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Chapter 2

Chapter 2 Cozby - Methods in Behavioral Research

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Anna Nagy

Chapter 2 – Where to Start The motivation to conduct scientific research derives from a natural curiousity about the world. Hypothesis and Predictions • Hypothesis – a statement, formulated by the researcher, that makes an assertion about what is true in a particular situation; often a statement asserting that two or more variables are related. Therefore, it is only a tentative idea waiting for evidence to support or refute it. • Hypothesis can be general, 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. • Formal hypotheses state that two or more variables are related (ie. “Crowding results in reduced performance on cognitive tasks”). • Such hypotheses are formulated on the basis of past research and theoretical considerations. The research will then design an experiment to test the hypothesis. • At this point the experimenter will make a specific prediction concerning the outcome of the experiment. • 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 is 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 psychological research. • 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 Data Five sources of ideas are: 1. common sense 2. observation of the world 3. theories 4. past research 5. practical problems Common Sense • 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 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 behavior. Observation of the World • Curiousity sparked by observation 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 – sometimes the most interesting discoveries are the result of accident of sheer luck. Pavlov (and the salivating dog) is an excellent example of this. Such discoveries can only be made by luck when you are studying the world with an inquisitive eye. Theories • Theories serve two important functions in increasing our understanding of behavior. • They organize and explain a variety of specific facts or descriptions of behavior. Such facts are meaningless on their own, so theories impose a framework on them, making 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). • They generate new knowledge by focusing our thinking so we notice new aspects of behavior – they guide our observation of the world. • Theory – a scientific theory is grounded in actual data: observations that have been made and hypotheses that can be tested through research – they can be falsifiable. 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. • Research may reveal weakness in a theory when observations do not support the theory. However, sometimes a new theory can emerge to account for both new data and the existing body of knowledge. • Theories are therefore dynamic, for they are usually modified as new research defines the scope of the theory. Past Research • Becoming familiar with a body of research on a topic is perhaps the best way to generate ideas for research. Virtually every study raises questions to subsequently be answered by research. • Since the results of research are published, researchers can use the body of past literature to continually refine and expand our knowledge. • When you become familiar with research literature on a topic you may see inconsistencies in the results that need investigation, or you may want to study alternate explanations for the results. • What you know in one research area can often be successfully applied to another research area. Practical Problems • Research is stimulated by practical problems that can have immediate applications (ie. city planners might survey bicycle riders to determine the most desirable route for a city bike path). • Much of the applied and evaluation research described in Ch 1 addresses issues such as these. Library Research • Before conducting research, a scientist must have thorough knowledge of previous research findings. • Even if a basic idea has been formulated, reviewing past research will help the researcher clarify the idea and design The Nature of Journals • In journals, researchers publish the results of their investigations. • Peer review - After a research projects has been competed, the study is written as a report, which then may be submitted to the editor of an appropriate journal. The editor solicits reviews of scientists in the same field, the editor then decides whether the report is to be accepted for publication. Those that are accepted are published about a year later. • Most psychology journals specialize in one or two areas of human or animal behavior. Still, there are so many it would be impossible to read them all, hence very impractical to read every journal in search of articles for background information on your research topic. Fortunately, we don’t have to. Psychological Abstracts • The American Psychological Association began publishing Psychological Abstracts in 1927. Students used to conduct literature searches manually by locating the abstracts – brief summaries – of articles that were published in each month’s issue of Psychological Abstracts. • Today, you are more likely to conduct research using a computer database that contains the abstract. The American Psychological Association computer database is PsycINFO, which is updated weekly and covers research from 1800s to the present. • A related database, PsycFIRST covers articles from the last three years. • Searching the database will provide you with a list of abstracts that are related to your topic, and you can then find the entire article in your library or, in many case, there will be a link to the entire text that your library subscribes to. Conducting a PsycINFO Search • You need to specify the term or phrase you want the computer to
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