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
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 at all levels 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.
Research is also important when developing and assessing the effectiveness of programs designed to
achieve certain goals (ie. To increase retention of students in school)
The Scientific Approach
Many people, incorrectly, rely on intuition and authority as ways of knowing/learning, instead of using a
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, and so we may
draw erroneous conclusions about cause and effect
The illusory correlation occurs when we focus on two events that stand out and occur together. Our
attention is drawn to the situation and we’re biased to conclude that there must be a causal connection.
Such illusory correlations are also likely to occur when we’re highly motivated to believe in the causal
Aristotle argued that we are more likely to be persuaded by a speaker who seems prestigious,
trustworthy, and respectable than by one who lacks such qualities.
Many people are all too 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:
www.notesolution.com Scientists do not unquestioningly accept anyone’s intuition, including their own, nor do they allow a
person’s prestige or authority to cause them to accept on faith the pronouncements of others. Scientists
Scientific skepticism means that ideas must be evaluated on the basis of careful logic and results from
The fundamental characteristic of the scientific method is empiricism – knowledge is based on
Goodstein (2000) describes an “evolved theory of science” that defines the characteristics of scientific
Observations accurately reported to others: Scientists make observations that are accurately
reported to other scientists and the public; others 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: Scientists search for observations that will verify
their ideas about the world. They develop theories, argue that existing data supports their theories, and
conduct research to increase confidence that their theories are correct.
Open exchange and competition among ideas: Science flourishes when there’s an open system for
the exchange of 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 falsified by data (called
falsifiability). The falsification of an idea will spur new and better ideas.
Peer review of research: It is used to ensure only the best research is published. Before a study is
published in a scientific journal, it must be reviewed by other scientists who have the 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 supported or refuted
Authority and intuition are not unimportant, however. 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 having opinions or beliefs, as long as they are presented as opinions/beliefs
and not as facts. However, we should ask whether the opinion can be tested or if evidence exists to
When someone claims to be a scientist, should we be more willing to accept what they say? Look at the
credentials of the individual and the reputation of the institution represented by the person or the
researcher’s funding source.
Be aware of “pseudoscientists”. Characteristics of pseudoscientists are (figure 1.2):
Hypotheses generated are typically not testable
www.notesolution.com If scientific tests are reported, methodology is not scientific and validity of data is questionable
Supportive evidence tends to be anecdotal or relies heavily on authorities that are “so-called” experts in
the area of interest. Genuine scientific references are not cited.
Claims ignore conflicting evidence
Claims are stated in scientific-sounding terminology and ideas.
Claims tend to be vague, rationalize strongly held beliefs, and appeal to pre-conceived ideas
Claims are never revised
We are highly susceptible to false scientific findings via the Internet.
Goals of Science
Scientific research has 4 general goals:
1. to describe behavior
2. to predict behavior
3. to determine causes of behavior
4. to understand or explain behavior
Description of Behavior:
Scientists begin with careful observations because the first goal of science is to describe events.
Researchers are often interested in describing the ways in which events are systematically related to one
another (ie. Do jurors judge attractive defendants more leniently than unattractive defendants; do students
who study with the TV on score lower than students who study in quiet environments)
Prediction of Behavior:
Another goal of science is to predict behavior. Once it has been observed with some regularity that two
events are systematically related to one another, it becomes possible to make predictions.
One implication of this is that it allows us to anticipate events.
The ability to predict often helps us make better decisions.
Determining the Causes of Behavior:
A third goal o