effect. Gilovich points out that there is in
fact no relationship between adoption and subsequent pregnancy,
according to scientific investigations. We still hold this belief because
of a cognitive bias called illusory correlation that occurs when we focus
on two events that out and occur together. When an adoption is closely
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followed by a pregnancy, our attention is drawn to the situation, and
we are biased to conclude that there must be a causal connection.
Such illusory correlations are also likely to occur when we are highly
motivated to believe in the causal relationship. Although its a natural
thing for us to do, its not scientific.
Many people are all too ready to accept anything they learn from the
news media, books, government officials, or religious figures. They
believe that the statements of such authorities must be true. The
problem, of course, is that the statements may not be true. The
scientific approach rejects the notion that one can accept on faith the
statements of any authority; again, more evidence is needed before we
can draw scientific conclusions.
Skepticism, Science, and the Empirical Approach
Scientists dont believe on faith, or their own intuitions, or to anything
prestigious authorities have to say; they are very skeptical about what
they see or hear. Scientific skepticism means that ideas must be
evaluated on the basis of careful logic and results from scientific
The fundamental characteristic of the scientific method is empiricism
—knowledge is based on observations. Data are collected that form the
basis of conclusions about the nature of the world. The scientific
method embodies a number of rules for collecting and evaluating data.
Goodsteins evolved theory of science = Observations accurately
reported to others (public or other scientists) + Search for discovery
and verification of ideas (developing theories, argue existing data
support their theories, and conduct research that can increase our
confidence that the theories are correct) + Open exchange and
competition among ideas (good scientific ideas are testable; they can be
supported or they can be falsified when it is testedfalsifiability. If
an idea is falsified when it is tested, science is also advanced because
this result will spur the development of new and better ideas) + Peer
review of research (important in making sure that only the best
research is published. Before a study is published in a scientific
publication, it must be reviewed by peers, other scientists who have
the expertise to carefully evaluate the research and recommend
whether the research should be published. This review process
ensures that research with major flaws will not become part of the
scientific literature).
Integrating Intuition, Skepticism, and Authority
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