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Chapter 2

PS101 Chapter Notes - Chapter 2: Scientific Method, Naturalistic Observation, Scientific Progress


Department
Psychology
Course Code
PS101
Professor
Eileen Wood
Chapter
2

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Chapter 2: The Research Enterprise in Psychology
Goals of the Scientific Enterprise:
Psychologists and other scientists share three sets of interrelated goals:
o Measurement and description:
Science’s commitment to observation requires that an investigator figure
out a way to measure the phenomenon under study
The first goal of psychology is to develop measurement techniques that
make it possible to describe behaviour clearly and precisely
o Understanding and prediction:
Scientists believe that they understand events when they can explain the
reasons for the occurrence of the events
To evaluate their understanding, scientists make and test
predictions called hypotheses
A hypothesis is a tentative statement about the relationship
between two or more variables
Variables are any measurable conditions, events, characteristics or
behaviours that are controlled or observed in a study
o ie if we hypothesized that physiological arousal would
affect emotions then the variables in the study would be
physiological arousal and emotional state
o Application and control:
Ultimately, many scientists hope that the information they gather will be
of some practical value in helping to solve everyday problems
Once people understand a phenomenon, they often exert more control over
it
To build a better understanding of behaviour, psychologists must construct
theories
A theory is a system of interrelated ideas used to explain a set of
observations
o Therefore by integrating apparently unrelated facts and
principles into a coherent whole, theories permit
psychologists to make the leap from the description of
behaviour to the understanding of behaviour
o Moreover, the enhanced understanding afforded by theories
guides future research by generating new predictions and
suggesting new lines of inquiry
o A scientific theory must be testable however most theories
are too complex to be tested all at once
In a typical study, investigators test one or two
specific hypotheses derived from a theory
If the findings support the hypotheses,
confidence in the theory that the hypotheses
derived from grows

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If the findings fail to support the hypotheses,
confidence in the theory diminishes and the
theory may be revised or discarded
o Therefore theory construction is a
gradual, iterative process that is
always subject to revision
Steps in a Scientific Investigation:
o Scientific investigations are systematic, they follow an orderly fashion
o Step 1: Formulate a Testable Hypothesis
First step in a scientific investigation is to translate a theory or an intuitive
idea into a testable hypothesis
Normally hypotheses are expressed as predictions
To be testable, scientific hypotheses must be formulated precisely and the
variables under study must be clearly defined
Researchers achieve these clear formulations by providing operational
definitions of the relevant variables
An operational definition describes the actions are operations that
will be used to measure or control a variable
o They establish precisely what’s meant by each variable in
the context of a study
o Step 2: Select the Research Method and Design the Study
Second step is to figure out how to put the hypothesis to an empirical test
The research method chosen depends to a large degree on the nature of the
question under study
The various methods (experiments, case studies, surveys, naturalistic
observation etc) each have advantages and disadvantages
The researcher has to ponder the pros and cons and then select the strategy
that appears to be the most appropriate and practical
Once researchers have chosen a general method, they must make detailed
plans for executing their study
Participants or subjects are the persons or animals whose behaviour is
systematically observed in a study
o Step 3: Collect the Data
Researchers use a variety of data collection techniques which are
procedures for making empirical observations and measurements
Key data collection techniques in psychology:
o Direct observation:
Observers are trained to watch and record behaviour
as objectively and precisely as possible
They may use some instrumentation, such as a
stopwatch or video recorder
o Questionnaire:
Subjects are administered a series of written
questions designed to obtain information about
attitudes, opinions and specific aspects of their
behaviour

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o Interview:
A face to face dialogue is conducted to obtain
information about specific aspects of a subject’s
behaviour
o Psychological test:
Subjects are administered a standardized measure to
obtain a sample of their behaviour
Tests are usually used to access mental abilities or
personality traits
o Physiological recording:
An instrument is used to monitor and record a
specific physiological process in a subject
Ie measures of blood pressure, heart rate, muscle
tension and brain activity
o Examination of archival records:
The researcher analyzes existing institutional
records (the archives) such as census, economic,
medical, legal, educational and business records
o Step 4: Analyze the Date and Draw Conclusions
The observations made in a study are usually converted into numbers
which constitutes the raw data of the study
Researchers use statistics to analyze their data and to decide whether their
hypotheses have been supported
Therefore statistics plays an important role in the scientific
enterprise
o Step 5: Report the Findings
Scientific progress can be achieved only if researchers share their findings
with one another and with the general public
Therefore the last step in a scientific investigation is to write up a concise
summary of the study and its findings
Typically, researchers prepare a report that is delivered at a scientific
meeting and submitted to a journal for publication
A journal is a periodical that publishes technical and scholarly
material, usually in a narrowly defined area of inquiry
The process of publishing scientific studies allows other experts to
evaluate and critique new research findings
Sometimes this process of critical evaluation discloses flaws in a
study
o If the flaws are serious enough, the results may be
discounted or discarded
This evaluation process is a major strength of the scientific
approach because it gradually weeds out erroneous findings
Advantages of the Scientific Approach:
o Science is not the only method that can be used to draw conclusions about
behaviour, everyone uses logic, casual observation and good old fashioned
common sense
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