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Psychology (9,565)
PSYB01H3 (585)
Anna Nagy (283)
Chapter 4

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Anna Nagy

Chapter 4Studying Behavior Variablesan event situation behavior or individual characteristic that varies ie Word length genderVariableage Each of these variables represents a general class within which specific instances will vary The specificinstances of these is called the levels or values of the variables A variable must have two or more levels or values Some variables will have numeric valueshence they will be quantitative ie Age your IQ Theydiffer in amount or quantity Algebra can be applied to such variables ie Mesure the mean Some variables are not numeric and instead identify categorieshence they are categorical ieGender occupation These variables differ but not by quantity and algebra cannot be applied to them Variables can be classified in four general categories1Situational variables describe characteristics of a situation or environment ie The spatialdensity of a classroom the credibility of a person who is trying to persuade you 2Response variables are the responses or behaviors of individuals ie Reaction time performanceon a cognitive task 3Participant or Subject variables are characteristic differences of the individuals ie Age genderintelligence personality traits 4Mediating variables are psychological processes that mediate the effects of a situational variableon a particular response ie helping is less likely when there are more bystanders to an emergencythe mediating variable is diffusion of responsibilityOperational Definitions of VariablesA variable is an abstract concept that must be translated into concrete forms of observation ormanipulation thus a variable such as aggression must be defined in terms of the specific method used to measure or manipulate ita definition of a variable in terms of the operations or techniques the Operational definition researcher used to measure or manipulate it Variables must be operationally defined so they can be studied empiricallycognitive task performance may be operationally defined as the number of errors detected on aproofreading task during a 10 minute period There may be several levels of abstraction when studying a variable ie stress is a very abstract variableWhen researchers study stress they might focus on a number of stressorsnoise crowding school etc a researcher would probably choose one stressor to study then develop an operational definition of that type of stressor They would then carry out research both pertaining to that specific stress and the more general concept of stress The key point is that researchers must always translate variables into specific operations to manipulate or measure them Operationally defining variables causes researchers to discuss abstract concepts in concrete terms aprocess that can lead to the realization that the variable is in fact too vague to study This doesnt mean the concept is useless but systemic research is not possible until the concept can be operationally defined Operational variables also help us communicate our ideas to others For example when someone istalking about aggression you need to know exactly what is meant by aggression because there are many ways of operationally defining it There is a variety of methods to operationally define variables each with advantages and disadvantagesResearchers must decide on the best one to use given the problem of study goals of research ethics etc Because no one method is perfect understanding a variable entirely involves studying the variable in avariety of operational definitions
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