Chapter 2 – Where to Start
The motivation to conduct scientific research derives from a natural curiousity about the
Hypothesis and Predictions
• Hypothesis – a statement, formulated by the researcher, that makes an assertion
about what is true in a particular situation; often a statement asserting that two or
more variables are related. Therefore, it is only a tentative idea waiting for evidence
to support or refute it.
• Hypothesis can be general, informal questions (ie. “Do males and females differ in
their drinking ability”). In such cases, the researchers develop a procedure for
collecting data to answer the questions. These are informal hypotheses or simply
questions about behavior.
• Formal hypotheses state that two or more variables are related (ie. “Crowding
results in reduced performance on cognitive tasks”).
• Such hypotheses are formulated on the basis of past research and theoretical
considerations. The research will then design an experiment to test the hypothesis.
• At this point the experimenter will make a specific prediction concerning the
outcome of the experiment.
• If the prediction is confirmed by the results, the hypothesis is supported; if the
prediction is not confirmed, we will either reject the hypothesis or conduct further
research using different methods.
• A hypothesis can only be supported is cannot be proven.
Who we Study: A Note on Terminology
• Participants are also referred to as subjects. The publication Manual of the
American Psychological Association recommends using the term “participants”
when describing humans who take part in psychological research.
• Respondents – individuals who take part in survey research.
• Informants – people who help researchers understand the dynamics of particular
cultural and organizational settings – the term originated in anthropological and
Sources of Data
Five sources of ideas are:
1. common sense
2. observation of the world
4. past research
5. practical problems
Common Sense • Common sense – the body of knowledge of things we all believe to be true
(ie. “do opposites attract”)
• Testing common sense is valuable because such notions don’t always turn
out to be true or research may show the real world is much more
complicated than our common sense ideas would have it.
• Conducting research to test common sense often makes us go beyond the
common sense theory of behavior.
Observation of the World
• Curiousity sparked by observation often leads to asking questions about
phenomena (ie. “When I hide something in a special place I often forget where I
put it”). This is what leads most students to engage in their first research project.
• There is a great diversity of the ideas that can be generated in this way.
• Fried suggested that the negative reaction to rap music may arise because it is
associated with Black music. To test this he asked participants to read lyrics to a
folk song with a violent message and he told them it was either a rap song or a
country song. He found they had more negative reactions when they were told it
was a rap song.
• Lynn was a waiter through university and during that time formed many
hypotheses about what increased tips. He took this further and used a scientific
approach to test his ideas, making an entire career out of it and making many new
discoveries. Lynn exemplifies that taking a scientific approach to a problem can
lead to important applications.
• Serendipity – sometimes the most interesting discoveries are the result of accident
of sheer luck. Pavlov (and the salivating dog) is an excellent example of this. Such
discoveries can only be made by luck when you are studying the world with an
• Theories serve two important functions in increasing our understanding of
• They organize and explain a variety of specific facts or descriptions of behavior.
Such facts are meaningless on their own, so theories impose a framework on them,
making the world more comprehensible by providing a few abstract concepts
around which we can organize and explain a variety of behaviors (ie. Darwin’s
theory of evolution).
• They generate new knowledge by focusing our thinking so we notice new aspects
of behavior – they guide our observation of the world.
• Theory – a scientific theory is grounded in actual data: observations that have been
made and hypotheses that can be tested through research – they can be falsifiable.
A scientific theory that is supported by a large body of research is no longer just an
idea; it allows us to explain a great deal of observable facts.
• Research may reveal weakness in a theory when observations do not support the
theory. However, sometimes a new theory can emerge to account for both new data
and the existing body of knowledge. • Theories are therefore dynamic, for they are usually modified as new research
defines the scope of the theory.
• Becoming familiar with a body of research on a topic is perhaps the best way to
generate ideas for research. Virtually every study raises questions to subsequently
be answered by research.
• Since the results of research are published, researchers can use the body of past
literature to continually refine and expand our knowledge.
• When you become familiar with research literature on a topic you may see
inconsistencies in the results that need investigation, or you may want to study
alternate explanations for the results.
• What you know in one research area can often be successfully applied to another
• Research is stimulated by practical problems that can have immediate applications
(ie. city planners might survey bicycle riders to determine the most desirable route
for a city bike path).
• Much of the applied and evaluation research described in Ch 1 addresses issues
such as these.
• Before conducting research, a scientist must have thorough knowledge of previous
• Even if a basic idea has been formulated, reviewing past research will help the
researcher clarify the idea and design
The Nature of Journals
• In journals, researchers publish the results of their investigations.
• Peer review - After a research projects has been competed, the study is written as a
report, which then may be submitted to the editor of an appropriate journal. The
editor solicits reviews of scientists in the same field, the editor then decides whether
the report is to be accepted for publication. Those that are accepted are published
about a year later.
• Most psychology journals specialize in one or two areas of human or animal
behavior. Still, there are so many it would be impossible to read them all, hence
very impractical to read every journal in search of articles for background
information on your research topic. Fortunately, we don’t have to.
• The American Psychological Association began publishing Psychological
Abstracts in 1927. Students used to conduct literature searches manually by
locating the abstracts – brief summaries – of articles that were published in each
month’s issue of Psychological Abstracts. • Today, you are more likely to conduct research using a computer database that
contains the abstract. The American Psychological Association computer database
is PsycINFO, which is updated weekly and covers research from 1800s to the
• A related database, PsycFIRST covers articles from the last three years.
• Searching the database will provide you with a list of abstracts that are related to
your topic, and you can then find the entire article in your library or, in many case,
there will be a link to the entire text that your library subscribes to.
Conducting a PsycINFO Search
• You need to specify the term or