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Chapter 2

PSY327H5 Chapter 2: Research methods

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Simone Walker

Chapter 2: Research Methods Page 41 – 63 The Short History of Relationship Science • Systematic study of human relationships is recent. As a result, human relationships are not understood well. • Philosophers and poets looked at relationships until the 20 century o The view that they had were only opinions, and many of them were wrong • As a result, the first efforts of behavioural scientists was to conduct empirical (experimental) observations of real relationships • Relationship sciences began in the 1930s with studies of o Children’s friendships o Courtships o Marriages • Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Hatfield began systematic studies of attraction and love that were fueled by an emphasis on laboratory experiments in social psychology • Researchers started studying specific influences on relationships that they were able to control and manipulate o Example of ‘role of attitude similarity in liking’: Donn Byrne and colleagues asked people to inspect an attitude survey that was completed by a stranger in another room. Then they asked the participants how much they like the stranger. The participants didn’t know that the researchers had prepared the survey either to agree or disagree with the participants’ own attitude (which was assessed earlier). Results showed that when the survey agreed with the participants’ own attitude, they liked the stranger more than disagreement did ▪ Procedures like this gave the researcher clarity and concision • However, if we go back and look at these studies, we see that they did a poor job of representing the natural complexity of real relationships o Participants in Byrne’s experiment never actually met the other person or interacted with them in any way (a meeting couldn’t have happened because the person didn’t really exist). In the experiment, people were reacting to check marks on paper and were the only participants in the study. The researchers were measuring attraction to an individual that didn’t exist • Even if these studies poorly represented real relationships, they demonstrated that relationships could be studied scientifically • Since this time, family scholars, psychologists, sociologists, communication researchers, and neuroscientists have contributed to relationship science, and caused it to grow and evolve • Today, relationship science: o Uses different samples of people from all walks of life o Examines different types of families, friendships, and romantic relationships o Frequently studies those relationships over long periods of time o Studies pleasant and unpleasant aspects of relationships o Follows relationships in their natural settings o Uses sophisticated technologies Developing A Question • The first step in any scientific work is to ask a question. • In relationship science, the question emerges from 4 places: o Personal experiences ▪ Relationship researchers own experiences in close relationships can alert them of important processes that they need to study o Broader social problems ▪ Example: huge increase in US divorce rate from 1960s to 1980s results in a lot of research on divorce as social scientists took note of the cultural changes o Previous research ▪ Studies that answer one question raise new ones o Theories ▪ Useful theories account for existing facts and make new predictions • Thus: Scientists put together their personal observations, their recognition of social problems, their knowledge of previous research, and their theoretical perspectives to create the questions they ask • The questions are of two types: o Researchers may want to describe events or behaviours as they naturally occur ▪ They don’t care about explaining why it happens or what causes it ▪ They just want to get information about what it looks like o Researchers may want to establish the casual connection between events to accurately predict which event has a meaningful effect on the following one • Different studies have different goals • The type of question asked influences the o Type of experimental design o Type of data collected o Type of participants used • If an exploratory study mainly wants to describe a newly noticed phenomenon, we shouldn’t criticize it for leaving us uncertain about the cause and effect of that phenomenon • Describing a phenomenon is usually done first. Then, its easier to find a causal influence Obtaining Participants • Relationship researchers get participants in one of two ways: o Convenience Sample: ▪ Use anyone who is readily available and consents to participate ▪ It is called convenience sample because it is convenient for the researcher to obtain participants this way ▪ Example: university professors working with students who need to be a part of an experiment as a part of their course work ▪ Advantages: • Easy to obtain (since you are using anyone that wants to participate in the study) ▪ Disadvantages: • Not representative of the entire population • Volunteer bias (sample only contains participants that are willing to participate; those that consent) o Representative Sample: ▪ Attempt to make sure that the participants resemble the entire population of interest ▪ Example: a representative study of marriage needs to include married people of all ages, nationalities, and socioeconomic levels ▪ Advantages: • Covers all types of people (e.g. age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc.) ▪ Disadvantages: • Expensive • Difficult to obtain sample • Volunteer bias • Representative samples are usually better than convenience samples, but not always o How you should obtain participants depends on the type of study you are doing ▪ If you are studying a general principle • Use convenience sample ▪ If you are studying a specific process • Use a representative sample (so you know it can apply to everyone) • Most relationship science studies are conducted on Western, well-educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic (so the people are weird) people o People from weird cultures sometimes behave differently than those who live in less developed countries o This is not a problem though because the processes studied by relationship researchers are basic, so they can apply to different demographic groups • To be a thoughtful consumer of relationship science, think the way scientists do: o No one study is perfect o Be cautious o Various methods are valuable o Wisdom takes time Choosing a Design Correlational Designs • Correlation: describe patterns in which change in one event is accompanied by change in another event • Everything is measured at the same time (contemporaneous) • Measured in 2 ways: o Correlation Coefficient (Pearson’s r) ▪ Looks at: are the variations in X and Y related in any way? ▪ There are three types of patterns: • Positive Correlation • They go up together o Example: In speed dating studies, the more two strangers think they have something in common after a brief interaction (positive direction), the more they tend to like each other (positive direction) ▪ Negative Correlation • They change in opposite directions (as one goes up, the other goes down; and as one goes down, the other goes up) o Example: People who have high neuroticism (positive direction) are less satisfied with their marriage (negative direction) ▪ Uncorrelated: • If events are unrelated, a change in one variable WON’T cause a change in the other variable o Regression Coefficient (beta) ▪ How much of the variation in y can be explained by the variation in x ▪ If I know information about one variable, can I use it to predict information about another variable ▪ Example: knowing height, can you predict weight ▪ Can be + or – ▪ Higher value = stronger the relation = one variable tells you more about the other • Advantages: allows study of links between interesting events in the real world • Disadvantages: cannot examine causal connections between events • Correlational designs usually study naturally occurring behaviours without influencing or controlling the situation Retrospective • Retrospective • Ask people to think about the past • Participants report on events that have happened in the past • Ex. How many conflicts did you have in the first year of your marriage? – recall the past • Advantages: • Flexible • Relatively easy and inexpensive • Disadvantages: • Difficult to recall what happened a long time ago • Recall biases: systematic error due to differences in accuracy or completeness of recall to memory of past events or experiences • We reconstruct the past in the present • What we believe happened may not have actually happened • Example: how much did you fight- “about 10 times”. Is it actually 10 times? • The most you ask someone to go back, the more fuzzy the memory Cross Sectional • Compares different people at different stages or ages in a developmental process • Example: Marital Conflict o Get different groups of couples that are married for different number of years. Ask them how much they fight. Compare the groups to each other • Advantages: o Relatively easy, convenient – all you need is the groups and you measure it once o Allows us to study differences between groups (e.g. differences across time) – you can study the difference between newly weds • Disadvantages: o Can only look at group differences ▪ Cannot look at changes ▪ You cannot conclude that one group fights more. o Confound of cohort Longitudinal • Longitudinal o When you take the same people and follow them across time o Compares same people over time o Example ▪ What factors affect amount of marital conflict o Advantages: ▪ Allows us to study changes over time • if you find that 10years later there are more conflict, this shows that the longer you are married, the more you will fight. There is a change ▪ Eliminates confound of age – they all belong to the same age group o Disadvantages: ▪ More difficult and expensive ▪ Attrition ▪ Confound of temporary culture shifts • Ex. Suppose you start data collection in 1997 and continue each year for 10 years o Find that marital conflict increases o You would be tempted to conclude that the longer you are married, the more you will fight. o But in 2007, 2008, and 2009, there was economic downturn (recession). Conflict was bound to happen. Economic recession was causing the conflict, not how long you were married ▪ There is a third variable (confounding variable) causing the correlation between age group and conflict Experimental Design • One way to investigate causal connections is to use an experimental design • Experiments: provide straightforward information about causes and their effects. This is because experimenters create and control the condition they study. • Difference between experiment and correlational study in Donn Byrne’s work on attitude similarity and attraction o If Byrne simply measured partners’ perceptions of each others attitudes and their liking for each other, he would have obtained a positive correlation between perceived similarity and liking, but he would not be sure why they were related o He did an experiment instead. Once the participants arrived at the lab, he flipped a coin to randomly determine who would encounter a similar stranger and who would encounter one that did not agree with them. He controlled the agreement or disagreement, and that was the only difference between the two situations. With this procedure, Byrne observed higher liking for the similar stranger, so he could conclude that greater agreement had caused the higher liking. Everyone had identical experiences, and since this was the only factor that was different, it is why the result was seen • Experiments provide clearer and more definitive tests of causal connections • If they are done accurately, they will explain cause and effect • Experimenters have to be able to control and manipulate the events they want to study • Correlational and experimental designs each have their own advantages and disadvantages o Correlational advantage – we can study events in the real world (that are rel
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