Chapter 2 The Foundations of Psychological Research
- The research methods and design you choose depend greatly on the questions asked and answers you
hope to discover.
- Two very broad research approaches used by researchers: experimental and non-experimental designs.
- Non-experimental designs
o Studies that use naturalistic observation methodology are non-experimental in that actions and
events are carefully measured and catalogued but independent variables cannot be directly
manipulated and extraneous factors that can confound results are difficult to control
o They encompass several types of studies such as quasiexperimental, correlational, survey, and
single-subject or small N-research.
o Example: if you wanted to examine the relationship of smiling and positive mood using non-
experimental design, you might have participants watch a comedy film, record the number of
times each participant smiled, and then have participants complete a questionnaire on their
mood. You cannot conclude a causal relationship using this type of design.
- Experimental studies
o Can be used when the researcher wants to test cause and effect, such as investigating whether
smiling causes positive changes in emotional feelings
o A research is able to exercise control over variable or variables that are assumed to be the causal
agents producing the predicted effect
The Goal of Science
- Paul Ekman – psychologist who studies facial expressions of emotions.
o He began by challenging the idea that such rules are learned social or cultural conventions.
o Other psychologist understood emotional expression in the face to be culturally determined by a
set of learned social conventions, Ekman disagreed.
o His method is traced to Charles Darwin’s 1872 book The Expression of the Emotions in Man and
Animals, in which Darwin argues that all mammals communicate their emotions through facial
o He traveled to places like Japan, Brazil, and Argentina, carrying photographs of men and women
posing various distinctive faces. Everywhere he went, people agreed on what those expressions
o He thought maybe people living in those developing countries knew because of movies and TV
shows they watched. He went to the most remote villages in the jungles of Papua New Guinea
and found the same results.
o He is a cultural psychologist.
o He says that facial expressions of emotions were not socially learned but rather are the universal
products of evolution.
o He did nonexperimental studies and eventually elegant experimental studies by him.
o 7 emotions: Sadness, surprise, anger, contempt, disgust, fear, and happiness.
- Objective of research is to provide a scientific understanding of the topic of investigation. Goals of
science are description and explanation.
- We first describe the phenomenon that we intend to study. We define it conceptually and operationally. - Conceptual definition – provides the meaning, often rather broad in scope, of an abstract term, such as
intelligence, anxiety, or emotion.
- Operational definition – indicates how a concept is coded, measured, or quantified. Such as definition of
gender in which female is coded as 1 and male as 2.
- In the Ekman work, the Facial Action Coding System provides the operational definition of various facial
expression expressions of emotions. The coding system defines specific combinations of facial muscle
movements that are universally and discretely generated when certain emotions are elicited.
- Explanation can include both prediction as well as establishing cause and effect.
- Philosophers since the time of Aristotle have debated the true essence of causality.
- Causality requires 3 kinds of evidence as described by Cook and Campbell (1979)
o Temporal precedence – This evidence establishes that the cause precedes the effect. Example:
smoking cigarettes occurred first and then lung cancer followed.
o Covariation of the cause and effect – When the cause is present, the effect occurs, and when the
cause is absent, the effect does not occur. Example people who smoke contract lung cancer and
those who don’t smoke then do not contract lung cancer.
o Alternative explanations – A researcher must show that nothing other than a causal variable
could be responsible for the observed effect ; that no other plausible explanation for the
relationship. Example: What if social class could explain the relationship of smoking and lung
- The problem is that it is impossible in human studies to control for all extraneous, confound or third
variables that could account for the observed effect.
- Even when we can’t identify causality, a scientific explanation can provide highly useful information that
helps to specify the rules under which a certain phenomenon occurs.
- Studies are often categorized as either basic research or applied research.
- Basic research addresses fundamental questions about the nature of abstract psychological processes and
ideas, such as emotions, intelligence, reasoning, and social behaviour.
- Applied research addresses important questions that are thought to be of immediate relevance in solving
practical problems. Such as what television advertisements are most effective in reducing illicit drug use in
- Program evaluation – studies the effects on behaviour of large-scale policy changes and as well social
reforms and innovations occurring in government, schools, courts, prisons, businesses, health care,
housing, and so forth.
- Basic research often has exceptionally important applications that are impossible to predict. Example, the
principles and findings from Ekman’s basic research on facial expression of emotion are now applied in a
variety of settings.
Sources of Research Ideas
- We have to consider how we come up with ideas in the first place.
Starting with Observation - Science often beings with simple observation, which can serve as a source of both evidence and ideas.
- Our observations will need to be broken down into simpler units that allow for more precise
quantification and measurement.
- Serendipity effect – Accidentally discovering something fortunate.
Starting With Theory
- Charles Darwin was the among the first to raise the question of whether physiological changes may lead
to, if not very well be the cause of, an emotion as opposed to being just the consequence of emotion.
- Carl Lang and William James working independently developed similar ideas about the nature of human
emotion. They each theorized that emotions are feelings that come about as a result of physiological
changes such as perspiration, rapid heartbeat, muscular tension, and dryness of mouth created by
autonomic nervous system that regulates bodily reactions to stress
- James-Lang theory – It addresses the chicken and egg question by stating that the physiological changes
come first, followed by the experience of emotional feelings. Example: see a bear, heart races, muscles
tense, then you feel fear.
- Cannon-Bard Theory – of emotional experiences, these researchers proposed that emotions come first,
followed by bodily changes.
- Neidenthal did research on both theories. When we perceive and think about their emotions, we
experience or more precisely re-experience in ourselves those subtle physical and mental changes of the
- Embodiment theory of emotion – proposes a dynamic interplay of specific bodily states and their
- Niedenthal cited studies that have shown that
o (a) when people adopt emotion-specific bodily postures, they report experiencing the associated
o (b) when people make facial expressions or emotional gestures, their perceptions and
impressions are affected
o (c) inhibiting people’s motor movements can interfere with their experience of emotion
- Journals that are peer-reviewed constitute the scientific literature.
- Peer-reviewed publications fall into two categories: empirical articles and review articles
- Empirical article reports on a particular study and is written in a certain format divided into sections with
an Abstract, Introduction, Method, Results, and Discussion.
- A review article examines several studies of a particular phenomenon, such as facial expression of
emotion. It evaluates the methodology used across different studies, examines the degree to which
findings are robust across various conditions, settings and procedures, and comments on the extent to
which empirical finding allow for general theoretical conclusion.
- Popular science literature – Written by eminent scientist who aim to explain science for a general
- Science journalism – often focuses on recent developments in science that are judged newsworthy.
- Both popular science and science journalism fulfill an important public service of bringing peer-reviewed
publications borne of the scientific method into popular political and cultural discourse. They are free of
technical jargon. - The down side to popular literature is that it lacks the critical sense of proportionality and scientific
findings can be oversold, if not downright sensationalized.
- It is emphasized that works of journalism only be used as source of ideas that might inspire and motivate
you to pursue a formal line of investigation using scientific method
- Secondary source – second-hand medic accounts of scientific work.
- Primary source – the first-hand empirical report published in a peer-reviewed journal.
- Todorov and colleagues (2005) showed that their research participants who made split-second
judgements of competence from faces of political candidates predicted the outcomes of the U.S.
congressional elections better than chances (e.g. 68% of the Senate race in 2004)
- L.Abel and Michael Kruger (2010) titled “ Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity” Sampled of
230 photos of baseball players culled from Baseball Register for 1952.
o Their results showed that players with full smiles lived the longest to 79.9 years, which is nearly 2
years more than the typical life expectance for an American.
o Even a partial smile added to longevity, with these players living for 74.9 years, on average, 2 full
years more than those who exhibited no smile. Their findings demonstrated an overall gain of 7
years of life for smiling players.
Searching The Literature
- Internet is the best to search for peer-reviewed articles
- Two excellent websites for major psychological organizations are American Psychological Association and
Association for Psychological Science.
- PsycINFO and PsycLIT are specialized, non-commercial sear engines sponsored by American Psychological
- Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) includes articles from sociology and criminology.
Let the Searcher Beware!
- Elizabeth Kirk (2002) says that you should never use information that cannot be verified by other
- Kirk lists several criteria against which all information should be evaluated. Authority (who wrote it),
Publishing books (who is the sponsor of the site?), point of view or bias, connection to the scientific
literature (does it cite references to peer-reviewed articles), verifiability and transparency, and timelines.
- James Evans argues that the Internet may paradoxically have a narrowing effect on thinking and research,
suggesting that good ideas may be lost and