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Chapter 2

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Western University
Psychology 1000

Psychology 1000 Chapter 2 Notes September 17, 2012 Studying Behaviour Scientifically Scientific Principles in Psychology  Science has a process guided by certain principles which sets it aside from other approaches to learn about the world and ourselves: the scientific method Scientific Attitudes  A good scientist has an insatiable curiosity and must remain open-minded to conclusions that are supported by facts, even if those conclusions refute their own beliefs Gathering Evidence: Steps in the Scientific Process Step 1: Identify the Question of Interest  Observe something that piques interest & ask a question about it Step 2: Gather Information and Form Hypothesis  Scientists determine whether any studies, theories or other information that might help answer their question already exist  Form a hypothesis, or a specific prediction about some phenomenon that often takes the form of an “If-Then” Statement Step 3: Test Hypothesis by Conducting Research Step 4: Analyze Data, Draw Tentative Conclusions, and Report Findings Step 5: Build A body of Knowledge  Ask further questions  Attempt to build theory  Theory: a set of formal statements that explains how and why certain events are related to one another  Theories are broader than hypotheses, and in psychology theories typically specific lawful relations between certain behaviours and their causes  Scientists use theories to develop new hypotheses, which are then tested by conducting more research  Scientific process becomes self-correcting in this manner  When research consistently supports the hypotheses derived from a theory, confidence in the theory increases Two Approaches to Understanding Behaviour Hindsight (After-The-Fact Understanding)  Perhaps the most common method used to understand behaviour in our everyday life is hindsight (i.e. after-the-fact) reasoning  Main problem with relying solely on hindsight reasoning: related past events can be explained in many creative, reasonable and sometimes contradictory ways  There is no way to determine which of the alternatives is correct Psychology 1000 Chapter 2 Notes September 17, 2012  Despite this, hindsight reasoning can provide valuable insights and is often the foundation on which further scientific inquiry is built Understanding through Prediction, Control & Theory Building  If one can understand the causes of a given behaviour, then we should be able to predict the conditions under which the behaviour will occur in the future  Furthermore, if the conditions can be controlled, the behaviour should be able to be produced  Good theories generate an integrated network of predictions  A good theory has several important characteristics:  Incorporates existing facts and observations within a single broad framework; organizes information in a meaningful way  It is testable: it generates new hypotheses and predictions whose accuracy can be evaluated by gathering new evidence  Predictions made by theory are supported by the findings of new research  Conforms to the law of parsimony: if two theories can explain and predict the same phenomena equally well, the simpler theory is the preferred one  The displacement of old beliefs and theoretical frameworks by new ones is the essence of science  Scientists use prediction as a test of understanding, but that doesn’t mean that prediction requires understanding  Prediction based on understanding has important advantages: satisfies curiosity, increases knowledge, generates principles that we can apply to new situations Defining & Measuring Variables  Variable: any characteristic or factor that can vary  Many variables that represent abstract concepts that cannot be observed directly, like self-esteem, stress and intelligence  Since many variables can mean different things to different people, scientists must define their terms clearly  Operational Definition: defines a variable in terms of the specific procedures used to produce or measure it  Translate abstract concepts into something observable and measurable Self-Reports & reports by others  Self-Report Measures ask people to report on their own knowledge, beliefs, feelings, experiences or behaviour  Gathered through interviews/questionnaires  Accuracy hinges on people’s ability and willingness to respond honestly  Participants’ self-reports may be distorted by a social desirability bias: the tendency to respond in a socially acceptable manner rather than according to how one truly feels or behaves  Researchers can minimize social desirability bias by wording questions so that social desirability isn’t relevant, or that it is impossible, by guaranteeing respondents anonymity and confidentiality so that they respond honestly without fear of future consequences Psychology 1000 Chapter 2 Notes September 17, 2012  An Over-Claiming Questionnaire was developed to measure the degree of a respondent’s social desirability bias  Respondents rated their familiarity with a large number of items on a questionnaire, of which 20 percent didn’t exist. The social desirability bias is high when respondents confidently claim familiarity with a large number of non-existent items  Information can also be gathered about someone’s behaviour by conducting interviews or with administering questionnaires to other people such as parents, spouses and teachers who know the person Measures of Overt Behaviour  Recording overt (directly observable) behaviour  Might measure how many errors a person makes while performing a task, or people’s reaction time (how rapidly they respond to a stimulus)  Psychologists also develop coding systems to record different categories of behaviour  Observers must be trained to use the coding system properly so that their measurement will be reliable and consistent  Humans and other animals may behave differently when they are aware that they’re being observed; researchers may disguise their presence or use unobtrusive measures, which record behaviour in a way that keeps participants unaware that certain responses are being measured  Archival Measures, or records or documents that already exist, may also be used to gather information Psychological Tests  Specialized tests may be developed and used to measure many types of variables  “specialized self-reports”  E.g. personality tests may assess personality traits  Intelligence tests may ask people to assemble objects or solve arithmetic problems  Neuropsychological tests help to diagnose normal and abnormal brain functioning by measuring how people perform mental and physical tasks Physiological Measures  Psychologists also record physiological responses to assess what people are experiencing  E.g. measures of heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, hormonal secretions & brain functioning -> important to many areas of psychology  Problems: we may not know what they mean Psychology 1000 Chapter 2 Notes September 17, 2012 Methods of Research Descriptive Research: Recording Events  Basic goal: describe phenomena  Descriptive research: seeks to identify how humans & other animals behave, particularly in natural settings; provides info about the diversity of behaviour & can yield clues about potential cause- effect relations that can be tested experimentally later  Case studies, naturalistic observation & surveys = research methods commonly used to describe behaviour  Case study: an in-depth analysis of an individual, a group, or an event  Data gathered through observation, interviews, psychological tests, physiological recordings & task performance, or from archival records  Advantages:  When a rare phenomenon occurs, scientists are able to study it closely  It can challenge the validity of a theory or widely held scientific belief  It can be a vibrant source of new ideas & hypotheses that can subsequently be examined by using more controlled research methods  Limitations:  Poor method for determining cause-effect relations  May not generalize to other people or situations  To establish the generalization of a principle, investigators must conduct more case studies, use other research methods, and test a variety of cultural groups  Observers may not be objective in gathering & interpreting the data; “measurement bias”  Case studies are often based on an observer’s subjective impressions  Claims must be followed up by more controlled methods before they are accepted  Naturalistic Observation: researcher observes behaviour as it occurs in a natural setting, and attempts to avoid influencing that behaviour  Used to study the behaviour of chimpanzees, but also used to study human behaviour in schools such as bullying  To answer research questions, researchers develop coding systems so that behaviour can be classified into meaningful categories  Doesn’t permit clear casual conclusions because many variables simultaneously influence behaviour and cannot be disentangled with the research technique  There may also be bias in the way the researchers interpret what they observe  The presence of an observer may disrupt an animal or person’s behaviour, thus researchers may disguise their presence so the participants aren’t aware that they’re being observed  Habituation: when people and other animals adapt to and ignore the presence of an observer over time  Survey research: information about a topic is obtained by administering questionnaires or interviews to many people  Population: all the individuals about whom we are interested in drawing a conclusion Psychology 1000 Chapter 2 Notes September 17, 2012  Sample: a subset of individuals drawn from the larger population of interest  Representative sample: a sample that reflects the important characteristics of the population  Random sampling: Every member of the population has an equal probability of being chosen to participate in the survey  Stratified random sampling: divide the population into subgroups based on such characteristics as gender or ethnic identity  Strongest advantage of survey research: when a representative sample is surveyed, the findings will closely portray the population as a whole  In contrast, unrepresentative samples can produce distorted results  Surveys = efficient method for collecting a large amount of information about people’s opinions, experiences & lifestyles, and they can reveal changes in people’s beliefs & habits over many years  Drawbacks:  Survey data cannot be used to draw conclusions about cause & effect  Survey rely on participants’ self-reports, which can be distorted by social desirability bias, interviewer bias, peoples’ inaccurate perceptions of their own behaviour & misinterpretation of survey questions  Unrepresentative samples can lead to faulty generalizations about how an entire population would respond  Once in a while, a sample that is randomly chosen can turn out to not be representative of the larger population Correlational Research: Measuring Associations Between Events  Correlational Research: 1. The researcher measures one variable (X), such as people’s birth order 2. The researcher measures a second variable (y), such as a personality trait 3. The researcher statistically determines whether X and Y are related  Variables that occur naturally are measured, not manipulated  Naturalistic o
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