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Chapter 2

Chapter 2: How Psychologists Do Research

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Trent University
PSYC 1020H
Wolfgang Lehmann

How Psychologists Do Research What Makes Psychological Research Scientific? The ideal scientist demonstrates the following characteristics: 1. Precision  Scientists often start with a general theory: an organized system of assumptions and principles that purports to explain a specified set of phenomena and their interrelations  From that theory, they derive a hypothesis ( a statement that attempts to predict, describe, or explain a given behaviour) which may initially be general but become more precise through research  The hypothesis leads to predictions on what will happen in a particular situation  Operational definitions are precise definitions of a term in an hypothesis which specifies the operations for observing and measuring the process or phenomenon being defined 2. Skepticism  Treat conclusions, new and old, with caution: do not always believe everything at first (Show me!)  Caution must be balanced by openness to new ideas and evidence to refrain from ending up short-sighted (ex. Lord Kelvin who declared radio had no future, and that X- rays were a hoax) 3. Reliance on empirical evidence  It is irrelevant how exciting an idea or theory due to how plausible it may be, but must be backed by empirical evidence  Peter Medawar (1979): “The intensity of the conviction that a hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it is true or not” 4. Willingness to make ‘risky’ predictions  A scientist must state an idea that allows it to be refuted/disproven by counterevidence  Principle of falsifiability: states that a scientific theory must make predictions that are specific enough to expose the theory to the possibility of disconfirmation; must state what will and will not happen in its prediction  Confirmation bias: the tendency to look for or pay attention to information that confirms one’s own belief, typically without looking for further evidence 5. Openness  Do not be secretive, since science depends on the free flow of ideas and full disclosure of the procedures used in a study  Steps and procedures must be written carefully, correctly, and specifically enough so that other scientists can replicate their studies and verify or challenge the findings  Peer reviews are when scientists are expected to submit their results to professional journals, which send the findings to experts in the field for evaluation before deciding to publish them – ensuring the work lives up to accepted scientific standards  The principles of good science correspond to the critical thinking guidelines:  Formulating a prediction with operational definitions corresponds to ‘define your terms’  Openness to new ideas encourages scientists to ‘ask questions’ and ‘consider other interpretations’  Reliance on empirical evidence helps scientists avoid oversimplification  Principle of falsifiability forces scientists to ‘analyze assumptions and biases’ fair-mindedly  Until results have been replicated and verified, scientists must ‘tolerate uncertainty’ Descriptive Studies: Establishing the Facts  The first challenge is to select participants for the study, preferably done through a representative sample  Representative sample: a group of participants accurately representing the larger population of the area of interest to the researcher, and also which matches the population on important characteristics such as age and sex  A small and representative sample may produce accurate results while a larger study that does not use proper sampling methods may produce questionable results  Descriptive methods: methods that yield descriptions of behaviours but not necessarily causal explanations 1. Case Studies  A detailed description of a particular individual based on careful observation or formal psychological testing  Includes information about a person’s childhood, dreams, fantasies, experiences, relationships, and anything that provides insight into the person’s behaviour  Illustrate psychological principles in a way that abstract generalizations and cold statistics cannot, and also produce a more detailed picture of an individual  Only has limited usefulness for deriving general principles of behaviour  The person who is the focus of the study may have selective or inaccurate memories, resulting in unreliable conclusions  Vital information may be missing, making the case hard to interpret 2. Observational Studies  The researcher observes, measures, and records behaviour, taking care to avoid intruding on the people being observed; they systematically observe and record behaviour without interfering with the behaviour  May be naturalistic or laboratory observations  Naturalistic observations find out how people or animals act in their normal social environments, and are used wherever people happen to be  Must be exceptionally careful to avoid being too obvious about their studies and work they are doing to ensure they will behave naturally, or will result in different, inaccurate results  They are often useful in the first stages of a research program, but the researcher has little or no control of the situation and observations may be biased  Laboratory observations give researchers more control over the situation and use sophisticated equipment, determining the number of people who will be observed, and maintaining a clear line of vision  The presence of researchers and special equipment may cause people to behave differently as they would naturally  These methods are more useful for describing behaviour rather than explaining it 3. Tests  Psychological tests are procedures used to measure and evaluate personality traits, emotional states, aptitudes, interests, abilities, and values  Generally require people to answer written or oral questions and are totalled to yield a single numerical score or set of scores  Objective tests (inventories) measure beliefs, feelings, or behaviours of which an individual is aware  Projective tests are designed to tap unconscious feelings or motives  Used in industry, education, military, research and may be used to promote self- understanding, evaluate psychological treatments, or draw generalizations about human behaviour  Standardized tests are one example of a good test: it consists of developing a uniform procedure of giving and scoring a test  Scoring is done by referring to norms: established standards of performance  Reliability: the consistency of scores derived from a test from one time and place to another (is extremely important)  Validity: the ability to measure what it was designed to measure (is extremely important)  Tests are sometimes judged on criterion validity: the ability to predict and independent measures or criteria of the trait in question 4. Surveys  Are questionnaires and interviews that ask people directly about their experiences, attitudes, or opinions  Samplings and avoiding biases are two main challenges of surveys  Volunteer bias: people who are willing to volunteer their opinions may differ from those who remain silent  People may sometimes lie during surveys for various reasons, especially when getting touchy or embarrassing  The way a question is phrased can directly affect the likelihood of honesty and accuracy of the responses (ex. How many times have you… is better than Have you ever…)  Participants generally random and are volunteers Correlations  Correlational study: a descriptive study that looks for a consistent relation between two phenomena  Correlation is a term often used as a synonym for ‘relation’, and is a measure of how strongly two variables are related to one another  Since these things can vary greatly, they are called variables: characteristics of behaviour or experience that can be measured or described by a numeric scale  Positive correlation: the high values of one variable are associated with high values of the other and that low values of one variable are associated with low values of the other o Ex. Height and weight, IQ scores and school grades  Rarely ever a perfect correlation  Negative correlation: the high values of one variable are associated with low values of the other o Ex. The older adults are, the fewer kilometers they run and Hours spent watching TV and GPA  If there is no relation between variables, they are uncorrelated or there is zero correlation  Coefficient of correlation: is a statistic used to express a correlation and is a measure that ranges in value from -1.00 to +1.00, conveys both the size and direction of the correlation  Perfect positive correlation has a coefficient of +1.00 and a perfect negative correlation has a coefficient of -1.00  A correlation of +8.0, for example, means they are strongly related  If there is no association between two variables, the coefficient is zero or close to zero  Many correlations are reported in the media and/or internet, but are not always supported by data – merely rumours and anecdotes (ex. H1N1)  Even when a correlation is real, it does not necessarily demonstrate a causal relation between the two variables  When two variables are associated, one variable may or may not be causing the other Experiments  Experiments allow the researcher to control and manipulate the situation being studied; the
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