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Chapter 2

PSY220 Chapter 2.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
Jennifer Fortune

Chapter 2: The Methods of Social Psychology The Scientific Method Social psychologists are interested in understanding spontaneous social behaviour, which is difficult to study in tightly controlled settings Scientific method: a set of tools that scientists use to find out about the world; an objective, efficient way to answer questions Theories and Hypotheses Theory: a scientist’s explanation of why an event or outcome occurs; it identifies the underlying cause of something the scientist has observed Hypotheses: a scientist’s prediction about what should occur if a theory is valid A process of evaluating theories by confirming or disconfirming hypotheses forms the core of the scientific method. Most theories build on prior scientific work, including previous theories that have been shown to be inaccurate or limited. Theories often rely on scientists’ intuitive analysis of problems, including their personal experiences. Some theories are the result of collaborations between scientists who have different perspectives. In developing a theory, scientists often aim for simplicity, coherence, and testability because these features make it more likely that the theory will generate new ideas and new discoveries. Just world theory (Melvin Lerner): humans need to believe that the world is a fair and just place; we are all motivated to believe that people usually receive what they deserve: hard work and honesty bring rewards while laziness and dishonesty don’t pay. If we believed that the world is unjust, then we would fear that our own hard work might be in vain. Lerner’s prediction: suffering victims threaten the belief that the world is fair, unless the victims are either responsible for their suffering or are bad people who in some sense deserve their suffering Translating Theoretical Ideas into Testable Questions Theories and hypotheses in soc. psych. are typically expressed in conceptual terms: they refer to abstract ideas that cannot be observed directly. To test theories/hypotheses, researchers must somehow translate these ideas into concrete, objective measures. Operational definition: specific, observable response that will be used to measure a concept Ex: concept: attitudes towards religion, the operation definition (measure): scores from 0-10 on a response scale Concept Description Example Theories Explanations of why an outcome People who believe that they can occurs be successful will be inspired by a superstar Hypothesis Predictions about what should Increasing individuals’ belief that happen if a theory is valid they can be successful will increase how much they are inspired by a superstar Operational definitions Specific, observable responses People who have many future used to measure concepts opportunities to succeed will rate themselves more favourably on various traits after being exposed to information about a superstar Two types of measures in social psychology: (1) Self-report measures Strategy: asking people directly  Advantages o So long as a concept is something that people are able and willing to report, measuring it via self-report makes sense, as people are presumably aware of concepts they are asked about and seem unlikely to be dishonest in reporting them  Disadvantages o Sometimes people may not be aware of some internal states, such as unconscious motives that can affect their actions (“Are you afraid of failure?”) or memories that may no longer be available (“How did you feel about religion when you were a child?”); people may believe that they can answer these questions accurately, but their responses will probably be guesses o Participants may not want to report some things honestly  Socially desirable responding: giving answers that portray the respondent in a favourable light One straightforward strategy used to control contamination of measures by social desirability motives is avoiding phrasing items in ways that make some responses more socially desirable than others (ex: the cars hit each
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