Chapter 2 – Where to Start
The motivation to conduct scientific research derives from a natural curiosity about the world.
Hypothesis and Predictions
Most research studies are attempts to test a hypothesis formulated by the researcher. A hypothesis is
really a type of idea or question; it makes a statement about something that may be true. A hypothesis
therefore is only a tentative idea or question that is waiting for evidence to support or refute it.
Sometimes hypotheses are very general and 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.
Usually formal hypotheses state that two or more variables are related to one another (ie. “Crowding
results in reduced performance on cognitive tasks”).
Such hypotheses are formulated on the basis of past research and theoretical considerations. The
researcher will then design an experiment to test the hypothesis.
At this point the experimenter will make a specific prediction concerning the outcome of the
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, it 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
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 sociological research.
Sources of Ideas
Five sources of ideas are:
1. Common sense
2. Observation of the world
4. Past research
5. Practical problems
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 that 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
Observation of the World:
Observations of personal and social events can provide many ideas for research. The curiosity sparked by
observations and experiences 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 also plays a role. Serendipity - sometimes the most interesting discoveries are the result of an
accident or sheer luck. Ivan Pavlov (classical conditioning) is an excellent example of this. Such
discoveries can only be made by luck when you are studying the world with an inquisitive eye.
Much research in the behavioural sciences tests theories of behavior.
Theories serve two important functions in increasing our understanding of behavior.
First, they organize and explain a variety of specific facts or descriptions of behavior. Such facts and
descriptions aren’t very meaningful by themselves, and so theories impose a framework on them. This
framework makes 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).
Second, they generate new knowledge by focusing our thinking so we notice new aspects of behavior
– theories guide our observation of the world.
The theory generates hypotheses about behavior, and the researcher conducts studies to see whether these
hypotheses are correct.
Theory: A scientific theory is grounded in actual data: observations that have been made and hypotheses
that can be tested through research. Such testable hypotheses are falsifiable – the data can either support
or refute the hypothesis. 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.