PS101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Operational Definition, Descriptive Statistics, Swedish Grammar

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30 Jan 2013
How Psychologists do Research
Research methods matter so much to psychologists because they allow researchers to separate
reliable information from unfounded beliefs, sort out conflicting views, and correct false ideas
that may cause people harm. (Autistic children and Facilitated Communication)
Research methods are the tools of the psychological scientist’s trade, and understanding them is
crucial for everyone who reads or hears about a new program or an “exciting finding” that is
said to be based on psychological research
What Makes Psychological Research so Scientific?
Characteristics of the ideal scientist:
Precision. Theory: an organized system of assumptions and principles that propose to explain a
specified set of phenomena and their interrelations. Proven and things we’re sure about.
Hypothesis: a statement that attempts to predict or to account for a set of phenomena;
scientific hypotheses specify relations among events or variables and are empirically tested.
Theory leads to hypothesis which leads to predictions. Operational Definition: a precise
definition of a term in a hypothesis, which specifies the operations for observing and measuring
the process or phenomenon being defined (separately defines each term used)
Skepticism. Scientists don’t accept ideas on faith or authority. Some of the greatest scientific
discoveries originated from those who questioned what everyone else thought was true.
Skepticism means treating conclusions, both old and new, with caution. Caution must be
balanced with openness to new ideas and evidence
Reliance on Empirical Evidence. Theories and hypotheses not judged on how pleasing or
entertaining they are. Idea may generate excitement because it’s plausible or imaginative but it
must be backed with empirical evidence eventually. “The intensity on the conviction that a
hypothesis is true has no bearing on whether it’s true or not.”
Willingness to Make “Risky Predictions”. Principle of Falsifiability: the principle that a scientific
theory must make predictions that are specific enough to expose the theory to the possibility of
disconfirmation; that is, the theory must predict not only what will happen but also what won’t.
Confirmation Bias: the tendency to look for or pay attention only to information that confirms
one’s own beliefs.
Openness. Science depends on the free flow of ideas and full disclosure of the procedures used
in a study. Secrecy big “no-no”; willing to tell others where they got their ideas, how they were
tested, and the results. Must be done clearly and in detail so other scientists can replicate their
studies and verify or challenge the findings. Replication is vital because sometimes what seems
to be a fabulous phenomenon turns out to be a fluke.
Principles of good science correspond to critical-thinking guidelines. Formulating a prediction-
“define your terms”, openness- “ask questions” and “consider other interpretations”, reliance
on empirical evidence- “avoid oversimplification”, principle of falsifiability- “analyze
assumptions and biases”, and until scientists have had their results replicated and verified,
must- “tolerate uncertainty”.
Passion fuels progress. Can cloud perceptions or lead to fraud and deception
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Research methods provide a way for psychologists to separate well-supported conclusions from
unfounded belief. An understanding of these methods can also help people think critically about
psychological issues and become astute consumers of psychological findings and programs
The ideal scientist states hypotheses and predictions precisely, is skeptical of claims that rest
solely on faith or authority, relies on empirical evidence, resists the confirmation bias and
complies with the principle of falsifiability, and is open about methods and results so that
findings can be replicated. The public nature of science and the peer review process give science
a built-in system of checks and balances
Descriptive Studies: Establishing the Facts
Representative Sample: a group of individuals, selected from a population of study, which
matches the population on important characteristics such as age and sex.
Those who study human behaviour must often settle for a “convenience” sample- undergrads
Descriptive Methods: methods that yield descriptions of behaviour but not necessarily casual
Case Studies
Case Study: a detailed description of a particular individual being studied or treated
o May include information about person’s childhood, dreams, fantasies, experiences, and
relationships- anything that will provide insight into person’s behaviour
Case studies illustrate psychological principles in a way that abstract generalizations and cold
statistics never can, and produce a more detailed picture of an individual
Serious drawbacks
o Information is missing or hard to interpret
o Observer who writes up case may have biases that influence which facts get noticed or
o Person who is the focus of study may have selective or inaccurate memories, making
any conclusions unreliable
o Person may be unrepresentative of the group the researcher is interested in, case study
method has only limited usefulness for deriving general principles of behaviour
For all these reasons, case studies are usually only sources, rather than tests of hypotheses
Observational Studies
Observational Studies: a study in which the researcher carefully and systematically observes and
records behaviour without interfering with the behaviour; it may involve either naturalistic or
laboratory observation
Usually involve many participants
Primary purpose of naturalistic observation is to find out how people or animals act in their
normal social environments
Used wherever people are- home, playgrounds or streets, schoolrooms, or offices
People don’t rely on their impressions or memories of study, they count, rate, or measure
behaviour systematically, to guard against noticing only what they expect or want to see. Also
keep careful records so others can check observations
Observers must be discreet so subjects will behave naturally
Sometimes laboratory observation is used so researchers have more control of the situation.
Can use sophisticated equipment, determine number of participants, maintain clear line of
vision, etc.
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Shortcoming of laboratory observation- presence of researchers and special equipment may
cause people to behave differently than they would in their natural surroundings
Psychological Tests: procedures used to measure and evaluate personality traits, emotional
states, aptitudes, interests, abilities, and values
Objective tests, also called inventories, measure beliefs, feelings, or behaviours of which an
individual is aware; projective tests are designed to tap unconscious feelings or motives
Tests may be used to promote self-understanding, to evaluate psychological treatments, or
draw generalizations about human behaviour
Well-constructed psychological tests are a great improvement over simple self-evaluation as
many people have a distorted view of their own abilities and traits
Standardize: in test construction, to develop uniform procedures for giving and scoring a test
Norms: in test construction, established standards of performance
Reliability: in test construction, the consistency of scores derived from a test, from one time and
place to another
Can measure test-retest reliability by giving the test twice to the same group of people and
comparing them statistically. Drawback- people tend to do better on a test the second time
Solution is to compute alternative-forms reliability by giving different versions of the test
Validity: the ability of a test to measure what it was designed to measure
Most tests are judged on criterion validity- the ability to predict independent measure, or
criteria, of the trait in question
Surveys: questionnaires and interview that ask people directly about their experiences,
attitudes, or opinions
Volunteer Bias: a shortcoming of findings derived from a sample of volunteers instead of a
representative sample; the volunteers may differ from those who did not volunteer
Non-representative sample doesn’t mean it’s useless, but means that the results may not be
true for other groups
People sometimes lie during surveys especially about touchy or embarrassing topics
Likelihood of lying is reduced when asked privately
Researchers can check for lying by asking the same question in different words
Technology helps surveys because people feel more comfortable with anonymity
In any study, the researcher would ideally like to use a representative sample, one that is similar
in composition to the larger population the researcher wishes to describe. But in practice,
researchers must often use a “convenience” sample, which typically means university
undergrads. In the study of many topics, the consequences are minimal, but in other cases,
conclusions about “people in general” must be interpreted with caution
Descriptive methods allow psychologists to describe and predict behaviour but not necessarily to
choose one explanation over others. Such methods include case studies, observational studies,
psychological tests, and surveys, as well as correlational studies
Case studies are detailed descriptions of individuals. They are often used by clinicians and can
also be valuable in exploring new research topics and addressing questions that would
otherwise be difficult to study. But because the person under study may not be representative
of people in general, case studies are typically sources rather than tests of hypotheses
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