Chapter 2: Doing Social Psychology Research
Social psychologists develop specific, quantifiable hypotheses that can be tested empirically.
They report the details of how they conduct their tests so that others can try to replicate their
They integrate evidence from across time and place and they build a consistent and precise
understanding of human nature.
Example of social psychology questions:
a) The course of relationships
b) The efficiency of working in groups
c) The regret of action versus inaction
Empirical: Verifiable provable by means of observation or experiment
Why should you learn about research methods?
Training in research methods in psychology can improve your reasoning about real life events
Can make you a better, more sophisticated consumer of information in general, because some
information may turn out to be wrong or oversimplified and misleading.
You will be in a better position to critically evaluate the information to which youre exposed
and separate fact from fiction.
Developing ideas: Beginning the research process
1. Asking questions
Every social psychology study begins with a question.
First social psychology experiment published was triggered by the question: Why do
bicyclists race faster in the presence of other bicyclists? (Triplett 1897-1898)
The inspiration and questions can come from a variety of sources but can also come
from reading about research that has already been done. E.g.: Salomon Ash who have
studied whether people would conform to the opinion of others even if is it clear that
the group was wrong. He has been inspired by Muzafer Sherifs study how individuals
in a group conform to others in the group when making judgement about a very
ambiguous stimulus). 2. Searching the literature
Textbooks and electronic databases (E.g.: PsycArticles and PsycInfo, have hundreds of
thousands of published articles, books, newspaper and magazine articles) are used to
see what research have been done on the topic.
Once relevant articles have been found, we can look at the references because it may
refer to other articles that are also relevant. Going from article to article, sometimes
called treeing, can prove very valuable in tracking down information about the research
Researchers original question may change during the course of searching the
literature. It may become more precise, specific to particular sets of conditions that are
likely to have different effects, and more readily testable
3. Hypotheses and theories
Hypotheses are based on observations, existing theory, or previous research findings. It
is a a critical step toward planning and conducting research and allows us to move from
the realm of common sense to the rigours of the scientific method.
Theories are evaluated in terms of 3 criteria:
3- Their ability to generate new hypotheses
The best theories are elegant and precise: encompass all of the relevant information;
and lead to new hypotheses, further research, and better understanding.
Social psychologists do not attempt the all-encompassing grand theory. They rely on
more precise mini-theories that address limited and specific aspects on the way
people behave, make explicit predictions about behaviour, and allow meaningful
empirical investigation. E.g.: Daryl Bems self-perception theory (Chapter 3), which did
generate numerous specific, empirically testable hypotheses.
Good social psychological theories stimulate systematic studies designed to test various
aspects of the theories and the specific hypotheses that are derived from them.
Social psychology is a relatively young science which explains why there is a lack of
consensus in the field. But debate is an essential feature in science and is the fate of all
scientific theories to be criticized and, eventually surpassed.
Hypothesis: A testable prediction about the conditions under which an event will occur.
Theory: An organized set of principles used to explain observed phenomena.
Systematic: Marked by a methodical plan or procedure and repeatability. 4. Basic and applied research
Basic and applied researches are closely connected in social psychology, some
researchers switch back and forth between the two.
Kurt Lewin is a pioneer in both approaches. He encouraged basic researchers to be
concerned with complex social problems and urged applied researchers to recognize
how important and practical good theories are.
Applied research: Research where the goals are to enlarge the understanding of
naturally occurring events and to find solutions to practical problems
Basic research: Research where the goal is to increase the understanding of human
behaviour, often by testing hypotheses based on a theory.
Refining ideas: Defining and measuring social
1. Conceptual variables and operational definitions: From the abstract to
Conceptual variable: Abstract, general form of a variable. E.g.: Prejudice, conformity,
attraction, love, violence, group pressure and social anxiety.
Conceptual variables must be transformed into variables that can be manipulated or
measured: it is called operational definition of the variable.
There are systematic, statistical ways of checking how valid various manipulations and
measures are, and researchers spend a great deal of time fine-tuning their operational
definitions to best capture the conceptual variables they wish to study.
Manipulations and measurement of variables are evaluated in terms of their construct
E.g.: Experiment on the effects of alcohol on aggression. One of the conceptual
variables might be whether or not participants are intoxicated. There are several ways
of measuring this variable: assessing participants blood alcohol concentration,
measuring their ability to perform simple motor task, or asking them how drunk they
feel. A second conceptual variable would be aggression. Measuring aggression in
experiment is particularly difficult because of ethical and practical issues