Chapter 1 – Scientific Understanding of Behavior
Uses of Research Methods
•Having knowledge of research methods allows us to evaluate studies
presented to the public (ie “eating disorders are more common in warm
climates”) and think critically about whether or not the conclusions are
•Many occupations require the use of research findings (ie. mental health
professions) and it is important to recognize that scientific research has
become increasingly important in public policy decisions. Politicians
frequently take political positions based on research findings. It can also
influence judicial decisions, as exemplified by the Social Science Brief used as
evidence in the case of Brown v. Board of Education.
•Important when developing and assessing the effectiveness of programs
designed to achieve certain goals
The Scientific Approach
Many people, incorrectly, rely on intuition and authority instead of scientific
The Limitations of Intuition and Authority
•When you rely on intuition you accept unquestioningly what your own
personal judgment or a single story tells you about the world. Often, it
involves finding an explanation for our own behavior or the behavior of others
(ie. “I fight with people at work because they want my job”) or to explain
intriguing events (ie. couples tend to get pregnant after they adopt)
•The problem is that numerous cognitive and motivational biases affect our
perception, therefore we draw erroneous conclusions.
•Illusionary correlation – occurs when we focus on two events that stand
out and occur together. We are biased to conclude that there must be a causal
connection because we are highly motivated to believe the causal
•Aristotle would argue that we are more likely to be persuaded by a speaker
who seems prestigious, trustworthy, and respectable than by one who lacks
•Many people are all to ready to accept anything they learn from the news
media, books, government officials, or religious figures, for they believe the
statements to be true, but they may very well be false.
•Science rejects the notion of accepting on faith and requires evidence.
Skepticism, Science, and the Empirical Approach
•Scientists do not unquestioningly accept anyone’s intuition, including their
own, nor do they allow a person’s prestige or authority cause them to accept
on faith what they pronounce.
•Scientific skepticism means that ideas must be evaluated on the basis of
careful logic and results from scientific investigations.
•The fundamental characteristic of the scientific model is empiricism –
knowledge is based on direct observation.
•Goodstein (2000) describes an “evolved theory of science” that defines the
characteristics of scientific inquiry:
-Observations accurately reported to others. The public can then try to
replicate methods used and obtain the same data. Fabricating data is
unethical and dealt with by strong sanctions.
-Search for discovery and verification of ideas. They develop theories
and argue that existing data supports their theories, conducting research to
increase confidence in their theories.
-Open exchange and competition among ideas. Supporters and those
who oppose the theory can present their research findings to be evaluated.
Good scientific ideas are testable, they can be supported or disproved by data
– they are falsifiable. In science, ideas must be tested on the basis of
available evidence that can be used to support or refute the ideas. Even if an
idea is disproved, it advances science because it can spur new ideas.
-Peer review of research. It is used to ensure only the best research is
published, not flawed research. Before a study is published in a scientific
journal, it must be reviewed by other scientists who have expertise to carefully
evaluate and recommend what should be published.
Integrating Intuition, Skepticism, and Authority
•The advantage of the scientific approach is that it provides an objective set of
rules for gathering, evaluating, and reporting information. It is an open
system that allows ideas to be accepted or refuted by others.
•Authority and intuition are not unimportant. Scientists often rely on
intuition and assertion of authorities for ideas for research, and there is
nothing wrong with accepting the statements of authority (ie putting blind
faith in religion) as long as we do not take them as scientific facts.
•There is nothing wrong with presenting opinions as long as they are not
presented as facts, however, we should ask whether the idea can be tested or
if evidence exists to support it.
Politicians frequently take political positions based on research findings. It can also influence judicial decisions, as exemplified by the social science brief used as evidence in the case of brown v. board of education. Important when developing and assessing the effectiveness of programs designed to achieve certain goals. Many people, incorrectly, rely on intuition and authority instead of scientific research. The limitations of intuition and authority: when you rely on intuition you accept unquestioningly what your own personal judgment or a single story tells you about the world. Illusionary correlation occurs when we focus on two events that stand out and occur together. We are biased to conclude that there must be a causal connection because we are highly motivated to believe the causal relationship. The public can then try to replicate methods used and obtain the same data. Fabricating data is unethical and dealt with by strong sanctions.